| First 13er Solo on Square Top A
I’ve been saving this trip report for a rainy day. I have had to move from Colorado to Toronto and I knew at some point before I could I could go back to climb, I was going to inconsolably miss the mountains. Thus, to make myself feel better, I saved a trip report so I could write about going to the mountains since I can’t actually go to the mountains. (Ok, maybe that’s an excuse for not getting around to writing this trip report in anything even resembling a timely manner).
My summer was almost over, and soon I would have to leave Colorado and move away to Toronto. I was running out of time to get in another summit. I was originally going to cap off the summer with a Bierstadt-Sawtooth-Evans climb, but when I woke up on Saturday morning I realized that I had missed my alarm (again) and was going to have to settle for a shorter climb unless I wanted to risk thunderstorms. Not a problem, as long as I am in the mountains I’m happy. So I decided to still go to Guanella Pass, but to climb Square Top Mountain A instead.
The drive up to Guanella Pass was uneventful, and when I got there the sun was shining in a beautiful blue sky. Bierstadt looked huge from the pass, looming over everything along with Evans in the background.
Bierstadt and Sawtooth from Guanella Pass
The parking lots were completely full, and so was the side of the road on either side of the pass. I had to park a ways down the road from the pass summit and walk up. I identified the trail going to Bierstadt quickly and easily, it was well signed with a horde of people either starting their hike or synching up gear. Square Top’s trailhead, however, was nowhere to be found. In the end I just went over to the Bierstadt trailhead, turned the opposite direction, and started walking. This worked well; as once I reached the second parking lot it was a lot more obvious where to start my hike.
The direction of Square Top from the start of the hike, although you cannot see the peak from here
There were a fair amount of people on Square Top, mostly trail runners cruising up to the top. I took my usual leisurely pace and let them pass me by. Even though it was getting later in the summer, the wild flowers were in full bloom. This time last year they had begun to go dormant, but the summer seemed colder than usual to me, and it seemed like the wildflowers got a later start than last year as well. Today, however, was not cold, and with the sunshine and the flowers I couldn’t help by smile my way up the trail.
Very pretty little flowers that I hadn't seen at elevation before
A group of more typical alpine flowers
A ridge off to the side of the trail with some beautiful flowers in the foreground
I got to the lower lake very quickly and took the trail to the left. Before long the trail was no longer visible, but a number of cairns leading to a sign made it easy to find the typical route of ascent to the SE ridge. However, at this point there a number of cairns which continue on past the sign which directs you to the top of Square Top A. These cairns lead down into a bowl below a ridge. Although I’m not sure, it looked like by following these cairns into the bowl, and then doubling back and to the right (going up Square Top) the climb would be much less steep, but in exchange it would be longer.
Square Top from the lower lake, you can't see the top from here, but you can see the start of the very flat ridge to the summit
Square Top with lower lake in the picture
At this point I began the crux of the climb. The ascent from here on is very steep. Fortunately, much of the slope is packed dirt held together by grasses thus providing extremely stable footing. But the rest of the slope is gravely crap and loose dirt, so it’s best to pay attention to your path of ascent and pick your route carefully to avoid the loose patches. Up until this point I had only stopped to rest once, but on this steep section I was stopping to rest at every chance I got. It’s rather like climbing a set of stairs for some giant. The mountain’s slope consists of a number of steep pitches, each followed by a relatively flat section that all seemed to have some interesting rock formations on them.
After what seemed like a long time (but was actually not) I made it to the top of this steep pitch. Although this point in the climb seems like it’s the summit, it is not. A long, broad, flat ridge stretches out to the summit. It’s nearly flat, and based off of this ridge I can see where the mountain gets its name. The climb thus far had been warm, sunny, and calm, but once I gained the ridge I was blasted by the wind and instantly chilled. I threw on my fleece and my shell jacket to finish the climb. Once I got to the summit I exchanged photos with another guy who had made it there before me, and was about ready to head down. We took photos for one another and as he headed back, I hunkered down behind some rocks and ate my lunch: a cold cut sandwich with salami, pepperoni, and mozzarella cheese. Yum! Lunch always tastes good on top of a mountain. After I finished my lunch, I took a panorama photo from the summit and decided to head back down, as the summit was starting to fill up and I was starting to get a little chilly.
Bierstadt and Sawtooth from the summit
Me on the summit, photo looking East
Me on the summit, photo looking West
Grays and Torreys and a plethora of 13ers
The instant I left the ridge I warmed up again. Within a minute or two I had to remove my shell and my fleece again. As I walked down, my mind wandering along with my gaze at the beautiful scenery surrounding me, I failed to watch where I was stepping and slipped on some loose dirt. I immediately found myself on my backside and before I knew I had slide a good 20 ft down the steep slope. Fortunately I was unhurt, but I was pretty embarrassed at my gaffe, so I just laid there for a while looking up at the sky. The sun was so warm and the breeze was so comforting. I closed my eyes and listened to the sound of the mountains. I was suddenly struck by what I thought was genius (if not original) idea. I was going to take a nap! I looked at my clock, and it was only barely after noon (looks like I probably could have done the Sawtooth, oh well, no such thing as a bad mountain) so I propped my head up on my backpack and went to sleep. I woke up about 45 minutes later when an older couple passing by asked if I was ok. I told them I was, and that I was just taking advantage of the amazing conditions. They told me they had hiked up to the lakes many times before, but had never gone up to the summit before, and were trying for the first time. I told them they were getting quite close to the ridge, and once they got there it was a very easy walk the rest of the way. While part of what I love about the mountains is the comparative solitude, I also truly love encounters like that one.
At that point I got up and headed back on down the mountain. When I got back to Guanella Pass, there were even more cars than when I got there that morning. A line of them were going further down the pass even from where I had parked. I got back into my car rolled down the windows (it was boiling inside) and realized that I hadn’t paid any attention to my gas gauge on the drive up because I was running on fumes. Fortunately I was able to get down to Georgetown and to a gas station before my car ran out.
Now on to the apologies section. Sorry that this trip report is so late, as it is much less likely to be useful for others planning a similar trip this way. Sorry that there are so few pictures, I’m not much of a photographer and tend to ignore my camera unless I have someone to remind me or to take pictures for me. Sorry for any spelling or grammatical errors, I know there are bound to be some. Otherwise I hope you enjoy!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):