| Loveland to Guanella Pass via a couple of 14ers and a few 13ers
Earlier in the year, Bob and I were discussing our hiking plans/objectives for this year - in addition to “have a good time and be safe.” One of my objectives I threw out there was to do a ridge hike that would be at least 15 miles, > 4 peaks, >6,000 of vert gain, preferably via a loop or a car shuttle. As it turned out, the Loveland Pass to Guanella Pass combination provided just that through a combination of a series of popular and not technically difficult peaks. We parked a car at both passes.
“Be careful what you wish for” was the first thought that came to my mind as I left my car at Guanella Pass on Friday night. With my car left there overnight, we car-camped in Bob’s car at the Herman Gulch TH. After about 3 hours of sleep, we drove up to Loveland Pass on Saturday morning to start at about 2:30am under the full moon.
From Loveland Pass, we followed a very well defined trail on the ridge. The trail split not too far away from where we started and we turned right or south to be below the ridge at this point. This is the cutoff trail that takes you not straight up to the ridge, but over to the right to more gently gain the ridge a little north of “Cupid.” The trail led us to a very subtle saddle between Point 12,915 and “Cupid” and we turned right again to continue on the ridge towards “Cupid.” The trail actually skirts the summit of “Cupid” but “Cupid” is neither long nor difficult to get to so you might as well grab it. Continuing onto Grizzly Peak is relatively easy, following the trail on the ridge and hitting Point 12,936 on the way. From the summit of Grizzly Peak, we descended down to the saddle at 12,650. We knew from our last visit with Grizzly Peak that the view can be daunting.
With the light of an almost full moon, we could see a silhouette of Torreys, up high there. About 1,600 feet or so higher, actually. We started on a grassy slope first, which then turned into scree and loose-ish talus. A dirt trail or segments thereof can be found, but I opted to go up talus selecting more stable rock for hopping wherever possible. Bob stayed on the trail. We got to the top of the ridge at about the same time. Once we reached the ridge near 14,000 the remaining route to Torreys is short with more solid rock.
Early morning on the trail to Torreys
Getting close to Torreys
The summit was nicely soaked in the early morning sunlight and we had it all to ourselves, wondering how that happened on a weekend. We snapped a few pictures and refueled. From the top, we could see our last peak for today, Square Top Mountain and it looked very far away – be careful what you wish for!
Sunrise on Torreys
Our route to go, from Torreys
Time to get going so we walked over to Grays Peak. Two people were on top of Grays, which was equally as surprising as was nobody on Torreys. Many, many more people were in queue to get there.
Crowds coming up Grays
If the distant view of Square Top was not a good enough motivation to keep going, the view of crowds coming up definitively was. We started on the south ridge towards Mt. Edwards. The trail is intermittent and the difficulty of the first section of the connecting ridge does not exceed Class 2. We stayed ridge proper or below it on the south side, looser scree here, primarily to avoid gendarme-looking rock outcroppings. There are two bumps on the way to Mt. Edwards. To gain the second bump, we put away our trekking poles in anticipation of some scrambling and hand use. As it turned out, scrambling was pretty light on solid rock, but this section was probably Class 2+/very low 3. Passed the second bump, we stayed ridge proper almost all the way to the summit of Mt. Edwards.
Looking at the ridge between Grays and Mt. Edwards
Right before the second bump with light scrambling
At the top of Mt. Edwards, we looked back at Grays and the crowds we were avoiding.
Looking back at Grays from Mt. Edwards. Crowded up there...
From the Summit of Mt. Edwards, we eyed McClellan Mountain. It looked gentle with a grassy slope leading to it. It was just that. On the saddle between Mt. Edwards and McClellan Mountain, we ran into Valerie (IHikeLikeAGirl) and her hiking partner Mike. They were on their way up Mt. Edwards and Argentine Peak via McClellan Mountain from the Waldorf Mine. This was totally unexpected and random, but it was very nice to bump into familiar faces.
From Mt. Edwards, looking towards McClellan Mountain
Image #21 (not yet uploaded)
Argentine Peak and Squaretop Mountain from the flat summit of McClellan Mountain
On the way to the ridge between Mt. Edwards and Argentine Peak, we skirted below Mt. Edwards’ summit on a mellow slope.
Skirting Mt. Edwards to south towards Argentine Pk
Once we gained the ridge towards Argentine Peak, we looked towards the peak. It appeared far (1.9 miles, actually, from Mt. Edwards) but mellow.
Looking towards Argentine Pk, not visible here
Image #23 (not yet uploaded)
At mid-point, give or take, we descended a bit to cross where the Argentine Pass road ends and started uphill on the mellow grade and grassy hill on the south side of the pass. On top of Argentine Peak, which felt like it took us forever to get to, we rested quite a bit. Bob even took a nap for a few minutes. The weather was outstanding, we only had one more peak to go and our feet called for a little bit of rest. Well, they called for a lot more rest but we could not do that quite yet. A dip down to ~13,000 and then the ascent back of ~795 feet stood between us and the square top of Square Top Mountain.
From Argentine Pk, looking towards Square Top Mountain
Looking back at Argentine Pk, from mid-point on the slope towards Square Top Mnt
The ascent up was slow but not as bad as I thought it would be. There is a pretty defined trail but when it disappeared, talus hopping straight up was a decent substitution. We saw a herd of mountain goats. Some were checking us out, most of them were jus’ chillin’.
From the top of the ridge, the summit is nearby with almost (dare I say) square terrain to get there.
Bob tops out on Square Top Mnt with most of our route in view behind him
We eyed two descent options from the top. Either southeast ridge that would be considered the standard route or east ridge would get us back to the Guanella Pass. Bob, who had been on this mountain before, mentioned that the east ridge would likely be a faster option and that made my route decision faster than he could finish the sentence. There is a road down there by the Squaretop Lakes, which might actually be faster – certainly it gets you down off the ridge and into thicker air faster.
Looking down our descent route on south ridge. The other option drops you down to the right of that lake on the right.
Looking back at the descent from Square Top Mnt. Class 2+ there.
Broader view of the descent route - Squaretop is in the background.
At the last bump, we decided to veer south to connect with the trail for the standard route. We found a hole in the willows, serviced by a lightly used trail which had a “trail closed” sign when got to the main trail. While we likely ended up going up a bit on the main trail, we avoided bushwhacking through willows. The trailhead, which we could spot from far and high, was getting closer and closer to us till we reached it, filled and busy with tourists. A great time and great hike but it felt good to drop the pack and change into flip flops.
Here ‘s the map of our route:
A few notes:
- This route is not technically difficult but it is/feels long. A couple of trail runners passed us along the way and while they started much later than we did, they commented that it was more challenging than they expected.
- All of the route is above the treeline – good weather is a must-have.
- Most of the route is above 13,000 feet – different people react to altitude differently, but it is not a good place to experience altitude sickness.
- It is a committing route – there are multiple bail-out options along the way in case of bad weather or other emergency, but they are not convenient to connect you to your vehicle at either pass.
- There are no water sources along with hike – depending on your likes and needs, you may need to bring a lot of liquids. I thought I did not drink a lot, yet I went through 4 liters.
Thanks for reading. Cheers.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):