| Gondwanaland (Guanella/Loveland) traverse
Departed from the top of Guanella Pass at 6am on Saturday July 7th under crystal clear skies and warm temps – probably in the 50s/low 60s, but shorts and short sleeves were all that we needed. The first section of this hike is to Square Top Mountain, and there are a couple options. There is a sign from the trailhead that indicates a trail heading off to the southwest, but this is an indirect route that runs up to the Square Top Lakes before angling up the SE shoulder of Square Top. The more direct route is to hike straight west from the top of Guanella Pass (avoiding the willows if at all possible) until you gain the ridgeline, and then angle south (climber's left), following the ridgeline to a wide saddle and then up the rocky NE shoulder of Square Top, across a small false summit to the real summit.
The saddle below Square Top Mtn.
The rocky stretch leading to Square Top's summit
The route as described above only has an intermittent trail, but is still pretty obvious, and we didn't have any problems making the summit of Square Top in exactly two hours. The northeast shoulder of Square Top is rocky, but a solid (if somewhat steep) climb, never more difficult than Class II.
The author (mtnmike) atop Square Top Mountain. Grays and Torreys are far off in the distance.
From the summit of Square Top, a good chunk of the rest of the day was visible to the west. Essentially, we'd be following the ridge around Montezuma Basin in a wide, almost 180-degree arc, hitting several more summits on the way to Grays Peak, and then turning west again over Torreys to Grizzly, Cupid and Loveland Pass beyond.
From Square Top, the ridgeline to Argentine, Edwards, Grays, and Torreys is pretty obvious
From the summit of Square Top, there's still only an intermittent trail, but it wasn't difficult at all to pick our way down the northwest side of the mountain along the broad ridge to the saddle between Square Top and Argentine Peak. The views to both the west and east off the ridge are incredible, just so long as you don't focus on how distant the summits of Grays and Torreys are off in the distance to the west.
Cutting across the ridge are a series of power transmission lines between Clear Creek and Summit counties.
Approaching the power transmission lines...new and old
The tower is a fairly impressive sight, and you have to think it was quite the challenge to erect such a structure in such a remote location. There are remnants of the previous transmission facilities up there, too. There's an old shack and a lot of ancient, rusted cabling littering the ridge.
The hike up and over Argentine Peak remains a mellow ridge hike with only intermittent trails. The summit of Argentine is marked by an old windbreak rock wall and an empty summit register canister. We stopped on Argentine for a 10-15 minute break to chow down on bagels and jerky, and to continue to soak in the impressive views all around us.
Bierstadt and Evans are prominent to the east here, and the long, flat summit of Square Top to the southeast. Ahead of us to the north and west was Mt. Edwards, and Argentine Pass before that. The long and winding 4x4 road snaking up to the Pass from the east was populated by a couple hiking groups, the first people we'd seen all morning (since the trailhead).
Looking back on Argentine Peak/Pass
After the (continued) mellow hike down to Argentine Pass, we finally got a definitive, marked trail to hike. The trail from the Pass to the summit of Mt. Edwards was well-worn and well-cairned, indicating the relative popularity of Mt. Edwards. It felt strange to have such a nicely marked path to hike all of a sudden. The trail stays on the broad ridgeline and switchbacks a couple times before achieving the summit of Mt. Edwards.
Look closely,and you'll see the summit mob on Grays (taken from Edwards)
Looking at neighboring Grays Peak from Mt. Edwards, the throngs of people climbing or resting on the summit were easy to pick out, so we knew that it was time to brace ourselves for the onslaught of humanity. But before that, we had to pick our way off Mt. Edwards to the saddle between Edwards and Grays, and this was the first real challenge of the day. Unlike the broad ridgelines we'd been hiking all morning, the SW ridge from Mt. Edwards is sharp and rocky, with some exposure…not a lot, but it felt significant after such a mellow morning.
Descending the rocky ridge from Edwards to the saddle before Grays. Bit of a scramble here!
The best route is generally right on top of the ridge, with variations to the south (climber's left). About 2/3 the way down the ridge, when it looks like you'll need a rope to downclimb the ridge, follow a faint trail to the left, and then continue down the ridge and leftwise variations to the saddle.
From the saddle, it's a moderately steep slog to the summit of Grays. We followed a faint trail to the left of the ridge about 1/3 of the way, and from there picked up one of the numerous trails to the summit, which was populated by no less than 30 people of all ages and ability levels. Looking down into Steven's Gulch we could see the teeming masses both coming up and heading down along the winding trails.
Approaching Grays Peak
We didn't linger on Grays for very long (having both been up there numerous times), and turned our attention to Torreys, winding down the excellent trail to the saddle between the two 14ers and then up to Torreys' summit, which was also packed with hikers…probably 20 or so people were hanging out up there.
Approaching Torreys Peak
Finally, from Torreys' summit, we could see the rest of the days' effort. Directly west of us was the bulk of Grizzly Peak, and from there the rolling ridge of the Continental Divide that would take us to the top of Loveland Pass. After a few minutes to rest and refuel (mmm…Clif Bars!), it was off Torreys' summit and once again away from the teeming masses. A faint trail leads from the summit of Torreys to the west towards the saddle between Grizzly and Torreys. As the trail downwards steepens, it turns into unpleasant loose talus and scree, making for an unstable and shaky descent. Probably the worst section of trail on the entire day, the descent from Torreys has us both slipping and sliding, stopping to empty gravel from our boots on numerous occasions. Thankfully, the scree-fest gives way to alpine flowers and green tundra as the terrain levels out at the saddle. However, at 12,600', we were faced with 800' of climbing to the final main summit of the day, Grizzly Peak.
Hiking on the saddle between Torreys and Grizzly
The climb up Grizzly isn't too bad…following the ridgeline (no trail) up through the tundra and rocks is a solid climb, and would have been enjoyable if we didn't have 10 miles and 9 hours of hiking behind us already. Fatigue was definitely starting to set in, but we tried to keep moving at a steady pace. Thankfully, the weather had held up quite nicely throughout the morning and early afternoon, but the clouds were beginning to gather and turn that unpleasant shade of gray that is usually the harbinger of storms.
Topping out on Grizzly Peak, we didn't even pause, both from a desire to beat the weather and just to be DONE with this day. The rest of the route was laid out in front of us, with 3 or 4 rolling high points along the ridge and then the descent down to Loveland Pass.
The homestretch, finally. From Grizzly, the ridge descends and rolls gently to Loveland Pass
After picking our way off Grizzly Peak (another scree slog), we kept moving slowly but steadily, with occasional grunts of pain and effort. The skies continued to darken and the slanting patterns of rainstorms began moving over the Arapahoe Basin ski area, just a few miles behind us. The stiff breeze that had been our companion all day long strengthened into a gusting wind, whipping up small dust-storms as we closed the gap to Loveland Pass.
The final descent to Loveland Pass
In a monument to timing, we hit the pavement right when the first few drops started to fall.
In a nutshell:
Long day at altitude, with many, many rolling summits. Some routefinding needed coming off Edwards to Torreys. Beautiful scenery and mainly solitude, except from Grays to Torreys of course. If you're into LONG days of hiking, this one's great!!
Square Top:........13790' ..........8:00am
Argentine Peak: ..13740'...........9:30am
Argentine Pass:...13,210' ........10:00am
Total time: 10.5 hrs
Total distance: approx. 14.5 mi.
Total elevation gain: approx 7,400‘
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):