| Square Top in the Cold
Peak: Square Top Mountain (13,794')
Date: Sunday, November 25, 2007
Team: krz2fer (Chris) - Solo
Route: Guanella Pass
Roundtrip: ~7 miles
My alarm goes off at 5am and I immediately wonder why I do this to myself. But something pulls me from the warmth of my bed and I methodically get dressed, gather gear, and head out to the Guanella Pass. My usual partner Adam (ajkagy) sent me a text to bail after a Boulder downtown experience doesn't end until 3am. What a punk! Out the door before 5:30am.
I reach the Pass at about 6:20am, just as vague alpine light begins to peak over the mountains. The road itself is scary in parts. Passenger cars could, in theory, get up without problem. But even at 10mph my Outback Sport fish tailed a few times around the 180 degree corners. What little snow is left is packed down but very, very slick. Especially on those hairy turns with no rails. I arrived at the trailhead at 6:45am, where I immediately had to deuce in the frighteningly haunting facilities. No cars around and just harsh, howling winds with temperatures in the mid-teens seemed to be talking to me.
The views are glorious as I begin and now relieved, I was ready to go. I snap a few photos, layer up, and start down the trail. One thing I swore I would never do was come back to this area after a bad Bierstadt / Sawtooth / Evans experience this summer, but there I was. One thing I can't stand is the immediate loss of altitude hiking in.
I should probably clarify that, other than two trip reports and an online topo, I wasn't very familiar with the route. I knew that if I became confused I would call it a day and say thanks but no thanks. As I crested a smaller hill the bottom lake came into view. And so did the winds.
Suddenly it went from nice stroll to 15 degrees + 10-20mph sustained winds. I constantly took breaks behind boulders to relieve myself from Mother Nature. At the bottom lake as well, the trail disappeared. With snow and a lack of trail use, I was concerned where to head. I saw tracks on both sides, but noting the lesser evil in the ridge to the left, I decided to move on.
I found this topo online (red lines) and noted my path (blue) as I tried to find the way through the no-trail conditions. I was able to locate a trail sign and a large cairn, but those were the only two markings on the entire ridge.
My legs at this point were crying baby tears as the wind wasn't letting down. In the few instances it did, it was immediate relief. It almost felt like training with weight (i.e. weighted baseball bat) and then once you switch to a normal bat (i.e. no wind) it was a breeze (pun intended). As the light snow cover was whipping up into tornados I thought about the Everest episode I saw last week, and how I'd never want to do that.
SummitPost describes this hike as "An easy ridge hike". Perhaps in the summer, or with no wind, or both. But today it wasn't easy and I'd never refer to this hike as easy. Alberta Falls is easy!
I came to the summit ridge and my heart sank as the true summit stood another 10 minutes away. It's a familiar feeling.. like trying to attain Evans from Guanella, where those undulations just keep on coming before the final, final summit.
Finally on top I took a few photos and hunkered down behind a rock. Winds were approaching 20-30mph sustained as I could lean in to it. I make a quick brew but I was starting to get seriously cold so I retreated down the mountain to finish my relaxation.
The hike down was uneventful, and I passed just one couple on the way out. The Bierstadt lot had 4 cars in it at noon. Car to car time, I hiked from ~7am-12pm including breaks and wind stops. I arrived back at my car worn out, and with the lesson that serious wind can seriously impact the fun level and the difficulty level.
Overall this is a great hike, but it would surely be better appreciated on a day with very little winds. Great views from the top!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):