Peak(s):  Square Top Mtn A  -  13,794 feet
Argentine Pk  -  13,738 feet
Wilcox, Mt  -  13,408 feet
Date Posted:  10/09/2013
Date Climbed:   09/28/2013
Author:  blazintoes
 Have you ever stared into a starry sky?  

This last year my conversations have begun, "So I did this crazy thing..." as such, this adventure promises to deliver. I was pleasantly surprised to autograph a tip-top intact 13ers summit log atop Mt. Edwards a few weeks ago and after penning my name, I crossed paths with an older fellow who, on an out-n-back via the CDT-Continental Divide Trail asked what I thought about descending a South facing gully from Gray's Peak towards the Keystone side. I had similar intentions; descending an unknown gully however via McClellan Mountain and so after discussing each other's pros and cons we parted ways but not before he gave me some super secret insider information about a suitable old mining shack he stumbled upon on Argentine Peak. With wanderlust I gazed across the ridge and began planning my next adventure. After reading and downloading the gpx track from this trip report:

then obtaining a green light from the weather forecasters my crackpot plan was to sleep on top of Argentine Peak if I found the shack or, bivouac on Wilcox. Apropos of nothing; call it a bucket list if you will what I really wanted was to test out some recent gear purchases, watch the sun set and the full moon rise. Then muse at the Milky Way from 13,700+ feet with a warm cup of tea and fall in love with another Colorado sunrise the following morning

Guanella Pass was jam packed with on-lookers, hikers, bikers and the likes all wanting that last glimpse of the changing season. To steer clear of this madness I opted to drive up the 4x4 road toward Naylor Lake, leave the car for the night then walk the road to Square Top's trail head. After evaluating the map once more, I donned my pack and headed for the masses; a temporary lapse in judgment thought it a brilliant idea to bushwhack to avoid the walk of shame on the road. Ten or so branch lashings to my limbs were all it took for me to tell myself, just take the damn road. All sweaty now and licking my wounds; the only suitable shortcut was the winter route toward the willows on the Bierstadt side, which bypassed two switchbacks and provided killer views of the Sawtooth. Bushwhacking is a double edged sword and can be a total time suck. Finally at Square Top's trail head now and passing hikers finishing their day as I was just beginning mine. To quell the worried folk who stop to ask, "Where are you going?" , I take the time to explain my plight to assure confidence.

Square Top's trail is well marked and well-traveled until the intersection that reads "South Park" where it is finally time to gain the summit with a slight right, northbound steep trek straight up its hillside. A sputtering of light erratic rain, and a melee of local cumulus clouds had me worried that I'd miss that desired sunset over Breckenridge's numbered peaks. Once I crested Square Top A, a mere 30 minutes remained 'til sunset and at last the sun shone brightly, lucky me. What little warmth emanating from the suns days end I welcomed as a stiff breeze blew in from the West. The gps read 5.2 miles now and as I look yonder; the remaining loop comes to view. I continued toward the CDT and Argentine Peak while slowly watching the sun disappear.

Twilight now, I see a fuzzy statuesque silhouette starring down at me as I make another steep trek up the second mountainside of the evening. I convince myself that it's just a rock that looks like an animal but I feel these beady eyes glaring at me. I am a guest in this house, I know but as I get closer I'm at last relieved to see a goat and then think; how awkward for it to have stood there and stared for so long. She disappears down the scree and in the distant blackness I can see power lines on top of Argentine ahead, Breckenridge town lights to my left, Naylor Lake glowing in the moonlight below and the faintness of Wilcox to my upper right. Once at the power lines and Argentines false summit, I glance over my left shoulder and spot the mining shack.

The tiny North facing door has a solitary steel free bolt that I jiggle loose. One peak inside and my headlamp reveals indeed a most suitable covey for the night. The floor is swept clean and I am surprised to see minimal litter. I throw my large external frame pack in, squeeze myself sideways through the door then jury-rig the free bolt from the inside to keep the wind from blowing the door open. I set up camp and am excited to test my JetBoil at this altitude; 13,623 feet, 6.4 miles and 8:30 pm. The gas is hissing as I press the igniter, snap, snap, snap; nothing. I close off the gas, wait, and then try again. Three times and all attempts net the same results, a lot of noise and no action. I assume I must be doing something wrong and finally give up. No warm tea for me. My remaining gear to test for the evening included a new silk liner for my sleeping bag, ridiculously expensive arcteryx gloves and finally the organization of my new large external frame pack. Despite the cold and wind whipping about, I slept like a baby. By 3am I was wide awake and took inventory of the new gear. Minus the disappointing JetBoil and my freezing feet, the remaining gear was impressive but I still have some tweaking to do, especially for my feet. On my way out, I pick up the litter and leave the shack just as I'd found it.

The moon and stars were blindingly beautiful as I finished the trek to the top of Argentine Peak, which is the highest pass along the CDT. As I descend towards Wilcox the initial drop is gentle at first along sturdy talus, then quite steep where trekking poles were useful. With just a headlamp and the high moon behind me the cliffs to my left look ominous. With the wind at my back now I finally warm up. To my right and South facing I see what looks like the Big Dipper, but this can't be I tell myself. I glance down at my gps and am on track with just 3 miles to go. I didn't occur to me that I should have opened my handy 3D planets app but I gave up on my phone the previous night since I couldn't get impressive nighttime photos.

I am clambering toward Wilcox now and the climb lingers longer than expected perhaps due to my ogling at the stars. Off to the East there are three headlights making their way up Bierstadt perhaps in hopes of catching the sunrise and also a helicopter circling the area. I am a lonely soul on this slog to the top of Wilcox but at last I stand on this final summit and stare down at the glowing Denver lights. I appreciate the views and eventually make my final descent towards Naylor lake as the sunrise takes it's time on the distant horizon. The initial descent off Wilcox is on wide open gentle tundra until 11,600' where it steepens considerably along a short but sweet cliff band where I follow a natural drainage and hug the flanking rocks to keep my footing until at last I find treeline. The private property is not easily avoided and so...yakety yak, go bushwhack. Full circle now, and so just as this adventure began is how it finishes, only comes the sun do do do.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Kudos to you...
10/10/2013 01:16
...for striking out on your own, sounds like a cool adventure! Enjoyed reading this,

PS: Some piezo-electric stove igniters are finicky at altitude. You can always just open the gas and use a lighter (maybe you tried that, couldn't tell from your report).


10/10/2013 14:25
..realize you'd taken my lead until I read, ”...follow a natural drainage and hug the flanking rocks to keep my footing...” and thought that sounded familiar! I was hoping for some spectacular night sky shots. Great way to enjoy this loop.


Night pics and lighters
10/11/2013 16:56
Hey Tom, this will sound like a blonde moment but I really had no idea about the lighter. I think I'll practice this at home next time. Thanks for the advice.

Rajz, thanks for the inspiration. And if you have any tips on how to get these good night sky shots on my iPhone, I'm all thumbs after several suboptimal images, I gave up.


10/11/2013 20:13
Hey blazin,
Yep, just open up the gas valve until you hear a steady hiss and hold the lighter near the burner, should light pretty quickly. Just be sure you're prompt about it, if you let too much gas out before you flick the lighter you might hear a whoosh and ignite more gas than you mean to. I speak from experience (singed hair)! Do it once and you've mastered it, very easy. Oh, and those orange mini Bic lighters from King Soopers are the cat's meow, lightweight and easy to find in the dark/snow if you drop them. Have fun out there!


Donít Cry For Me Argentina
10/17/2013 15:05
Great write-up. And, another great adventure story from Blazintoes! A night climb into unknown territory, where there may or may not be a habitable shelter -- with a critical gear failure to add some drama!

As I have hinted in several earlier ”Comments” -- often, in less than subtle terms -- you should consider an extensive documentation of your time in the mountains this past year. For a peek (not a pun, this time) into writing of this genre, I would recommend read ”Wild” by Cheryl Strayed. If you havenít already read it, ”Wild” is about a single summer adventure (hiking a portion of the Pacific Coast Trail). But, it has a much deeper story to tell - letís call it a story of transition and self-discovery.

And, I sense there is a deeper story in your climbing too. Because you came to climbing rather recently and with such gusto, there could be a metamorphosis in your narrative too. And, my guess is that you really could match the quality (and style) of Strayedís writing.

Anyway, I would highly recommend that you consider serious writing. Admittedly, writing is hard work. But, being ”published” can have commensurate rewards. To that end, maybe Marc could serve as your unofficial editor -- and help to keep you motivated!

Per my (just submitted) comment on your Graduation TR, take notes on Denali, and youíll be well positioned to write a best seller - which, incidentally, is precisely where you are positioned now, anyway!

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