A Bi-Centennial Day in the Front Range
Square Top Mtn (13794')- CO Rank Tie 110th
Argentine Peak (13738')- CO Rank Tie 129th
10.4 miles RT, 3900' gain
from Guanella Pass (11600') via east ridge of Square Top, south ridge of Argentine
My wife and I had a ski trip in the plans with her family at Keystone Saturday, so when I saw the awesome forecast for Friday, I decided to take the day off and see if I could climb something high on the way. As expected, I couldn't find anybody to join me on short notice, so I figured bi-centennials Square Top and Argentine from Guanella Pass would be a safe bet. I figured the road to the pass would be plowed from the most recent storm.
I left C. Springs at 4am, stopping at the Idaho Springs Mickey D's for some fat and carbs. Guanella Pass road was dry for quite a few miles, then was well plowed to the electric plant. From that point on, the road was still passable with 4WD and my stock Santa Fe did fine. I was the first one to arrive at the pass at around 6:30. It was shaping up to be a bluebird day as I got by with just a fleece layer to start! The wind was minimal at the pass, a rare occurence indeed.
I crossed the road and started out at 6:55, looking for a recent track to follow. I did find a track from a recent snowshoer, but the wind had obliterated most of it. I followed it for a few hundred yards to the restroom, then the track headed for Square Top Lakes. The snow looked to be pretty stable, but I wanted to gain the east ridge to eliminate any avy risks. The trail breaking across the willows was not bad as there was about 6-8" of powder on top of a well consolidated layer. I made good time up the gentle slopes to the east ridge of Square Top.
I was hoping the snow on the east ridge would be blown off by the notorious n.w. winds in the area, but there was still enough snow to warrant keeping the snowshoes on. I didn't take them off until beginning the final steep 1000' grunt to the summit. The rocks were pretty slick here, but there was plenty of bare ground here to avoid any major difficulties. I finally topped out on the long summit ridge, where I was teased by a couple false summits. I topped out at 9:58 as the n.w. winds greeted me. The wind on this day rarely was over 20mph, so I picked a great day. I only hung around a few minutes since there was no protection from the wind and decided to eat lunch at the connecting saddle with Argentine.
I left my snowshoes on during the descent of the steep n.w. slopes of Square Top as there were patches of snow to stay on for the most part. The views of Grays and Torreys along this ridge are stunning, and it kept my mind off the punishment I would face coming back. The connecting ridge to nearby 12er Decatur Mtn was loaded with cornices. I took a 20 minute break for lunch at a bench just below the climb of a 13600' bump along the ridge to Argentine. From a distance it looked like an ice axe would be needed as there was no bare ground, but my MSR snowshoes did the trick. I topped out on this bump and was greeted by a cornice. I couldn't go around it because the slopes were too steep without crampons. I poked my head over the top and as expected there was solid ground on the other side. From here the slope relented and after a couple minor ups and downs I was on the summit at 11:56.
The best way to climb these two from Guanella Pass in the summer would be to go over 13er Wilcox on the way down Argentine and descend to Naylor Lake. The effort would be nearly the same as going over Square Top, but the south slopes of Wilcox did not show any bare rock. The valley also looked like a postholing nightmare, so over Square Top again was the safe bet. After 30 minutes on Argentine, I headed down. The n.w. wind began to pick up but was nothing more than a minor problem. I used my ice axe on the steep descent of Argentine and quickly made it back down to the saddle. The climb up Square Top hammered me as expected, but I just took it nice and slow. I finally topped out on Square Top at 2:15, but wasn't done yet!
The snowshoes came off again for the steep initial descent of Square Top. I was relieved to finally be done with the tedious stuff as I had now gone through all of my 3 quarts of water. I followed my tracks back out and staggered back to the pass at 4:35. As I crossed the road there was a "road closed" sign on the north side of the pass! There was no reason listed so I just moved the sign and drove on, thinking maybe they closed it because of icy conditions. About a mile down the road a small avalanche had covered the road, rendering it impassable. I had to back up for a 1/4 mile before I could turn around. I ended up having to go south all the way to 285, then over to Fairplay and Breck before I could get to Keystone! It was a long day, but I couldn't have asked for better weather!