I’m sure you know that I love to hike. I typically 3-4 times a week (or more if I can help it) and consider myself very lucky that I live so close to so many different trails. My regular hiking trails are mostly around Boulder and take about 1 1/2 – 3 hours to complete. Most start a little below 6,000′ elevation and gain no more than about 2,300′ total. Once in a while Greg and I will venture out to tackle something a little more challenging (like the two 14ers we hiked this summer). This past Saturday was one of those challenging hiking days… to say the least.
A few weeks ago, I was contacted by Andy from Sierra Trading Post’s blog. He and STP’s videographer, Chris were interested in doing a hike with a couple of local bloggers and filming/blogging about the adventure. The local bloggers happened to be my good friends Heather, Lynne and Heidi! Without any hesitation, I said “yes!” Greg was also invited to come along, and I was glad that he’d be able to share the adventure as well. Our plan was to start at the top of Guanella Pass, which is the same location as the trailhead for Mt. Bierstadt (but in the other direction). We were going to summit three 13ers during the hike: Square Top Mountain (13,794’), Argentine Peak (13,738’) and Mount Wilcox (13,408’). The hike was estimated to cover a little over 10 miles and we planned on it taking about 6 hours round trip.
On Saturday morning, the group of us met up at the trail head (which is about 11,700′ elevation) around 8:30 am and set off for a day of fun. It was around 32˚ and pretty windy, but the sun was shining brightly. It had snowed a bit in the last week and parts of the ground were completely covered. Luckily we had all planned for it and wore waterproof boots! We were all smiles at the beginning of the hike.
It was definitely a little chilly, but I had four layers on to keep me warm (and Under Armour compression shirt, a light Lululemon pullover, a Mountain Hardware fleece and a The North Face jacket). I also had a fleece hat and some awesome OR gloves that were supposed to keep your hands warm in temps as low as 25˚ F. There was a lot of exposure during the first part of our hike as we climbed to the summit of the first 13er, Square Top Mountain.
Right from the start, the views were beautiful!
We started a pretty steep climb up the first big hill and I definitely felt the elevation in my legs!
I was so focused on looking ahead that I didn’t even notice the beautiful view (and lake!) behind us. Stopping to take periodic rest breaks is definitely helpful to restore a bit of energy, but it also allows you to take a moment to appreciate the beautiful setting!
We kept climbing towards the first summit and the wind didn’t let up at all. I was starting to really regret not bringing my balaclava with me! This is where things began to get a little tricky for me. I was freezing and my face and hands were stinging and numb- I actually started to get a little worried. After a little pep talk from Greg (and an extra shirt he had in his pack that I wrapped around my face!) I made it to the summit of Square Top Mountain. Because it was so windy I didn’t get to take a ton of photos of the beautiful views, but managed to capture a few.
We were able to get one group photo with the Andy and Chris:
Is that an impressive backdrop or what?!
From this point on there weren’t really any trails. We just kind of went in the intended direction and looked for the best way possible (which wasn’t always the easiest!). We quickly started descending the mountain, which was pretty treacherous.
It was a steep talus field covered in snow- both of which made the descent quite difficult. I believe Lynne coined the descent something like “the downhill of death.”
We looked back after and were like “holy crap- we just climbed down that!” I’ll probably say this more than once (or twice) in this post- but the photo does not do it justice!
My inexperience definitely showed through each descent (there were several throughout the entire trip). I’ve never hiked in snow before (except for a light dusting) and haven’t done a lot of hikes at such high elevation. I have a lot to learn!
We made our way over to a great spot between Square Top and Argentine Peak where we were safe from the wind. Even though we were standing in nearly a foot of snow, it actually felt really nice and warm! We stopped to have a bite to eat and Chris and Andy shot some goofy footage of us.
Definitely not a bad lunch time view!
Of course, there was the obligatory #kindawesome photo…
Getting a successful “jumping” photo on a decline in about a foot of snow is not easy- but it was fun trying!
At this point, I was feeling really good again. We had been hiking for a few hours, I was warm and my feet felt really comfortable. I (stupidly) was wearing new boots for the very first time that day and probably should’ve broken them in on an easier hike earlier in the week. At this point we also all agreed that it was a good idea to skip the second 13er (Argentine Peak) we had planned to summit and go right onto the third (Mt. Wilcox). (Again) the photo doesn’t do it justice at all – Argentine Peak was looking pretty steep.
Even though the report we had read on this hike said that the total distance was around 10 miles, we knew that was definitely below accuracy according to our tracking so far. Even without summitting Argentine Peak, we were looking at a pretty long day. Instead, we decided to go around Argentine and straight over to the saddle that connects to Mt. Wilcox. From there we were able to look back at Square Top Mountain and (again) say “whoa- we hiked up and down that!”
When I first looked at Mt. Wilcox I thought there is no way I’m climbing that. It was steep, rocky and jagged and just looked dangerous. But, I had confidence that my group wouldn’t lead me astray and I followed them up to our final summit.
We crossed over the ridge and slowly started climbing.
Here’s Chris taking a quick break mid-ascent:
For me, it was a pretty tough climb to the top. Every single step required you to make a decision and commit to it! There were a lot of really unstable rocks and my balance was definitely tested.
Lynne took this photo of Greg and I making our way up:
Slowly but surely, I made it to the second summit!
We stopped for a bit to soak in the amazing 360˚ views and take some group shots:
Such an amazing, inspiring group (including Greg- who was taking the photo!)
As you know, what goes up must eventually come back down. We still had to descend about 2,500′ to get back down to the road that would lead us back to the parking lot (a 1.5 mile walk on the road). There still weren’t any trails to follow but we knew we just had to start heading downward. There’s no easy way to say it- the last (two-ish hours of) the hike sucked. They were all downhill and my feet were starting to throb. I tried to just put my best game face on, but couldn’t help but complain a bit about how much my feet and legs hurt. Seriously- every step was tough (and two days later, my quads are still on fire)!
Luckily I had some awesome friends to coach me through.
I was definitely the rookie of this group and really appreciated the wisdom from the rest of my team. I really learned a lot – especially from Lynne!
Slowly and painfully we finally made it down to the road. At this point, we still had to climb about a mile and a half (on the road) to the parking lot. Luckily some very nice gals stopped and drove Andy and Greg up to the parking lot to get their cars and come pick the rest of us up. Heather, Heidi, Lynne, Chris and I happily just sat and waited. We had already hiked nine (long) miles and our legs were pretty much done.
We finished the hike around 5:30 PM, making the grand total for the trip a respectable nine hours. We headed straight for Idaho Springs for some beer and burgers at Tommy Knocker- which may have just been the best meal of our lives.
I can honestly say that this was mentally and physically the toughest hike I’ve ever done. It would’ve been pretty challenging if it was a warm day and there wasn’t any wind or snow- but the elements definitely made it about 10x tougher. There were times that I really wanted to quit, but I didn’t really have much of a choice- I knew I had to get back down somehow! I was incredibly humbled by just how demanding this hike was and it was a great reminder that I still have a lot to learn. Through all of that, I can look back and say that this was one of the most rewarding, awesome days I’ve had in a long time and I’m happy to have been a part of it.
I’m also thankful to this guy (who married me for better or for worse) for being such a great supporter- even if I might have whined just a little bit.
A BIG THANKS to Heidi, Lynne, Heather, Chris and Andy for the great memories from this adventure. You all amaze, impress and inspire me!
When was the last time you felt humbled?