Colorado’s Guanella Pass offers access to expansive wilderness, stunning scenery and a series of breath-taking peaks over 12,000 feet. I generally avoid it as if it’s a radioactive, viral hot zone amid an oil spill that spawned irradiated, plague-carrying, high-viscosity zombies.
The pass is accessible by road for only part of the year, and it draws herds of people in the summer and early fall. For about four to five months, the drive to the pass’s pinnacle is nearly as interminable as a presidential campaign; it’s rush hour with better views. The area’s altitude and rocky, post-glacial terrain also make it too difficult for Reese and Miles to tackle given their ages and various ailments.
But I had a recent Friday free, and I’ve been trying to make sure that Wyatt receives the extended outings his brothers enjoyed in their youth (also, I needed a day away from a computer, a TV and political discourse). With schools in session, the high-country trees bare, and temperatures turning, the timing to tackle Guanella Pass seemed right.
Unlike previous Wyatt-only outings, this one launched flawlessly (thanks to a reminder from my better half, I even remembered our water bottles this time). We slipped out of the house under cover of dark and struck the South Park Trail as the sun struggled to pierce the clouds from behind the 14,060-foot Mount Bierstadt to the east.
The trail begins above treeline and winds up and away to the west before swinging southwest near Square Top Lakes, two ponds that rest on staggered plateaus at the base of Square Top Mountain, which is not to be confused with Wyoming’s Squaretop Mountain, the crown of which is decidedly more quadrilateral. The lakes were frozen in an icy reflection of the gray sky.
We ambled off trail to the north and ascended a ridge with miles’ worth of view. Not another soul was in sight. The wind encouraged us to make our visit a hasty, or at least encouraged me; Wyatt torpedoed easily through the bracing breeze as we meandered partway up the spine of Square Top Mountain and looked northwest toward Silver Dollar Lake, Murray Lake and the 13er Mount Wilcox.
I soon lost feeling in my face, and we turned around. The clouds parted as we prepared to descend, revealing a half-moon still hanging in the westward sky. We dropped below the ridge, which was like flicking the “off” switch on an industrial fan, and settled on a spongy patch of land for a drink and a snack under the newly emerged sun.
We sat for an hour or so as the sun burned the feeling back into my face. Except for the occasional breeze that breached the ridge above us and the sound of Wyatt lapping at a stone, it was silent. The wildflowers that draw summer crowds were long drained of their color, and the leaves whose autumnal turning is so popular lay brown and crumbling in the valleys below; all the 14er baggers stuck to the other side of Guanella Pass, where the trail to Mount Bierstadt’s summit can be followed to the 14,265-foot apex of Mount Evans.
Eventually, voices echoed up the hillside. We watched a couple climb the rise toward Square Top Mountain, then turn back when confronted by the wind. I packed up our gear, then we followed them back to civilization. But at a safe distance just in case they were the hybrid, toxic zombies I imagined.