Hiking above timberline

We decided to travel up to the high country for our weekly training hike. Our choice was pretty simple, as our closest access to high country peaks is Guanella Pass. Guanella Pass is the mountain connection between the communities along U.S. 285 to those on I-70 in Colorado’s high Country. Specifically, the mountain communities of Grant and Georgetown, Colorado.

We got up bright and early so we could get up and down the trail well before the afternoon monsoon storms kicked up. There is no worse place on earth than on a trail above timberline when a lightning storm strikes. It a totally helpless and frightening experience. So, up early – complete the 45 minute drive and on the trail before 0900 for our 4 mile hike.

Today’s hike will start at 11,500′ and take us to 12,100′ and two neat alpine lakes.

The top of Guanella Pass has two trailheads, one on each side of the road. One trailhead is for those wishing to attempt to summit, Mt. Bierstadt at 14,065′ elevation. Side note: there are 88 peaks in America over 14,000′ in elevation and 54 of them are in Colorado. Rocky Mountain High! This photo shows the side slope of Bierstadt and the “sawtooth” which connects the mountain to Mt. Evans. Many climbers have been killed over the years trying to cross the sawtooth. My son and I have reached the summit on both Evans and Bierstadt, but avoided the sawtooth.

Our hike today will take us on the other side of the street and the Square Lakes trail. The trail has “only” 600′ of elevation gain, but we will be carrying our fully weighted Camino backpacks. Plus, we will be well above timberline, so breathing the rarified air will make this a true test. Once on the trail one of the first things we noticed was the amazing vistas. We could see 11 levels of mountain ranges as we looked to the south. It was incredibly beautiful.


The next thing we noticed was how the recent rains have really punctuated our amazing wildflowers. The Indian Paintbrush was he deepest red we have ever seen. The flowers blanketed the alpine grasses and were just amazing.

As our hike took us further upward, we managed our way across several small streams, which moments before were ice and snow.

As we hiked closer to the lakes we passed several rather large snowfields. Snow in July – gotta love Colorado!

Finally, one last steep climb before the lakes. Once there, we took a break on the banks of the crystal clear lower Square Lake.


We decided to head back from the lower lake as the clouds started rolling in. Along the way, we took the time for one last photo.

Photos cannot accurately portray the vastness and beauty of Colorado’s backcountry hiking trails. You really need to see for yourself. We feel blessed to be able to train for our upcoming Camino adventure in such an environment.



Filed under Mark & Sandy's Camino 2014

5 responses to “Hiking above timberline

  1. This looks lovely! How high will you have to go on the Camino?

  2. sklcolorado

    I’m wondering about the hike to the lakes as I am always considering new places to explore. Looks nice and a bit greener than my favorite places in the Sangre de Cristos. Did you see many campers along the trail or do most people go for day hikes there?

    • There are plenty of N.F. camp sites along Guanella Pass Road, both on the Grant side and the Georgetown side of the pass. Since there are so many nice flat camp sites along creeks, we did not see any campers along the trail. The trail actually passes the lakes on the way to the Geneva Creek Trailhead (and beyond). It makes for a great day hike.

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