Monday, March 8, 2010

Squaw Mountain, 11,486 ft Arapaho National Forest

Squaw Mountain has been on my hiking "to do" list since hiking Chief Mountain, a peak nearby, a couple of months ago.   The views on the top of this 11,486 foot peak are beautiful, but as we descended the peak shortly before sunset, the peaceful sound of silence was shattered by loud gunfire.  Yes, gunfire. 
We first arrived at the trailhead which is located at the intersection of Squaw Mountain road and a forest road after about 35 minutes in the car.  I tried to drive up the forest road a little bit and immediately got our SUV stuck in the deep snow on the side of the road.  We spent a half an hour shoveling it out before we could start hiking.  Fortunately, I was not alone on this hike or I would have had a really hard time getting the truck out myself.   Josh and my cousin Patrick Rainey plus the two dogs were all eager to hike.   

Getting there:
From the Denver area take I-70 West to exit # 252 onto highway 74 toward Evergreen. After approximately 3 miles turn right onto highway 103, also called Squaw Pass Road.  This is a well marked turn at a light, it is also the road to Mount Evans. Stay on Squaw Pass road for 12 miles until you reach a dirt forest service road on your left .3 miles past the turnoff for the Echo Mountain Ski area.  The trailhead starts at the base of this road, which is not accessible by vehicle in the winter.  Park on the side of the dirt road and start walking up the trail.  This is an easy trailhead/road to miss and here is a hint; the trailhead/road is about .3 of a mile past the Echo Ski Area turnoff on the left side of the road.  Once you pass the turnoff to the ski area, start looking for the road on your left.   Here are directions to Echo Mountain.  In the map you can see the next road to the east, just after the ski turnoff and marker on the map.  
You will find other cars here on a nice weekend, but during the week when I have hiked in this area it as been deserted.  The trailhead/road is at 10,635 feet.  The hike is approximately 3.8 miles round-trip from the start of the trailhead to the farther fire lookout peak and back.

The Journey: 
After getting our truck unstuck in the deep snow, and getting our gear on and ready, it was already getting a little late in the evening for a hike.  We started the hike around 3pm and passed a handful of hikers walking off the trail as we were getting started.  Apparently several of these hikers were carrying rifles on their back as they hiked off the trail.  Both Josh and Patrick noticed this and wondered aloud why people were carrying rifles, we considered it for a while and continued on our hike.  
The wide winter trail is frequented by cross country skiers, snowshoers, as well as hikers.  In the summer this road is an accessible 4wd road for other outdoor activities as well as hiking.  Squaw Mountain has three peaks, the tallest peak is at 11,486 feet and has a fire lookout tower on the top.  We hiked to this peak which is reached by taking the RIGHT or higher trail at the trail split seen in the above photo.  You can see both peaks in the photo to the above; the farther teeny peak which is hard to see in the click-able photo between the trees is the peak with the fire lookout tower where we hiked.  The closer peak is also Squaw Mountain and the lower or left trail takes you to that peak.   The trail has several long switchbacks that climb gradually up the mountain, with views of the surrounding mountains peeking through the trees.  The peak is not in view until you reach the saddle of the mountain where the trees start to park, the rocky summit and fire lookout tower come into view and you are nearly at the top.   After scrambling over some rocks to reach the lookout tower, you are on the top!  There is a cabin on the saddle of the mountain, as well as power lines and an outhouse. (Not certain if the outhouse was open)  There is also a picnic table next to the lookout tower which provides the best views for lunch that you can imagine. 
The views from the top are magnificent!  Chief Mountain a neighboring 11,000 foot peak and similar hike from the same trailhead is visible in the distance as well as the continental divide and scenic peaks beyond.  On a clear day Pikes Peak is visible to the south and Long's Peak in Estes Park is visible to the north.  
After a short photo session on the peak, we started to hike down the mountain.  It was on our decent near sunset that the gunfire began.  At one point prior to this, we even remarked how peaceful and quiet it was up here.  At first the gunfire sounded far away and we speculated there might be a shooting range in the area.  However, the gunfire began to get louder and at one point, sounded startlingly close causing us to call out that there were hikers nearby.  I
was very confused by this, as this trail is well populated by other hikers and outdoor enthusiasts.  Josh reminded me that we did pass people with shotguns on our hike up to the peak, but we were still unclear as to why people were shooting guns so close to a trail.  Patrick suggested rival western hillbilly high altitude gangs were at war, and it certainly sounded like it!  We hurried off the trail back to the car, arriving back shortly after 5pm, making the hike 1 hour and 40 minutes in total.   After getting home, I started to research what would be up in the mountains causing the gunfire, and didn't find a range or a reason why.  However, after speaking to a native of the mountain area, I was told that firing a rifle in the mountains is legal as long as its done with great care.  Maybe Patrick was closer to being right than we thought.
Aside from the gunfire, this hike is relatively easy and would be a great evening hike after work in the summer, or a great hike to suggest to visitors in Colorado.  The incline is very mild, and both Josh and I commented that our mothers could climb this mountain and we would take them here the next time they visited.  Keep Squaw Mountain in mind for a great hike with rewarding views!  I would love to hear your comments if you have hiked hear, or nearby.

Here is the link to get driving directions. This takes you to Echo Mountain, you can see on the map, the next forest road is where you want to hike.

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