Peak(s):  Red Mtn C  -  13,229 feet
Red Pk A  -  13,215 feet
Hoosier Ridge  -  13,352 feet
Silverheels, Mt  -  13,822 feet
Square Top Mtn A  -  13,794 feet
Argentine Pk  -  13,738 feet
Wilcox, Mt  -  13,408 feet
Date Posted:  09/13/2018
Modified:  10/25/2019
Date Climbed:   09/01/2018
Author:  supranihilest
 Labor Day Weekend 13er Massacre, Part 1: Hoosier Daddy? (Hoosier Pass 13ers) & Square Top Loop  

This is Part 1 of a two part trip report. Find Part 2 here!


Long weekend? Big trips! That's a maxim to live by. I had originally planned on going to the San Juan to either (aid) climb "Sunlight Spire" or Pigeon Peak and Turret Peak (and possibly others) but the weather was predicted to be total garbage all weekend, with high probabilities of rain and/or snow across the entire state. Not wanting to drive all the way to Silverton and pay for the train trip to Needleton only to not want to get out of my tent I decided to stay closer to home and just bang out as many new 13ers as I possibly could. With that in mind I managed to do a dozen: Hoosier Ridge, Red Mountain C, Red Peak A, and Mount Silverheels, the only even remotely interesting peak of the group (it's a low bar with these ones); Square Top Mountain A, Argentine Peak, and Mount Wilcox; and a traverse of the James Peak Wilderness, netting Mount Flora, Mount Eva, Parry Peak A, Mount Bancroft, and James Peak. This trip report covers the first two days and seven 13ers. First stop: Hoosier Pass.


Day 1, September 1, 2018: Hoosier Pass East 13ers, aka Hoosier Daddy?

These peaks all have very simple and non-committing routes to their summits. I didn't say easy, just simple. All four peaks are walkups but Hoosier Ridge and the Reds are quite lengthy. Silverheels is short and sweet but steep and has a descent option that I took the wrong way. As long as the predicted weather didn't pan out and I didn't encounter lightning I didn't care what else it did; rain, snow, wind, alien invasion, I'm going to hike in all of it. I drove to Breckenridge and headed to the pass early Saturday morning. Getting out of the car and hiking a very short distance up the road, before I even got to treeline (which is only a few tenths of a mile up a road) the amount of work ahead of me became apparent immediately.

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Infinitely long ridge, clearly. The top of this first bump is still a long distance from the ridge's "elbow", which itself is miles from any of the summits at its
end.
19007_02
Red Mountain and Hoosier Ridge's summit. Red Peak is hidden behind Hoosier Ridge.

19007_03
Mount Silverheels.

The road leads to a set of radio towers, but this is actually a bit beyond where a faint trail splits off and heads up the ridge. As it was I was a tiny bit off course and simply walked off the road and into the scattered trees in the general direction of "up" on the ridge. It's pretty hard to actually get lost here as there's really only one way you can go, and the hike to treeline is very short. The hiking is awesome here though; simple, open, grassy and comfortable, never steep enough to really be out of breath even at a clip, and with excellent views of the Tenmile and Mosquito ranges behind.

19007_04
Mount Bross and Mount Lincoln.
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Clinton Peak (far left), North Star Mountain (ridge center left), Quandary Peak (in the rain), Pacific Peak (pointy, in the rain), Crystal Peak, Peak 10.

Reaching the top of the first bump on the ridge I was able to survey most of the rest of the route.

19007_06
The route goes over the next bump, to the right, and finally back left to the summit of Hoosier Ridge.

By this point I was at nearly 13,000 feet and would be staying above that for many hours. Until I headed to Silverheels I would be above 13,000, meandering through the ridge's open expanses. I skirted a few small, rocky bumps, eventually making my way to the ridge's "elbow" where Red Peak finally came into view for the first time.

19007_07
Red Peak on the right. Most of the bumps on the ridge were rockier than the short saddles between them.

I continued hastily along the ridge hoping not to get soaked by the rain dumping all around me in every direction. Only a small amount fell, nothing like the deluges other peaks got. Going up and down and around a whole bunch of smaller high points on the ridge, I eventually came to the last bump before Hoosier Ridge's summit proper. Red Mountain came into view and I decided to skirt Hoosier Ridge en route to save myself a little bit of elevation gain and loss. While I couldn't see the north side of Hoosier Ridge I hoped I'd be able to do the same for Red Peak, collecting Hoosier Ridge third overall.

19007_08
Red Mountain looking very not-red. I later discovered most of the red was on the mountain's northwest side, out of view.

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The Class 2, possibly Difficult Class 2 (depending on exact line taken) talus up Red Mountain. It's actually quite steep and I went around it left instead
of head-on.
19007_10
Quandary's east ridge in full view. To the left is North Star Mountain, to the right is Atlantic Peak (in the middle of the basin) and Pacific Peak (at the end
of the ridge), and to the far right is Crystal Peak.

I didn't bother taking a break on top of Red Mountain (or on any of the later peaks, either), turning around and immediately beginning the traverse to Red Peak, again skirting below Hoosier Ridge's summit.

19007_11
All the dark colored rock on Red Peak (to the left) is actually pretty maroon, so I see where it gets its name from.

En route to Red Peak it began snowing but relented after just a few minutes. The weather had done nearly everything so far; hot and sunny, cold and snowy, rain from sprinkles to downpours, alternating calm and blustery. None had lasted more than a few minutes before it shifted wildly to something else.

Red Peak came and went, and I headed back to finally tag Hoosier Ridge. Likewise Hoosier Ridge came and went and I began the long descent back to the "elbow" where I could finally make my way to Silverheels. All the way back down the ridge I went, until I finally got to the point where I'd drop off and across to Silverheels, which looked gigantic even from a distance.

19007_12
See those "tiny" power lines center right? They're not so tiny.

Even the distance between the turnoff and the base of Silverheels' north rib is pretty large. Silverheels is just a huge mountain in general, especially for a 13er.

19007_13

At this point thunder began the rumble to the east, towards US285. I was basically at the low point of the Hoosier Ridge-Silverheels saddle and could have escaped but the clouds were staying put to the east. The Tenmile/Mosquito to the west was also socked in, but no thunder was coming from that direction. I decided to press on and keep a close eye on conditions. Soon enough I was no longer walking downhill or on level terrain, but uphill again. The north rib is, like the rest of the route to this point, a simple walkup. It gets pretty steep as it gains elevation though, and parts of it are very loose. The bottom is largely sans trail but a trail appears higher up and makes what would otherwise be a pretty miserable slog slightly less so.

19007_14
It's steep but the trail here is a godsend because the underlying dirt is far more stable than the screen and talus on top.

The trail switchbacks steeply up the rib and eventually tops out several hundred feet below the summit on the west ridge. The scene is familiar: a ridge that seems like it goes into the sky forever.

19007_15
Easier terrain from this point to the summit.

A short hike later and the final summit of the day was mine. The thunder had stopped a while ago but the rain hadn't and the clouds were building over Silverheels. I didn't waste any time resting and turned around immediately, heading this time to the rib to the west of the north rib (the northwest rib?). It was lower angle and grassy for the most part and made for much easier descending than the true north rib would have. There was also a road that went to the bottom of the rib and I thought I'd be smart and hike out on the road. This turned out to be an incorrect assumption, as it would have ended far down the southern side of Hoosier Pass had I walked to its end. I should have gone up and back to the saddle and to Hoosier Ridge, the way I had come down in the first place.

19007_19
Should have gone to the saddle and back up to the ridge.

The road was great for a while but ultimately turned away from my intended direction of return. After realizing my mistake I turned back north and began bushwhacking around a small peak and through several open areas full of willows - my favorite - with plenty of soft, sandy sidehilling thrown in to avoid willow hell.

19007_17
Hoosier Ridge on the far side. Everything that's light green is willow. Everything that's sandy looking is basically just that. A rather tedious traverse.

I tried staying high enough that I could join the ridge without re-gaining a ton of elevation. This proved tedious but eventually I made it back to the ridge, the trail, the road, and my car. At least my off-trail adventure drew a pretty picture on the GPS!

19007_18
"Pretty bird... Yeah can you say pretty bird?" The lower southern part of the route should have merged with the upper southern part, as that would have
eliminated most if not all of the bushwhacking.

Statistics

Climbers: Ben Feinstein (myself)
Total distance: 16.73 miles
Total elevation gain: 5,377 feet
Total time: 7:50:20
Peaks: 4 thirteeners (3 ranked, 1 unranked)

  • Red Mountain C, 13,229 feet
  • Red Peak A, 13,215 feet (unranked)
  • Hoosier Ridge, 13,325 feet
  • Mount Silverheels, 13,822 feet

Splits:

Starting Location Ending Location Via Time (h:mm:ss) Cumulative Time (h:mm:ss) Rest Time (m:ss)
Hoosier Pass Red Mountain C 2:29:36 2:29:32 0:00¹
Red Mountain C Red Peak A 0:44:17 3:13:53 0:00¹
Red Peak A Hoosier Ridge 0:26:43 3:40:36 0:00¹
Hoosier Ridge Mount Silverheels 2:02:52 5:43:28 0:00¹
Mount Silverheels Hoosier Pass 2:06:53 7:50:20 n/a

¹Rest is a crutch.


Day 2, Sunday, September 2, 2018: Square Top Mountain Group

Once again the weather predictions for Sunday were bad, with the usual suspects of possible rain and possible snow. Well I didn't care; no possible not caring, 100% chance of not caring. My buddy Clay (14ers.com member SIRKINGCLAYTON) and I wanted to get out and do something but didn't want to do anything overly committing. We settled on doing the Tour de Abyss (Bierstadt's east ridge, across the Sawtooth, and up Evans' west ridge) since it was fairly easy, not super committing, and from experience, a total blast of a route. He forced me to get up at 3:30am (he's a real bad guy) to meet at 4:30, and then when we got to the "trailhead" (a small parking area on a corner of one of the Mount Evans Road switchbacks) we found a considerable amount of snow for early September, and it was freezing, so we decided to drive across the massif to Guanella Pass and do the three 13ers west of the pass instead: Square Top Mountain A, Argentine Peak, and Mount Wilcox. We'd both already done Bierstadt and Evans but none of the 13ers so this worked out just fine, and it turned out to be quite nice by the time we got to Guanella Pass to boot.

Neither one of us had done any planning for these three peaks so we downloaded some topo maps to our phones as we drove. Clay also picked up a bag of cheddar and sour cream potato chips which obviously proved instrumental later on in the day. With basic knowledge about the loop we set out on a beautiful morning on a great trail. We weren't sure exactly where to go, as there was a trail spur going northwest on our topo maps and we didn't know where to go otherwise. Looking at the map, the east ridge seemed like a perfectly good route. We could also see it in the distance and guessed it went just fine. Additionally, the signage on the trail wasn't super clear that we were in fact supposed to go to the southeast ridge, near Square Top Lakes. Our day thus started out with a bushwhack through willows - the perfect start to any fine day in the mountains.

19007_21
Square Top Mountain, Mount Wilcox, 12er Otter Mountain, and the lovely willows we cut through to get to the ridge.

The crowds on the trail immediately diminished to zero. Not a single other person was on the route we climbed, and it was, as always, refreshing to get away from the throngs. So far that's one of the best things I've found about 13ers - the relative solitude compared to 14ers and other hikes in Colorado. The only 14er I climbed out of the 58 where I saw nobody else on the mountain was North Maroon Peak, and that made North Maroon a climb that stood out from the rest. Random 13ers that only a fraction of people have heard about or care about are like that almost without exception. You're probably only going to run into people who actually care about the 13er for its own sake, which isn't many, and they know and appreciate being up there relatively alone as well.

It seems nobody wanted to join us in the willows, and for that I (and they) are probably grateful. Once we made it through the bushwhacking the ridge opened up.

19007_22
Gentle terrain as far as the eye can see. That's a false summit, with the true summit hidden far behind and above.
19007_23
The ridge gets a little rockier as you ascend but it can all be easily avoided.
19007_24
Atop the false summit. Much more gentle ridge to go.

The ridge slowly gained elevation as it snaked to the west. Eventually we got far enough along to see Square Top Lake and realized that we were on the "wrong" route. Many people were toiling away below and on the southeast ridge, while we remained happily apart from them.

19007_25
Square Top Lake with the southeast ridge making up the left skyline.

As we approached the mountain proper the terrain kicked back and actually got quite interesting. The poor folks on the standard route probably had no idea that the northeast face of Square Top is home to striking rock formations and fun, steep scrambling.

19007_26
Yum.

At this point Clay and I separated as we pushed up the ever-steepening slope. I went ahead and found awesome, Class 2 to Difficult Class 2 scrambling on fair-to-good rock through a prominent, rectangular rock band visible atop the ridge against the skyline in the photo above.

19007_27
A wide gully provided the best (and really only) moderate scrambling of the day.

Once past the rock band the east ridge route joins with the southeast ridge and unfortunately the scrambling stops and the rock gets junky.

19007_28
Dinner plates. Yesssss...

It wasn't far to the summit plateau but it was far to the summit itself, which was at the far, far end of the long, nearly flat plateau. Clay joined me shortly and we chilled for a while and ate most of a big bag of Lay's Cheddar and Sour Cream potato chips. Not really mountain food but they tasted great, nutrition be damned! We had a long ways to go and so we set off towards Argentine after about 20 minutes.

19007_30
Argentine's summit is a loooooooong way off. It's that triangle in the sun just right of the upper center. That tiny speck near the lower left of the light
triangle is a massive transmission line pole.
19007_32
Shelf Lake and Decatur Mountain became visible on the descent to the Square Top-Argentine saddle.

From the saddle there was plenty of boilerplate Class 2 hiking on broken granite blocks to go.

19007_33

19007_34

Along the way we passed under the transmission lines (from the nearby dam on the north side of Guanella Pass) as well as some old junk and a shack that I think was used by the folks who installed the transmission lines. There was a bunch of large coils inside the shack and not much else.

19007_35

19007_36
Creepy shack at 13,000 foot plus. It'd serve as an OK shelter in an emergency but it was pretty gross inside.

Finally, after what felt like miles (hmm, I wonder why...), we arrived on the summit of Argentine Peak.


19007_37
Grays Peak and Torreys Peak on the left and Mount Edwards, a Centennial 13er, to the right. It looks lower due to the distance but it's 112 feet taller
than Argentine.
19007_40
Mount Evans and Mount Bierstadt in the distance. Mount Wilcox far left, and the east ridge of Square Top Mountain middle all the way to the right edge.
Naylor Lake is the big one just left of center, Silver Dollar Lake just peeking out right of center, and Murphy Reservoir is hidden closer to the viewer.

We didn't waste time on Argentine's summit, nor did we eat any of our precious few potato chips there. We had one more mountain to go, and then we could relax a little bit. Wilcox was close by, much closer than Argentine was to Square Top, and the ridge to the summit looked like it was still just Class 2.

19007_39

19007_41
Grassy down low, rocky up high. I'm feeling déjà vu here, which mountain is this again? These three have been so similar.

There was a single optional move of Class 3 en route to Wilcox's summit, which of course we had to take. It was rather underwhelming, to be honest. One move of not very exposed Class 3. Spins ratchet in celebration. Wilcox fell soon, by far the least exciting of the three peaks thus far, but that was to change quickly. We finished off the bag of potato chips and then set off down the south face towards the lakes. We knew if we went down the east ridge we would hit private property owned by the Naylor Lake Club, and we didn't want to go back towards the Argentine-Wilcox saddle since it was slightly out of the way and we had already gone up it, so it was a known quantity. Well, given that it was a known quantity, and an easy one at that, we should have just gone back that way, but instead took a direct line down the south face, much to our subsequent dissatisfaction. The south face of Mount Wilcox is straight out of Hell. Incredibly steep, incredibly loose, ankle breakers absolutely everywhere, and seemingly endless. It took us well over an hour to descend only a few hundred feet, when the obliging west ridge would have taken us happily down to grassy slopes and then to the lake. So much for trying to be smart and fast.

19007_43
Pure torture.
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Truly horrible.

The psychological scars will remain forever. Not only that, but once we did reach the bottom of the south face we had to bushwhack through more willows to get to the lake.

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Clay is 6' 1". I'm 5' 3". He could barely see anything, and I was basically blindly following him.
19007_52
Fig. 41 An illustrated guide to Mount Wilcox's south face.

Once through the self-imposed torture it was a quick walk over to beautiful Murphy Reservoir. More importantly, it was a quick walk over to a beautiful, good trail.

19007_47
Murphy Reservoir, an amazing reprieve from what we had just come down.

We had easy trail to hike on for quite a ways now. In fact, the trail would have taken us all the way down to Guanella Pass Road if we went that far, but that would have been farther from the car than if we simply went back over and down Square Top's east ridge again. It might have been easier though, but at this point we didn't care much. We'd have to gain all of that elevation whether it was here or on the road, so we chose a direct route over the ridge. This was the steepest climbing of the day and fortunately it was much, much better than the terrain on Wilcox. It was mostly grass and would be pretty treacherous if it was wet, but as it was we made pretty quick time with it.

19007_49
We snuck between the rocks and willows on grass. This was the last bit of elevation gain for the day.

Once we topped out on the ridge it was some easy downhill over a couple of very small rollers before we could see the pass again.

19007_50
Hard to see the parking lot but the road is visible. Almost down!

We hadn't forgotten the willows we bushwhacked through on the way up, but thankfully on the way down we ended up finding cairns which led to a trail, which itself cut through the willows and made our return to the main Square Top Lakes/Mountain trail a cinch. We found a rather fitting sign at this junction, one we appreciated given the amount of nonsense we put up with for these three peaks.

19007_51
Says it all.

A quick hike back to the car and we were off for well-earned burgers and beer at Westbound & Down in Idaho Springs.

Statistics

Climbers: Ben Feinstein (myself), Clay G. (SIRKINGCLAYTON)
Total distance: 11.76 miles
Total elevation gain: 4,432 feet
Total time: 8:14:46
Peaks: 3 thirteeners (3 ranked)

  • Square Top Mountain A, 13,794 feet
  • Argentine Peak, 13,738 feet
  • Mount Wilcox, 13,408 feet

Splits:

Starting Location Ending Location Via Time (h:mm:ss) Cumulative Time (h:mm:ss) Rest Time (m:ss)
Guanella Pass Square Top Mountain A 2:09:34 2:09:34 22:45
Square Top Mountain A Argentine Peak 1:13:03 3:45:22 6:12
Argentine Peak Mount Wilcox 1:09:59 5:01:32 21:53
Mount Wilcox Guanella Pass 2:50:20 8:14:46 n/a

Garmin Connect activity link

Version history:

Date Notes
September 13, 2018 Original publication.
October 25, 2019 Added version history, removed a sentence that I'd accidentally copy+pasted out of place at the very start of the report.

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):




Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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