Sunday, July 6, 2008

Square Top Lakes

Distance: 4.2 miles round trip
Elevation: 11,700 ft - 12,300 ft
Elevation Gain: 850 ft (net), 1,100 ft (cumulative)
Bathroom at the Trailhead: Yes
Dogs: Off leash
Critters: Golden Eagle, White Crowned Sparrow

Square Top Lake is a great alpine journey near Denver.
Lower Square Top Lake as seen from the upper lake. Mt. Bierstadt in the background.
Square Top Lakes near Georgetown Colorado is a short tundra hike to two alpine lakes with incredible views. The entire trail is above treeline, which is always a treat for those like me who don't like slogging miles through the trees to get anywhere.

Looking down into the first valley
I chose this hike for the first hike of the 4th of July weekend because I needed to get my 15 year-old dog out for a short hike that was not overly rocky. Last year I had made it to the lower lake but ended up jogging back to the car as the thunder rolled overhead. This area is notorious for afternoon thunderstorms that will have you cowering in fear if you are careless and start late. On this trip, the skies stayed clear and I was able to lounge at the upper lake for an hour or more. There I saw a Golden Eagle flying against the mountainside. Even with my telephoto lens it was merely a spec against the expanse of rock.

Western Sky Pilot (Polemonium viscosum) on the Square Top Lakes Trail
Western Sky Pilot (Polemonium viscosum). It grows at high altitudes on dry rocky sites.
The trailhead for Square Top Lakes is at the apex of Guanella Pass. The lower parking lot is full of Mt. Bierstadt climbers and the upper lot contains overflow. Both lots have nice new bathrooms. The trail descends 100 ft into a small valley where is crosses a creek on a series of wooden bridges. It then rises quickly to a large rocky knoll. There were Buddhist payer flags strung across the rocks here and another hiker told me someone had died in an avalanche there. From this knoll, the trail descends another 100 ft before rising to the first lake. This lake is pretty, but the view from the upper lake is even better. Both lakes are nestled at the base of Square Top Mountain. That is an adventurous hike as well!

A small section of the upper lake
Wildflowers covered the tundra and at one point I tried to estimate their distribution. It seemed like there was one flower every six inches or so. I lost count of the number of species present but white and yellow seemed to be the predominate colors. On the broad shelf that borders the upper lake, tiny tundra flowers sprouted in crevices of every rock. I need to get myself a magnifying glass so I can examine these more closely.

The Alpine Sunflower is a tundra flower sure to please.
Alpine Sunflower (Hymenoxys grandiflora). Also known as Old-Man-of-the-Mountain. They bloom in clumps from May to June and turns to face the sun.
On my way back down I lingered at the lower lake for a few moments. There I met Jack, a Chesapeake Bay Retrieve/Lab mix. This dog looked more like a Grizzly Bear than dog and he was shuffling through the water of the lake backwards shaking his hindquarters in a most un-lady like manner. The owners said he was trying to loosen rocks on the bottom with his front paws. This activity, combined with piteous whines was a site to behold. Occasionally, Jack would thrust the upper half of his body underwater like a duck feeding on grass and come up spouting. At last, we saw Jack bound out of the water with a 10-pound rock in his mouth. I wish I were so easily entertained. Still, if I were caught moving my hindquarters in a similar manner, I would be arrested for disturbing the peace! This vignette might just convince you that Square Top Lakes is great for dogs.

The White Crowned Sparrow is a migrant.
The White Crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophyrus) is a migratory songbird that mainly eats seeds. There were many of them singing away in the willows. I have a better photo on my Mayflower Gulch Wildflower Hike
If you check out Square Top Lakes, go early so you won’t have to run from the thunderstorms, which can pop up very quickly on Guanella Pass. Another great hike nearby is Silver Dollar and Murray Lakes.

The rock hound


1 comment:

Susan Gibbs said...

A lovely post. Thank you! I'll be going up today. Enjoyed your photographs.