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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

Guanella Pass‏

September 3rd, 2010 · No Comments

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On Wednesday I went all the way to Guanella Pass with my friend Sharon. Normally, this high mountain pass is just 65 miles southwest of Boulder. It’s now 93 miles away.

Neither Boulder nor Guanella Pass moved. But some rocks did.

The direct route up to the pass south from Georgetown on Interstate 70 has been closed indefinitely since July 30 because of “rock instability.” We had to take the longer route north from the town of Grant on US Highway 285.

We went anyway, because as the summer draws to a close, the high country calls ever more urgently. The weather is cooler now and soon our Colorado mountains will be covered with snow and our roads with ice.

The summit of Guanella Pass is 11,699 feet. It sits about four miles from the Continental Divide to the west and about three miles from 14,060 foot Mount Bierstadt to the east.

Some day I may decide to climb Mount Bierstadt. Three years ago the local newspaper named it as one of the four “Fourteeners for Mortals” of Colorado’s 53 peaks higher than 14,000 feet. The other peaks on that list are Mount Ebert, at 14,440 feet Colorado’s highest summit, Grays Peak at 14,278 feet, and Quandary Peak, 14,271 feet.

Because the road to 14,265 foot Mount Evans goes all but the last quarter of a mile to the summit, the local paper didn’t include it. Sharon and I climbed Mount Evans two weeks ago, and in my book it was actually my second fourteener. My first was 14,110 foot Pikes Peak, which I reached by road two years ago (and climbed the last three or four steps to the summit).

From Guanella Pass on Wednesday Mount Bierstadt looked like an easy climb. It’s just 2,850 feet up from the pass and has the least vertical ascent of the paper’s picks.

Mount Bierstadt from Guanella Pass

Mount Bierstadt from Guanella Pass

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Just half a mile north of Mount Bierstadt is a much steeper challenge, The Sawtooth. At about 13,760 feet, The Sawtooth doesn’t count as a fourteener, but it is more dramatic than its neighbor to the south.

The Sawtooth from Guanella Pass

The Sawtooth from Guanella Pass

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And looking north from Guanella Pass are the mountains in Boulder’s backyard. These are the peaks in Rocky Mountain National Park and the Indian Peaks and James Peak wilderness areas.

Boulder's Backyard from Guanella Pass

Boulder's Backyard from Guanella Pass

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We started our hike a mile north of the pass and then a half mile up a rough dirt road to the Silver Dollar Lake Trailhead. This hike to Silver Dollar Lake took us up to almost exactly 12,000 cold and windy feet to within a mile and one quarter of the Continental Divide.

A sunny sky with hardly a cloud in the sky except on the northern horizon blessed us. We would have been warm enough on our early morning hike if the gusty west wind hadn’t brought the wind chill factor down to around 40 degrees.

Pine forests sheltered us for the first half mile of the one and one-half mile hike to the lake. Then we reached the tundra at treeline, about 11,500 feet. At the lake a last stand of dwarf trees known as krumholz found shelter next to a rock ledge and in turn gave us shelter for our snack.

Sharon Found Shelter from the Storm

Sharon Found Shelter from the Storm

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The wind kicked up shimmering waves on Silver Dollar Lake.

Silver Dollar Lake

Silver Dollar Lake

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The hope to see ptarmigan was what brought us to the Guanella Pass area. Sharon and I each had seen this alpine bird, a permanent resident of high mountains above treeline, only twice before. I saw this bird a few weeks ago at about 12,000 feet up in Rocky Mountain National Park.

A Ptarmigan

A Ptarmigan

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On Wednesday we found no ptarmigan. Instead, however, we found pikas. At least a dozen of them! More than I had ever seen in my whole life!

I was close enough to four of these cute little creatures to capture many images. These are my two favorite shots.

A Pika Warns its Family

A Pika Warns its Family

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Another Pika Eats Breakfast

Another Pika Eats Breakfast

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Like the pikas, yellow-bellied marmots live in rock piles. Judging by how much fat this marmot put on, this summer has been a good one as they prepare to hibernate for the winter.

A Fat Marmot

A Fat Marmot

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Before the sun hit the canyon as we drove up the Guanella Pass Road along Geneva Creek, we enjoyed watching a flock of a dozen or more Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep. But it was too dark to take pictures.

Then, as we came down from the pass we spotted a lone doe in the sunshine.

A Mule Deer Grazes

A Mule Deer Grazes

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You can see how the mule deer got its name. But don’t assume that she was sticking out her tongue at me.

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Posted in: Hiking, Photography

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