Gunsight Pass Peaks: Broncho Mountain & Square Top Mountain
Friday – Sunday, July 16-18, 2021
Last year when Diane and I were hiking to the Highest Fire Lookout in North America, located on the summit of Fairview Peak in the Sawatch Range, I consistently found myself glancing across the Gold Creek Valley to Fossil Ridge and immediately knew that I would need to come back in 2021 to start exploring that area. After poring over maps of the Fossil Creek Wilderness it looked like the short trail to Lamphier Lake and Gunsight Pass would be a good place for me to start with, so that’s where I decided to go this weekend. As an added bonus, there are a couple of 12ers surrounding the cirque that contains Lamphier Lake, so I knew I would have plenty of options to keep me busy. With Diane being busy in school this year, it’s been a little while since I went on my last backpacking trip, so I thought this hike would be the perfect opportunity for me to go on my first solo overnight backpacking trip since I climbed Humboldt Peak in 2016, and I was really looking forward to it!
I left after work on Friday afternoon, grabbed a quick dinner and then drove through Delta and Hotchkiss to the West Elk Loop Scenic Byway and Kebler Pass. After making my way through the West Elks over Kebler Pass and then Ohio Pass it was time to find a place to spend the night. It sure has been getting tougher and tougher to find a campsite in the mountains this summer, but I headed up the road to Little Mill Creek and eventually found a decent spot for the night. There were too many clouds for a sunset so I didn’t bother taking any photos this evening, and then I listened to a podcast or two for a while and went to bed early.
A view of the Beckwith Mountains as I made my way to Kebler Pass.
On Saturday morning I was up just before sunrise and headed into Gunnison for breakfast and fuel. I then headed further east on US50 and made my way through Ohio City to the Gold Creek Trailhead. Surprisingly, I found no other vehicles at the trailhead this morning? I finished packing my backpack and started hiking up the South Lottis Trail shortly before 8:00am.
The Lamphier Lake Trailhead
Entering the Fossil Ridge Wilderness
The trail was easy and shady through the trees all the way to the lake. This section looks like it had some recent trail maintenance…
I almost missed the short side trail to Lower Lamphier Lake.
When I reached Lamphier Lake, I crossed the outlet of the lake and found a nice campsite on the other side.
The weather was looking good, so once my camp was setup I continued hiking past the lake and climbed up to Gunsight Pass.
Following some ledges up to the pass.
Gunsight Pass is a small notch in the rock that you can pass through to the other side.
A view through the notch from the other side.
The view from the other side of the pass is over Brush Creek, which you can follow all the way to the Taylor River.
I climbed up onto the rock ridge above Gunsight Pass for a view across to Square Top Mountain and Henry Mountain.
Clouds were starting to build, but the summit of Broncho Mountain was not too far away, so I continued higher up the ridge.
I was moving a little slower than I thought I would, so by the time I reached the summit of Broncho Mountain the clouds were starting to look threatening and I didn’t want to stick around for very long.
There was a very unusual crack in the rock on top of this big flat summit.
There was a nice view from the summit of Broncho Mountain to Fairview Peak across the valley. The fire lookout on top looks so small from here!
Broncho Mountain Summit
The changing light on the landscape surrounding me kept me on the summit longer than I planned to stay, and just as I was starting to head down I heard a boom of thunder in the distance over the Elk Mountains. I started moving quicker…
I was able to jog down this grassy shoulder of the mountain.
This rain storm was headed right for me…
Even though I knew I needed to keep moving, the nice spotlight kept making me stop for photos…
Overlooking the basin containing Lamphier Lake.
Hiking along the rock ridge near Gunsight Pass on my way back down.
As I neared Lamphier Lake rain and graupel started falling from the sky. I made my way around the lake to camp and started hearing closer rumbles of thunder overhead just as I got into my tent to wait out the storm. I had made it down just in time! The storm only lasted about an hour, and even though there was plenty of thunder and rain, I never actually saw any flashes of lightning.
This was the view right behind my campsite after the storm had passed.
I spent the rest of the evening going for walks around Lamphier Lake to photograph the changing conditions and resting at camp. It was a nice relaxing afternoon and there were no other storms.
Lamphier Lake Campsite
This old cabin was located on the west side of the lake.
There was even an outhouse constructed out of logs nearby.
At times the light on Broncho Mountain was looking nice.
Lamphier Lake Clouds
Broncho Mountain Reflection
Lamphier Lake Sunset
When the sunset light disappeared I went right to bed since I planned to get up early for another peak on Sunday morning before hiking back down. I slept OK overnight, but not great and was up and hiking before sunrise. There were no clouds in the sky this morning as I started the climb up to the summit of Square Top Mountain.
Fossil Mountain Sunrise
The hike to Square Top Mountain was pretty easy as there was a use trail for much of the way to the gentle grassy slope below the summit block.
The distant views were a bit hazy this morning, but I love the layers!
Following the gentle ridge to the summit.
There was a nice view over the Lamphier Lakes below.
As I neared the summit I could see that there were some leftover low clouds in Taylor Park on the other side of the Park Cone.
I passed this leaning rock tower on my way to the summit.
The last short climb to the summit of Square Top.
Square Top Mountain Summit
Look closely at the ridge connecting Square Top to Henry Mountain and you might notice two mountain goats walking along the edge.
Looking the other direction over Fossil Ridge.
One last view of the rocky-blocky summit as I started hiking down.
I was really hoping to climb Henry Mountain next this morning, but I had a bad headache for much of the morning and my legs were feeling pretty tired, so I decided to skip that peak this time. I will definitely need to return again for that one another time. I returned to camp, took down my tent, packed my backpack and started hiking down the trail to my Jeep waiting for me at the trailhead. One thing that surprised me this morning was how many people I met coming up the trail. I had only seen a couple of people on Saturday and pretty much had the lake to myself for most of the day, so I was a little surprised to see so many groups heading up this morning. I guess I picked a great day to visit Lamphier Lake for the first time!