Formerly the Squaw Mountain Fire Lookout | Saturday & Sunday, January 29-30, 2022
Over the past couple of years I have been trying to visit at least one new Fire Lookout each year, so I thought I would get an early start this year when I booked a night in the Squaw Mountain Fire Lookout near Idaho Springs this past October. This unique structure was constructed of native granite by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1940’s and is situated on top of Squaw Mountain at about 11,500 feet. The cab measures 14 X 14 feet, is completely lined by windows on each side and is surrounded by a catwalk, which all sits on top of the one story stone base. Back in December Squaw Mountain was officially renamed to Mestaa’ėhehe Mountain (pronounced mess-taw-HAY) by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, so now the name of the lookout has also changed to match. I had actually wanted to book a night at this fire lookout for the past two years but it has been closed through the end of 2021 due to COVID, so when I noticed they had finally started accepting reservations again for 2022 I quickly booked a night over the last weekend in January!
Although Diane has just started a new semester at school this week, she was able to get away for the weekend and join me on this overnight hike to the Mestaa’ėhehe Mountain Fire Lookout. We left home early on Saturday morning and headed east on I-70 to Idaho Springs. Since it was a Saturday morning with good weather in the mountains, traffic coming from the other direction was heavy and backed up after we passed Vail, but our drive was smooth sailing the entire way. After a stop in Dillon for an early lunch and so Diane could buy a new winter jacket, we followed the Mount Evans Scenic Byway to Squaw Pass Road and found a place to park near the trailhead shortly after noon. Although I had anticipated this to be a snowshoeing trip, there didn’t appear to be enough snow on the trail to warrant the use of snowshoes this weekend, so we decided to leave them in the Jeep and just used our microspikes for traction. It was a relatively easy two-mile hike along a snow-covered road to the top with about 600 feet of elevation gain, and since this is a pretty popular hike near Denver there was a pretty well-packed trail the entire way. The temperature out was very comfortable this afternoon in the lower 40’s with a slight breeze below treeline. However, once we neared the summit of Mestaa’ėhehe Mountain and got out of the trees it was much more windy on the ridge.
Diane hiking up the snow-covered road on our way up to the Fire Lookout.
We took our time hiking the two miles to the Fire Lookout and soon found ourselves standing at the front door.
The Mestaa’ėhehe Mountain Fire Lookout
After getting the key out of the lockbox we headed up the stairs and around the catwalk so we could unpack, relax and get out of the constant wind.
Looking down over the site’s picnic table in the rocks below the catwalk.
National Historic Lookout Register
After getting settled in upstairs I went downstairs to check out the first level. We wouldn’t spend much time in this part of the lookout since you had to go outside to get between the two levels and the views were much better from the second story.
Avoid crowding and shoving…
To the south we had a good view of Pikes Peak in the late afternoon.
It was a little steep and slippery to get to the incinerating toilet outside. Using microspikes is highly recommended!
No fire lookout is complete without an Osborne Fire Finder in the middle.
A beautiful sunset at the Mestaa’ėhehe Mountain Fire Lookout on Saturday evening.
After the sun went down and it got dark out, the lights of Denver were very visible to the east. It was a cool sight, but I am so glad that I don’t live on this side of the mountains!
Diane and I both slept terribly on Saturday night. I’d like to blame the loud wind, which certainly didn’t help, but we had earplugs and after a few hours the wind did eventually die down and it was pretty quiet out, yet we still didn’t sleep well. Maybe it’s because neither of us has camped at elevation in a couple of months? Either way, it’s one of the worst nights of sleep I’ve had in a long time, but at least the view of the stars from inside the lookout was pretty great! On a positive note, the two electric heaters inside the lookout did a great job of keeping the space warm, even with all the single-pane plexiglass windows. Diane even had to get up and turn them down in the middle of the night since it was getting too warm! After a restless night I got up and headed outside to start taking photos when the faint glow of dawn started to light up the landscape.
An early dawn view from the catwalk over Chief Mountain and the Mount Evans Wilderness.
Dawn at the Mestaa’ėhehe Mountain Fire Lookout.
A morning view from inside the Fire Lookout.
Oh yeah, this mountain is also an active communications site, so there are a number of large antennas north of the lookout. What was strange is there were no lights on top of the antennas, which I thought was required?
The lovely Belt of Venus over Bard Peak and Engelmann Peak.
Alpenglow on Mount Evans
North Arapaho Peak
I caught the sun just as it came over the distant horizon.
Diane and the Fire Lookout at sunrise.
Good Morning Sunshine
Handie-Talkie FM Radio
Fire Lookout Sunstar
Once the sun was up we headed back into the lookout, slowly packed up our gear and then started the hike back down.
Diane hikes down the Forest Service Road with Pikes Peak in the distance.
We made it back down to the trailhead without passing anyone headed up. It was a peaceful morning walk to end a nice winter weekend in the Rocky Mountains!