Lamphier Lake
Gunsight Pass

excerpts from the book
Incredible Backcountry Trails 
by David Day

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Incredible Backcountry Trails
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    Distance: 7.4 miles
         (round trip to all points of interest)  

    Walking time: 5 1/4 hours
    : 2,150 ft. gain/loss
       Lamphier Lake Trailhead (start): 10,040 ft.
       Lamphier Lake: 11,700 ft.
       Gunsight Pass: 12,167 ft.

    Trail: Well maintained as far as Lamphier Lake.

    Season: Midsummer through mid-fall. The higher parts of the trail are usually covered with snow from November through mid-July.

    Vicinity: Near Gunnison

    Lamphier LakeLamphier Lake


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    Like most of the alpine lakes in Colorado, Lamphier Lake is a glacial tarn that was scooped out of the surrounding rock during the last ice age. The well-protected lake lies just below timberline, and is surrounded on three sides by Broncho Mountain, Square Top Mountain, and Fossil Mountain. Lamphier is particularly scenic early in the morning when Square Top Mountain is reflected from its shaded, mirror-smooth surface; if you are interested in seeing this morning spectacle you will find several fine camping sites in the trees along its eastern shore.

    Although Lamphier lies in a bowl of granite and schist, the ridge above the west side of the lake is capped with an unusual layer of limestone. Looking up at the ridge you can easily distinguish the difference in color and texture between the granite and its sedimentary overburden. Most of Colorado was once covered with sedimentary rock, but in the 45 million years since the Rocky Mountains were uplifted most of the overlying sedimentary deposits have eroded away. The ridge above Lamphier Lake is called Fossil Ridge because, like most limestone formations, it is rich in fossils.

    The trail to Lamphier Lake is initially very rocky as it climbs up what must be a deposit of rubble left behind by the ancient glacier. Fortunately the grade not steep, and after the first mile the trail is not so rocky. After a half-hour the route crosses to the west side of Lamphier Creek and then, five minutes later, crosses back to the east. The trail stays on the east side of Lamphier Creek for the remainder of the hike.

    25 minutes after the second crossing of Lamphier you will cross another small creek that drains Lower Lamphier Lake. According to most maps there is a spur trail that follows this drainage up to the lower lake, but that is wrong. There is no trail up the drainage below Lower Lamphier Lake. The trail to Lower Lamphier Lake actually begins another 0.2 mile up the main trail from the drainage, but the spur is unmarked and because of the error on the maps few people visit Lower Lamphier Lake. That is a pity because the lake is certainly worth visiting. It is nearly as big as the upper lake, and it is only a 4-minute walk from the main trail.

    Make a note of the time as you cross the small creek that drains Lower Lamphier Lake, and when you have walked another 5-6 minutes start looking for an unmarked trail on the right. It is easy to miss the trail if you arenít looking for it, but if you are observant you should be able to see it. There are also two old blaze marks on nearby trees at the point where the unmarked trail branches off.

    The trail to Lower Lamphier Lake is easy to follow once you have found it. It runs in a northeasterly direction with very little change in elevation for 0.2 mile before ending on the southern shore of the lake. Lower Lamphier appears to be somewhat shallower than its sister lake but it is still very pretty, and the fact that you will probably have the lake all to yourself only adds to the serenity.

    0.8 mile after passing the spur to Lower Lamphier Lake the trail passes the east side of the larger upper lake. The scenery in this area is magnificent, with Fossil Ridge looming high above the west side of the calm water. There is also a small cabin nearby that you will probably want to check out. The cabin is not visible from the lake but it is only a short distance away. Walk to the west side of the lake and follow a shallow drainage upward to a small grassy meadow 100 yards from the water. When you reach the middle of the meadow turn to your right and look up into the trees. There, 200 feet from the bottom of the drainage you will see the log structure. The cabin appears to have been built sometime in the early 1900s, but it is still in remarkably good condition.

    After passing Lamphier Lake the trail seems to dead end on the west side of a nearby pond. To reach Gunsight Pass you should leave the trail and walk around the east side of the pond to a drainage on its north side. There, 150 feet north of the pond on the left side of the drainage, you will see a 6-foot vertical pole. This pole marks the beginning of the trail up to Gunsight Pass. The trail is marked by a series of poles and cairns that climb up the rocky slope to the pass 467 feet above the lake.

    From the name one might expect Gunsight Pass to be a well-defined notch in the saddle between Square Top Mountain and Broncho Mountain. However, in my opinion, the pass looks nothing like a gunsight. Rather it is simply the lowest point in the gently sloping saddle, only 667 feet lower than nearby Broncho Mountain. Nevertheless there are splendid views from the top of the pass into Lamphier Creek Basin to the south and Brush Creek Basin to the north. Although this hike ends here you can see the trail below continuing down to Brush Creek and on to South Lottis Trailhead on the northern edge of the Fossil Ridge Wilderness Area.

    The book includes more text, more photographs, and trail maps.

    If you are interested in a supplemental map of the Lamphier Lake/Gunsight Pass area
    we recommend:
    Gunnison/Pitkin  (Trails Illustrated, map #132)

    Click here for DISCOUNTED MAP ORDERS

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