Let’s begin by answering the obvious question: it’s pronounced mess-tah-HAY.
Mestaa’ėhehe Mountain is named for a Cheyenne woman who was also known as Owl Woman. Owl Woman was married to William Bent, a white settler, trader, and co-founder of Bents Old Fort trading post on the plains of Colorado in the 1800s. Their marriage was considered one of the key factors in maintaining peaceful relations between Natives and white settlers at Bents Old Fort for so many years. Additionally, Owl Woman served as a translator, negotiator, and manager during her time at the Fort.
Mestaa’ėhehe is actually the new name for this mountain; it was chosen in consultation with the local Cheyenne (Tsétsêhéstâhese) and Arapaho (Hinono’eiteen) tribes and officially adopted in 2021. Some older sources may still show it as Squaw Mountain. While there is some debate about the origin of this word, the general consensus is that today it is considered a disparaging and offensive way of referring to a Native American woman. There has been a push in recent years to rename the many US landmarks with this name; I’m glad this effort was successful. There’s just no good reason to have a mountain with a derogatory name.
On a Saturday in April, Chelsea and I set out to climb 11,431 foot (3484 m) Mestaa’ėhehe Mountain. It had been on our list for a while, and this mild, sunny spring day presented the perfect opportunity. It was warm, not too windy, and the path was well-travelled and packed down. So off we went. There is a service road up to the summit. In the summer, you can drive most of the way and walk the rest. In the snow, it’s best to just park at the bottom of the road and walk the entire way… especially when you drive a sedan (which I do).
The road is wide, easy to follow, and not terribly long or steep. The entire hike was only 3.7 miles (5.9 km) round-trip with 800 feet (245 m) of elevation gain.
With such a short hike, I don’t have all that much to say about it. It was worth the time and effort, though. The summit is just above tree line and home to a fire tower which is no longer used for fire-spotting purposes but can be rented out for overnight use. I imagine it would be a cold and windy night, but it would also be beautiful!
The interior is small and fully surrounded by windows; the view is excellent in all directions. There are no shades or curtains and therefore absolutely no privacy; signs at the base ask hikers not to climb the stairs to the tower. Ordinarily, we would abide by these signs and respect the privacy of the occupants… but on the way up we encountered the people who had just departed the tower, so we knew it was empty and took advantage of the opportunity to take a look.
But even without climbing up to the tower, we were treated to gorgeous views of Mount Evans to the west, Denver to the east, and, because it was a clear day, we could see south as far as Pikes Peak and north all the way to Rocky Mountain National Park!
And then we headed back down to the car, enjoying the sunshine on our faces and the crisp white snow shimmering beneath the bright blue Colorado sky.
The Important Stuff:
- Getting there: Mestaa’ėhehe Mountain Lookout Trail is located off CO Route 103 about 10 miles (16 km) south of Idaho Springs, Colorado; park at the base of the service road or, with the proper vehicle, drive up as far as you can make it and park in a dirt pullout
- Fees and passes: none
- Hiking: from the base of the service road, round-trip distance is 3.7 miles (5.9 km) with 800 feet (245 m) of elevation gain
- Where to stay: this is best done as a day hike from the greater Denver area; to spend the night at the summit, reserve the fire tower in advance
- Other: the road/trailhead is not well-marked and cell service is limited in the area, but if you drop a pin in your maps app in advance, navigation shouldn’t be an issue. If you end up at Chief Mountain Trailhead, you’re about 0.3 miles (0.5 km) too far west