| This summer our family trip took us to the Ice Lakes Basin. My parents were content to hike around, but as a dreadfully restless teenager I wanted to climb a mountain. My original intent had been to climb Vermillion Peak, but having seen it the previous day, I decided maybe it would be better to aim for Fuller and see if Vermillion was safely doable alone by someone of my limited experience. The cornices on the ridge made it so that one had to go almost all the way up to Fuller to gain the ridge anyway. |
We were camped at the Lower Ice lakes Basin near the end of the trees, and I was awakened a little before five the morning I intended to climb, by shrill squeaky noises, and I worried I had rolled over on a pica. Finally I located the source of the noise about five feet away - a huge porcupine. It waddled off before I was able to get my camera.
I headed off up the trail to the Upper Ice Lakes Basin as the light grew stronger. I headed off trail up a snowfield to a rise near Ice lake. It had frozen fairly hard the night before, so the snow was quite icy, and had me worried about snow conditions up higher on the mountain.
I continued up a ridge on nice firm icy snow up to about 13,000 feet, stopping to admire the sunrise on the array of jagged Peaks surrounding the Ice Lakes Basin. Then I had to side-hill along a snow slope, and it was tough going since it was so icy and I hadn't brought crampons. There were tracks below me, but if I slid down to them, then I would have to walk back up. Eventually I decided it was easier to slide down and climb back up, than to continue to tiptoe across the icy slope.
I was definitely right. While now, I was barely making a mark in the snow, yesterday, or whenever these people had been by, the snow had been very soft, so now there were great tracks. I followed these up to some rocks, and wondered whether if I fell further up and for whatever reason couldn't stop if I would crash into them. Deciding that was ridiculous, given the gentle angle of the snow I climbed briskly up the slope in the huge steps someone made previously. It must have been quite a slog for them.
The snow steepened to 40 or 45 degrees near the top and was mixed with a little scree - a nasty reminder of what would cover almost the entire slope in a month.
When I hit the ridge it was a pretty an easy class 1 or 2 walk up to the top of Fuller, over scree and a section of snow. I pretty much tagged the top, looked around and headed down, towards Vermillion, planning on staying longer on the way back from Vermillion if I could, but not wanting to have failed to make it to any summit if I didn't make it to Vermillion and the weather turned.
So far the weather was beautiful, so I walked back down the ridge, until not far after where I had climbed up and then there was a strip of icy snow above a scree slope. I thought about crossing on the snow but it felt so icy, and I wasn't thrilled with the idea of sliding down to the scree 20 feet below and spraining an ankle, so instead I walked down the scree a little towards the bottom of the snow.
The scree was really loose, and given that I had thought that getting down to the saddle between Fuller and Vermillion would be the easy part, I decided that maybe Fuller Peak would be a better objective. I walked back up the ridge to the top feeling somewhat relieved and ready to take in all the views.
It was still only about 7:30 so there was still a bit of a morning feel to the light, and the snowy San Juans afforded a spectacular view. I saw Engineer mountain which we had driven by on the highway, and I think the El Diente ridge. It seemed to be getting uncharacteristically hazy by the time, an hour later I began to descend. It turned out this was because of some fires a long way off, and by midday the snow on distant peaks appeared red.
The snow was still hard as I slid down the mountain. There wasn't really any completely comfortable way to do it. It was steep enough you had to use the pick rather than the point of the axe to brake, but whatever part of your body you put on the snow ended up somewhat sore from the scraping on the icy surface. It was still fun though, a fast ride.
From near the bottom of the headwall of the drainage coming down from the Fuller/Vermillion saddle I walked up to the ridge, looked at an old stone shelter some miner had put there just above 13,000 feet, and then spent the next few hours exploring the area around Fuller Lake. I had another good few hundred vertical foot slide down towards Fuller lake, down snow that was rapidly changing from being icy to prime post holing territory. Then I met up with my parents and we climbed back up to the old stone cabin and on the way saw the remains of some mineral speculation where someone had dug into the rock and extracted rocks covered with quartz crystals. We also noticed that the same solar heat that was making the snow so unpleasant to walk in had also loosened a lot of the cornices and there were a lot of new slides coming down from the Vermillion/Fuller Saddle.
This was easily the most significant climb I had done by myself, and while it may seem commonplace to older more experienced mountaineers, to me at age 15 it was a rewarding and unforgettable experience.