Saturday July 6, 2002
I had noticed Beattie Peak (13342 ft) many months ago while I was looking at my USGS maps. Unlike its northern neighbors such as Fuller Peak (13761 ft), Vermilion Peak (13894 ft), Golden Horn (13765 ft) and Pilot Knob (13738 ft), the map seemed to indicate that the hike to the summit of Beattie would be short and straightforward. All I had to do was to go on a four wheel drive road that goes to the abandoned Big Three Mine (beyond South Mineral Campground), leave the road and go straight up the slopes 2000 ft to reach a 13000 ft saddle between Fuller and Beattie and then follow the ridge to the summit. If from the saddle, Fuller or Vermilion appeared not too difficult, I could even climb one of them. My guidebook: "Climbing Colorado's San Juan Mountains" also said to go from South Mineral Campground to the 13000 ft saddle but it gave no details whatsoever as to what I might expect to encounter on my way. On Wednesday, we had driven near the trailhead but I had been unable to see Fuller, Beattie, or the saddle between them so I was wondering if I could really climb this mountain.
Got up in Silverton, Colorado (elevation 9318 ft) at 6 a.m. I drove two miles north on Route 550 and turned left on South Mineral Campground Road, which was a well-graded dirt road that followed the river at the bottom of a valley. After 4 miles, I reached the campground where the road became four wheel drive. I no longer had the Jeep we had rented before but our own Jimmy did well. The road went parallel to the river 100-200 ft above it until after 2 miles it reached the junction of a spur road on the right. I was thinking that the spur road was the road that would take me to the Big Three Mine. It looked a little too rough for me and I did not want to drive it but there was no place to park. I kept looking around for a while until I found a corner where I had to move a big rock to make room to park. It was 10700 ft there.
I was standing on a large and beautiful meadow. A forest of Pine surrounded the meadow. With its steep reddish rocky slopes, the double summit of Rolling Mountain (13693 ft) made a very impressive sight to the west. One of the Twin Sisters (13432 ft) could be seen to the southeast but the sun was behind it and it only appeared as a big black shadow. Neither Beattie nor Fuller could be seen. I was hoping that they would appear once I hiked the trail a little.
It was 8 o'clock when I began hiking. I did not see a single person until I came back to the car 5 1/2 hours later. After just a few minutes, the spur road dead ended at an abandoned mine and shack which was probably what the USGS map identified as Bendora Mine. There was no place to go after that. That was very disappointing. I have noticed that when it comes to trails and 4WD roads USGS maps are very inaccurate. My Drake Map, however, did show a spur road that dead ended so I realized that I had parked too early and had not yet reached the beginning of the road to the Big Three Mine. I went down the slopes 50 ft or so to reach the continuation of the road that I had been driving on. A very short hike on the road took me to the beginning of a 4WD road that had been closed to motorized vehicles and turned into a trail. I then knew that I had finally reached the trail to the Big Three Mine.
According to my maps, I was right below one of Fuller Peak's ridgelines. All I could see above me was a steep slope that led to a forest and a rocky area 200 ft above. I was not going to leave the safety of the trail to attempt to go up that slope.
Beautiful pink flowers grew near the trail. The view of Rolling Mountain was magnificent. The trail went into a dense forest of Pines. I knew that I was now below the 13000 ft saddle between Beattie and Fuller Peaks but it would have been unwise to try to bushwhack my way up the forested slopes. My maps showed that if I continued to hike the trails, I would eventually get into a drainage between Beattie and Peak 13280 ft where the forest would end. I was hoping that without the forest, I could easily backtrack my way into the drainage between Beattie and Fuller.
I kept hiking on the trail. It made a couple of switchbacks and reached a stream that I knew drained an unnamed lake between Beattie and Peak 13280. It was about 11500 ft there.
I left the trail and went up the forested slopes only 100 vertical feet or so until the forest ended. To the right, I could see a huge rocky ridgeline which was probably Beattie's long southeast ridge. The drainage between Beattie and Fuller was behind the ridgeline. To get there, I either had to traverse a cliffy area or cross a slope covered with a dense carpet of bushes neck deep so I gave up on that idea. I decided to go to the unnamed lake and if possible, climb Beattie from there. My maps however, showed that the slopes of Beattie above the unnamed lake were steeper.
To reach the lake, I had to go up a boulder field that was dotted with bushy and grassy areas. I like boulder hopping but most of those rocks were smaller than "boulders" so they were unsteady. As I went higher, the rocks became smaller and the slopes steeper. It became very slippery. I continued to have great views of Rolling Mountain. Both of the Twin Sisters had now come into view. They were just starting to come out of the shade of the morning sun.
At around 12150 ft, I entered a fairly large and flat basin that housed the long and narrow unnamed lake. It was 10:15 and my GPS indicated that I had hiked 2.0 miles. The summit of Beattie Peak finally appeared to my right. Peak 13280 could be seen to the left.
Beattie had steep slopes that were covered with white and orange scree. The long southeast ridge of Beattie was crowned by a continuous band of cliffs and spires. The slopes looked exactly like the nasty scree slopes of Peak 13309 that I had climbed on Wednesday. Except for a small potential problem spot just below the summit however, it seemed that I could go up the scree slopes in a way that I would avoid the cliffs. This still meant struggling up 1200 vertical feet of steep scree. I was all alone in a forgotten corner of Colorado. To repeat the unpleasant experience of climbing Peak 13309 would have been foolish. I decided to just sit there and enjoy the views.
Peak 13280 was very pretty. It was covered with white scree. An orange spot just below its summit made it look like the mountain had an eye. Rolling Mountain made a very impressive sight only 1 1/4 mile away. The two summits of it created a sheer wall that was several hundred feet high. Twin Sisters had finally come out of the shade. Their lower slopes were covered with pine trees. I had considered climbing them but now that I could see their cliffs and endless scree slopes, I had a quick change of heart. They were quite scenic however.
I walked around the lake. Where the stream drained the lake, it was very boggy. All kinds of flowers and water plants grew there. To the south of the lake, there was an area of smooth rock that rose 100 ft above the lake. This made a nice observation spot. The whole time that I was around the lake, I was conscious of the fact that the area was probably a good hunting ground for bears and mountain lions so I kept my eyes open at all times.
It was 11:45 when I started to go back. Going down the slippery slopes was tricky but I soon reached the forest and the trail. Now that the sun was up, the forest appeared very pretty. I had outstanding views of the Twin Sisters rising far above the tips of the Pine trees. I could hear my favorite mountain bird and the wind as it blew through the trees. The creek could be heard at the bottom of the valley. These are the sights and the sounds of the mountains that I am so in love with.
It was 1:30 when I reached my car. I was disappointed that I had not reached the summit of Beattie but I did have a beautiful day. I was sick and tired of scree slopes. I was looking for a beautiful mountain that I could easily climb. I could see a red conical peak 6.5 miles away to the northeast. I was wondering if that was Ohio Peak (12673 ft). I later realized that it was a 12296 ft peak that rises to the south of Ohio Peak. Since it was still early, I went to check out Ohio Peak to see if I could climb it the next day.