Golden Horn is one of over a half dozen 13ers that rise up majestically to the west of Ice Lake Basin in Colorado’s San Juan Range. From a distance Golden Horn looks more intimidating than many of its nearest neighbors, but upon a closer look the Class 2+ standard route up the southwest ridge makes for a great day hike - with a little bit of that classic loose San Juan scrambling thrown in for good measure.
Golden Horn is one of Colorado’s bicentennial peaks. At 13,780 feet it ranks as the 116th highest peak in the state, and has 400 feet of prominence.
Of all the peaks in the San Juans to choose from, why climb Golden Horn? It is a beautiful peak, in a beautiful basin, with a route that offers a fun scramble, outstanding views from the summit and it has a second (lower) summit, which allows for some Class 3 scrambling.
Ice Lake Basin
The Peaks of Ice Lake Basin by Kane
Many would argue that Ice Lake Basin is one of Colorado’s most beautiful basins. Whether it is the most beautiful can be argued all day but regardless, you will not be disappointed if you spend some time here.
The lower basin has beautiful cliff carved walls, with a large number of waterfalls running down from the upper basin. During early season snow melt I am sure these waterfalls are impressive.
In the upper basin there are several beautiful lakes and unobstructed views of over a half dozen 13ers. Fuller, Vermillion, Golden Horn, Pilot Knob, V4, US Grant and V2 can all be reached via the Ice Lake Basin approach. And while Golden Horn can easily be climbed in a single day hike, Ice Lake Basin is wonderful place to spend a few days exploring and peakbagging. The Lower Basin in particular offers a number of wonderful backcountry campsites.
Getting ThereFrom Silverton take US 550 north for 2.0 miles to the turnoff for the South Mineral Creek Road. Turn left and follow the dirt road for 4.4 miles until you arrive at the South Mineral Creek Campground. There is a parking area at the trailhead with ample spots available.
If approaching from the north, follow US 550 south for 7.8 miles from Red Mountain Pass. Turn right onto South Mineral Creek Road and follow the dirt road for 4.4 miles until you arrive at the South Mineral Creek Campground. There is a parking area at the trailhead with ample spots available.
Per Gerry Roach: High-clearance vehicles can park higher and also shorten the approach. At mile 3.7, turn north (right) onto the Clear Lake Road and climb 1.0 mile northwest to the first switchback at 10,360 feet at mile 4.7. There is limited parking on the switchback’s west side. An unmarked trail starts on the switchback’s west side ad goes west to join the Ice Lake Trail.
Standard RouteThe southwest ridge is the standard route up Golden Horn. From the South Mineral Creek Trailhead it is a 10 mile roundtrip with 3,960 feet of elevation gain.
The approach starts at the South Mineral Creek Trailhead, elevation 9,820 feet. Follow the well groomed Ice Lake Trail all the way to the Upper Basin. From the trailhead the trail climbs steeply through a long series of switchbacks, reaching Lower Ice Lake Basin at 2.0 miles, elevation 11,400 feet. Stay on the trail to Ice Lake at 3.1 miles, elevation 12,280 feet.
From Ice Lake there are several options for reaching the base of the Vermillion-Golden Horn saddle. The standard approach is to follow the trail south from Ice Lake for 0.7 miles towards Fuller Lake. From here, climb a rocky bench west of the lake to 12,900 feet. From here the Vermillion-Golden Horn saddle is in view and it is a simple hike through talus to its base at 13,250 feet.
To reach the saddle head towards the cliffs to the left (south). It is a Class 2+ scramble on loose rock to the saddle at 13,560 feet. There is not a well defined route to the saddle so you will have to search out the best route. It is critical to go to the left at the base of this climb to the saddle to keep the route at Class 2+. Heading to the right side will lead you into cliffs that are at least Class 3 or higher.
From the saddle it is a fun scramble on pretty solid rock to the summit. There is a notch that splits the two summits. Go left at the notch to reach the true airy west summit block.
The east summit block can be reached via a Class 3 scramble through a chimney.
There are a large number of campsites along Mineral Creek Road
The lower basin is a wonderful place for backcountry camping. There are a number of campsites above Lower Ice Lake. The upper basin is completely exposed which could make backcountry camping a little exciting during the San Juans wicked monsoon season. If a storm rolls in, it is a long retreat to the lower basin.
Essential GearAn ice axe may be needed as the basin holds snow late into the summer.
It’s never a bad idea to bring a helmet when climbing any of the peaks in the San Juans. From the base of the saddle all the way to the summit there is enough loose rock to warrant bringing a helmet.