Ice Lakes Basin OverviewWest of the small Colorado mining town of Silverton sits a beautiful place called Ice Lakes Basin, arguably one of the most aesthetically-pleasing basins in the San Juan Range. Ice Lakes Basin is east of the high ridge of thirteeners from north to south: U.S. Grant Peak, "V4", Pilot Knob, Golden Horn, Vermilion Peak & Fuller Peak.
Ice Lake. Left to right: Fuller Peak, Vermilion Peak & UN13230. Photo: altitude14er
Vermilion Peak OverviewVermilion Peak is the tallest of a series of high, rugged thirteeners that surround this scenic location. Named for the reddish/orange tinge that the peak takes on, Vermilion provides an amazing view when looking at it from the south. When the sun hits it right, the peak appears to almost glow of red and orange(Vermilion means "flame-red"). Many people choose to do a backpack into Ice Lakes Basin, this way being able to incorporate climbs of Golden Horn, Pilot Knob, US Grant Peak, or Fuller Peak, the other high thirteeners in the area. San Juan County does not have a 14er, but it does have Vermilion(the highest peak in the county), and it is definitely worth climbing.
Vermilion Peak from Golden Horn's Southwest Ridge
Getting ThereThe best way to get to Vermilion Peak, is from Silverton, Colorado. Follow US 550 north towards from the US 550-110 intersection for 2.0 miles until you see the turnoff for the South Mineral Campground. Take this turn(left) and follow the good quality dirt road for another 3-4 miles until you arrive at the South Mineral Campground. There is parking on the right side of the road and this is the trailhead and the start of the approach to Ice Lakes Basin. Four wheel drive vehicles can shorten the approach by making a right off of the South Mineral Road towards Clear Lake and park at the first switchback. An unmarked trail goes west to intersect the Ice Lakes Trail. Near the intersection is a waterfall crossing which can be difficult in early season. This approach shaves 1.8 miles and 540 vertical feet off the roundtrip distance and elevation gain. Once in Ice Lakes Basin there are several routes to choose from. Everything from class 2+ to steep snow climbs.
Vermilion Peak. Photo: BigRob
Red TapeNo permits required now, but check with the San Juan National Forest (970-247-4874 or www.fs.fed.us/r2/sanjuan) for more information. There is ample parking at the campground. The 4x4 parking is limited. Get an early start.
Vermilion Peak. Photo: BigRob
When To ClimbSummer months are generally the best. Ice Lakes Basin holds snow late into the year and sometimes year round. So be prepared. Some routes (i.e. Vermilion Dollar Couloir) are safer to climb when still frozen, minimizing the exposure to rockfall, so hit those earlier in the season.
Camping & Other LodgingThere are many good campsites along the South Mineral Road and good backpacking destinations in Ice Lakes Basin.
Silverton also has a variety of hotels, motels, and inns that would all serve well as a starting place for your climb. Check out www.silvertoncolorado.com for more detailing information on availability and rates.
Maps & Literature
3. Trails Illustrated: Map #141 Telluride/Silverton/Ouray/Lake City