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, which means it is among the highest 200 peaks. Many people after finishing 14ers, set up their goal to reach the highest centennial and bicentennial peaks in Colorado. At 13,769 feet it ranks as the 117th 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 BasinAs the name suggest, Ice Lake Basin lies high above timberline in the San Juan Mountains. The closest town would be Silverton (nice historic town, definitively worth to explore). Ice Lake and its neighboring lakes are frozen for at least eight months of the year. There are four named lakes within the basin and 6 unnamed ones, all remnants of the glaciers that long ago created the bowl shaped valley.
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. The lower Ice Lake Basin is clearly separated from the upper basin by massive 400 ft granite wall. During early season snow melt I am sure these waterfalls are impressive. The upper and lower Ice Lake Basins differ greatly from one another and make contrasting ecosystems.
Nearby Peaks: Vermilion Peak 0.42 miles away
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 9,840 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 (=Scarlet Pass) is in view and it is a simple hike through talus to its base at 13,250 feet.
The east summit block can be reached via a Class 3 scramble through a chimney.
The Colorado Mountain Club Book Guide to the Colorado Mountains (Ormes) calls the route Southwest Ridge. However The San Juan Mountains A Climbing and Hiking Guide by Robert Rosenbrough calls it Southeast Face. Both are the same routes - it just the route winds along and below Golden Horn, there is a section that you are truly on SW ridge, and then you climb up on the SE face. You goal is to reach Vermilion-Golden Horn saddle first and then go east, the ridge is pointing southwest. I did not find route finding problematic on this peak.
There are a large number of campsites along Mineral Creek Road. Camping at South Mineral Creek Campground is 14$ per night and it fills up quickly on weekends.
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. Backcountry camping is for free.
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.