Flip-Floppin' in Ice Lakes Basin

Flip-Floppin' in Ice Lakes Basin

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 37.79910°N / 107.8284°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Aug 12, 2007
Activities Activities: Hiking
Seasons Season: Summer



I don't have very many vacation days to burn this summer, so I decided to maximize my time in the San Juans by hitting as many 13ers in Ice Lakes Basin as I could with a long weekend. In fact, I had a grand plan of doing all 8 of the ranked 13ers in the vicinity of the basin including Beattie and V8, but we couldn't quite hit them all.

The main reason for coming here was the culmination of my four year journey of seeking the county highpoints of Colorado. Centennial Vermilion would be my last. The C. Springs CMC group planned a BMS graduation climb this weekend, so I hooked up with them for the hike on Sunday. Doug Hatfield joined me as he was also leading the Vermilion hike.

Approach to Lower Ice Lakes
Aug 10, 2007
1.5 miles, 1200' gain

After climbing Dallas, Doug and I headed over Ophir Pass to the 4WD trailhead at a prominent switchback on the Clear Lake Rd above S. Mineral campground. This would save us some vertical for our tired bodies. As I was getting ready, I was having the hardest time getting the parachute cord on one of my North Face boots to release so I could get my foot in! It turns out the pounding of scree and talus had broken the pully system that tightens and releases the cord that acts as a shoe lace. I was hosed! I would have to hike with one boot and a Timberland sandal. Doug and I pretty much gave up on the idea of climbing class 4 peaks US Grant and Pilot Knob with all the loose rock that you have to deal with to get to them. It turns out we would still find a way to climb US Grant!

We made decent time up to the Lower Ice Lake despite the long day and heavy packs, arriving in an hour and a half just before dusk. There wasn't much to choose from in the way of tent sites, so we ended up setting up camp on an exposed bench above the lake at 11500'. We planned on just climbing Golden Horn the first day, bailing on Pilot Knob.

Day 1-Golden Horn

Golden Horn (13780')- CO Rank 116
5.4 miles RT, 2270' gain
Aug 11, 2007
Doug Hatfield and Kevin Baker

This would be our easy day, so we got off to a later start of 6:40am. Today I wore one boot and one sandal. How would my foot fare on talus? We made our way up the headwall to Ice Lake past impressive waterfalls. This place ranks right up there as one of the most scenic I have even been to in Colorado. We felt pretty tired from the long day yesterday, so maybe it was good we weren't doing Pilot Knob. We followed the trail all the way to Fuller Lake, then countoured up a minor ridge to the cirque below the Vermilion/Golden Horn saddle.

From here, we ascended broad ledges which split some minor cliff bands to gain the saddle. The last 300' to the summit was a fun class 2+ scramble on a strong trail that generally stayed on the east side of the ridge. I didn't realize Golden Horn had two summits, and it was hard to tell which one was higher! We topped out on the southern one first at 9:20 and found the register, which was blown to bits by lightning.

Golden Horn is a spectacular summit with plenty of air off the north side, which is quite a contrast from the walkup on the south side. The weather was awesome so we soaked up the view for over an hour. We also checked out the cool northern twin summit as well. On the way down, we stopped at Ice Lake to soak our feet. I would guess the water temp was in the mid-40's, a perfect refresher for sore feet. We ran into quite a few day hikers heading up to Ice Lake on the descent and were back at camp at 1pm. My sandal performed well and I got by without any toe whacks! The CMC group arrived later that afternoon for a climb of Vermilion the next day.

Golden Horn from lower Ice Lake basinGolden Horn as seen from our camp in lower Ice Lakes.

Day 2-Vermilion, Fuller, and Beattie

Vermilion Pk (13894')- CO Rank 74 (San Juan county hp)
Fuller Pk (13761')- unranked
Beattie Pk (13342')- CO Rank 358
"V8" attempt
7.5 miles RT, 3800' gain
Doug Hatfield, Patrick Thornley, Calvin Eisenach, Uwe Sartori, Greg Glick, and Kevin Baker (solo beyond Vermilion)

Since this was a group climb, we set an earlier start time of 5am. Since I wasn't a "student", I pretty much followed the group and kept my mouth shut on route selection. I had made plans with fellow county highpointer Adam Helman on a possible co-completion on Vermilion, but I didn't see any sign of him. I waited 15 minutes after the group left and took off at 5:25am. It turns out he decided to start later to avoid having to cross the stream in the dark. I met him below the summit on my way down.

I caught up with the group at Ice Lake and we followed the same route as yesterday to the ridge above Fuller Lake. Here we found a trail that led us to the bottom of some low angle snow fields, which were a relief to walk on. We headed to the top of the snow and caught a trail zigging up the scree to the saddle.

Vermilion from Golden HornVermilion from Golden Horn

From the saddle, it was a straightforward climb to the summit as the trail skirted the left side of some pinnacles. We climbed a loose gully just below the summit. An airy traverse of 20 ft or so caps off the hike and we topped out at 8:37am.

Ridge crest on Vermilion summitPatrick Thornley on narrow ridge crest to Vermilion summit.

Not all of our group could fit on this airy summit! It was a cool end to my county highpoint journey in CO. I have had quite a few adventures including burning my car up on a muddy road in Kiowa county, a 13 hour snowshoe death march on Harvard, and going down the wrong side of a ridge on Summit Peak.

I still had work to do, so I left the group at 9am and headed for Fuller. Adam and I exchanged words when I met him and I congratulated him in advance. The traverse to unranked Fuller was quick, and I topped out at 9:36. I yelled over to the CMC group and they responded. Clouds were beginning to build, so I quickly departed for Beattie.

The descent down Fuller's south ridge was on loose dinner plate talus, a nasty affair. Once above the saddle, the ridge to Beattie wasn't as bad and I topped out at 10:14. Clouds were now building vertically, so my odds were shrinking on getting to V8. The ridge to V8 was very solid and fun. I got pretty close to the saddle and decided to bail as I still had a long way back to camp. This was a good decision as the storm rolled in 10 minutes before I got back to camp at 12:50. Just below the summit of Beattie, the parachute cord on my other boot snapped. I had to rig the cord up just so I could keep it on my foot! Luckily Calvin let me borrow his running shoes or I would have really been out of luck! Since we got back to camp so early, Doug and I decided to head down with the group for a nice meal in Silverton. We paid the price as the storm pounded us all the way down, but I think it was worth it!

Day 3-"V4", US Grant, & "V2"

"V4" (13540')-CO Rank 228
US Grant (13767')-CO Rank 119
"V2" (13309')-CO Rank 387
5.6 miles RT, 3430' gain
Doug Hatfield and Kevin Baker

We didn't have high hopes of getting US Grant today as the storm had left some hail on the peaks and we didn't have a rope for the crux on US Grant. We decided to see what the conditions were like and back off if necessary. We headed out at 5am up the now familiar trail to Ice Lake. We caught a trail from Ice Lake heading to Island Lake at the base of US Grant.

We decided to climb V4 first by heading up the s.e. ridge. The lower grassy slope to this ridge was very steep and really burned my calves. The ridge then mellowed out until we came to a loose gully with a few class 3 moves, which topped out just below the summit. A little more scrambling and we were on the summit at 6:57. The cool blocks on this summit kind of reminded me of Windom.

The view over to US Grant looked quite sobering from here, but it's always worse than it looks. We avoided towers on the ridge by skirting below them on the west side via a garbage filled gully. We went down one at a time to avoided launching missiles at one another. Once at the saddle, we picked up an excellent climber's trail that primarily stayed to the left. There were great views of Island Lake here.

Island Lake from US GrantIsland Lake from the US Grant/V4 saddle.

The rock was much more stable on US Grant since more people climb it. The trail took us to the small saddle just below the crux. Doug and I both agreed that the crux looked reasonable to climb w/o rope. There were 2 cracks and we went up the one on climber's left as there was a ledge halfway up and the handholds were better. I think the left crack is hard class 4 and the right one is low class 5. I put on my sandles for the crux, and they offered an excellent grip!

Steep class 4 crux on US GrantShknbke climbing the crux on US Grant. I'm not much of a climber and I thought it wasn't bad. Note the magic sandles getting the job done.

We then followed the narrow ledge to the right, which brought us to the nubby gully described by Cooper. This gully was pretty solid and fun to climb. This brought us to the summit ridge and we topped out at 8:22. I must say that US Grant is right up there as one of my favorite 13ers so far.

Doug wasn't interested in staying on the ridge to V2, so we decided to skirt below US Grant. We reversed our route back to the crux and we slowly downclimbed the crux as it turned out to be easier than I thought. We left the ridge before the saddle, which was a mistake as the terrain was steeper than it looked. We then began a long sidehilling traverse on scree and steep grass below some cliff bands. We headed back up at around 12600', toiling on steep grass and dirt. Looks like the traverse was the way to go!

We finally hit the saddle and I ditched my pack as dark clouds were building fast. We topped out at 10:15 and I pretty much caught my breath and turned around. A clap of thunder greeted us just after we headed down, so we high tailed it down a super quick scree ski back to a trail headed to Island Lake. We made it back to camp at 11:20 and packed up in 30 min so we could try to beat the storm. It amazingly held off until right when we left and never got too heavy. This was quite an amazing place to spend a weekend and I must say I don't mind coming back for Pilot Knob!

Pilot Knob from Ice LakePilot Knob from Ice Lake


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