A High Alpine Traverse
Vermilion Peak (13,894ft.) & Golden Horn (13,780ft.)
11.7 miles roundtrip, 4,500ft. of elevation gain
Climbed on 7-1-2007
After climbing Colorado’s San Luis Pk. & Organ Mtn. on 6-30-2007 I hurried over to Ouray, CO and continued West on the ‘million dollar highway’ (U.S.550) to reach the turnoff for the South Mineral Campground – It was 1:20am and I slept good in my car under a nearly full moon along the side of the road.
I drove the remaining three miles to the TH for Ice Lake which I departed from at 8am.
My legs were sore from the previous days climb and I was far from 100%. The amazing landscape kept me moving along. You cannot see these peaks until you reach Lower Ice Lake Basin. The first good view of them is awe-inspiring (photo above).
From the picturesque Lower Ice Lake Basin it was another 850 feet higher until I reached Ice Lake (photo above). This is one of my favorite places in Colorado, and it was my second time in this awesome place. I continued southwest from Ice Lake to reach the tiny, unnamed lake at 12,580ft. Continuing past this lake, the saddle connecting Golden Horn & Vermilion began to come into full view. I was relieved to see some lines leading up to the ridge that would not require cramp-on's (an item I left in the car). The terrain traveled to reach this saddle quickly becomes 3rd Class scrambling on loose rock. Once atop the saddle at 13,380ft. the scrambling eases to reach the Golden Horn summit (photo below).
It had taken me along time to reach the top, it was now 1:00pm and I nervously peered at Vermilion. The peak looked wickedly difficult to attempt on the solo. I wasted a half hour soaking up the views and finally gathered the guts to take a stab at Vermilion. I started up the Northeast Ridge of Vermilion, noting how the route ends with a short finish on the Vermilion Dollar Couloir which was still filled with snow. From below, it appeared that some brave souls had kicked steps up this freaky finish. I never made it that high to confirm; I may have gotten off route, but found myself on a broken, loose exposed cliff edge looking at committing to a 4th Class pitch that may or may not have gotten me to the vertical step at 13,700ft. I decided to retreat and execute plan B, I really wanted to summit Vermilion and would not be deterred!
The photo below shows the route that I blazed up to Vermilions Southeast Ridge. This “route” is not in any guidebook that I’m familiar with. I would NOT recommend using this variation as it ascends extremely steep & loose rubble. I probably should have used ropes on this section!
Once on the ridge it was an easy scramble to the summit.
Terrified to descend my variation or the (under rated) Northeast Ridge I weighed my options and decided to descend the snowfield under the Fuller-Vermilion saddle. Only problem was that this snow was corniced at the top, it was late in the day (3:00pm) and I figured the snow might slide on me. By my assessment it was the safest descent available. I started down Vermilion's Southeast Ridge (photo below).
I glissaded down this snowfield, which required a gutsy 10 foot jump over the cornice and down onto the snowfield (photo below).
Once I hit the snowfield I picked up speed immediately, gracefully glissading 500ft – Quick! The rest of the descent was steep, rough on my brakes and uneventful – The End.
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