| Soaking Up The Scenery at Ice/Island Lakes
When the Federal furloughs and my 11 three day weekends were announced this year, and I knew there would be multiple chances to visit the San Juans, a return to Ice Lake basin and a trip up to Island Lake were among my first thoughts. Last year, a 60% chance of storms scattered our group of 6-7 folks to sundry corners of the state. Some went to the Gores. I found myself at Lower Sand Creek Lake for Tijeras and Music. There were no losers that weekend, but the feeling that I'd missed out persisted into 2013.
Fast forward to this summer. I recruited a rowdy band of summiteers from New Mexico, Kansas, and the Front Range. Early in the week, things looked golden--a high pressure system was slated to move in by Friday and keep the monsoons at bay. As the week progressed, the forecast got worse daily. By Friday morning, we were looking at 80% chance of rain/T-storms both Saturday and Sunday. Suddenly, it was me and Darrin (Kansas) braving the forecast, heading west on I-70 to seek some adventure. While it was a bummer to have a smaller group, I can understand the rationale--it's a long damn drive from Denver to Silverton to find oneself hiding in the tent while storms boom and bluster the day away.
Farmington, NM's newest environmental consultant, Stephanie (Ridge Runner), would meet us at camp that night. I know from experience that the best part about living in Farmington is that it's just a hop, skip, and jump away from the San Juans, and was glad she could join us.
352 miles driven, 1.5 miles hiked, 1100' gain to camp at 11,470'
It shouldn't take eight hours to get from Denver to the Mineral Creek trailhead, but Darrin and I were in no hurry. Our first real stop came at the Palisade Brewery, which was recently recommended by someone I know (Ricky?) as a great spot to check out on the way to Grand Junction. After reviewing the beer menus at Rockslide (no IPA ) and Kannah Creek in Grand Junction, this was an easy choice. We walked in expecting to grab a quick pint, then hit the road. Then, we saw a lady digging in to her pulled pork sandwich. My Lord, it looked good! Pretty soon, we had sandwiches and IPAs of our own and we waddled out of there quite content.
A stop at Jimmy John's in Junction proved later to be worth far more than a couple meals. We picked up some goodies at Ouray Liquors and Ouray Mountain Sports, and finally, found ourselves, at the 'shortcut' detailed by both Cooper and Roach (see references below). For what it's worth, there was a Honda Accord parked there. A little careful driving obviates the need for 4x4 or a Subaru.
A few hundred yards from the car, a waterfall cascades across the trail.
Heading up toward camp
Along the way, Darrin developed a huge crush on Golden Horn and began rallying for doing it on Saturday instead of US Grant.
We found a campsite just past the fork that breaks off rightward toward Island Lake, set up our stuff, and Darrin began working on a fire.
While he did that, I hiked up a little knoll to both watch for Steph's approach and take a look at the Ice Lake peaks above.
(L-R): Fuller, Vermilion, Golden Horn
Eventually, I saw Steph and her awesome dog Zion appear below me. We ushered them into camp and admired Darrin's handiwork getting the fire started. Given the paucity of dry wood, I had to ask his secret. I learned several new things this weekend. Here's the first: Jimmy John's sub wrappers may say "Tasty," but they should say, "Perfect for starting campfires." Chipotle may tell you that their napkins could have been parking tickets, electricity bills, etc., in their pre-recycled "past lives," but they've got nothing on JJ's. I hadn't seen Steph in a while and it was nice to catch up and goof around with Zion. Eventually, we decided to hit up the Ice Lake peaks first, and hope for good weather on Sunday for US Grant and my planned dip in Island Lake.
7.53 miles and 2900' gain for the GH + Vermilion combo
The alarms went off at 0500, and we were on the trail toward Ice Lake by 5:30 a.m. As we got moving, we were grateful for what looked to be friendly skies.
Here are a couple shots from our approach up the headwall to Upper Ice Lake.
Me emerging from below (Steph photo)
As we crossed into the basin, my eyes widened and I had a visceral sense of awe as the scenery unfolded. I've been here twice already, but this place will never get stale.
Alpenglow on the peaks teamed up with the deep blue of Ice Lake, an endless assortment of wildflowers, and some downright "eerie" clouds to create an ethereal, magical setting.
On the shore of Ice Lake
Darrin may not own a camera, but he has the eye--he pointed this shot out as I was passing it by.
Eventually, it was time to stop gawking and to focus on getting some summits. Despite clear skies, the forecast loomed in our minds. Stephanie didn't want to take Zion up Golden Horn, so she and the pup parted ways with us, and headed directly toward the Vermilion-Fuller saddle from the top of a little rise above Fuller Lake.
We parted ways around this spot.
Vermilion-Fuller saddle in the distance. The climbers trail can be seen on the upper right
There are some old mining ruins and rusty objects strewn about the area. For example:
Rusty Wheelbarrow (Steph photo)
Climb on, Zion! (Steph photo)
Darrin and I headed SW toward the Golden Horn-Vermilion saddle, the route to which looked far more sketchy than it proved to be.
As we drew closer, the 'ideal' route kept changing...
We found some 'less steep' scree to ascend at left, then, upon reaching the more solid rock, did some easy class 3 scrambling that alternated with wide talus ledges until we were at the saddle, looking up toward the summit.
And what a fine summit this is! Its cozy platform features two large rocks, perfect for lounging and taking in the incredible views.
This one ranks up there with Teakettle as one of my favorites in the San Juans.
Wilson Group and Trout Lake
US Grant, V4, & Ice Lake in the foreground. Sneffels, Coxcomb, Uncompahgre, etc., lurking behind
It was at this point that I learned my second lesson of the trip: Cheeseburger Pringles are God's gift to man. Darrin pulled out a can of these and let me have some. All I can say is, "Wow." My waning faith in Pringles has been restored. As Dillon Sarnelli puts it, it's "McDonald's in a can." With the first crunch, waves of flavor overwhelm me--onions, ketchup, mustard. These have to be available outside Garden City, Kansas. Anyone on the Front Range see them around? (-o<
Our original plan had been, in case of perfect weather, to drop down and follow the ridge over to Pilot Knob. That peak just demands to be climbed. However, we could see some pre-nasty clouds building over the Wilsons, and realized we'd likely still be over on Pilot Knob if and when it began to storm. We decided to settle for Vermilion. I'd been there before and count it as a favorite, so this was no loss.
We looked over at Vermilion and Fuller, noting that we could easily descend to the bench at about 13,500' and traverse over, meeting the climber's trail near the saddle.
Fuller and Vermilion
So, that's what we did!
The route goes around the backside of Vermilion from its saddle with Fuller. There's a pretty strong, obvious, climber's trail the whole way.
Darrin makes his way toward the summit
Just before the summit, there's a steep, loose gully, followed by about 20' of "difficult class 2" to the summit. However, Zion had no problems, so no hiker with any skill should, either. The view from atop San Juan County is stupendous. I'm running out of pictures, but here's one shot...
We headed down from Vermilion, trying to keep ahead of what looked to be oncoming storms. We reached Ice Lake pretty quickly, finding Steph and Zion. After a few minutes lounging on the shore, it began to rain, then spew graupel like it was going out of style. We donned our shells and beat feet down to camp, doing our best to pass the bottlenecks of tourists fleeing downward. It was only 1:30...
At camp, the rain let up for a bit, and we chatted outside until it drove us inside our tents. A brief, dry interlude gave us enough time to emerge and use the magic Jimmy John's wrapper to build another fire. Jackets and pants were dried out. People smiled as their tushes and hands warmed up. This lasted maybe an hour before Mother Nature gave us the finger once again. I took a Gordon into my tent and didn't come out again until 0600 on Sunday...
3.75 miles and about 1900' gain
Add 1.5 miles hiking back to the car afterward
The alarm went off at 0430 as rain pounded my tent. Darrin calls out, "Another hour?" I agree, and slide back into dreamland. At 0530, the rain's still drumming, so we snooze another hour in hopes it will stop. It doesn't. We decide to give Island Lake a shot, regardless. The rain HAS to burn off in a couple of hours, right? Leaving camp at 0630, we begin ascending the surprisingly nice Island Lake spur trail as rain continues to fall. The route's a piece of cake--follow the trail to the V2-US Grant saddle, then turn right for a class 2 walk up that ends at V2's summit.
Looking east down the valley
First look at Island Lake
US Grant looking less and less like it will go today
At this point (saddle with V2), US Grant was out
Island Lake looks so cool...
Darrin eyes the summit of V2
As eerie as it gets (Steph photo)
The wind was howling and it was cold. We spent precious few minutes on the summit and headed down, stopping at the shore of Island Lake to take it in.
Rain fell harder and harder as we descended to camp. Once waiting it out to pack up our tents appeared futile, everyone sprang up and crammed camp into their respective backpacks and headed down the trail to our cars, where beer and heat awaited. Darrin and I enjoyed some beverages and said good bye to Steph and Zion before hitting the road for home. We stopped at Amica's, as all good climbers should, and put all the essential food groups into this shot. I can't think of a better way to end a fantastic trip.
Ending the trip with all the Essentials!
Harrison Lapahie's Navajo Culture Page on the significance of Island Lake. Ya'at'eeh!
Roach 13er book
Cooper's Colorado Scrambles
Kane's Summitpost US Grant page
LoJ Ophir Quad and Vermilion Peak page (with TRs)
Numerous TRs from this site: Marmot72; Lordhelmut; Furthermore and others
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):