| 2013 RTM Climbing Trip (Part 3): Ice Lake Basin Extravaganza
August 20, Tuesday. After lunch, we drove a few miles northwest of Silverton to the Clear Creek jeep road, parking at the first switchback at 10,360’ for the backpack up the Ice Lake Trail. Skies were overcast for the first hour, and then light rain fell for a half hour followed by hard rain and hail for another half hour. Light rain then followed us the rest of the way to Fuller Lake. We retreated into an old miners’ boardinghouse to escape most of the rain. Idiots have been pulling down pieces of the building and burning them, causing this historic building to lean precariously.
After setting up our tent nearby, we cooked dinner on an old table in the boardinghouse. Periodically, we saw a mouse scampering about on the ground and were glad we had a bear canister, as there is not a good place in the Ice Lake Basin to hang a bear bag. After dinner, Randy visited a nearby mine. It felt cold here at 12,500’, so we decided to wear an extra layer tonight. It was cloudy when we went to bed, but the worst of the rain was far away.
August 21, Wednesday. After eating breakfast in the boardinghouse, we started hiking under clear skies (and lots of wind) across a ridge from Fuller Peak toward the basin below Fuller Peak and Vermillion Peak.
An unnamed lake below Fuller Peak
We were able to find a climber’s trail that passed an old stone building adjacent to a collapsed building made of lumber. We continued climbing on the trail to the 13,500’ Fuller – Vermillion saddle. Here, we turned right (northwest), bypassing obstables on the left (south) side of the ridge as necessary. We reached the summit of Vermillion Peak (13,894’) and signed the summit register. We saw the 5/27/13 signature of the late Steve Gladbach, who tragically died on Thunder Pyramid (13,932’) on 6/23/13.
Randy on Vermillion Peak's summit, with Pilot Knob and Golden Horn in the background
After 20 minutes on the summit, we returned to the Fuller – Vermillion saddle and continued up the ridge on a climber’s trail to the summit of Fuller Peak (13,761’).
Randy and David on the summit of Fuller Peak (13,761')
Again, we returned to the Fuller – Vermillion saddle. This time, we contoured northeast below some cliffs to the 13,380’ Vermillion – Golden Horn saddle.
Looking back on the traverse below Vermillion Peak from the Fuller-Vermillion saddle (left) to the Vermillion-Golden Horn saddle
The ridge to Golden Horn
We then climbed up the ridge, bypassing obstructions as needed, until we reached the summit of Golden Horn (13,780’). This had been a fun scramble. There was no summit register, so we left a makeshift register.
Pilot Knob from Golden Horn's summit
A zoomed view of Pilot Knob from Golden Horn's summit. Note the two towers at the left side of the photo; you will see them again very soon.
The miners' boardinghouse from the summit of Golden Horn
Fuller Peak and Vermillion Peak from the summit of Golden Horn
We headed straight down to the basin from the Vermillion – Golden Horn saddle. During our descent, we visited some mine ruins along the way, including a vertical-shaft mine.
The vertical-shaft mine
We returned to our campsite at 12:25 PM and spent a couple of hours hanging out in the boardinghouse. We then napped in our tent for another two or three hours before getting up to cook dinner.
David and Eddie in the miners' boardinghouse. On tonight's menu: Mountain House freeze-dried beef stroganoff. Yum!
After dinner, we broke camp and moved to a campsite near Ice Lake for tomorrow’s attempt on Pilot Knob. A large group was camped above Ice Lake. Some light rain fell after we got the tent set up.
The windswept Ice Lake is in a beautiful setting.
August 22, Thursday. At 5:40 we set out on foot toward Pilot Knob and soon encountered two 14er.com members (Kevin Baker and Otina (Bergsteigen)) who were also planning to climb Pilot Knob this morning. After crossing the inlet to Ice Lake, we headed west-southwest and ascended a grassy ramp. We headed up the right side of the gray scree/rock seen in the photo below, staying on solid rock where we could. Kevin and Otina climbed further to the right, up the orange scree.
Full Moon over Pilot Knob in the early morning light
We reached the ridge a bit to the right (northeast) of Pilot Knob’s summit block, turned southwest, and reached the base of the summit block at 7:30. A climber’s trail traverses west across Pilot Knob’s north face before turning the corner and heading south along Pilot Knob’s west face at the base of the summit block cliffs.
David and Eddie have just turned the corner between Pilot Knob's north and west faces and are contouring south along Pilot Knob’s west face
Continuing to contour south at the base of Pilot Knob's summit block cliffs
After traversing a few hundred feet, we came to a well-cairned couloir that made for a fun scramble to the summit ridge.
The cairn on the skyline at the far right marks the start of the couloir to the summit ridge.
The view up the couloir
A look back at the traverse across the west face to the couloir
David and Eddie beginning the climb up the couloir. The cairn is visible on the skyline at the right side of the photo.
Partway up the couloir
A look down the couloir from about halfway to Pilot Knob's summit ridge
The view toward the summit ridge from about halfway up the couloir
The footholds and handholds were better than expected (though they should be tested carefully, given the crumbling nature of the rock), and soon we topped out on the summit ridge and got our first view toward Pilot Knob's summit of the obstacles along the way.
Looking toward the summit (hidden behind the obstacles on the ridge); Pilot Knob has an extremely unique summit ridge.
We climbed up and over the first big ridge obstacle shown here
As we continued toward the second ridge obstacle, we caught up to Kevin and Otina. In the photo below, Otina is in the background with the summit of Pilot Knob visible directly above her. Kevin is in the foreground getting ready to traverse along the crack that can be seen directly behind him below the obstacle. It’s not as easy as it sounds because it’s extremely exposed (a fall here likely would not be survivable) and the traverse is actually a downclimb. Climbing back up on the return trip is much easier, however.
The second ridge obstacle, with the summit of Pilot Knob visible in the background
A look back toward the ridge obstacles from Pilot Knob’s summit with Vermillion Peak in the background
The five of us reached the summit of Pilot Knob (13,738’) at about 8:15 and signed the summit register. We spent about 25 minutes on the summit and then headed back the way we’d come. Kevin and Otina were going to continue to Golden Horn.
Randy, Eddie, and David on the summit of Pilot Knob, with Vermillion Peak (left) and Golden Horn in the background
Otina (left) and Kevin descending from Pilot Knob’s summit block
We returned to our campsite, ate lunch, and broke camp. We began the backpack to the trailhead at 11:10, returned to our car at 12:40 PM, and drove back to Silverton.
In just under four years, David and Randy climbed the Colorado fourteeners and 72 of the 100 highest mountains in Colorado. Of the 202 highest mountains in Colorado, I now have three peaks remaining (Monitor Peak (13,695'), Animas Mountain (13,786'), and Peak Fifteen (13,700')). All three can be climbed from Ruby Creek and are high on our priority list for next summer's annual climbing trip; I'm looking forward to more climbing adventures already.
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