| US Grant, V2 & V4
"V4" – 13,540
US Grant Peak – 13,767
"V2" – 13,309
From: 10,300 ft on 4WD road to Clear Lake
Approx. 7.7 mi, 4100 ft
Last summer marked our first venture into the incredible Ice Lake area of the San Juans. Dwight finished up his Centennial quest on Vermilion and we also had the pleasure of climbing Golden Horn and Pilot Knob. To this day Pilot Knob remains one of my absolute favorite peaks in Colorado. Something about it just makes me drool and I can't keep my eyes off it. It's such a unique peak. I was really excited to return to this magical place. This time we'd concentrate on US Grant, a bicentennial peak, and possibly climb "V4" and "V2" as well.
After a short night's sleep in the back of the 4runner we started hiking at 4:40am from the switchback located at about 10,300 ft on the 4WD road to Clear Lake. There is a good trail from here that seamlessly joins the standard Ice Lake Trail after a few tenths of a mile and saves you about 300 vertical feet of climbing. It's a fairly popular shortcut, but there is very limited parking at the switchback. The hike was much easier than it had been last year with heavy packs on and we made good time.
Following Cooper's route description, we easily found a cairn marking the turn for the initially faint trail leading to Island Lake. We began to see markers for the Hardrock 100 race that was starting today, although the runners would not make it to this part of the course for many, many hours. The sun rose as we entered the Island Lake Basin – perfect timing for getting some alpenglow shots of V4 and US Grant. Dwight had a new tripod to check out so we hung out for a little while taking pictures.
We contemplated a plan of attack and decided it made the most sense to give V4 a go first. There were two options: climb to the V4 – US Grant saddle and then up V4's northeast ridge or climb V4's southeast ridge. We chose the latter for two reasons: 1) the southeast ridge looked easier and less complicated and would probably be quicker and 2) we could descend the northeast ridge en route to US Grant for a nice well rounded tour of V4.
We climbed up a very steep, grassy slope to gain V4's southeast ridge. Beautiful Island Lake came into view below us. Its definantly one of the coolest lakes I've seen. Once on the ridge, the going was easy – mostly class 2 until we neared the summit. Near the top we had to climb up a short, loose gully or two and do a little 3rd class climbing on loose rock, but it wasn't hard and route finding was easy. Nevertheless, I really liked it and was pleasantly surprised at how cool of a mountain V4 is. Sure, the rock is crappy and loose, but I found it to be rather scenic and interesting. Not to mention the views of the Ice Lake group – wow! Vermilion, Golden Horn….and ahhh yes, good old Pilot Knob. I must have taken a dozen or two pictures of it on this trip. We topped out at 7:25 and stayed for just over 20 minutes soaking in the views.
Time to concentrate on our real objective for this trip though: US Grant Peak. We descended V4's northwest ridge to the V4 – US Grant saddle. Staying on the ridge proper isn't possible, but some nastily loose gullies on the west side provide a reasonable descent route around the obstacles. We took turns descending so as not to kill each other with rock fall. Route finding was fairly straightforward, but we did have to backtrack a little bit at one point. From the saddle V3 caught my interest – the traverse between it and US Grant looked interesting but I restrained myself, not wanting to bite off more than I could chew in a day.
The route up US Grant was fairly obvious and it was easy to follow in the footprints of those who had climbed before us. The bicentennials seem to see a reasonable amount of traffic. Before we knew it we arrived at the crux. From what I've seen, the class rating of the crux isn't well established, but is usually considered 4th class or low 5th class. The guidebooks all say that many people use a rope here. We give it a 4th class rating, but it is definitely steep and slightly exposed. There are plenty of holds, although some of them are a bit loose, reminding you to religiously test them. We brought a rope along, but we were both comfortable climbing without it. The guidebooks talk about a short exposed section at the top of the crux, but we didn't think the exposure was very significant. One last scramble up a strange rock gully deposited us very close to the summit. We arrived around 9 and enjoyed the sunshine.
It was still early so naturally we wanted to make our way over to V2. The ridge between US Grant and V2 looked pretty serious and I might not have attempted it if I hadn't previously read Forrest's TR. He reported only having to negotiate a couple of short 4th class sections. Could this be? It wasn't clear from his report whether he had descended the crux to get off US Grant's summit block before beginning the traverse though. At first I figured we needed to – after all, if there was an easier way down you'd think it would become the "standard" route, right?
After some investigation we found a very reasonable descent option off the summit block's east side that provided access to the ridge. The ridge was composed of gnarly towers, but they were easily bypassed on the south side, not too far below the crest. Route finding was fun and a lot easier than I'd imagined. The crux was a short 4th class downclimb. Soon we reached the US Grant – V2 saddle. From here, US Grant's east ridge looked quite formidable and I never would have guessed it held a viable route to the summit. The climbing we experienced on this ridge though was slightly easier than the famous crux on the normal route.
Since it was so early and we knew the easy west ridge of V2 would be smooth sailing, we took and extended break before finishing off V2… and another break on the summit. Some clouds were beginning to form but it looked like it was going to be quite a while before any storms materialized.
We were tempted to descend south directly off of V2 but the talus looked kind of annoying. I thought I remembered some nice looking scree (the teeny tiny type) closer to the US Grant – V2 saddle so we retraced our steps in search of a nicer descent route. We found it – some of the nicest scree ever for skiing. We beelined it straight for amazing Island Lake. This lake is absolutely spectacular. It is aptly named and has a beautiful aquamarine coloring. Much picture taking ensued. The contrast of the lake and the orange scree was awesome. We took a break by the shore and wished we had some kind of craft to get us out to the island. Dwight has an idea for a tent that doubles as an inflatable raft.
The hike back down the trail went by quickly and we were surprised at how many other hikers we saw. It wasn't even a weekend! We got back to the car at 1:10, had a celebration beer, and settled in for a well deserved nap. What a spectacular day!
pictures & map: