| Lake Hope area 13ers
San Miguel Peak – 13,752
"V 9" – 13,260
"V 8" – 13,300
Beattie Peak – 13,342
Fuller Peak – 13,761 unranked
Vermilion Peak – 13,894
From: Lake Hope TH
After our climb in Yankee Boy Basin on Saturday we contemplated how to spend our Sunday over a delicious meal at Buen Tiempo in Ouray. For some reason lately I've been feeling kind of disappointed that I'm fast approaching the halfway point of my 13er quest. When I finish them, will I have enjoyed them as much as I could have? This weekend, rather than trying to climb as many new peaks as possible, I was more concerned with soaking in the beauty of the San Juans (I admit though that this new line of thought was probably also partly inspired by my new camera). When Dominic told me he wanted to climb Teakettle last week, I had no qualms about agreeing to re-climb it. It is such a magical area and seemed to fit my mood well. I was happy to introduce Dominic to Yankee Boy Basin and this unique summit. It was a relief to find that I had just as much fun climbing it a second time as I did the first.
As I was perusing the map, my attention settled on San Miguel Peak, a bicentennial near Trout Lake. If you've ever driven over Lizard Head Pass in daylight you know how impressive the Vermilion group appears from the west. I know I have pulled over near Trout Lake more than once to photograph the spectacular orange and red slopes of Pilot Knob and Vermilion to the east and unranked Sheep Mountain to the south. I've always wondered what that lovely orange and red colored stuff actually is. Delectable skiable scree? Annoyingly loose talus? Regardless, these impressive slopes, though beautiful, don't look particularly climbable. I was sold on San Miguel when I realized that we'd get to hike under those amazing red and orange western slopes of Vermilion. Finally, I'd get the chance to take a closer look! Dominic has heard me babble on and on about my beloved Pilot Knob and was anxious to investigate what all the hype was about in this area.
9/2/2007 – San Miguel Fever
7.2 mi, 3150 ft
The alarm sounded at 5am. As I awoke I became aware that something wasn't right. I was fairly nauseous and moving around made matters worse. I laid back down and took a snooze, hoping that the yucky feeling would pass. It didn't. Frustrated and for lack of a better idea, I decided to give it a go – hopefully it would pass once I started walking up the trail. We finally got going at 6:15, a much later start than I would have liked (because of course I'd already scheduled in multiple other peaks besides San Miguel for the day). Oh well, hopefully the weather would hold.
The Lake Hope trail is very pleasant. It is starts out pretty flat, then looses a little elevation as it crosses Poverty Gulch, and then switchbacks quite efficiently through the trees toward Hope Lake. After a short while my nausea faded, but all was not well. I was feeling REALLY crappy (I'd later realize that I must have had a fever). I kept moving for as long as I could before telling Dominic I needed a break less than an hour into our slow hike. I plopped down in the middle of the trail and choked down a few Peanut M&M's before deciding I had to move on because I was cold as heck. Why was I doing this? I should probably turn around now, right? For some reason I kept going. I'm blaming it on the fever.
The views as we neared tree line kept getting better and better. Unfortunately I can't say the same for my condition. Following Garratt & Marten's advice, we left the trail at about 11,650 ft and climbed west over grassy slopes toward the outlet on the north side of Lake Hope. There seemed to be a hint of a climbers trail here and there. If you instead stay on the main trail you end up on the east side of Lake Hope and have to walk around the lake, not a big deal really. There was some sort of interesting old wooden dam at the lake's outlet which I assume was used for a mining operation.
We continued west, now on talus, toward the northeast ridge of San Miguel. Access to the beginning of the ridge is obstructed by some rather impressive cliffs. We kept talus hopping until we spotted a viable option for gaining the ridge – a short but kind of nasty looking loose talus climb followed by an easy looking little gully composed of grass and 2nd or 3rd class rock. The initial talus (of the smallish variety) was indeed annoying and loose, but for some reason this nasty grunge climb was making me feel slightly better. Before we knew it, we topped out on the ridge at around 12,300 ft. The grunge climb really wasn't as bad as it had appeared.
I was discouraged that we still had almost 1500 ft to go at this point. I was feeling beat. Once again thoughts of turning back crept into my head but I pushed them out and started along the ridge. At first it consisted of 2nd class rock hopping, but things got interesting later on. There were huge, cool boulders to be scrambled over, around, and under. I took special care to pay attention to what I was doing since I knew I wasn't 100% there. A lot of the scrambling could probably be bypassed on 2nd class terrain on the right side of the ridge, but why? At one point near the end we were forced down from the ridge crest by a gnarly little tower. Climbing back up onto the ridge near the summit was trickier than I had expected. We got into some incredibly loose, typical San Juan terrain. I eyed a route for a while, thinking that it looked easy enough, but I was worried about the rock quality. My suspicions were substantiated when I decided to try it and the first thing I grabbed came off in my hand. Screw that! We continued to traverse further along the side of the ridge until we found some slightly easier terrain. It was still loose and great care had to be taken, but it was easy climbing.
The summit area consists of 3 little summits. We visited two of them that appeared close in height. Even though it felt like I had been moving incredibly slowly, it had only taken 3:45 to get here, still a somewhat respectable pace. A break was of course in order. I gawked at the orange and red slopes of neighboring unranked Sheep Mountain. I'd definitely like to come back and climb that guy some day. Anybody know of a good way? There is also an unranked ridge point between San Miguel and Sheep Mountain that Roseborough refers to as "Lake Point". Its tiny summit block atop a smooth mound of that orange and red stuff is intriguing and Roseborough reports it to be low 5th class. Indeed, it would make a nice outing with Sheep Mountain I think.
Next on our agenda was supposed to be a traverse to "V 9" via the connecting ridge. However, the ridge looked a little more interesting than I had expected, with many towers and subpoints. It looked time consuming to say the least and we had no idea if it would go. We started down San Miguel's southwest ridge, but I soon conceded that I had no business attempting such a feat in my current condition. Bummer – it was hard to part with that ridge. We exited the ridge near the San Miguel – "V 9" saddle, heading east toward some small lakes. Ok, so the revised plan became to drop down close to Lake Hope, contour around to the "V9" – "V8" saddle, and climb the northeast ridge of "V 9". Well, that plan didn't last too long either. I quickly became discouraged and wondered how I was going to regain all of that elevation we had to lose. Finally for the first time I told Dominic that I was ashamed to admit that I might have to give up. I wasn't at all happy about it, but I was beginning to realize just how sick I was and that going on just wasn't worth the suffering. We stopped in a flat area near the little lakes and I laid down for quite a long time, staring across the basin at Vermilion and Pilot Knob. It felt REALLY good to lie down!
After almost an hour, I reluctantly got up and we were on our way. Visions of my bed in the back of my 4runner were dancing in my head. We descended northeast down steep grassy and rocky slopes toward the west end of the lake. As punishment for hiking when I knew I shouldn't be I fell when some talus shifted and I banged the heck out of my shin. After a few tears we pushed on. When we reached the lake we contoured around to its north side and headed east back to find the trail. It was still fairly early, but it started to rain and hail. That made me feel a little better about aborting the rest of the day's plans.
By the time we reached the trail the rain had picked up. It was a wet hike back to the TH, but didn't seem to take all that long. We relaxed there all afternoon. I decided that my best chances for recovery were to get as much sleep as possible. Dominic thankfully agreed to forego a nice meal in Telluride so I could just rest. Our emergency dinner of ramen noodles, Cheetos, bread, and schinken (really good German ham/bacon kind of stuff) wasn't all that bad.
For peaks with easy access, I typically don't like to hike in the same area two days in a row if I can help it. I like to visit as many places as I can unless I'm backpacking or climbing mountains in a remote area. For some reason though, hiking back up the Lake Hope trail again the following day seemed very appealing. Plus if I felt like crap still we wouldn't have wasted any gas and energy driving to a new TH. Climbing "V 9", "V 8", and Beattie Peak seemed reasonable enough, even if I wasn't feeling awesome. Who knows, if by some miracle I was actually feeling good we could go on to unranked Fuller Peak (which I stupidly didn't climb along with Vermilion) and maybe even Vermilion itself! Dominic hadn't been there yet and I would love to climb it from the west. But first things first, I had to get better. I went to bed early and hoped for the best.
9/3/2007 – I'm Back! "V 9" to Vermilion Traverse
10 mi, 5000 ft
When the alarm went off at 4am I felt pretty darn good. Could I have actually recovered from my mysterious illness over night? Only one way to find out. We were hiking up the trail by 4:30 and it quickly became clear that I was feeling much better. What a relief! This time we followed the trail all the way past the lake to the pass. I was absolutely starving at this point (a sign that I was getting back to my old self) but the sun hadn't risen yet and it was chilly so we only took a very short break to down some Raisinettes. I knew we only had about 800 feet to climb to get to the top of our first peak of the day, "V 9" and I was ready for it.
The northeast ridge of "V 9" proved to be the most interesting terrain of the day. It consisted of fun, easy scrambling over interesting rock. The sun rose as we neared the summit, bathing it in a fantastic, red alpenglow. We topped out at 7, found a place out of the wind, and ate some more candy. The register was from 2005 but only contained 7 signatures! I was a little surprised by that because the access is relatively short and easy and the final ridge climb is a lot of fun.
After our summit stay we descended the ridge back to the saddle and started climbing toward "V 8" on the other side. This climb was much more straightforward and just entailed hiking up steep, sometimes loose, talus. We slogged our way upwards and reached the summit around 8:30. At this point I was feeling great and there was no doubt in my mind that Vermilion was ours.
Neither of us needed much of a break so we only paused for a few minutes before continuing on to Beattie Peak. The ridge was a little rough near the Beattie – "V 8" saddle and required some very minor scrambling. Shortly afterward the rock changed from grey to the spectacular orange and red as seen on Vermilion and the going got easier. We found ourselves on our 3rd summit before we knew it. We could see and hear two climbers at the Fuller – Vermilion saddle. In preparation for our last long push up to Fuller Peak, we shared an energy drink and each ate a candy bar. We could see a faint trail ascending the loose talus, but it still looked like it was going to be unpleasant. We were however happy to spot a well established trail leading from the Vermilion – Fuller saddle to the Fuller – Beattie saddle, meaning we wouldn't have to go back up and over Fuller on our way back as we'd expected.
The climb up Fuller wasn't nearly as bad as it had looked and went by rather quickly. The talus was indeed loose, but the trail helped a lot. When we reached the summit Dominic was understandably impressed at the sights and was very happy I'd brought him here. What spectacular views – Vermilion, Golden Horn, Pilot Knob, "V 4", US Grant, etc. Man, I love this place. I promised Dominic that I'd introduce him to my friend Pilot Knob before too long. We enjoyed some more Schinken before heading over to the big guy, Vermilion.
There is a well established trail all the way from Fuller to Vermilion and even if I hadn't known the way it wouldn't have been a problem. We reached our final summit for the day at 11:30 and had it to ourselves. Dominic loved it and was happy I had suggested adding it to our climb even though I'd already been there. I found my name in the register from last year along with Dwight, Bob and James. It had been Dwight's final centennial! Unfortunately the page was in bad shape and our names were falling apart.
We had a long drive ahead of us and the clouds were building so we didn't stay long. We returned to the Fuller – Vermilion saddle and followed the trail as it descended to the Fuller – Beattie saddle. I now know firsthand what that red and orange stuff is on the side of Vermilion – it is just really loose, smallish talus. Sorry folks, no fast scree descent here! The trail helped tremendously. From the Beattie – Fuller saddle the trail became weaker and petered out. Endless talus hopping ensued and the rock once again transitioned from red and orange to grey. By the end we were both pretty sick of talus. We continued west across grassy slopes and met up with the trail around 11,600 ft. It was a quick cruise back to the TH from there on the now very familiar trail. The loop took us 9:20 and was extremely enjoyable. Even though the Ice Lakes area is stunning, climbing Vermilion from the west ain't too shabby either!