Peak(s):  Golden Horn  -  13,780 feet
Vermilion Peak  -  13,894 feet
"V 2"  -  13,309 feet
Date Posted:  07/31/2013
Modified:  08/09/2013
Date Climbed:   07/27/2013
Author:  Matt
Additional Members:   kansas, Ridge runner
 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.

Day One: Trekking to the Trail Head

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.

Day Two: Ice Lakes Peaks: Golden Horn (Darrin and myself); Vermilion (Everyone); Fuller (Steph and Zion)

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

Pilot Knob

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...

Day Three: Island Lake and "V2"

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):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30

Comments or Questions
Brian Thomas
this place will never get stale
07/31/2013 13:09
Your TR depicts it about as fresh as it gets. Nice work, folks.

Never been there...
07/31/2013 13:30
... but after reading this, that will change.

What a stellar report, Matt.

07/31/2013 14:19
What a trip report! I have nothing else.

07/31/2013 14:31
You managed to salvage some great peaks despite some nasty weather. And what's even better is that you can go back to pick up what you left behind!

07/31/2013 14:41
I was up there early June and missed out on Fuller and Vermillion due to a lot of snow left on the saddle and insufficent gear, but the Ice Lake hike itself is worth the trip! The views are amazing and even though these pics are F'n sweet, you have to see it to believe it! I will return here for years to come! Thanks for sharing your adventure!

Images 4 through 9
07/31/2013 14:43
are quintessential San Juans. The shot with Zion should be submitted in to a dog and mountains photo contest.

Job well done to all. Like Polok said - you've got more to look forward to with regards to the ones you left behind.

So beautiful ....
07/31/2013 14:48
Really love Photo #6 ... and Photo #7 ... and Photo #9 ... and Photo #13 ... I think you ”get the picture”. (Sometimes, I crack myself up). Way to get some peaks done in between the rain. Thanks for posting. Happy trails, my friend!

Nice pics, Matt!
07/31/2013 14:55
Glad you got back out there. Ice Lake and Island Lake basins are so beautiful that it is hard to get upset about not being able to bag all of the peaks.

Great Photos Matt
07/31/2013 15:26
I remember we barely missed each other for Vermillion back in 2008. Thanks for the reminder that I really need to get back to that basin. Conditions look similar to what we had in the western IPW this past Sunday. Eerie stuff but it's enjoyable to play in the clouds every now and then. Also great to see Steph making an appearance again! I'll keep my eye out for Cheeseburger Pringles and will advise accordingly. Nice use of a weekend!

Amazing Area
07/31/2013 15:36
Congrats to everyone on making the most of a long weekend. I went to the Ice Lakes area for the first time recently and can't wait to go back. Thanks for excellent beta. The Cheeseburger Pringles are what I imagine dreams would taste like. Too bad they're apparently only sold in Kansas WalMarts. (Insert joke about Kansans being fat here.)

07/31/2013 15:47
Thanks for having me along for this trip, and given the forecast, I'd say we did alright. Part of me is happy we have to go back for Grant and Pilot Knob, let me know when and I'll be 100% in. Hopefully with more canned McDonalds.

The pictures came out as amazing as I had hoped. Easily one of the best spots in Colorado.

Very nice
07/31/2013 16:05
Visiting Ice Lake Basin was number one on my list for my vacation in September. After this report I think I'm going to have to bump it up to number nought point five. MmmmHmmmm.

07/31/2013 16:19
I gotta get up there sometime. Seems like a great destination!

Looks Like
07/31/2013 16:31
A great weekend up there! Ice Lakes Basin is worthy of many returns. Island Lake looks sweet too.

Nice to see Zion is still out there doin it! Last time I saw that dog he was encrusted in rime on the floor of the Tigiwon Community House after a 22 hour winter epic!

07/31/2013 16:51
I forgot to mention, if you can, Start the hike from the first switch back of the 4x4 dirt road like these guys did..... IT IS WORTH IT!!! I started this hike at the south mineral TH and it is a annoying 30-45 minutes to that waterfall crossing.

Ridge runner
07/31/2013 17:12
Despite that Farmington does not have a JJ, I am consoled by the fact that I am a mere two hours away from Silverton.

Thanks again for the invitation to join you guys, Matt. I loved so many things about the trip: the surreal settings, killer views (especially Saturday), a nap by Ice Lake, entertaining conversations, even the hike to V2 in the rain was cool (uh... eerie). Too bad you didn't get US Grant or your float trip out to the island. Let me know next time you guys are down this way.

Darrin, bring EXTRA Cheeseburger Pringles next time, puhlease!

great mountain porn...
08/01/2013 02:05
...but I'll read it later.

Excellent Matt
08/01/2013 04:10
Looks like another great trip. Man, I need to get down there soon!

Thanks for the comments, everyone
08/01/2013 12:55
Hulk, thanks for reinforcing parking at the shortcut. It really does make good sense.
Presto, I think you crack yourself up more often than ”sometimes”
Helmut, I agree on Steph's photo. Mountain Gazette does such a contest.
Marmot, your TRs provide so much beta that I didn't have to. Thanks.
Vonmackle, I'll look fwd to your pics when you return from Ice Lake.
Darin, lots of men read the articles as well as look at the pictures...
Darrin and Steph, thanks for making this happen. Great times!

Icy hot
08/01/2013 14:11
Gorgeous pics,'re making me remember how much I loved that basin, and how much I regret not being able to grab Golden Horn when I was there. I daresay it's worth a return trip down the road!

Trainer Keri
Gorgeous pics!!!!!!!
08/01/2013 17:11
I see Darrin won ANOTHER person over with McDonald's Pringles lol....I want to go there now after reading your TR and seeing your awesome pics...thanks for sharing

very nice!
08/01/2013 17:51
great report Matt. looks like one heck of a spot! it was very thoughtful of you to invite Darrin.

So jealous!
08/02/2013 01:34
Just amazing pics and way to fit in those peaks despite the weather forecast.

Such a great report and more reason to mend ASAP.

The word is out!
08/04/2013 22:21
That place is amazing! One of my favorites. Your pics are going to go a long way toward getting people to make the drive down there. Congrats on making the best of the bad weather!

nice report
08/06/2013 19:57
this one is going on my list!!

Great photos man
08/09/2013 20:36
Appreciate the TR, and great shots/descriptions. Very helpful.

Just catching up...
09/13/2013 02:26
... with some older TR's that I've missed along the way. If I don't have a lot of time to cruise on the site, I sometimes pass on the TR's with mts I don't recognize. But you've displayed some really gorgeous ones. Outstanding photos, Matt!! You really got some super ones with clouds on this trip!! And flowers!! Beautiful!! Thanks for sharing them!!

07/24/2014 16:22
We were planning on heading to this area, and we might do pretty much exactly what you did. So I guess we won't be original, but I don't see any areas to improve on.

Nice, Matt
10/21/2019 09:18
Reminds me of the time I did these peaks. Did I mention I've done these peaks? Yeah, it was rad. Really though, I'm rad.

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