Peak(s):  Pilot Knob A  -  13,738 feet
Fuller Pk  -  13,761 feet
Vermilion Pk  -  13,894 feet
Golden Horn  -  13,780 feet
Date Posted:  09/12/2013
Modified:  01/23/2019
Date Climbed:   08/22/2013
Author:  Mtnman200
Additional Members:   RandyMack
 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. (2018 Update: The building has reportedly collapsed.)

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 Vermilion 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 - Vermilion saddle. Here, we turned right (northwest), bypassing obstables on the left (south) side of the ridge as necessary. We reached the summit of Vermilion 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 Vermilion Peak's summit, with Pilot Knob and Golden Horn in the background

After 20 minutes on the summit, we returned to the Fuller - Vermilion 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 - Vermilion saddle. This time, we contoured northeast below some cliffs to the 13,380' Vermilion - Golden Horn saddle.

Looking back on the traverse below Vermilion Peak from the Fuller-Vermilion saddle (left) to the Vermilion-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 Vermilion Peak from the summit of Golden Horn

We headed straight down to the basin from the Vermilion - 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 members (Kevin Baker and Otina Fox (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 Vermilion 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 Vermilion 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.

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

Comments or Questions

09/16/2013 21:55
For a great writeup on a classic set of peaks. Sweet pics of Pilot Knob's summit ridge too. Can't wait to head up there myself. 3 left out of 202? That's something to be damn proud of. Enjoy Fifteen when you head in there, it's a beast.


Kevin Baker

nice to meet you guys
09/17/2013 00:45
It was nice meeting you guys on Pilot Knob. Looks like you had a very productive trip! Always nice to see out of staters working on lists outside the 14ers. Thanks for the nice pics! Pilot Knob is one of my favorite to date in the bi's.


Hey benners
09/17/2013 01:49
You're welcome. You have a nice list of 13ers completed. I see you did Coxcomb and Peak Fifteen last year. Which do you think is harder? Coxcomb wasn't as hard as I expected, and I get the feeling that Peak Fifteen might be harder. Do you have an opinion about which one is more difficult? Thanks.


Nice to meet you, too, Kevin
09/17/2013 02:07
We had a blast on Pilot Knob, though the traversing downclimb certainly got my full attention. How was the traverse to Golden Horn?


Fifteen vs. Coxcomb
09/17/2013 21:30
I'd say Fifteen was harder. I remember Coxcomb being fun the entire time, and it didn't really require a consistent section of class 5 leading. The only class 5 on the route is done on top rope if I remember correctly. I remember getting butterflies a few times on Fifteen, particularly in the gully at the bottom, where you are very exposed to rockfall, and on the class 5 pitch near the top. The lead of that pitch felt similar to the first 2 pitches of the direct start on the 1st Flatiron, if you've ever done that one. The climbing isn't particularly hard but it's run out (or maybe I just suck at finding gear placements) and the rock quality isn't great (crumbly ball bearing type stuff). Escape off Fifteen would also take longer than Coxcomb (we did 5 raps to get off of Fifteen compared to just the one on Coxcomb) so good weather is absolutely essential. Then there's also the approach to consider, which is a no brainer nod towards Fifteen being harder.

I stacked it all up and, unless I'm forgetting a tough peak, I think Fifteen has to be the toughest of the top 200 wouldn't you say? I haven't done them all so you'd probably be able to shed more light on that than me, but that's sort of the conclusion I came to. Other contenders would be Dallas, Jagged, Coxcomb, Pilot Knob, and Teakettle maybe? I haven't done Jagged or Pilot Knob, but from everything I've read, Fifteen is harder than both.

All that said, Fifteen on a good weather day with good partners can and will be a ton of fun. Given your experience level you should have no problem with it. It's a fun challenge for sure. When you planning on heading in there?

Kevin Baker

GH traverse
09/18/2013 03:50
The traverse to Golden Horn from Pilot Knob is pretty straight forward. Traversing below the cliffs on the west face of Pilot Knob is loose and steep, but manageable.

I still haven't made it up 15 yet (had to bail at around 13K due to weather), but I would agree with Ben that it is the toughest in the top 200, more so because of the crap kitty litter all over the place more than anything else. It is a dangerous place.


Fifteen vs. Coxcomb
10/16/2013 17:44
Peak Fifteen sounds like it has the same kitty litter that Jagged Mountain has. When I climbed Jagged on 8/5/91, I remember thinking that 1) you have to bring your ”A” game for the entire climb; and 2) this is not a place to be in bad weather. We'll tentatively be heading to Ruby Creek in late July or early to mid-August for climbs of Peak Fifteen on one day; then Monitor/Animas/Thirteen the next day; then Pigeon/Turret. The next day, we'll jump drainages to Noname Creek (I've done this before); then climb Jagged the day after that.

I would say Jagged is harder than Dallas because the routefinding on Jagged is more complex (though the additional traffic over the past 22 years has probably made Jagged a little easier than it was in 1991). I think Teakettle is a bit over-rated, and I feel the same way about Coxcomb.

I might throw Thunder Pyramid into the mix as one of the harder bicentennials, but maybe that's because my dad and I made it harder than it had to be by sleeping through the alarm and getting a late start on the climb. A cool thing I remember about Thunder Pyramid is that the original register placed by Spencer Swanger on the first ascent was still on the summit.

(10/16/13 Edit: Upon further reflection, I consider U.S. Grant and Pilot Knob as being harder than Thunder Pyramid but easier than Teakettle, Dallas, Jagged, and Coxcomb.)

   Not registered? Click Here

Caution: The information contained in this report may not be accurate and should not be the only resource used in preparation for your climb. Failure to have the necessary experience, physical conditioning, supplies or equipment can result in injury or death. and the author(s) of this report provide no warranties, either express or implied, that the information provided is accurate or reliable. By using the information provided, you agree to indemnify and hold harmless and the report author(s) with respect to any claims and demands against them, including any attorney fees and expenses. Please read the Safety and Disclaimer pages for more information.

© 2021®, 14ers Inc.