Peak(s):  US Grant Peak  -  13,767 feet
"V 4"  -  13,540 feet
Pilot Knob A  -  13,738 feet
Golden Horn  -  13,780 feet
Date Posted:  08/26/2015
Date Climbed:   08/16/2015
Author:  SnowAlien
 Taking the time in the Ice Lakes basin   

August 15-16, 2015

With the sensory overload of Weminuche, it is hard to come up with another area to go into right after... Except for this little area - the Ice Lakes basin. After climbing Vermilion and Fuller last year as a day trip, I wanted to go back and spend at least a couple of days in the basin. With several bicentennials and other 13ers in the area, a short backpacking trip was in order. I got to the Mineral Campground at dusk on a Friday with the idea to get an early start. Things didn't go according to plan, of course. Barely awake at 6.30 am, I drove to the high switchback in my Subi only to find out that all parking spots had been already taken. I didn't realize quite yet that this area on the weekend is becoming like Grays and Torreys trailhead. Well, nothing else to do but to head back down and to start from the lower trailhead. With all this back and forth (and the line to the restroom), I didn't get started before 8 am.

Day 1 - US Grant and "V4"

Ascent: ~4,600 ft, descent: ~2,000 ft, mileage: ~7 miles, camp: ~12,500 ft

With the late start, I decided to concentrate on easier targets such as US Grant and "V4". I made it to the lower Ice Lake in a couple hours and started looking for the turnoff to the Island lake. I recall being one there last year. I identified the turnoff by a cairn and a short time later got a great first view of the lake, with a couple bright tents in the middle of the island! Some jokesters brought a raft and floated their overnight supplies and tents to the island.

Approaching Island lake

Being already 11 am, weather started to look threatening, so I decided to set up a tent by the lake. It started raining as I ate lunch, so I took a nap for nearly an hour, very relaxing. Around 1 pm the rain stopped, and by 1.15 pm I was hiking towards the saddle between US Grant and "V4". I was hoping for a 3-4 hour window between the storms.

Blue sky over US Grant

I got to the saddle near 13.2k, evaluated the conditions (storms brewing, but still far away), so I proceeded towards US Grant. With fair amount of cairns the trail was easy to follow. Eventually I ran into the Class 4 "wall", and for a minute or two wasn't sure how to proceed and if I were on route. Cairns on the upper ledge were hard to spot from the bottom. Holds were great though, particularly for the feet, and after a few moves I topped out and noticed cairns. Good, I was on the correct ledge.

Straightforward climb to the saddle

Crux wall

Great holds, especially for the feet

Looking down on the crux

Final obstacle before the summit

View of the Island lake from the summit

By 2.45 pm I was on the summit admiring the views (and the incoming clouds). This was also Bicentennial #50 for me, I let it sink in for a minute. But with the incoming weather, there was no time to linger. Descent was pretty straightforward, I took a few variations, and 30 minutes later was back at the saddle.

Storm brewing over the Wilsons

I ended up downclimbing this gully on the descent

Now, do I have time for "V4"? After previewing the peak from "V2" back in June, I already knew it's better done with snow and anticipated it to be loose, but the curiosity was too strong. Sure enough, it was loose, with no cairns. Without the route beta, it took me a little longer than I hoped to find the summit and I tagged several rocky towers in the process, and as I started the descent, it began raining again.

Summit ridge of "V4"

Upper Ice lake from "V4"

Loose descent off "V4"

Dry couloir I was hoping to ski

I dropped down pretty quickly and was back in the tent 40 minutes later. Time to eat more food, rest and wait for the rain to stop. With my goals accomplished, I was hoping to move the camp above the Ice Lake later this evening. Around 6.10 pm the rain finally stopped, and after rolling up the tent, I was hiking ten minutes later. Bonus - trail to the Ice Lakes from the Island lake was downhill, which was much appreciated. I ran into a few tents by the Ice lake, but knowing my propensity to linger in the mornings, ultimately decided to head higher and to set up the camp near 12.5k. By 7pm I was arriving at my new camp site, finding a great flat area close to several water sources.

After the rain - neighbors are still there

V4 reflection in the Ice lake

Day 2 - Pilot Knob and Golden Horn

Ascent: ~1,800 ft, descent: ~4,400 ft, mileage: ~8 miles

Flash-Crack-Booom! I jump in my sleeping bag, trying to assess the situation. Flash-Boom! I am at 12.5k, above the tree line, with a bunch of electronics, stove fuel and metal objects in my tent during a lightning storm. Crap!!! Time is 22.20 pm, so it didn't rain for only 6 hours. Flash-Boom! I count the seconds between the flash and the sound, and at least it sounds like the storm is not in the absolute vicinity. In the pouring rain with some sleet, I push out the fuel, poles and Jetboil away from the tent. In about an hour the storm subsides and I go back to sleep.

Ahhhhwooooo! I jump out of my sleeping bag again. What now? A pack of coyotes, pretty close. Much closer than a lone coyote in the Trinity Basin a week ago. Time - 2.30 am. Nothing to throw at them if they come close. No rocks, and my stove, poles and fuel are out of the tent. Crap! I get out of the tent to bring the gear back. The howling stops. Are they watching me? Are they getting close? Man, it's hard to get any sleep here at 12.5k! Eventually, sleepiness prevails and I fell back asleep.

Up by 6 am, feeling a little groggy. Alpenglow on Pilot Knob is rather unusual sight to behold though.

Alpenglow that lures me out of the tent

A few minutes later

Campite view

Moving by 7 am. Goal - the notorious Pilot Knob! Being solo, I decided to go as far as I am comfortable, and turn around if I don't like the summit ridge traverse. The approach is short and soon I am looking for some anchor rocks on a loose slope. Quite doable, and by 8 am I am topping out at the 13.4k saddle, spotting my first cairn.

Only 300 feet to go!

Traverse to the north side goes smoothly and I find the obvious C3-4 rocky gully. I am being careful not to dislodge any rocks, but the climbing is pretty good.

Heading up the gully

Now to the good/exposed/scary part! I stash the poles and carefully and slowly make my way up the exposed ridge line.

I climb one of the towers...and don't see the good way past it. Somehow I decide to downclimb it on the north side. Realizing a route finding error, I climb back up. After taking a better look at the backside of the tower, I notice a straightforward C3 downclimb - duh. This brings me to the 2nd tower and the exposed traverse/downclimb. My 5.10 Guide tennies love this stuff and by 9 am I am relaxing and taking in the summit views. Great register too.

Vermilion and the summit ridge

Heading back

Loose traverse on the north side to gain the ridge with Golden Horn

Weather is still looking pretty good, so I decide to do the traverse to Golden Horn. The north side of Pilot Knob is my least favorite, being loose and unstable. Once I gain the ridge, I stay on it and arrive to the saddle between GH and Vermilion without issues. By about 11 am I reach the 1st summit. Climbing is good and rock on the upper mountain is solid, so I decide to tag the 2nd summit just in case.

Ridge to Golden Horn and its two summits

Looking back at Pilot Knob


Ice Lake and V4

V3, US Grant & V4

Pilot Knob

I was hoping to head up Vermilion as well, but the incoming weather was ruling out that possibility. So down to the camp I went.

Another lake and a mine on the way back to camp

Noticing more clouds and afraid of any potential lightning storms, I quickly pack up the camp and leave. I ran into quite a few people on the way down, fully realizing how popular this area is with day hikers, arriving at my car around 4pm.

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Comments or Questions
08/26/2015 09:42
Nice route you had planned out! Super beautiful shots you got too

Fabulous as ever!
08/26/2015 10:42
Nice job, Natalie!

Jon Frohlich
08/26/2015 10:56
Looks like an awesome time up there. I’d like to get back and do most of those. I think I’ll skip Pilot Knob though!

Sweet place to camp
08/26/2015 11:56
That island would be a sick place to camp – time to invest in a raft.

You are correct in that Ice Lakes is one of the few places that can hold a candle to the Weminuche – specially a 16 peak trip.

How many miles have you put on your car this year?

Ice Lake Basin...
08/26/2015 17:57
... is fantastic. Reading your report makes me itch to get back up there and follow in (some of) your footsteps. Pilot Knob will have to wait until I ramp up my skill set, I think....

VERY nice report, Natalie!

Bucket List
05/17/2016 07:44
Camping on the Island lake Island is now on my bucket list! This is an awesome post. Last year was my first climbing trip. We camped at the mineral campground and hiked to Ice Lakes. This year, I am climbing my first 14er and 13er (Handies and Whitecross), then coming back down this way to try for a 13er around Ice Lakes. I do love the view you have from US Grant !!!! I have ruled out Pilot Knob (too scary for me!) but maybe US Grant, Vermillion, V4, or Golden Horn!

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