Peak(s):  San Miguel Peak  -  13,752 feet
Date Posted:  08/15/2017
Date Climbed:   08/10/2017
Author:  bergsteigen
 Unexpected snow climb in August   

San Miguel Peak

Trailhead: Lake Hope
Mileage: 8.48
Elevation Gain: 3,637'
Route: East Ridge
Partners: Solo

Some trips don't go according to plan. So when you at least get one peak out of the many you had on the docket, it may seem like a disappointment. But San Miguel threw enough at me that I feel like at least I got a "harder" one completed. Plus of the 4 TR's on the site, both SarahT's and d_baker's have no photos, and both furthermore and chicago_transplant more or less gloss over the difficulties on this summit pitch. Also in my case, snow and ice blocked the easier route to the summit, so there's another bonus.

I woke up at 2:45 to the pitter patter of a light rain on my truck topper. Didn't think much of it, till 3am rolled around and I was awoken by thunder and lightning. Crap! Thankfully I had cell reception at the trailhead/campsite. So I check out the radar. There's a line of storms heading my way. Will last till at least 5/6am and maybe longer. After the previous days soaking on the trail from wet plants, I was having none of it. Even if the storms stopped, the initial trail would be wet again. So I decided it was time to bail, again, on these set of peaks. I'll do them later in the year, when storms aren't an issue! Thankfully the radar showed clear skies to the south near Lizard Head Pass. Only had 1 group of peaks sketched out down there, so time to go.

That choice led to a harrowing drive on a slicker than snot on a doorknob muddy pass, where I was quite happy to not skid off the road and roll down the hill. Even in 4WD low, I still had to ride the brakes to not feel like I was going to lose control. Time for high profile mud tires, or chains. I drove over to Lake Hope trailhead for the 'next plan'. I didn't exactly want to do this trip just yet, as the mileage and elevation gain on rough terrain was a bit much. But who thinks clearly at 3am? Plus I didn't have any other peaks planned that weren't in the path of the string of thunderstorms that had lined up directly over my original plan for the day. So I started up the trail, many hours after I would have liked to, for a day like I had imagined ahead.

A great trail will take you all the way up to the lake, but nearing the dam elevation, I dodge off the trail and contour over to the dam to cross to the other side. There are hints of a trail, or at least a use path in the area, that I ended up using on the return (when I could spot it).

Moonset behind San Miguel and Sheep

Trail up to lake

Route over dam

Dam reflections!

The view from the dam was pretty spectacular this calm morning. From there the nice flowery grassy slope took me easily higher up the slope. As I was making my way through the willows, I spooked a moose, which I didn't expect to see up there! It was pretty frightened of me, and scampered off before I could change my wide angle lens to a zoom.

Flowery slope up San Miguel


Above the grassy slope, is a gentle rock slab and grass slope before you get to the summit ridge area of the peak. Here I skirted right/north of the obvious cliffs and made my way up on sliding scree and talus. The summit ridge is composed of large talus blocks that are for the most part solid and stable. That was, until I got to the notch.

Start of the ridge of San Miguel

Summit ridge

At the notch, I thought for a few seconds, how the heck am I going to get up that, let alone down this and over there? Took a few breaths and decided to make a go of it. Can't turn around with zero summits! The northerly descent off the ridge was unpleasant. I was immediately reminded of futhermore's statement many years ago when I started the 13ers. Paraphrased: Just wait till you get to the San Miguel range within the San Juans, now those are loose! Here I was, on San Miguel, the center of the loose. Pretty much everything moved down the mountain, no matter how careful I tried to be. The traverse over the gully was even more unpleasant. At another small notch, I look forward and back again, trying to decide where to go.

The summit from ridge before notch

Summit area from loose talus descent

The rubble traverse below the summit

Looking back at the notch, from mini notch

After the mini notch, I had to make the final decision on route. Crossing the snow and ice without an ax or crampons sounded like folly. So I looked up, directly at the summit. It looked like it didn't go completely vertical. Hmmm, it also didn't look like a great option solo either. But with the easier class 3 way blocked by snow, loose class 4 it was! Initially it wasn't too bad. Just had to be absolutely sure what you held onto or stepped on, was actually remotely secure. It was a maze of going left and right, trying to find the best way up. Then I made the last heart pounding loose moves onto the summit ridge. Phew! Here!

The rather loose class 4 ascent

Before I even took my summit photos, I scouted the ridge over to the snowy gully as a descent option. It went easily. No cliffs. Breathed a bit easier, as I went back to the summit area and relaxed a bit. All I had to do was make one step over snow and ice, I should be able to do that on the way down.

The summit register was for some reason left out in the elements, and is completely destroyed. Too bad. This summit felt like a hard one peak, with having to detour over much harder terrain to avoid the snow and ice.

Summit pano

Destroyed summit register as I found it

Pilot Knob, Golden Horn and Vermillion

Beattie and V8

V9 and Rolling Rock

Intimidating Grizzly

I made the easy way down to the scree gully, and carefully walked over to the narrow part of the snow, as it went below the cliffs. I would have to make one careful step across, and then it would get better, I hoped. I chopped a step with my trekking poles, and carefully weighted myself on the snow and made the step. There was enough of a snow bench, that the remaining snow wasn't terrible. Till I got to the end and had to get back onto the rock. A tricky exit, and I was back on the loose talus scree. While manageable, it was a very annoying traverse back over to the other side of the notch.

Reascending the loose talus blocks up to the ridge was also difficult, as most rock moved. The slope angle is high enough, you really have to be careful to not start a catastrophic rock slide. Geologic time is now... (sometimes I hate being a geoscientist)

Descending off the ridge for the last time, I took a slightly more northerly direction than I took up. The talus slope looked better than scree and talus that I took up.

The snowy/icy return

While I was quite happy to be off the loose pile of San Miguel Peak, I also knew the traverse over to the V8 V9 saddle would also be unpleasant. I wasn't quite sold on going Furthermore's route, but going around the lake also seemed like a long way. So after some self debate, I made my way to go for the high traverse. Ran into a family of 6 ptarmigan, and then a little lower a mother and 2 chicks. The babies were quite fast, and difficult to photograph the little blurs.

1 of 6 Ptarmigans

Ptarmigan mom with 2 chicks

Lake Hope with Vermillion

Looking back on San Miguel

I thought I had spied a route to cross the main difficulties on the traverse from the dam below, but I got cliffed out. I went a little lower, same deal. At that point, I didn't want to commit anymore elevation loss to this potentially failing plan. So I went back. Along the way I began to question how much I wanted to continue. In the morning, I thought I should have enough weather time to make all 5 peaks. But now, not only was I not feeling it, the clouds were building a lot more than I would like for committing to 2-4 more peaks. So I found a cozy boulder to sit on, and I just enjoyed my surroundings, for an hour or so! While 1 peak may have been a bit of a loss, the view I had in return was well worth the time spent. The remainder of the peaks would have been all talus and loose junk. Where I sat and could see the lake and peaks surrounding the Ice Lakes basin, was much more spectacular than the remaining trek. We'll save that for another day, when I'm feeling like loose crap!

A look down on Lake Hope from near the stream

Contemplating life and hiking and everything else, till I had to go



The slabby portion of the route up to the east ridge


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

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
Lovely flowers!
08/15/2017 13:03
Doesn't sound like a disappointment in the least! How can you complain about what you enjoyed. There's a time for peak-hitting and a time to slow down and 'smell the flowers' so to speak. Especially loved the color in image #16 (PK/GH/V)! Thanks for sharing!

Registers been that way
08/15/2017 15:17
My apologies for not writing a TR for this peak. I merely glossed over the experience on my Lizard Head TR last year and after leading that monster, Miguel was an angel. I remember the same picture, #7 and thinking no problem but the notch (what I call a chimney) was ugly and what looked on paper to be an easy outing took longer than expected. I emphasized that Lake Hope is a pretty place to take your S.O. and suppose that's all I wanted readers to read. The register was a mess last year too. I suppose we complain when life is good. A solo outing in the San Juan's on two good feet with spectacular surrounding beauty, weather and animal encounters it's easy to find the one or two bad things but there's much more good in this experience.

08/15/2017 20:28
Hope is awesome from above!

Yeah, a lot of my reports are linked to photobucket, which now is no longer free! Foiled by the bucket.

Congrats on your backup plan on a cool peak!

Nice job
08/17/2017 14:25
with the hike and especially with the superb photos.

Thanks All!
08/19/2017 11:38
At first I wasn't going to do this TR, but then I realized as I went through the ones here, that none had late season lingering snow. So for those who like to avoid extra difficulties, I figured it would be good info. Without the snow, this would have just been an annoyingly loose, but relatively easy scramble to the summit! Surprise!

Doug - It wasn't a disappointment, but for me being a very goal oriented person, sometimes it is tough when you don't get done what you had planned. Its why I had to sit there and enjoy that spot. Usually, when I'm running ridges and summitting multiple peaks, I don't have time to enjoy the small details or the beauty around me. If I had been successful the day before, this day would have been a lot easier to handle. But an hour of meditation fixed that!

blazintoes - Haha, not sure a TR of this peak in combo with Lizard Head would have been helpful either! There is no comparison possible!!! I will need a lot of loose talus "practice/tolerance" before I go for that peak. Hoping that your recovery is speeding along! I've seen some photos of you climbing on the interwebs, so I hope thats a good sign!

d_baker - Now I see why there were tons of people up by Lake Hope! Too bad about the photo bucket. It's why I decided to pay for my own personal website. Don't want to move things, or edit old TR's.

mathguy - Thanks! Can't beat San juan flowers. The get so much rain, they're huge!

08/20/2017 11:06
That's a gorgeous area. I put up a condition update for San Miguel a couple years back, going up the NE ridge (as you did) and down the SE ridge, as I combined it with Beattie and V8. I found the SE ridge to be much more stable. On the ascent, past the notch I took the left side of the summit block (looks like you went right), and didn't find it as bad as the move down *into* the notch.

Other route
08/27/2017 13:57
I was staring at that SE face area, wondering if it went. Looked very slabby and a lot more stable, if it wasn't too steep. Probably a viable option for others to try! Wish I had seen that CR before.

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