Travel: San Miguel may be climbed from the Bandora Mine west of Silverton, or the Lake Hope Trailhead south of Telluride. Both options are described.
Travel from Durango to the Bandora Mine: Drive north on US 550 about 47 miles to Silverton. Continue north towards Ouray for 2 miles. At the sign for the South Mineral Campground, bear left onto a good dirt road. In 4.2 miles, pass the campground and continue for another 2.5 miles on a slow, rocky 4WD road to the Bandora Mine. Park on the right. Avoid continuing down to South Mineral Creek. Allow 1.5 hours from Durango.
Travel from Telluride to Lake Hope TH: First off, the Forest Service and many other references call this the Hope Lake Trail. However, the lake is correctly named Lake Hope on the topo. Drive 3 miles west on SH 145. Turn south at the first highway intersection, continuing on SH 145 for 8.5 miles. Turn left onto CR 63A (to Trout Lake). After 1.5 miles, turn left on FR 627. The TH, marked by a USFS sign, is 2.5 miles up the rocky 4WD road. Note: It takes 2.5 hours to drive to this TH from Durango.
Distance and Elevation Gain via Bandora Mine: 10.5 miles, 4,447 feet of climbing
Distance and Elevation Gain via Lake Hope TH: 9 miles, 3,200 feet of climbing
Time (total): 7:00 to 8:00 from Bandora; 6:00 to 7:00 from Lake Hope TH
Difficulty: Trail, off-trail; navigation considerable; minimal exposure to the summit, appreciable exposure to the optional subsidiary peaks
Map: Ophir, Colorado 7.5 Quad
Dates Hiked: August 17, 2008, September 16, 2012
Quote: In the mythic tradition the Mountain is the bond between Earth and Sky. Its solitary summit reaches the sphere of eternity, and its base spreads out in manifold foothills into the world of mortals. It is the way by which man can raise himself to the divine and by which the divine can reveal itself to man. Rene Daumal
A sunbeam spotlights San Miguel Peak as seen from the east ridge of Rolling Mountain.
San Miguel Peak Route Map: I drew this free hand without the aid of a GPS. It's not exact but it is close.
Route to Lake Hope Dam from Bandora Mine: The mention of San Miguel Peak generates a lot of enthusiasm so the last time I climbed, a slew of friends in a Durango-based hiking club came along. Bandora Mine, 10,784', is just off the road to the right. The track to Lake Hope heads up the hill on an abandoned mining road. Soon the unmaintained treadway narrows. Climb over logs, cross small streams, switchback twice, and break out of the trees in 1.5 miles at 11,600'. Rolling Mountain's northface cliffs are south, and pointy Beattie Peak, north. Hope Pass is a pleasant 1.5 miles away on a broken-rock trail. (THW, photo)
On two previous attempts I was turned back by deep snow in the upper basin. I tried too soon one year and too late another. This image was taken from Hope Pass, 12,445', a good place to secure in your mind the true summit. On the right is a double-humped pair. San Miguel is the rounded summit on the left of the twosome. The flat-topped false summit on the right must be bypassed well below on the south/left. Many people have gotten in way over their heads climbing this scoundrel, especially in the treacherous notch below the actual peak. While it is possible to reach the crest that way, it is ill-advised for most hikers.
From the pass, descend 565 feet for a mile on an excellent, heavily trodden path to Lake Hope, 11,880'. In this image, the beguiling false summit is at the center. At the sign for Trout Lake, go left on a secondary trail. Just east of the lake is a 150 foot knoll. If you try to get around it at lake level, you'll get cliffed out. Climb over Pt 12,047' and down to the dam.
Route to Lake Hope Dam from Lake Hope TH
From the TH at 10,750', it is 3.2 miles and 1,150 feet of ascending to Lake Hope. This popular trail is renowned for wildflowers. A series of switchbacks above timberline will terminate below Pt 12,047'. At the base of this knoll, cut directly west to the dam. It is not possible to see San Miguel from the lake so study the pictures and text above.
Off-Trail Route to Summit
Whether you come from the Silverton or Telluride approach, the routes meet at Lake Hope's outlet. Cross the dam and climb through the grassy crack on the left. Then simply ascend WSW, always staying just south of the predominate ENE ridge of San Miguel. It is steep but easy. Enjoy friction climbing on sheets of granite embedded in a tundra cushion.
Look back on the quickly receding lake and the backside of peaks that frame Ice Lake Basin. From the left: Pilot Knob, Golden Horn (just visible), Vermilion Peak, Fuller Peak, and Beattie Peak.
Climb about 1,100 feet and at roughly 13,000' turn south, following the contour around the soft east ridge of the mountain. Lake 12,880' lies just below. Finally, the desired south ridge of San Miguel comes into view 0.3 mile away. In this image, rounded San Miguel is on the left, the false summit is on the right, and the notch is between them. The saddle on the south ridge is off the left side of this image. It matters little if you gain the ridge at the saddle or a bit above.
The slabs and boulders are gigantic and some of them are teetering on the brink of taking out hikers. So use a little caution while traveling to the ridge. Stone resting on the spine is more stable. However, there are a few obstructions to intuit and finagle your way around. The summit is directly above this cluster of people; a subsidiary peak is to the left.
The summit is surprisingly small for such a colossal structure. (THW, photo)
San Miguel can be seen from all over the San Juans so it follows that the view from this vantage point is mind-numbing. Framing the expanse, not even two miles south is colorful Grizzly Peak, 13,738'.
At the center of this familiar cluster in the east is Golden Horn with U S Grant, neighbor on the left, and the ranked, high 13er Vermilion, 13,894', on the right.
There are two subsidiary peaks adjacent to San Miguel tempting lovers of Class 4 rock. If the day has been too exposure-free, here is your fix. But don't go over because you are not sure which peak is highest. Trust me, the one you are standing on is the legitimate high point. Climb the easier peak on the right to get warmed up, walking gingerly on the knife.
On the way back, climb down into the notch and scale the Class 4 tower due west of San Miguel. Face to the rock, my pigtails kept obscuring my field of vision! Downclimb facing the rock. (C. Blackshear, photo)
Return down the south ridge to the saddle and descend directly east to Lake 12,880'. Look into San Miguel's percolated waters. (C. Blackshear, photo)
Take a descending traverse back to the ascent route just south of the ENE ridge, bringing you back to periwinkle blue Lake Hope. Those returning to the east side must once again climb Hope Pass. (THW, photo)
In September, 2013, a massive moose grazed slopes west of the lake. (EJB, photo)
For those returning to Telluride, the north flanks of San Miguel bear the eternal gift of the ephemeral flower. Below, Lizard Head communes with rosy paintbrush.