Sunday, September 16, 2012

San Miguel Peak, 13,752'

Essence: Beauty accompanies every step towards this commanding Sky Stone. Free climb for 2,000 feet on sheets and slabs of granite more typical of the Sierra Nevada than the San Juan Mountains. 
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.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Rolling Mountain, 13,693'

Essence: Six ridges radiate from the summit. The standard route showcases three of the ridges on this monumental peak. A half mile knife ridge with well-anchored rock adds challenge and delight.
Travel: From Durango, 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. Bear left, descending for 0.5 mile to South Mineral Creek. Park at the end of the road. Allow 1.5 hours from Durango.
Distance and Elevation Gain : 5.5 miles, 3,150 feet of climbing with add-on options
Time: 5:00 to 7:00 depending on explorations
Difficulty: Trail, off-trail; navigation considerable; moderate to appreciable exposure for 0.5 mile on Class 3 knife
Map: Ophir, Colorado 7.5 Quad
Dates Hiked: July 7, 2007; September 8, 2012
Quote: You are what your deep driving desire is. As your desire is, so is your will. As your will is, so is your deed. As your deed is, so is your destiny. The Upanishads

Determined climbers persist through clouds and rain on a successful ascent up Rolling's east ridge.

Route: Walk south on the Rico-Silverton Trail. In South Park, leave the trail and climb WSW to gain the east ridge of Rolling Mountain. Go west to the crest. If you wish, climb Rolling's subsidiary west peak before descending to South Saddle 13,200'. The south ridge is an optional out-and-back. Drop east through the basin to rejoin the Rico-Silverton Trail.

From Trailhead 10,640', walk 1.0 mile south on the Rico-Silverton section of Colorado Trail 507. Confront the first challenge immediately, skinny-log-balancing and slippery-rock-hopping across a wide tributary of the South Fork of Mineral Creek. At 0.5 mile, find the best ford across a swiftly moving stream. Emerge from the woods in South Park. Still on the trail, pass under the ENE ridge of Rolling Mountain. In another 0.2 mile, arrive at the start of the standard, off-trail route up the basin cradled between the two easterly ridges of Rolling Mountain. The rosy peak seen in the image on the left is the false summit, 400 vertical feet below the crest.

Wild weather altered our plans on both my trips up Rolling. In July, the day started out promising (see above) but by the time we reached the ridge at 10:30, the blue-bird sky was roiling and storm cells surrounded, rearing up to pelt us with grapple and rain. Lightning and thunder was near simultaneous while we scurried up the scrambly knife. In September (see below), it was raining by the time we left the Rico-Silverton Trail. Our desire was contagious and with consensus, we persisted along with our companion, a fire-breathing weather dragon.

Standard Route: East Ridge
For the climb, leave the trail and walk west, up along the creek into the broad basin. In 0.5 mile, at 11,800', angle WSW up a talus field with large, stable rocks and scraps of social trail. Conclude the approach upon reaching a shallow ridge saddle just west of Pt 12,808'.

Snowdon Peak may be seen (image center) from first contact with the east ridge at 12,000 feet.

 A splash of sun emblazons San Miguel Peak.

Turn west to climb the constricted east ridge. Initially, the rock is broken and somewhat loose.

Rock transforms into well anchored chunks. When the lichen-covered stone is wet, slanted slabs are slick. Periodically the spine tapers to two feet. (D. Maddox, photo)

Reach the false summit about two-thirds of the way up the rib. Two Class 3 scrambles follow, including this 8 foot downclimb dubbed, "Reach-Around".

On a clear day, from the summit at 13,693', neighboring peaks perform an extravagant spectacle: Twin Sisters, Engineer Mountain, Grizzly Peak, San Miguel Peak, and the Ice Lake Chain. On this day, Earth was shrouded.
(THW, photo)

From the summit, the standard route descends to West Saddle 13,400', on a social trail.

West Ridge to Subsidiary Peak Option: From this saddle, it is a rewarding and easy 0.6 mile roundtrip to Rolling's subsidiary summit. Climb an additional 250 feet to 13,650'.

 Rolling's crest as seen from Subsidiary Peak 13,650', on the west ridge.

The standard descent route to the TH utilizes the south ridge. From West Saddle 13,400', it is easy passage SE to contact the south ridge and, from there, amble down to South Saddle 13,200'. In this image, Engineer Mountain beckons from the south ridge.

From the saddle, turn directly east and drop through the basin on broken rock and grass.  Keep the creek well to your right through the entire top section to avoid a steep chute. Traverse to the drainage mid-way down the basin. The white coating in the streambed, seen below, is a precipitate of a hydrous aluminum sulfate called basaluminite. An explanation of this phenomenon may be found at the end of this post. Intersect the Rico-Silverton Trail at 11,600'. It is 1.5 miles of easy walking on a trodden track back to the TH. However, another pure-white streambed is close by. To find it, walk north on the trail for 0.2 mile and then east through willows to the confluence of two creeks.  (THW, photo)

East-Northeast Ridge, Class 4 Route: The Colorado Mountain Club accesses Rolling's summit from the ENE ridge we passed beneath early in the day. Below is a picture of that ridge from the standard route. While it looks improbable, a friend insists she pretty much stayed on the Class 4 ridge the whole way up. Her group carried harnesses and a rope, but did not use them. This ridge eventually joins our standard route 0.15 mile east of the summit. While this is not the easiest or quickest way to climb the mountain, she thought it fun. This image features the mid-section of that ridge.

South Ridge, Out-And-Back Option: From South Saddle 13,200', continue another easy mile on colorful rock to Pt 13,040'. This image looks back at Rolling's summit from that point. We hoped to continue straight off the ridge to rejoin the Rico-Silverton Trail but we could not see all the way down. It appeared impassible. Further, we'd pushed our weather luck too far already.

With lightning bouncing all around, we retreated 0.1 mile before abruptly dropping east. The descent was an endless steep slide on hard, resistant soil with no purchase, pictured below.  Avoid this by walking pleasantly back to South Saddle 13,200'.

Northwest Ridge From Lake Hope Trail: We originally intended to climb Rolling Mountain and exit via the NW Ridge. It was raining and electric on the summit when a friend wisely demurred, "I'll pioneer up a new route but not down." If you wish to climb the peak via this ridge, Saddle 12,863' (the low point shown below) is accessed from the Lake Hope Trail via the steep, green slope. Summiting Rolling Mountain from this point looks dicey but may be possible. This image, taken from the Lake Hope Trail shows Rolling on the left; its west subsidiary peak, center; and Saddle 12,864'. Note: from the saddle, one may climb 0.4 mile northwest to V9.

Southwest Ridge Exploratory: Weather has foiled any opportunity to climb this ridge, shown on the left. It looks somewhat sketchy through binoculars. Grizzly Peak is across the way.

White Streambeds: This phenomenon occurs in many places in the San Juan Mountains, according to John Bregar, geologist. He explains that the volcanic rocks contain plagioclase feldspar, a silicate mineral with lots of aluminum in its chemical composition.  Also commonly present in the volcanics is pyrite, iron sulfide.  When the volcanics erode, weathering attacks the minerals and alters them.  Pyrite breaks down and releases sulfur, which combines with hydrogen to produce sulfuric acid.  Plagioclase feldspar is soluble in sulfuric acid, so it breaks down, releasing aluminum and other elements.  The aluminum combines with the sulfur from the acid, plus some water molecules, to form a hydrous aluminum sulfate called basaluminite.  Many San Juan streams have natural acidity, and basaluminite is soluble in moderately acid waters. Therefore, as long as the stream remains acid, the basaluminite stays in solution. But as soon as the stream gets diluted with fresh water from a side stream, the acidity drops, and the basaluminite comes out of solution, coating the rocks in the streambed white.

A spectacular example of the dilution effect occurs in the stream east of Rolling Mountain where two creeks meet.  The rocks are white below the confluence, even though each stream above the junction looks normal.