Saturday, August 19, 2017

Grizzly Peak, 13,738': The Kaleidoscope Summit

Essence: Gentle ascent on-trail to a hanging glacial bench. To summit the high thirteener, choose between scaling a moderate couloir or the Class 4 southeast ridge. The ridge is difficult and demanding, extended and exposed. Radiating colorful ridges splay from the summit toward vibrant, variegated neighboring mountains. Return on the playful south ridge or down the couloir. Only the rugged drive dissuades. 
Travel: This is the tedious factor. In a 4WD, high clearance vehicle, from Durango drive 28 miles north on US 550 to mile marker 49. Turn left at Purgatory Resort and zero-out your trip meter. Advance to the upper parking lot. At 0.3 mile turn right on Hermosa Park Road, FSR 578. There is a small brown sign marking this dirt road. The road makes three big switchbacks. Little spurs head off but the main road is obvious. At 3.2 miles go right, staying on Hermosa Park Road. At 3.6 miles turn right on Relay Creek Road, FSR 579. At 4.8 miles go right on Cascade Divide Road, staying on FSR 579. The painfully slow road is riddled with tire-sucking divots and gigantic potholes. Cross Pando, EZ, and Graysill Creeks and the Graysill Trail. The switchbacks start at 13.8 miles. There is room for several vehicles at the end of the road at 15.4 miles. The land speed record, Durango to the trailhead, is 1:20. Allow two hours.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 7.3 miles, 3,200 feet of vertical
Time: 5:30 to 7:00
Difficulty: Trail, off-trail; navigation challenging; no exposure on couloir route, considerable exposure on the southeast ridge (Class 4), and mild exposure on the south ridge (Class 3). 
Maps: Ophir; Engineer Mountain, Colo. 7.5 USGS Quads
Latest Date Hiked: August 19, 2017
Quote: The summit embraces the entire space of the mountain. Marco Pallis

Grizzly Peak from San Miguel Peak.

Route: From the trailhead at elevation 11,200 feet, walk northerly to Grizzly Meadows. Choose between the standard couloir route noted with the blue line and the challenging southeast ridge route--for experienced mountaineers only. Upon leaving the summit, return via the couloir or the south ridge. Close the loop in Grizzly Meadows.

From the north end of the parking area walk on a well-defined spur for 0.1 mile to intersect the Colorado Trail (note this junction for the return) which shares this section with the Rico-Silverton Trail. Turn right (toward Denver!) and descend to a creek stained white from aluminum hydroxy-sulfate precipitate at 0.5 mile. At 0.7 mile, leave the Colorado Trail veering left uphill on an unmarked social trail. This track makes a rising traverse and bends around the base of Point 12,695' while crossing a scree field. Grizzly Peak comes into view. From the left in the image below is the pinnacle on the south ridge, climbing couloir, summit, and southeast ridge.

The trail tracks above "Grizzly Meadows" at 2.1 miles but you can easily walk down to the lake. The meadows are on a large bench with granitic glacial erratics strewn about. The land falls away dramatically to the east with Cascade Creek occupying the trench. White Creek Falls plummet down the opposing wall. The contrast between the peaceful lake and the hovering southwest ridge of dominant Rolling Mountain could not be more startling.

Couloir Route up Grizzly: The classic way up the mountain is also the easiest and fastest, though it does have its hazards. This image was taken west of Grizzly Meadows where the climb starts. The access couloir is the wide declivity in the center of the picture. While it is not obvious in this photo, there is a cliffy area in the middle of this basin. Stay left on the green ramp until you pass the cliffs. Then move right into the couloir. Saddle 13,400' is one mile from the lake at the top of the couloir. Ascending the mix of green and granite will induce tundra euphoria, guaranteed.

I favor the right/northeast wall of the couloir but the entire gully is accepting, if loose. Groups should be aware of tumbling talus. In this image, one hiker is waiting his turn while two make the descent after visiting the peak.

From the saddle, turn right/north for a relatively easy 0.3 mile, 15 minute walk to the summit on a dirt/rock mix treadway. Before I go on about how captivating the zenith is, let's wait for the ridge climbers to join us.

Southeast Ridge Route: If you are a Grizzly aficionado and intrepid scrambler this ridge may be for you. It takes one to three hours to climb 2,200 feet over 1.1 miles. It is considerably more hazardous and demanding than the couloir route. From Grizzly Meadows walk north. Stay to the right of a marshy area and cross the outlet. The southeast ridge is just coming into view image-left. (THW, photo)

Arrive a the base of the southeast ridge at 2.5 miles, elevation 11,560 feet. 

Mid-summer, the flowers are superb on the lower ridge.

Encounter the first Class 4 obstacle at 12,160 feet, 2.8 miles. I probed this carefully but was not able to find sufficient holds. The weathered granitic blocks are sturdy but features are infrequent and rounded. My son was able to make the climb left of center. As shown on the map, I bypassed to the right/north, returning to the ridge at first opportunity. You can avoid the Class 4 segment by extending your bypass to 12,800 feet.
This image depicts the next Class 4 obstacle.

There is a mix of vertical walls, downclimbs and spans across exposed openings. Cling to the ridge except when it is absolutely necessary to leave it momentarily. The exposure is grave through most of the climb. After a particularly airy ledge walk on ridge-left the challenge eases and progress increases. This image looks down on the ridge. (THW, photo)

There is a false summit at 13,680 feet and then a pleasant 0.2 mile topline walk to the peak at 3.6 miles. San Miguel Peak, 13,752', is two miles away to the north, image-right.

Looking back from the summit ridge, Engineer Mountain caps a wall of slabs on Grizzly's false summit.

The Kaleidoscope Summit: In Durango, Grizzly Peak enjoys a considerable mystique. As viewed from US 550 at mile marker 50 near Cascade, it is somewhat dark and daunting. It may be seen for a fleeting moment in the center of a sky wedge which makes it all the more alluring. Standing on top is altogether different. It is like being inside a spinning kaleidoscope. Twirl yourself to see ridges rippling off in all directions and mountains flying by, each a jazzy splash of color. Vermilion Peak, 13,894', is the highest neighbor, rising to the northeast.

El Diente, Mount Wilson, and Wilson Peak, all 14'ers, are in the northwest.

The most direct and easiest way home is to return via the couloir. Recalling the cliffs in the basin, angle to the right upon exiting from the couloir until you are past them.

South Ridge Descent: The fun factor on the south ridge is extreme, a worthy consideration for scramblers. Pass by the couloir, image-left, and proceed south. (THW, photo)

Scramble to the base of the pinnacle, shown. A rock glacier flows west from Point 13,139'. (THW, photo)

Go around the spire on the left/east and return to the ridge. (THW, photo)

Or climb over the top of it.

Bypass subsequent towering slabs on the west side.

Prior to reaching the saddle, at about 13,040 feet, abandon the ridge, rapidly descending through the basin to the east. Work down through or bypass cliff bands keeping a bead on the lake in Grizzly Meadows, shown. Watch for golden eagles soaring and weasels scampering.

Stay to the right of two large boulders, pictured. Drop almost to the lake in Grizzly Meadows, intersecting the access trail and closing the loop. From here it is less than an hour to the parking area, assuming you do not mistakenly continue on the Colorado Trail all the way to Durango.

Grizzly Peak from US 550.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

V2 (Point 13,309'), Ice Lake Basin Series

Essence: V2 is the northeast eminence of a series of massive peaks encircling the Ice Lake Basin. The mountain is accessible for any strong hiker. There is a trail all the way and summiting requires less effort in distance and elevation gain than any other peak in the Ice Lake group. Enjoy a nice walk through aspen and conifer forests. High-basin flowers are among the best in Colorado. The linear summit ridge is safe and fun. See two spectacularly colorful lakes from the crest. The only caveat is the slippery trail between Island Lake and Swamp Pass. Consider, runners do this by headlamp. Experience a few miles of the Hardrock Hundred Mile Endurance Run.
Travel: From Silverton drive north on US Route 550 toward Ouray for two miles. At the sign for the South Mineral Campground bear left onto a good dirt road. In 4.2 miles, park in a large lot on the right at the trailhead. There is an outhouse but no water.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 8.0 miles; 3,600 feet of climbing
Time: 4:30 to 6:30
Difficulty: Trail; navigation easy; mild exposure; slippery trail on approach to Swamp Pass
Map: Ophir, Colorado 7.5 USGS Quad
Latest Date Hiked: August 13, 2017
Historical Note: The San Juan Mountaineers, founded in 1912, assigned an alphanumeric designation to select unnamed peaks. "V" means the peak is on the old 15-minute Vermilion quad. "T" stands for Telluride, and "S" for Mount Sneffels. Reference The San Juan Mountaineers' Climber's Guide to Southwestern Colorado, out of print, published in 1932 by Dwight Lavender after whom Lavender Peak in the La Plata Mountains was named.
Quote: Whatever you think you can do or believe you can do, begin it. Action has magic, grace and power in it. Goethe

From the summit of V2 look out over some of Colorado's most challenging and visually captivating mountains. Island Lake is directly below. Ice Lake's brilliance is partially seen beyond V4's southeast ridge.

Route: Walk on the Ice Lake Trail generally northwest. After 2.2 miles, take an unmarked footpath to Island Lake and Swamp Pass. Upon reaching the pass, walk east on a social trail to the summit ridge of V2.

The hike to Ice Lake has gone viral on the world stage. This shot was taken mid-day in 2014. On my most recent hike in 2017 vehicles overflowed onto the access road by 8:00 am. 

From the trailhead, elevation 9,840 feet, switchback up the generous path on an excellent surface. Flora is rich on the woodland floor of the subalpine fir and aspen forest. Hop across Clear Creek on its mad rush to South Mineral Creek at 0.5 mile. At 0.9 mile, leave the trail on a short spur to see the Clear Creek cascade.

Flowers take over in a clearing and then the track enters a thick stand of mature conifers at 1.6 miles. In this forest the Hardrock 100 course comes in from the left and joins our route to Island Lake. This hardcore footrace begins and ends in Silverton, linking Telluride, Ouray, and Lake City with 33,992 feet of climbing over 100 miles.

At 2.2 miles, the secondary trail to Island Lake takes off to the right  at 11,460 feet. This juncture is intermittently marked with a cairn and is easy to miss. It is located at the very beginning of Lower Ice Lake Basin. Pictured is the south-facing slope the trail climbs. 

In the west, the dramatic triumvirate that heads the Ice Lake Basin commands and holds attention through the remainder of the hike. Pictured are Fuller Peak, Vermilion Peak, and Golden Horn. Vermilion, 13,894', is ranked No. 74 in Colorado.

The track begins due north then turns briefly northeast to contour across a hillside under a cliff band. Once past this obstruction the thin treadway switches west. Mid-summer, the flowers are truly magnificent. Featured in this image are orange sneezeweed, sulfur and rosy paintbrush, alpine avens, bluebell, and American bistort. Bordering a rivulet are brookcress and Perry's primrose. As you approach Island Lake, handsome U S Grant, 13,767', crowds the sky.

Step across the outlet of a shallow pond. Just off the trail in the Island Lake Basin is a big boulder, 3.2 miles, 12,460 feet. It affords a nice view of the lake and V4, Point 13,540'. From here V2 is less than an hour away.

Pictured below is the trail to Swamp Pass as seen from the boulder. The pass is on the right side of the gendarme image-center. After passing through red scree the trail splits. Stay low on the proper switchback to mitigate further erosion.

There are wildcat trails in this area. Just before reaching the pass go right of this minor outcrop.The last couple hundred feet are steep and slick on resistant soil. Trekking poles are helpful.

Reach Swamp Pass at 3.5 miles, 12,900 feet. South Lookout is rimpled and serrated.

Once I did a thru-hike key exchange on the Hardrock 100 course. I went over Swamp Pass and down into Swamp Canyon. Plunge step about 500 feet, pictured, and locate a cairn marking the trail on an alluvial fan. Finish on the Ophir Pass Road at Iron Spring.

To reach V2, turn east on a slender social trail and pass by the Joel Zucker memorial. He was a Hardrock competitor up until his death in 1998. The Goethe quote cited above is etched on the plaque.

The footpath stays on the west side of ridge humps, little piles of red scree, pictured looking back. Mighty U S Grant rises to the west of Swamp Pass.

The ridge is simple, astonishing views continually unfold. Pictured is the west end of the summit ridge.

The actual highpoint on V2 is hard to peg. The linear crest is narrow but always wide enough to be comfortable.  Seamed rock stacks are playful and beautiful.

Find the summit cairn at 4.0 miles, 13,309 feet. The peak falls off on either side with sheer cliffs on the northface.

This image looks southwest to the Ice Lake Basin. Pilot Knob is the flat-topped technical peak to the right of Golden Horn. Four named lakes are visible. Fuller Lake is in the basin above Ice Lake.

Clear Lake is at the base of the north cliffs. It is a popular 4WD destination. Visible on the far horizon are the fourteeners Wetterhorn, Uncompahgre, and Handies. Swirling around you can see Half Peak, the Grenadiers and Needle Mountains, Engineer Mountain, Rolling Mountain, Ophir Needles to Oscar's Peak--it's endless. 

The descent from Swamp Pass is a Slip 'N Slide. On our last hike the electricity started at 11:15 and rain soon followed--pretty typical in the Ice Lake region. If the weather allows, follow up the peak hike with a loop to wondrous Ice Lake. Additional effort is minimal.

This image was shot in July, 2012 from U S Grant. V2 is image-left.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Dome Mountain, 13,370'

Essence: Dome Mountain is a proud and handsome eminence northeast of Silverton, Colorado. Vistas are extraordinary on two ridges that encompass an unnamed basin and lovely lake. The route is direct and fairly steep. The summit block rises up from a long tundra-topped ridge. Approach over, the final 300 vertical feet on a slender spine has low Class 3 scrambling with moderate exposure.
Travel: In Silverton drive up Greene Street, the main drag, to the north end of town. Zero-out your trip meter as you make a soft right onto San Juan CR 2. On a good dirt road drive to the mining ghost town of Eureka where the road crosses the Animas River at 7.8 miles. Look for a sharp left at 8.2 miles rising above the old Eureka Mill foundations. This is Eureka Gulch 4WD road, the first left after the bridge. The narrow but fairly smooth shelf road clings to the south skirts of Eureka Mountain. The track curves around and follows above the South Fork of the Animas River. Pass a private road at a green gate at 9.0 miles. At 9.3 miles, make a soft left onto a thin, rocky road, HC helpful. Park at a campsite below a tailings pile at 9.8 miles. This is shortly before the road crosses the Eureka Gulch drainage. Alternatively, keep driving 0.3 mile across the stream and park at a campsite and turnaround. Allow 20 to 30 minutes from Silverton.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 5.7 miles; 3,100 feet of climbing
Time: 4:30 to 6:00
Difficulty: Primarily off-trail; navigation moderate; low Class 3 with moderate exposure
Maps: Handies Peak; Howardsville, Colorado 7.5 USGS Quads
Latest Date Hiked: August 9, 2017
Quote: Each blade of grass has its spot on earth whence it draws its life, its strength; and so is man rooted to the land from which he draws his faith together with his life. Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim

Dome Mountain is the resplendent mid-way point of a grass-covered ridge running northeast from Tower Mountain to Point 12,420'. The massif is bounded by the South Fork of the Animas River on the north and the Animas River, 3,500 feet below to the south. (THW, photo)

Route: There are numerous, pleasant routes to and from Dome Mountain. The black-line route is my favorite because it gains the ridge at first opportunity and then circles the basin above Lake 11,820'. Utilize a slide path to access the northwest ridge of Point 12,420'. Walk southwest to Dome Mountain. Descend on the north ridge to Lake 11,820'. From there do a lateral traverse back to the up-coming route. Alternative routes will be discussed. The blue-line west ridge route is for experienced mountaineers only.

From the trailhead at elevation 10,500 feet, walk west on the 4WD track. It bends north and crosses Eureka Gulch at 0.15 mile. Balance on rickety logs. Dome Mountain comes into view, image-left. The peak in the center is Point 13,321'.

Pass by substantial mining structures. At 0.3 mile, there is a small campsite and vehicle turnaround. Hang a sharp right on the road. Walk up a few paces and look for a pack trail on the left with a sign post placed by the BLM. Locating this trail is a major assist. The image below was taken on the return.

At 0.5 mile, notice a well-worn footpath on the south side of the South Fork of the Animas River. The unstable crossing on thin, rolling logs would be difficult in high flow.

Walk west below a north-facing slope distinctive for intervals of wide avalanche paths. The trail passes through a forest of chest-high trees. These short little guys are buried under snow in the winter protecting them from slides. At 0.8 mile, 10,880 feet, leave the trail and climb the left side of the slide path seen below.

Alternative Routes to Dome: I have continued on the footpath another 0.2 mile or so and climbed the next avi path. From there, I have ascended the northwest ridge of Point 12,540'. Another time, I went to the lake. From there I climbed the green wall heading the basin to Point 12,641'. These routes are indicated on the map above in purple. They work great but you'll miss Point 12,420' and a portion of the ridge.

After about 200 vertical feet an old trail becomes apparent switchbacking up the slide path, staying northeast of a sizable ravine. Perhaps this useful thread was once a mining trail. At 11,400 feet the terrain opens and the desired ridge is visible, image-left. The ubiquitous wildflower contrasting markedly with green lusciousness is orange sneezeweed. Move left and gain the ridge at 1.3 miles, 11,800 feet. From this vantage point, it becomes obvious that the forest all around is dying from beetle kill. This has occurred quite recently and we are heartsick.

Crest Point 12,420' after a consistent, no-nonsense effort at 1.7 miles. The vantage point yields a wonderful perspective. The ridge drops sharply away to the northeast. On the south side the land crashes down 2,600 feet to the Animas River. Southwest, the rollers on the climbing ridge rise ever onward toward the peak. This little knob is not to be missed.

From here the course offers a temporary reprieve from steep climbing. A game trail skirts south of Points 12,540' and 12,641'.

I have seen two elk herds migrate from the lake over the ridgetop and down into Otto Gulch. Keep watch for soaring golden eagles.

Drop into Dome's shallow east saddle at 2.5 miles, 12,540 feet, shown. The tundra pitches up to almost 13,000 feet where loose, rubbly scree overcomes. It's just steep and unstable enough to be a little sketchy to the junction with the north ridge at 13,140 feet.  Allow 15 to 20 minutes from here to the top.

The summit block initiates at a six foot, low Class 3 pitch which these hikers are approaching.

The ridge is quite thin but gives you climbing options. Watch for unreliable holds and loose material mixed with well-seated, solid rock. The mountain falls away on both sides, exposure is moderate. Be deliberate. (THW, photo)

Crest Dome Mountain at 3.0 miles. The lookout is outstanding. The image below depicts much of the climbing ridge. On the northeast horizon are Coxcomb Peak, Wetterhorn Peak, and Handies Peak.

Nearby to the west are three lakes encased in step-down Cataract Basin. Macomber Peak is image center and Tower Mountain is on the right. While Tower is the western terminus of this ridge the way is blocked east of Point 13,321'. Every time I've been on Dome the weather has limited top-time. There is so much more to see.

Two hikers downclimb from the summit.

The north ridge intersects just 0.2 mile below the crest. This great little ridge steps down on a mix of crumbly San Juan explosive volcanics and tundra.

Descending the north ridge makes for a wonderful top-of-the-basin loop. (THW, photo)

Descend to the little teal-colored lake at 11,820 feet, 3.9 miles. This image shows some of the headwall climb from the lake to Point 12,641'.

Yellow and green reflected.

Once in electric weather I bypassed the lake and stayed on the north ridge into the trees and down to the footpath beside the South Fork. We encountered a bear with two cubs. Another time, I descended an avi path east of the lake outlet. This time, as indicated by the black-line route, we took a lateral course utilizing elk trails for 0.6 mile back to the upcoming avi path.

Returning to the South Fork.

West Ridge Descent Route
In 2009, I explored the west ridge. From my field notes: It looks impossible but there is a way. Loose. Not too scary. Poles helpful. Point 13,321' is inaccessible from the 12,700 foot saddle. Slide down scree to the north. Descend upper gully into cliffs. Work laterally. Find steep, vegetated slot through cliffs. There is pyrite and rhodonite at the mines on the South Fork. Cross the river and take the pack trail back to the vehicles.