Saturday, August 22, 2015

Lone Cone, 12,613', Westernmost Peak in the San Juan Mountains

Essence: A climb for talus lovers. Mount a stone stairway to a conical zenith. Half-day hike but the drive makes it an all-day proposition. The name says it all--Lone Cone stands apart. Distinctly shaped and the westernmost peak in the San Juan Range, it is easily identified from a hundred miles away. The Western solitary cone rises from the mesa floor, covered with old ranches and hay meadows. Solitude is assured on this out of the way mountain.
Travel: From Norwood, Co in a 4WD vehicle with high clearance and sturdy tires, drive 1.5 miles east. At the junction of CO 145 and CR 44Z S, Lone Cone Road, zero-out your trip meter and turn south. The paved road turns to good gravel at 10.6 miles where it crosses the US Forest Service Boundary and becomes FSR 610. Lone Cone views enhance the drive. Begin in ranching country, progress through piƱon-juniper forests, vast aspen groves, and finally, conifer. At 12.0 miles, turn left/east on CR M44, Beef Trail Road. At 14.5 miles, turn right on FSR 611. Enter the Uncompahgre National Forest at 16.6 miles. Stay straight at 16.8 miles. At 19.5 miles, bear right at the junction with Beaver Park Road. At 21.2 miles, turn right on FSR 612. The dirt road is rocky, rough, has deep ruts, and is muddy when wet. Vehicles with moderate clearance should park at the junction with 612 1B at 24.5 miles and walk up the road to the trailhead, or take the Red-Line Route. High clearance vehicles may park at the designated trailhead at 25.5 miles. There is plenty of good parking on the left. The trail is marked with a Forest Service multi-use sign post. Allow 1:15 from Norwood.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 5.0 miles; 2,100 feet of climbing for the standard route
Time: 3:30 to 5:00
Difficulty: Trail, off-trail; navigation moderate; Class 2+ on talus; no exposure
Maps: Beaver Park; Lone Cone, Colorado 7.5 Quads
Latest Date Hiked: August, 22, 2015
Reference: For the challenging, northeast ridge scramble, consult: Colorado Scrambles: Climbs Beyond the Beaten Path, Dave Cooper, Colorado Mountain Club. 
Quote: The path of the axis, in an ascending direction, therefore indicates the path of escape from the massive compression and diffuseness of the base towards the concentration and unrestricted freedom of the apex. Marco Pallis

The northface of Lone Cone has a powerful gleaming presence when experienced from Devils Chair.

Route: When I first climbed Lone Cone in 2003, there was no trail and we started overland on the Red-Line Route from FSR 612 1B. FSR 612 was intentionally blocked. We took the Blue-Line Route because we wanted to hit the north ridge as low as possible. In 2015, an official trailhead is located one mile further up 612. While maps do not depict a trail, there is a strong track for a good portion of the standard Black-Line Route. The Red and Blue-Line Routes are described at the end of this post.

Trailhead 10,800' begins at a multi-use signpost. The trail is open to hikers and equestrians.

Walk southwest on a closed two-track for 0.2 mile. The Lone Cone trail departs from the left/south side of the abandoned road, marked with a post. The perfectly good undocumented trail, augmented with cairns, gently climbs the rounded ridge. Views of Lone Cone are intermittent between the trees.

Pass just west of Knoll 11,230' and come to a small saddle at 0.9 mile. In 2015, we departed from here on the Blue-Line Route. However, if you do this route at all, I suggest taking it on the return. While pleasant, especially for those who favor loops, it is not the most efficient  way to climb the mountain and there are navigational challenges. For the standard route, continue south beside a shale slope, following the footpath into heavy woods.

The footpath meanders some while holding to the ridge, gently climbing 400 feet. The trail weaves through downed timber in a manner that signifies deliberate construction.

In late August, traipse through a riot of lavender trail flowers.

At 1.3 miles and 11,560 feet, emerge from the forest on the northeast shoulder of the mountain. The peak's disordered raggedness and the interplay of granitescape and luminescence is enrapturing. Here we depart from the northeast ridge route which continues up the taper. (THW, photo)

Search out a cairn and a faint accompanying trail. If you don't find it, no worries. Just hold to the contour at about 11,600 feet, curving southwest to abut the east side of Devils Chair. At 1.5 miles, arrive at the edge of the rock glacier marked with a three foot cairn, image-center. The route traverses the glacier and then climbs to meet the north ridge in the krumholtz, pictured.

Create your own course while crossing the 0.3 mile glacier. I like to meander, paying visits to fractured igneous blocks that appeal to me. The mountain flakes off huge chunks to cleave polished, concave faces glistening in the sun.  Despite the chaos, I feel embraced within the arms of the mountain. In 2015, the scene was utterly silent; in 2003, the distinctive sound of water running under stone enhanced the experience.

Maintain approximate elevation, reaching the other side at about 11,600 feet. Off-trail, climb a short, comfortable  pitch to the north ridge at 1.9 miles, 11,650 feet. Stunted spruce, doing their krumholtz thing, spread out over the ground.

A subtle social trail goes up a shale surface sprinkled with flat talus, decorated with dotted saxifrage and clusters of little gentian. Alpine flora is sparse above timberline at 11,700 feet.

The dwindling trail disappears into chunky, rugged talus at 11,880 feet. Freeze-thaw has sliced stones according to their fine-grained crystalline structure. Flat plates create a stairway. Some teeter-totter. This is heaven for talus fanciers. The ridge is never too steep or exposed.

Reach the zenith at 2.45 miles. The apex is just roomy enough with good sitting rocks. If I had guessed there was no register, I would have brought one up this exceptional mountain. (THW, photo)

In 2015, the American West is on fire so visibility was severely compromised. We couldn't see the nearby Abajo or La Sal Mountains and could barely make out the La Plata Range, our home mountains. On a clear day, circle around and identify Grand Mesa, the West Elks, Mount Sneffels Wilderness, and Sleeping Ute Mountain. Below, Little Cone is in the foreground, the San Miguel Mountains are to its right, and the Lizard Head Wilderness is in the background. The peak arises from green meadows painted yellow with golden eye, a late-summer bloomer.

Get a good look at the northeast ridge scramble from the summit. Climbers who ascend this ridge take the standard route down.

Return as you came. The image below gives an overview of the entire route.

The rocks on the upper half of the mountain are extrusive igneous volcanics. However, despite its conical appearance, Lone Cone is not a volcano.

Blue-Line Route: This route is a one mile option on the way back for hikers who are navigation savvy. Continue down the north ridge through elk habitat to 11,500 feet. Do a descending traverse through scattered trees to the drainage west of Devils Chair at 11,200 feet. The glacier takes a precipitous dive below this elevation. Climb the embankment onto the open rock. The mass folds in waves; big fellows are on the move. You will need to get close to the toe of the glacier to negotiate the steep wall on the east side. Don't drop any lower than 11,100 feet. The image below looks back on the north ridge.

Walk east, wading through arrowleaf senecio and delphinium, clambering over deadfall. Skirt the top of a secondary drainage and then climb 200 feet to rejoin the standard trail just south of Knoll 11,230'.

Red-Line Route: For those who need to park here because of vehicle limitations, it is actually easiest to walk up the main road to the trailhead. If you want to take the Red-Line Route, an off-trail short-cut, walk south on 612 1B and skirt north of a pond at 0.2 mile. Leave the road and climb steeply west-southwest to Knoll 11,230'. Go over the top and join the standard route at about 0.7 mile.

Many of us look at Lone Cone from far and wide for decades before we climb this remote peak. From miles away, it is a regal place keeper. Up close, it is magical.


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Vermilion Peak, 13,894', and Fuller Peak,13,761'

Essence: Hike a beloved, flowerful trail to fantastically blue Ice Lake. From there a social trail ascends to a high basin talus wall. After a long and tough approach, the route splits at a 13,500 foot saddle to offer a varied choice. Scale challenging and venerable Vermilion Peak or merely walk up Fuller Peak. Both options are described. 2023 Note: Based on new, more accurate measurement technology LiDAR, Vermilion Peak has been elevated to 13,909 feet with a rise of 2,105 feet. Fuller Peak's elevation has been increased to 13,777 feet with a rise of 261 feet.
Travel: From Durango, drive north on US 550 about 47 miles to Silverton. Continue north toward Ouray for 2.0 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. Allow 1:15 from Durango.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 12.3 miles, 4,500 feet of climbing for both peaks; Fuller Peak alone is 11.5 miles with 4,100 feet of vertical
Time: 7:00 to 9:00
Difficulty: Trail, off-trail; navigation moderate; Fuller Peak is "just a walk" with no exposure; Vermilion Peak is Class 2+ with considerable exposure
Map: Ophir, Colorado 7.5 Quad
Latest Date Hiked: September 22, 2021
Reference: For a thorough description of Vermilion routes, see Gerry and Jennifer Roach, Colorado's Thirteeners 13,800 to 13,999 Feet: From Hikes to Climbs, 2001.
Quote: Vermilion means "flame-red," and the name fits this colorful peak. Vermilion's rosy rock is pretty to look at, but rotten to climb on. Vermilion's standard routes are a reasonable tour, but you should always treat Vermilion with respect. Gerry Roach

Indomitable Vermilion Peak is flanked by pyramidal Fuller Peak, Golden Horn's northeast ridge in the foreground, and Pilot Knob. Ice Lake doubles the power of mountain and sky.

Route: From the Ice Lake Trailhead, across from South Mineral Campground, hike on a popular, well-maintained trail to Ice Lake Basin. On a social trail, gain the bench northwest of Fuller Lake. Zigzag up a steep talus slope to Saddle 13,500'. The route splits. Northwest is Vermilion Peak; southeast is Fuller Peak. 

The Ice Lake Trail is well-documented and illustrated in Earthline. Please see Golden Horn or Ice Lake and Island Lake Loop for details.
From Trailhead 9,840', hike through a thick conifer and aspen forest with intermittent sunny glades to Lower Ice Lake Basin at 2.2 miles, 11,460 feet. Fuller, Vermilion, and Golden Horn appear at crestline.

The raw beauty, clarity, and mystery of Ice Lake astonishes at 3.6 miles, 12,257 feet. (THW, photo)

The generous trail necks down to a standard single track on its way to Fuller Lake. Walk along the southwest shore of Ice Lake. At 3.8 miles pass a polished mirror pond.

Thread between Parry's primrose and cross the Fuller Lake outlet at 4.1 miles, 12,560 feet. In a few steps, look for cairns off to the right. Leave the trail and ascend onto the southwest-running bench, image-right. Once you are up there, cairns and a barely decipherable use trail make walking easier as the tundra gives way to stone. (THW, photo)

Follow cairns off the bench to the right at 4.7 miles. The image below shows the saddle between Vermilion and Golden Horn. Save that for another wondrous day and wrap around the rocky slope at left.

The saddle between Fuller and Vermilion is infinitely easier to access if you locate the scrabbly, tightly wound switchbacks, seen below. The trail materializes at 13,100 feet.

It is a bit of a slog to attain Saddle 13,500' at 5.4 miles, after 3,700 feet of climbing. One of the finest features of this hike is that you now have a choice. You may merely walk to Fuller Peak, or, you may climb Vermilion which is an indisputable challenge. This description begins with Vermilion and then continues over to Fuller.

Vermilion Peak, 13,894': Vermilion is a centennial peak, ranked number 74 in Colorado. It is 0.4 mile from the saddle and will take 30 to 40 minutes to scale. The standard route utilizes the southeast ridge. Locate the subtle wildcat trail that leaves the saddle and starts up the ridge. The ridge is armored with a series of blocky towers. The peak, shown, is the champion block.

The trail soon veers to the northwest/left to bypass obstacles on the spine. The mountain is comprised of exfoliating San Juan volcanics, crumbly and loose. At first the sufficient trail platform mutes the drop-away exposure.

The trackway grows increasingly narrow and is crowded by the buttresses on the high/right side. Make two airy moves around encroaching cliffs. The footpath is deteriorating and one day will disappear. As a friend said, this is a use trail--we have left the security of the maintained Ice Lake trail well behind. In the image below, the threadway ends at the couloir, image-center.

The couloir is a dirt chute that bisects a notch in the ridge southeast of the summit block. Enter and steeply scale 100 feet of vertical. The danger factor varies in this effectively bottomless couloir. In 2007, the gully was augmented with debris, the soil moist, and the exposure seemed inconsequential. In 2015, the floor was scoured clean, the soil dry and resistant. The exposure had increased significantly.  Good hand holds can be found on the south wall but they require careful selection; some of the rock is not well seated. Use the minimum pull required to maintain friction with your feet. It is not for the faint of heart or inexperienced. I have friends who have successfully climbed the south wall rib, staying out of the couloir. 

Upon gaining the ridge, another 100 feet of relatively easy clambering to the west summit awaits. Traverse a two foot wide, 40 foot bridge. Clearly, I am having fun in the exhilarating moments before arriving at the zenith at 5.8 miles. (THW, photo)

The airy summit perch accommodates a handful of people.

Views from the peak are as beautiful and colorful as the name implies. Looking south are Golden Horn, Pilot Knob, and Ice Lake.  (THW, photo)

West is Rolling Mountain, Grizzly Peak, San Miguel Peak, and the Wilson Group. (THW, photo)

The image below gives an overview of the trail back to the saddle. Find the couloir and the thin footpath at the base of the cliffs.   

Fuller Peak, 13,761': The "Picnic Summit" is just 0.3 mile from Saddle 13,500' with 261 feet of vertical. The route is free of obstacles and takes 10 to 15 minutes. It truly is just a walk. Take the trail which strides along the top of ridge or just to the side. (THW, photo)

Climbers who ascend Vermilion first will reach Fuller Peak at 6.5 miles. It has a wonderfully long, flat summit. Fuller is a peak for everyone to enjoy. (THW, photo)

Here is just a tiny wedge of the engaging view. Pilot Knob and Golden Horn are on the left, Fuller Lake is center-right, and Ice Lake is the outrageous blue dot smack in the center. (THW, photo)

Returning to the saddle renders astonishing looks at rugged Vermilion. Listen for the distinctive sound of water running under rock in the upper basin.

The bench affords a classic view of Ice Lake. Soaring above the basin are V4, U S Grant Peak, and V2. The trail to Island Lake is easy to spot if that temps you.

A word about weather. Ice Lake Basin is a gathering place for drenching rain, hail, sleet, snow, and electricity so start early on a reasonable weather day. This is a time-consuming hike. Snow lingers deep and late in the upper basin. There is typically a two month window for climbing Vermilion and Fuller--from early August until the snow flies. It took five attempts for me to reach Vermilion the first time. I was thwarted by the saddle cornice and wild storms. Even then, the southwest traverse was covered in September snow.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

San Joaquin Ridge Summit, 13,460'

Essence: Radiant hike in Telluride's backyard. Utilize ski area roads to gain quick access to the alpine. Off-trail, transcend floral splendor into a chaotic basin where San Juan Volcanics are decomposing beneath your feet and before your eyes. Stand on a thin summit ridge at the 3,000 foot brink of nothingness.
Travel: The hike begins from the San Sophia Gondola Station at Telluride Ski Resort. The free gondola is located four blocks south of Colorado Avenue on San Juan Avenue. Free all-day parking is available at the Carhenge parking lot off West Pacific Avenue at the west end of town. Check the website for gondola hours and Mountain Village access.   
Distance and Elevation Gain: 12 miles; 3,775 feet of climbing
Time: 6:00 to 7:30
Difficulty: Trail, off-trail; navigation somewhat challenging; brief Class 3 scrambling with mild exposure
Map: Telluride, Colorado 7.5' USGS Quad
Date Hiked: August 13, 2015
Quote: This rock is a living rock, a divine wave of energy suspended in time and space, creating a pause of long or short duration in the endless melody. Henry Miller

The crest of San Joaquin Ridge Summit, ranked 303 in Colorado, is narrow. The rockscape falls abruptly away affording an airy vista. (THW, photo)

Route: From the San Sophia Gondola Station, quickly gain elevation while hiking south through the ski resort to the Wasatch Connection. Lose 680 feet and cross the West Fork of Bear Creek. Curve around the base of San Joaquin Ridge, off-trail, and go due south to the saddle east of San Joaquin Benchmark, Pt. 13,446'. Climb east to the summit. 

From San Sophia Station at 10,550 feet, walk south on the ski area road following signs to See Forever Trail. As directed, skirt the ski run, shown, on the road to its west. At 0.45 mile, make a sharp left which puts you out on the ski hill. Wooden steps awkwardly ascend the steep slope.

At about 1.0 mile, the utility road doubling as the trail goes off course a bit. Leave it and just walk steeply up the ridge on a cat track. Go right at the fork at 1.75 miles and immediately right again. Crazy, craggy Palmyra Peak and the staggering mountains in the Lizard Head Wilderness wander in and out through the trees. Below, a hiker walks up the hill beside snowmaking towers. Turn around frequently to watch peaks in the Mount Sneffels Wilderness arise full throttle over Telluride in the north.

The road splits at 2.4 miles, 12,180 feet. The right branch carries on up to the top of Gold Hill. Turn left as indicated by the sign for the Wasatch Connection. In the image below, the two-pronged peak is the northern highpoint of San Joaquin Ridge. Just to its left is San Joaquin Ridge Summit. Further left is Oscars Peak.

Wasatch Connection transitions from road to trail at 3.2 miles. It goes under Revelation Lift which tops out just below Pt. 12,583'. Across cavernous Bear Creek Canyon, mighty Wasatch Mountain trumps La Junta Peak and Ballard's Horn. 

Give up almost 700 feet of elevation on an appealing set of well-crafted laterals and switchbacks.

This pretty trail, with plentiful wildflowers and captivating scenery, bottoms out at the West Fork of Bear Creek at 4.0 miles, 11,500 feet.

Cross the West Fork which drains Lena Basin. The basin and its lake lie comfortably in the constricted curvature of Palmyra Peak and Silver Mountain. The lower Wasatch Trail turns off north to join the Bear Creek Trail and plummet down the canyon to Telluride. Our hike stays briefly on the eastward, upper Wasatch Trail. The image below was taken near the West Fork, shooting up at San Joaquin Ridge and the run-out from Lena Basin.

Leave the trail at a soft, south-running ridge at 12,050 feet, 4.5 miles. There are good views of Silver Mountain from the rise. While Silver is well-armed, it is possible to reach the peak, 13,470 feet, by clambering up either of the two couloirs above Lena Basin, image-center.

Do a tundra walk to the east side of San Joaquin Ridge. Our peak is image-left.

At 12,400 feet, the pitch increases dramatically to reach the upper basin just east of San Joaquin Ridge. Looking at the image below, there are two streams. Climb the one well right of center. We scattered all over the hillside. The best route is close to the tumbling creek.

Since this is such a vital juncture, here's another look at the drainage you must climb.

The upper basin is a primal, elemental, visual shock. Practically void of plant life, it is filled with disintegrating San Juan volcanics--jumbled boulders, broken down remnants. Great fortune! We walk through this lively madness to reach the saddle, shown, and the peak at left.

Again, our group scattered for there are multiple route possibilities. I prefer the center of the basin, down in the trenches with the stones. The throat leads directly to a break in the cliffs, a fun scramble. Watch for boulders on the move; there are plenty of good holds. In this image, four people are heading toward the weakness.

From the top of the break, it is an uncomplicated and yet primordial climb to the saddle. (THW, photo)

Reach startling Saddle 13,250' at 5.7 miles. Don't get up momentum; the south side is an abrupt fall-away, tumbling over 3,000 feet into Ophir Canyon. San Joaquin Ridge Summit, 13,460 feet, is 0.15 mile east of the saddle. Unofficially named, it is ranked number 303 in Colorado. Below, a friend is standing directly above the break in the cliff band where the Class 3 scramble is easiest. If you prefer to avoid the mild exposure, traverse left to bypass the cliff. The trade-off is unstable rock.

Climb the rubble pile with oversized, sliding scree that sounds like clinking ceramic.

The top is flat and skinny. Reach it at 5.85 miles. 

Unfortunately, a vertical wall prohibits further travel east, making it impossible to traverse to Oscars Peak and on to Wasatch Mountain, shown. (THW, photo)

The San Juan Ridge Benchmark, Pt. 13,446', is west of Saddle 13,250'. It is not a legal summit. A determined friend left us at the saddle. He did a sketchy sidehill traverse around the dark knob, shown, to reach the benchmark. He then negotiated multiple gendarmes in the vicinity of San Joaquin Ridge before climbing the three peaks of Silver Mountain from this challenging approach. He dropped down one of the couloirs into Lena Basin.

Return as you came. Upon reaching the West Fork of Bear Creek, you may choose to drop down the lower Wasatch Trail, join Bear Creek Trail, and return to Telluride that way. The trail loses 2,700 feet in just over four miles. However, this description assumes an out-and-back from the San Sophia Gondola Station. So, psych yourself up for the climb back up the Wasatch Connection.