Sunday, July 1, 2018

Ohio Peak, 12,673', Peak 12,296', and Anvil Mountain, 12,537'

Essence: A loop hike from US 550 to the divide separating two major watersheds: Mineral Creek and Cement Creek. The ridge is surrounded by big space with much taller mountains in all directions. Climb three ranked summits. The hike is tougher than the mileage implies. Steep slopes. Finish on Silverton's guardian, Anvil Mountain.
Travel: From Silverton drive north on US 550 toward Ouray. Pass under power lines just before Ophir Pass Road exits to the west. On the right is a green sign, "Red Mountain Summit 5 Miles." Park in a large pullout on the east side of the road where a creek passes under the highway, 4.7 miles from town.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 5.7 miles; 3,600 feet of climbing
Total Time: 5:00 to 6:30
Difficulty: Off-trail; navigation moderately challenging; One Class 2+ move on Ohio Peak, mild exposure on the north ridge of Anvil Mountain
Map: Silverton, Colorado 7.5' USGS Quad or Apogee Mapping
Latest Date Hiked: July 1, 2018
Quote: Never measure the height of a mountain until you have reached the top. Then you will see how low it was.
Dag Hammarskjöld

Anvil Mountain, Peak 12,296', and Ohio Peak are located on the divide in the center of this image taken from Storm Peak looking west. (Thomas Holt Ward, photo)

Route: Alternative routes up Anvil Mountain are well described elsewhere. The Summit Post entry features the winter ascent from US 550. Gerry Roach covers the "easiest route on Anvil Mountain" from Niagara Gulch. The following route is a clockwise loop from US 550. Climb northeast to Ohio Peak, proceed south over Peak 12,296', and on up to Anvil Mountain. Descend steeply on the northwest ridge back to the start.

The Ascent to Point 12,603' and Ohio Peak
The colorful smooth crest of Anvil Mountain is visible from the highway, elevation 10,085 feet. To access the ridge to Point 12,603', walk up the grungy debris flow on north side of the creek for about 100 feet and then cut up the embankment to the ridge.

The ridge is not real distinctive. Work your way up the center or favor the edge of the ravine. The woods are fairly accommodating--light timber, small aspen, moderately cluttered. Follow the openings on broken rock to 11,000 feet where the grade eases. Peak 12,296' and Anvil Mountain are visible from Point 11,322' at 0.7 mile. With 1,200 feet already behind us, that's a pretty steep initial pitch.

The terrain is rather flat briefly. Move slightly left following ridge undulations in an upward direction. Point 12,603' is periodically visible.

Timber thins, views open, flowers are plentiful--it is park-like and gorgeous. At 11,840 feet, 1.5 miles, enter an open swath of green wetlands. From the moist flat Ohio Peak is seen left of Point 12,603'.  (THW, photo)

Climb the west ridge of Point 12,603'. Pass by a tarn and through the krummholz where old man in the mountain lives. Tundra transitions to chipped rock ranging from scree to talus. The stony climb is stable and pleasant. This image was taken from the west ridge. The Middle Fork of Mineral Creek and South Lookout Peak are image-center.

Top out on Point 12,603' at 2.0 miles. The rock has a roughed up, lumpy texture and the surface skin is riddled with deep cracks. Ohio Peak is ten delightful minutes away. (THW, photo)

Cross the shattered ridge and step up the center of an eight-foot, Class 2+ pitch.

Ohio Peak 12,673'
Crest the summit at 2.2 miles. By Colorado standards all three of these peaks are relatively low but their unique location is a big draw. While Anvil has the best view of the three, only Ohio, the tallest, enjoys a full-circle outlook upon our home mountains. To the south, Cement Creek runs into Silverton, the Grenadiers look geometric as always, the Needle Mountains appear impossible, and Grand Turk and Sultan Mountain squeeze Silverton on the west.

The peak register was placed by Jennifer Roach on June 29, 2018, just two days prior to our most recent visit. I regret the missed opportunity to meet her.

It takes one-and-a-half to two hours to cross from Ohio to Anvil. Listen and watch for the local herd of elk in the Cement Creek drainage. The south ridge of Point 12,603' is broken and loose.

We slid past a cluster of ultra red rocks.

A thin social trail skirts Point 12,301' but it's quite simple to track along the ridge. Likewise, you could easily shortcut down to the next saddle, elevation 11,940 feet. I like to follow the ridge around through highly textured black boulders. Bright blue-purple columbine live in the cracks. They are especially welcome because southern Colorado is suffering from an exceptional drought in 2018 and flowers are sparse. (THW, photo)

The saddle is beyond strange. The soil is a pulverized, fine-grain light apricot color. In contrast, the krummholz leading onto the earth pile is a deep vivid green. Some years ago we shared this saddle with a bull elk. Looking at the image below, you can see a use trail emerging from the soil mound and making for the ridge. We ignored it and headed directly to the ridgetop.

Peak 12,296'
Summit the middle mountain at 3.6 miles. Gerry Roach dubbed this North Anvil. The summit register was placed by Mike Garrett on June 30, 2015. I am fond of registers and the stories they tell. I have found Mike's registers all over the American West and am grateful to him for keeping this mountaineering tradition alive. (THW, photo)

A wildcat trail descends on tundra to the Anvil saddle at 11,980 feet, 4.0 miles. Anvil Mountain is coated in insane colors that remind me of rainbow sherbet. Does the inside of the mountain look like this as well? The Niagara Gulch route arises to this stunning location. (THW, photo)

The pitch up Anvil's north ridge, shown below, is decidedly steep. Climb 557 feet in just 0.3 mile following the shallow social trail. The rock is uniformly small. If the soil is damp and forgiving boots get good purchase and the ascent is comfortable. But if the ground is desiccated as it was in 2018, the climb is a bit unnerving (for me, anyway) because pea gravel is sliding over hardpan. (Could I self-arrest if I slipped?) Trekking poles are helpful.

Anvil Mountain, 12,537'
The third summit is not the tallest but its unique position at the end of the divide renders the best vantage point. Below, the road heads up the South Fork of Mineral Creek to the Ice Lake Trailhead and beyond. From the left are: Twin Sisters, Rolling Mountain, Grizzly Peak, V10, Fuller Peak, Vermilion Peak, Golden Horn, Pilot Knob, V2, V4, US Grant, V3, and South Lookout Peak.

In this picture you can see the road roll over Ophir Pass. Lookout Peak is image-right.

Looking south, US 550 descends from Molas Pass into Silverton. While we were on this hike both the 416 Fire (Durango) and the Burro Fire (Dolores) were pumping a region-wide smoke plume into the atmosphere. (THW, photo)

The Anvil Mountain register was placed in 2002. About the only thing blooming on the summit this year were, appropriately, Silverton wallflowers. This common mustard typically blooms yellow; only around Silverton is it purple.

The Descent to US 550
In 2009, not knowing anything about these peaks or routes, I returned to the highway via the gully/slide path that runs west-southwest from the summit. That worked nicely. In 2013, I gambled on the northwest ridge not knowing I had stumbled on the standard route. The gamble paid off; the route is superb but steep. It drops 2,450 feet in 1.4 miles. (THW, photo)

Enter trees and glide downhill, making a concerted effort to stay on the ridgetop. It is obvious as first, then less so. There is a subtle ridge split at 11,800 feet. Avoid gully suck to the north and bear westward.

Eventually the ridge swings north and dissipates quite naturally in the streambed very near the confluence of the two drainages. We hit a strong social trail 100 feet above the road and the start of the hike.


  1. You weren't joking about going up anvil being extremely steep and a little sketchy. What felt like hurricane winds trying to knock me over didnt help. Did the loop with my dog. Wouldn't recommend the first two peaks unless your dog is a good and active climber as its all rock. Thanks for the map.

    1. Thank you for your confirming note and a kind word for the four-leggeds.