Thursday, July 19, 2018

Peak 12,935' (V1), Paradise Basin

Essence: Explore Paradise Basin located south of Ophir Pass. Of the mountains ringing the bowl Peak 12,935' is the easiest to climb. Hike into a cirque on an access trail and then ascend green slopes with good footing. Traverse north to Point 12,860' and gaze into colorful Crystal Lake. Bonus: pitch steeply up to the South Lookout Peak-V5 ridge and overlook Clear Lake. This hike is within the San Juan National Forest. 2022 Note: Based on LiDAR, Lists of John has remeasured the elevation of V1 to 12,943 feet. The saddle to the southwest is more accurately 12,695 feet giving the prominence a rise of 248 feet. Therefore, V1 is now unranked Point 12,943'.
Travel: From Silverton drive north on US 550 toward Ouray. Pass under power lines and turn west on the Ophir Pass Road, San Juan CR 8, 4.7 miles from Silverton. Go steeply downhill and cross Mineral Creek. The track makes the first sharp hairpin to the right 3.0 miles from the highway. Park here in a roomy pullout; avoid blocking the secondary road at this location. While 4WD is recommended, 2WD vehicles with good clearance and sturdy tires should be able to make the trailhead. Note: 4WD, HC required on the west side of Ophir Pass.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 4.0 miles with 2,150 feet of climbing for the Peak 12,935' stem and loop. If you climb to the ridge above Clear Lake it is 5.0 miles with 2,840 feet of vertical.
Total Time: 3:00 to 5:00 depending on route
Difficulty: Trail, off-trail; navigation moderate; Class 2; no exposure; steep slopes
Map: Ophir, Colorado 7.5' USGS Quad or Apogee Mapping
Latest Date Hiked: July 18, 2022
Quote: My soul can find no staircase to Heaven unless it be through Earth’s loveliness. Michelangelo

South Lookout Peak has a deservedly gnarly reputation but its neighbor to the northeast, Peak 12,935', is a low-key, happy climb.

Route: From the trailhead on Ophir Pass Road walk southwest into Paradise Basin. At Lake 11,780' climb north to Peak 12,935'. Traverse north to Point 12,860' and then take the east ridge back to the trail. Extra credit: To overlook Clear Lake, climb to the South Lookout Peak-V5 ridge. 

Two trails leave from the parking pullout, elevation 11,220 feet, heading west. The upper trail is a loose end. Take the lower path down to the creek crossing.

Ford the creek on stones. This is the outlet from Crystal Lake, a tributary of the Middle Fork of Mineral Creek. Upon climbing out of the drainage the trail is somewhat overgrown with wild flowers, especially corn husk lily. If you lose it, do a rising traverse to the 11,360 foot contour. By 0.3 mile, the trail achieves this elevation and holds it for half a mile.

Tracking well above the Middle Fork, the footpath is likely an abandoned burro trail servicing mines in the basin. Aluminum is the most common metal in the Earth's crust. Here it is leaching out of mines and precipitating in Mineral Creek. It looks like spilled brilliant white paint. (See the end of this post for closeup images.)

The path weaves through willows and tree stands before making an exquisite high entry into Paradise Basin. A rock glacier flows in a jumbled blockfield from the north face of V5 (Peak 13,156'). (THW, photo)

Hop across a side drainage at 0.8 mile. The trail leaves the contour soon after and starts mounting up as woods recede and willows thicken. This is the climber's trail to the east face of South Lookout Peak, visible in all its hideous glory. Stay north of the ominous orange trench. Game trails help navigate through the willow patch.

At 1.3 miles, elevation 11,780 feet, arrive at a pretty lake in a cirque, the headwaters of the Middle Fork. Looking at the image below, the most direct route to Peak 12,935' (off-image) leaves from the east side of this lake and climbs to the iron-colored lakelet on the next bench, 12,020 feet, 1.5 miles. Before discussing the summit route I will describe the optional climb to the South Lookout Peak-V5 ridge. (Laura Scull, photo)

Bonus: Clear Lake Overlook
The image below shows a section of ridge between South Lookout Peak and V5. From Lake 11,780' climb the green slope just left of image-center. It is manageably steep and the footing is good on tundra platforms.

Note the two routes on the map above. Going up we were on the southern route which I do not recommend. It was hard to get purchase on the chipped rock surface. The hillside got ever steeper and looser until the scree was at the angle of repose. At least the flowers were glorious.

You will gain the ridge somewhere in the vicinity of 12,600 feet. Spacious Clear Lake is constrained within a high-walled bowl. The east ridge of V2 (Peak 13,309') borders the lake on the south. Clear Lake is 4WD accessible and generally someone is camping or day-tripping.

We headed south toward V5, the mountain with astonishing appeal.

The South Lookout Peak-V5 traverse is frequented but tedious. The rock is composed of San Juan explosive volcanics, the gendarmes many, the ridge narrow. So rather than do a time-consuming out and back we reluctantly turned around with the intention of climbing V5 via the standard route from Clear Lake. (THW, photo)

While on the ridge we scouted a route up Peak 12,935'--slide down the hillside; walk along the south shore of Lake 12,020'; and climb the east ridge where the grade is shallow, to the right of the debris flow. (THW, photo)

The slope was bouncing flower light from glowing orange sneezeweed. (THW, photo)

Peak 12,935'
From Lake 12,020' head east and then north to intersect the east ridge. Our route worked superbly but there's plenty of room to roam out there. Of note, we passed a cluster of uncommon star gentian on the lake platform. (THW, photo)

The unobstructed climb was quite wonderful, hence the "happy mountain" moniker. The slope steepens on the upper mountain.

While the summit block is primarily grassy, at 12,800 feet surface stone heightens the sense of playfulness. The image below was shot looking back on the final summit push and rock streaming from V5. (THW, photo)

Arrive at the east end of a short and comfortable summit ridge. Crest one of Colorado's finest 12ers at 2.1 miles. Suspended in Paradise, this tame and relatively short peak is surrounded by big air and bigger mountains. The nearest neighbor South Lookout Peak is just half a mile west. The true summit is south of the location indicated on the Ophir USGS 7.5' topo. The highpoint is the middle prominence in the southern group.

Summit Post describes two routes up this fearsome mountain: the southeast face from Clear Lake, and the east face couloirs from Paradise Basin. A friend did his final assault in a gully right up the face of the summit block. The rock is rotten, the way steep; both routes are lower Class 5 and should be protected.

Northwest, Swamp Canyon terminates at the Howard Fork which flows through the hamlet of Ophir. The Ophir Needles and Silver Mountain comprise the south-facing wall. In the San Miguel Mountains, Mount Wilson, 14,246', is the highest.

You may retrace your steps to the trailhead or walk north to subsidiary Point 12,860', shown. Having been to Crystal Lake several times, we intended to look deeply into its slate blue waters.

Point 12,860', Crystal Lake Overlook
Descend 300 feet and start the traverse on a game trail. The saddle is approximated at elevation 12,660 feet so the point does not meet the 300 foot relief requirement to be a ranked summit. 

As you top out on the knob there is some light scrambling. Reach the Crystal Lake overlook at 2.6 miles. Tucked firmly into its cirque, mysterious Crystal Lake is the color of a sapphire sea. Rising directly from Ophir Pass is Lookout Peak. Moving west is Oscar's Peak and San Joaquin Ridge Summit. The colors are at once undefinable and memorizing. (THW, photo)

One foundational joy of hiking is assembling a regional landscape puzzle. A year earlier we stood on the shore of Crystal Lake and were curious about this very place. Point 12,860' is at skyline on the left side of the cornice.
(THW, photo)

It is a simple matter to drop from the prominence and transition onto the pleasant east ridge.

While tending flocks, long ago Hector wrote his name with flat rocks to while away the time. (THW, photo)

There are multiple ways to descend to the trail. We walked over a rock outcrop and at 12,200 feet bailed into Paradise Basin. (THW, photo)

The ridge wasn't especially helpful. The slope is workable; it's easy to dodge willows and trees. We hit the trail on the 11,360 foot contour coincidentally at a small mine. It was a quick traverse back to the trailhead.

Pictured from the opposite side of Ophir Pass Road all the high points are visible, including Crystal Lake, Point 12,860', Peak 12,935', South Lookout Peak, US Grant, and V3.

Fascinated, my hiking partner went down to investigate the brilliant white stream spilling into the Middle Fork of Mineral Creek. (Thomas Holt Ward, photos)

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