Travel: In a 4WD vehicle with decent clearance and sturdy tires, from Silverton drive 4.7 miles north on US 550 toward Ouray. Pass under power lines and turn west on Ophir Pass Road, San Juan CR 8. Go steeply downhill, cross Mineral Creek, and start up toward the pass. The track makes the first sharp hairpin to the right three miles from the highway. At 3.2 miles, the road makes a second switchback to the left. Leave the Ophir Pass Road here and go straight on a good shelf road. Park at 3.8 miles where the track starts heading downhill. There is room for three to four vehicles.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 11.2 miles; 3,500 feet of climbing
Total Time: 6:30 to 8:30
Difficulty: Trail, off-trail; navigation moderately challenging; Class 2+ with mild exposure
Maps: Ophir; Silverton; Telluride, Colorado 7.5' USGS Quads
T11 Name Change: Peak 13,510' was noted on some old USGS maps as Bridal Peak but it was never formally designated. Dwight Lavender catalogued it T11 according to a naming convention in the 1930's (referring to the Telluride 15 minute map). The name T11 held for over 80 years. Bill Mahoney and Jeff Burch of Telluride successfully petitioned the USGS to designate Bridal Peak the official name in 2014.
Date Hiked: August 28, 2019
Quote: The violets in the mountains have broken the rocks. Tennessee Williams
The summit ridge of Peak 13,159' has fractured into massive blocks. The hike features two of the five ranked mountains ringing Columbine Lake in the Mill Creek Basin. Periodic glimpses of the lake lend the hike an otherworldly essence. (Thomas Holt Ward, photo)
Route: The black-line route represents our hike but you can tailor it to your skill and fitness level. Begin on an unnamed trail off Ophir Pass Road and hike east suspended above the Middle Fork of Mineral Creek. Leave the trail and hike west on the east ridge of Peak 13,159'. Or, stay on the path and segue onto the standard trail to Columbine Lake, the blue-line route. If you are up for it stay on the ridge between Point 12,740' and Point 13,051'. We bailed, got on the standard trail, and went over Pass 12,520'. To complete our bypass we ascended south to the saddle between Point 13,051' and Peak 13,159'. Climb both and then drop on the west ridge to Columbine Lake. Hike north off-trail to Bridal Peak before linking back up with the trail to Pass 12,520'.
From the parking pullout at 11,480 feet, walk back on the road you drove in on for about 200 feet. The trail begins on the uphill side of the road. This image looks down on the small parking area from the trail. Beginning in 2019, we saw dirt bikes or their tracks on this trail, unfortunately. According to the Recreation Program Manager for the Columbine Ranger District the standard Columbine Lake Trail and this upper access trail are designated motorized single track trails.
The Middle Fork of Mineral Creek begins in Paradise Basin south of the Ophir Pass Road. In the image below, Peak 13,156' (V5) is on the south side of the basin and South Lookout Peak is west. On the north is the delightful and mellow climb to Peak 12,935'. (THW, photo)
The thin trail platform cuts across a steep south-facing slope while progressing generally east. It crosses four swales, all plummeting to the Middle Fork. In just under half a mile cross the outlet from a lake tucked in a glacial basin well above the trail. A path zigs and zags up into the cirque through ultra green tundra. After a big winter, flowers bloomed late and lingered well into August. Notice the south walls and crests of Peak 13,159' and Point 13,051' at skyline.
At 1.5 miles, the track turns north and begins a series of switchbacks to Point 11,892'. Soon, a secondary path branches right; avoid it. The sweeping turns are elegant, not in any hurry to leave the healthy spruce and fir forest.
At 2.1 miles, 11,960 feet, the trail leaves the east ridge of Peak 13,159' and drops into the basin to the north. Notice the standard trail climbing through the basin to Pass 12,520', shown. The easiest route to Peak 13,159' begins from the pass. For that matter, those climbing the peak have the option of taking the standard trail to begin with. It is a shorter distance to the pass (2.1 miles) but there is more vertical from the trailhead, elevation 10,360 feet.
We had been curious about the east ridge for awhile so we left the trail here and began climbing west-northwest. We flanked the first outcrop on the south. The steep and loose side slope was a little dicey and we were relieved to be back on the ridge at 12,400 feet.
It was a straight forward climb to Point 12,740' at 2.6 miles.
We were high enough now for a fantastic view of the peaks ringing the Ice Lake Basin. From the left: Fuller Peak, Vermilion Peak, Golden Horn, US Grant, South Lookout, Lookout Peak, and Peak 13,300'. Sitting in front of South Lookout is another angle on Peak 12,935'. (THW, photo)
From the saddle, Point 13,051' is only 0.15 mile away with a climb of 400 feet. I wasn't comfortable with the steepness of the climb on garbage rock and the green wall looked like a potential tumbledown. While you may elect to give the ridge a shot, we bailed and dropped 200 feet to the standard trail, shown. Our one-mile bypass turned out to be the golden route up Peak 13,159'. (THW, photo)
We reached Pass 12,520' at 3.0 miles. Our ridge exploration turned out to be the same mileage as the trail option. From the pass, the view of the black Mill Creek ravine and peaks to the north is astounding. Bridal Peak is image-left.
We stayed on the trail looking for passage back to the east ridge. A quarter mile from the pass we initiated what turned out to be a pleasant climb to the saddle between Point 13,051' and Peak 13,159'.
At 3.6 miles, 12,940 feet, we were back on the ridge just west of Peak 13,051'. It was a fun little scramble up the rock pile.
Return to the saddle and initiate the climb to Peak 13,159'. Stay north of the gendarmes.
The forces of Nature are breaking this mountain apart: water, sun, and flowers. The summit ridge is a collection of fractured blocks. It is great fun leaping over cracks and dropping into crevices. Mount the small summit at 3.9 miles. The mountain lends a new perspective on familiar terrain. In the center of everything is electric blue Columbine Lake.
The west ridge block descent is delightful on the upper mountain. (THW, photo)
The ridge gets trickier and there is mild exposure as you descend. There is no social trail in the loose volcanic material. Below, notice the small flat followed by a drop.
I am working slowly down the dive. (THW, photo)
Walk on the north side of the blades. (THW, photo)
At the 12,780 foot saddle you may leave the ridge and head down to the lake. We were curious about the tundra knoll to the west so we crested it at 12,880 feet. This is a gorgeous lake overlook for visitors who are not into climbing mountains off-trail.
From here we strategized the approach to the south ridge of Bridal Peak; the summit is about an hour away. We decided to cross the outlet at lake level and then work our way across the benches on the north. (THW, photo)
I have been to Columbine Lake many times. Its clarity and color changes but its emotional impact is always joyfulness.
Bridal Peak, 13,510'
Cross Mill Creek and then bear northwest ferreting out a course over rolling terrain. Pass two not-blue ponds and walk north to the south ridge aiming for the base of the peak. You may go by way of Columbine Pass or gain the ridge north of the lilac-colored hill, shown.
From the divide look into Bridal Veil Basin. The approach over, we were surprised to find a social trail all the way up the south ridge to the summit. The beautiful little trail minimizes the sense of exposure on the somewhat narrow ridge.
We crested Bridal Peak at 6.1 miles and immediately fell in love with this stunning volcanic mountain. The stone's fissures and horizontal layers are reminiscent of T10 and Lookout Peak. The summit is well positioned for a superb view. In the center of Bridal Veil Basin is Lewis Lake. Ringing the basin is Peak 13,614', Oscar's Pass and Peak, and Wasatch Mountain and La Junta Peak. (THW, photo)
In the neighborhood to the north is Blue Lake, Three Needles, and T10. Further off is the Mount Sneffels Wilderness, Wetterhorn Peak and the monarch, Uncompahgre Peak. (THW, photo)
The east ridge going toward Point 13,434' has been reduced to a row of spikes. Way off on the horizon looking substantial by contrast is Half Peak, a centennial.
Return to Trailhead
We had a bluebird day so we took our time wandering through the basin while keeping an eye on Pass 12,520', far left in the image below. You can make out the standard trail crossing the north slopes of Peak 13,159'.
We came upon a quartz vein that went on for a quarter mile. We crossed under two sets of cascades. And we checked out this impressive stone tetrahedron. (THW, photo)
Standing on Pass 12,520' we could look over our initial ridge from the outcrop we flanked to Point 12,740'.
From the pass, descend for 0.6 mile to 11,920 feet. There may or may not be a cairn marking the junction where this route leaves the standard trail. It is a mellow, hardly noticeable ascent back to the east ridge. The smooth iron-clad crest across Mineral Creek and US 550 is Anvil Mountain. It looks massive from here but it is 1,000 feet shorter than Bridal Peak.