Peak(s):  US Grant Pk  -  13,767 feet
Date Posted:  07/27/2013
Date Climbed:   07/26/2013
Author:  evolve
 Hangin' with Grant  

I was hoping to get out and get something done a little farther from home this weekend but things just weren't lining up like they needed to. Still, I had the day off on Friday and I didn't want to waste it. Something closer to home was in order and I concluded that I would have to suffer through a day trip up to Ice Lakes Basin. I know right!? Life is so tough down here in the San Juans.

Prior Ice Lakes Basin Excursions

This was to be my fourth time up to the area and second time to Island Lake and US Grant. The first time I camped in the lower basin and attempted to climb Golden Horn. I was new to climbing mountains having only summited one other high 13er, Grizzly Peak. I was convinced I was flirting with death as I worked my way up the steep and loose terrain to the Vermilion, Golden Horn saddle. Upon my arrival to the saddle I promptly turned my butt around and nearly ran back to camp on account of the weather. In reality it was probably a lone, wispy cloud in the sky but I had this unnatural fear of weather back then. My memory fails me but for the sake of the visual... I'm pretty sure I was wearing jeans.

My second trip, years later, I would go after Vermilion. Despite nearly being chased off by legitimate weather, it was a successful day. I climbed the snow field to the Fuller, Vermilion saddle and followed the standard route. My hiking partner stayed behind.

Looking back at Fuller Lake, en route to Vermilion. The weather breaks and I decide to go for it. July 2010

My third time was not a charm. I've been wanting to climb Grant for quite some time and this was supposed to be my moment. Unfortunately I got a late start and never made the summit due to time constraints.

Successful summits or not, the Ice Lakes Basin area continues to rank at the top of my list for most beautiful places visited. The combination of the colorful, rugged alpine peaks, the supernatural, tropical hues of Ice and Island lakes, and copious number of wildflowers puts the basin in a class all its own. Seriously, if you've never been it's time to put down that 14ers checklist for a weekend and pay a visit.

The Crux of Every Climb

I woke at 3:00 AM and as I usually do when waking so early, questioned my dedication to this sport. I like my sleep and waking when it's still dark is such an unnatural feeling for me. Getting out of bed... the crux of every climb. But I pushed on, putting down some food, brewing some coffee, and loading up the truck. I was out the door by 3:30 and on my way. The drive to Silverton from Durango is about an hour, add a little for the drive up South Mineral Creek road, and I found myself parked at the first switch back up the Clear Lake Road at a quarter to 5. I grabbed my pack and was off into the darkness.

After about 45 mins of suffering I made it to the lower basin and the dawn finally decided to grace me with its presence. The route to Island Lake and US Grant Peak follows a spur trail that can be found immediately after reaching the eastern end of the lower basin. The start of the trail is cairned and fairly obvious. The route heads north before making a large switch back to the top of a high bench above the lower basin. It follows the bench west for roughly a third of a mile before redirecting north / northwest towards Island Lake.

The sun slowly and steadily crept its way towards the horizon. I, on the other hand, slowly and steadily went no where. The sky was painted in the softest pastels and I couldn't go 5 steps without stopping to take a photo. It's times like these that I regret not carrying my nice camera, despite its ridiculous size and weight. I tried, but my phone doesn't quite do it justice.

Sunrise en route to Island Lake / US Grant Peak

I carried on trying, and mostly failing, to maintain a reasonable pace of 30 steps per photograph. Turns out the pace was inspired. As I reached a vantage point giving me a view of the Ice Lakes peaks the sun set them on fire. Why, why, why do I not have a better camera with me!?

Alpenglow on Fuller, Vermilion, and Golden Horn

Wait... What am I Doing?

My entire world was bathed in a soft rosy glow and I spent a full hour making my way up to Island Lake. Forget checklists, speed records, first ascents, or anything else the super-charged human ego clings too... These are the moments I live for, the ingredients of the divine.

US Grant Peak amongst a sea of flowers | V4 with a splash of sunshine

V4 Reflection | Grant lounging in the morning sun

Oh yes... I remember now, I'm here to climb Grant.

Ulysses S. Grant Peak

Grant's standard route climbs to the saddle shared with V4 then follows the southwest ridge to a class 4'sh crack (the crux), an airy ledge, some loose scrambling, and a short trek along the ridge before reaching the summit.

V4 and the V4, US Grant Saddle (lookers right) | A look back at Island Lake

Stop looking at the nice reflection, we're supposed to be studying the route. The SW ridge is quite straight forward. The rock is loose and the scree is a little miserable but overall the path is well beaten down and easy to follow.

US Grant Southwest Ridge | Looking back down the SW Ridge | View of the Wilsons | The route goes to the right and around these gullies

Upon arrival and after sizing up the crux, I almost turned around and called it a day. The crux is short, maybe 10' or so, but it's a stout class 4 with enough exposure to result in less-than-desirable consequences in the event of a mistake. Being solo wasn't helping either. Ultimately I concluded that I should at least see how the rock felt under my hands and feet. Indeed, I spent a solid 30 seconds getting comfortable with the first move before finally executing. The exposed ledge following the crux was a fantastic chaser.

Coming off the ledge post crux the rock was annoyingly loose in the final gullies up to the ridge, par for the course in the San Juans. From the ridge it's a mellow walk up to the summit.

Rolling, Fuller, Vermilion, and Golden Horn from US Grant Summit

Anticipating the down climb I didn't stay on the summit for long; signed the register, demolished a couple of fruit leathers, and I was on my way. Turned out to be uneventful and before I knew it I was back at the V4 saddle where I decided to stop for a rest and enjoy some soy protein isolate in the Clif Bar variety. I contemplated heading up V4 or V2, or both, but decided to swing over to Ice Lake and spend a little time there instead.

The trail from Island to Ice Lake | I love this place
Wildflowers out in force!

Did I say something about putting down that 14ers checklist and paying this place a visit? Nah... scratch that idea. Not much to see around here...

Island Lake

 Comments or Questions

Great report
07/28/2013 11:57
Such a beautiful area! It warrants the advice you have given about dropping the 14er list.

I like how you formatted your report, and I like your writing style. Photos aren't bad either!

Have you climbed Pilot Knob yet? That's another fun one.

Thanks for posting.


great video
07/28/2013 13:12
Reading about this route didn't tell me nearly as much about the crux as your video. It looks like it deserves its reputation, but it also looks like something I've got to go and try. Thanks!

sue personett

07/28/2013 15:39
Fantastic pictures!!! Are you going to write the TR for Pigeon/Turret Peaks?

Double Oh Seven

07/28/2013 16:08
Great Pictures and Video. Like you, a few years ago I climbed Vermillion as my first 13er was scared to death and have always wanted to go back for the other peaks. Your Video of the crux on Grant is better than any descirpiton I have read. Thanks for Writing this up.

Congrats on a great summit

sue personett

07/28/2013 16:19
The last picture of Island Lake is magical!


07/28/2013 17:29
Thanks for all the feedback everyone.

@d_baker - I haven't climbed Pilot Knob, but really want to. I think it will be my next objective in the area and I'll probably combine it with Golden Horn.

@sue - I considered writing a report for Pigeon and Turret, but felt I didn't have enough pics to do the experience justice or add much value to the existing reports of the peaks.

sue personett

Pigeon/Turret TR
07/28/2013 19:41
Okay, so maybe I'll write it.

Billy the Kid

Nice report man!
07/28/2013 23:16
Looking forward to Capitol!!


Excellent video!
07/29/2013 01:51
Great crux video! It looks like more than 10 feet of significant exposure from the video, but lots of fun. I got Pilot Knob, Fuller, Vermillion and Golden Horn on my ILB trip, but got rained out of USG. Thanks for bring it back up to the top of my list!


07/29/2013 03:35
We braved driving rain today to the saddle with ”V2,” but the weather was not cooperating. We settled for the low peak and headed down. It rained from 1:00 p.m. Saturday to our departure at 10:30 this morning. Congrats on a solid report and what looks to be a great summit.


Great report
07/29/2013 15:55
I love Ice Lakes and it's been too long since I've been back. Excellent write-up and style. Thanks for this.


Ole Unconditional Surrender
07/29/2013 17:11
Great TR. Great photos. That video of the crux caused my palms to sweat! Where's the chalk... Hmmmmm. Solo?!? I'd strongly recommend a companion when climbing THAT kind of terrain. For me, wimp that I am, not only a friend but also a bit of 9mm line would have been deriguere! And, of course, congrats on doing RE Lee proud!


Sweet vid
07/29/2013 22:07
gives the reader sweaty palms. My memory is a tad hazy - I don't recall it being THAT bad. Its unnerving watching the go pro- every time you tilt your head back, seems like you are gonna fall backwards.

Thats an awesome shot of Island Lake!


Great report, great photos
07/31/2014 16:38
Great photos, great video, yeah, this is awesome. I think we will be climbing it from the other side though, easier and it will allow us easier access to V2.


what a gorgeous area!
04/02/2015 19:45
those peaks on my list before, but now they are at the top of the list thanks for taking the time to write a trip report. Very nice photography.

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