Peak(s):  San Miguel Pk  -  13,752 feet
"Lake Point"  -  13,506 feet
Date Posted:  03/02/2021
Date Climbed:   08/01/2020
Author:  supranihilest
Additional Members:   whileyh
 Cheesin' It Up in the San Miguel   

Ah, the San Miguel Mountains, a high mass of rugged and rotten peaks in the western San Juan. Maybe they're the Maroon Bells of the San Juan, red and towering and crumbling, or maybe the Maroon Bells are the San Miguel of the Elk. I prefer that, because the San Juan are a greater range than the Elk, in my opinion. In any case, what is there to say about the San Miguel that I haven't already? They're big and they're chossier than all get out. Beautiful, no doubt, but messy.

San Miguel Peak and "Lake Point" are two of the most western of these already western peaks, the former known for its stupid loose rock and sketchy scrambling, and the latter apparently just not known. San Miguel is ranked and lives up to its reputation, while "Lake Point" is unfortunately unranked and has but a handful of ascents here on 14ers.com, fewer on other peakbagger sites. This is disappointing because "Lake Point" is the better, more fun, more interesting of the two and deserves some love. It is also where this trip report gets its name - BoggyB, who wrote a great report about this pair, called "Lake Point" a "giant cheese wheel," which, given its squat, cylindrical, yellowish color, and even a large wedge-shaped cut out, seemed a very appropriate description. We are but mice, scurrying around for cheese.

Whiley and I began our day at the Lake Hope Trailhead near Telluride. This lake, trail, and trailhead have confusing nomenclature attached to them. The lake is officially named Lake Hope. The road to the trailhead is officially named Hope Lake Road. The trail and trailhead are called either Lake Hope or Hope Lake, depending on the source. Don't try too hard to figure it out. The road to the trailhead is rough 2WD, possibly easy 4WD, and has enough room for a few cars right at the trailhead, otherwise parking is alongside the road. It's an exceedingly popular trail. We probably saw 250 people over the course of the day.

The trail starts off on nice single track, then crosses over an unnamed fork of Lake Fork, which drains Lake Hope into Trout Lake below. The trail splits at this crossing, but to continue up to Lake Hope one must cross. We got a bit off route here and crossed on a less than ideal "bridge".

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San Miguel Peak and "Lake Point"'s northeast ridge from early on the trail.
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A "bridge" we crossed.

The trail ascends slowly and then abruptly begins making tight switchbacks up a steep, north facing hill below Lake Hope. We got to the top of the switchbacks, thereby gaining as much elevation as possible on easy trail, before going off-trail and heading southwest in a more direct line towards Lake Hope. The trial obviously continues to the lake but this would have cost us extra distance and time since we would have had to backtrack around the lake's eastern shoreline.

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"Lake Point" (summit not visible) and Sheep Mountain B. Photo: Whiley H.
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Some off-trail hiking en route to Lake Hope. Photo: Whiley H.
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Wilson massif left to right: Mount Wilson, Gladstone Peak, Lizard Head, Wilson Peak, Sunshine Mountain. The foreground ridge is Black Face.

From where we left the trail to the northern tip of the lake we gained about 300 feet over .3 miles, arriving at a dam controlling the flow of water to Trout Lake.

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Lush and charming, and best of all, no other people besides us.
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Easy ascent slopes to Lake Hope.
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Lake Hope with Rolling Mountain and "V 9" on the left, and an unranked point far off of San Miguel. Photo taken from atop the dam. Photo: Whiley H.
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Weird silo-like tower near the dam. Photo: Whiley H.

We walked across the dam and continued in a southwesterly direction, aiming for San Miguel's northeast ridge, which bifurcates about halfway along its length into the main northeast lobe and an eastern lobe. The eastern lobe descends directly to Lake Hope, so we ascended that, generally making our way onto the east face where the ridge becomes indistinct. The face consisted almost entirely of talus with some small, exposed outcrops to scramble on. The face could be kept at Class 2, and we settled into the talus mindset knowing it would last for most of the rest of the day.

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Talus, talus everywhere.
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Now on the face. Even more talus, somehow.
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Simple scrambling on the middle approach to San Miguel.

After approximately 1,000 feet of gain we reached the point where the northeast ridge emerges from the face. The slopes immediately above relent in angle somewhat, and the rock, to our surprise, turned to nice, solid granite, a welcome change from the rotting garbage below (and above, too).

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Now shifted briefly to solid granite. Alas, it was not to last. Photo: Whiley H.
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Pilot Knob, Golden Horn, Vermillion Peak, Fuller Peak, and Beattie Peak. The views in the San Miguel are second to none. Photo: Whiley H.
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Rock beginning to deteriorate as we near San Miguel's upper northeast ridge...
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... before returning, briefly, to nice granite. This was the last bit of good rock until "Lake Point"'s summit block. Photo: Whiley H.
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Small storms over the Vermillion group, but nice where we are. This shows the moderate area below the summit push and where the northeast ridge (to the left) breaks out of the face. Photo: Whiley H.

Once past the second section of nice granite we were left with steep slopes of loose, trashy rock. This is where we put on our helmets and mentally got into scramble mode. The slopes to the summit ridge were completely coated in talus and dinner plates and scree, and the occasional Class 2+ move had to be made. Route finding wasn't particularly difficult but we did have to avoid a cliff band overhead, which took us to climber's right, where we got our first real views of the summit of "Lake Point".

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Figuring out the easiest way to scramble to the ever-narrowing ridge.
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"Lake Point" from San Miguel's northeast ridge, with Mount Wilson, Gladstone Peak, Lizard Head (looking tiny, somehow), and Wilson Peak.
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Easier talus after slipping around the cliff band on the ridge.
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Grizzly Peak B roaring above the rest. We ascended from the area near the bottom left corner. Photo: Whiley H.

Skirting the cliff band, we ascended to the now narrow ridge crest. Exposed both north and south, and covered in the usual questionable rock, we took our time picking our way along the ridge. The crest was only Class 2 and Class 2+, and actually pretty fun. So far we had somehow managed to avoid the heinous megachoss mentioned in other reports. We weren't sad about this, obviously, but wondered if we'd eventually find something nasty.

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Upper ridge. Does this get wild? Photo: Whiley H.

The nasty came sooner than expected from the start of the ridge. Just a short distance along we encountered a deep notch, 30 or 40 feet deep. Descending the ridge directly into the notch was an unpleasant idea, given how steep (vertical to overhanging) and rotten the rock was.

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Steep and loose scrambling, but first we have to navigate into the notch. Whiley's route ascended the yellow and orange dihedral on the lower left, while mine stayed right and switchbacked up the talus covered ledges under the second colorful arete in center. Photo: Whiley H.

Instead, we descended north down a short but incredibly loose dirt gully, then traversed into the notch. Again, this wasn't technically difficult - Class 2+ with maybe a move or two of Class 3 - but absolutely nothing was solid, it was easy to send rocks sliding and flying, and a slip could have potentially catastrophic consequences. We took the gully one at a time to avoid kicking rocks onto each other.

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Our descent down and around (left) to the notch. Very steep, very loose. Unknown below: more talus, or cliffs? Whiley's white helmet can be seen just right of center.
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We didn't descend the ridge directly, since it was rotten and overhanging. Our descent took us onto the steep, shadowed face. Photo: Whiley H.

Once in the notch we had to scramble back out of it, this time more or less directly up the front side of it. Any potential bypasses around it would likely have been on dangerously loose and steep terrain, but the up climb out wasn't really too bad. Whiley and I took slightly different variations at slightly more solid Class 3+ and slightly looser Class 3, respectively. The rock was suspect as usual but was solid in all the right places.

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Junky rock coming out of the notch, with "Lake Point" draped in red and gold. Photo: Whiley H.
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Whiley's route up (Class 3+). The rock in the notch was of questionable quality and we tested every hold.
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My route up. Scramble up the corner (Class 3) and then head left up ledges and steps.

There was probably 40 or so feet of scrambling to once again reach the ridge crest, and then the summit was a short and easy distance from there.

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Me topping out on the ridge, with miles and miles of San Juan fading into the distance. Photo: Whiley H.

We wondered how we were able to avoid the horror stories of superchoss in other reports, and ultimately shrugged our shoulders. Maybe we had encountered it and just powered through it. Nothing we had done really seemed that out of place for the San Miguel, so if you climb here your mileage, literally and figuratively, may vary. After a brief stay on the summit we began heading west towards the descent to the saddle with "Lake Point", where we saw Garrett (who we had climbed with numerous times) and Tara, his partner for the day. I know Garrett cares about unranked peaks so it was cool that Tara was going with too!

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Initial, easy descent off San Miguel.

San Miguel's west ridge started easy enough, just walk down the ridge on talus. Before too long, of course, that ease came to an end and we had to down climb on extremely loose talus, then scree, to reach the saddle. I'd say that there were a few Class 3 moves thrown into the descent, which overall was awful and thankfully short. The steepest section was probably 30 or so feet and I shamelessly butt scooted parts of it.

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We took a more ridge direct variation, this just shows the incredibly junky rock that makes up San Miguel's entire western side.

The rock on the bottom third of the west ridge changed abruptly to the exceptionally rotten red stuff that just falls apart at the slightest touch, so we hoped "Lake Point", knowing that it was Class 5, would prove to be solid.

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"Lake Point" and the surrounding ridges are an extreme shift in geology.
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Blazing. Photo: Whiley H.

We practically swam across the saddle through the red scree, then began climbing up the other side. A set of extremely loose cliffs blocked the direct line, and attempting to bypass the cliffs likely would have been on super steep scree. Climb the cliff it is.

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San Miguel's west ridge, which isn't technically difficult, just extremely steep and loose. I butt scooted part of it. Photo: Whiley H.
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This rock is lovely to look at from a distance, but get up close and it is complete and utter shit. Photo: Whiley H.

Now this cliff was something else. There was really only one option, and it was dangerously unstable. Darn near everything wobbled around and seemed detached from everything else. Whiley cruised up it like it was nothing but it gave me some trouble. I just hate loose stuff with a passion. I wanted to go fast up this thing to get off of it, but took my time and made sure that I was always pressing down on my holds instead of pulling out. A few moves of Class 3 and a few moves of Class 4, including a high knee-mantle combo, and I was through the worst of it.

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What the... about 20 feet of some of the loosest, scariest Class 4 I've ever climbed. Press down on all of the holds or they just go flying sideways. In retrospect, it may have just been easier to dismantle the entire thing and climb the resulting pile of talus instead.

There was a little bit more of the orange death rock on top of the cliff, and then it was back to the small scree, which lasted until the summit block.

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Past the sketchy scrambling and near "Lake Point"'s summit block, with San Miguel and Grizzly. Photo: Whiley H.
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"Lake Point" has a rather distinctive summit block. Photo: Whiley H.
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What a ridge! This monstrosity connects Sheep on the left and "Lake Point" on the right.
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From the base of "Lake Point"'s summit block. We climbed the block sans packs. Photo: Whiley H.

Garrett and Tara were coming down the summit block as we neared, so we chatted for a minute or two before they headed off on their descent and Whiley and I investigated the summit, which did indeed look like a big wheel of cheese, except this cheese was made of some sort of microlayered but quite solid rock! Boggy said the easiest route up it was the southeast chimney, which appeared as a big, cut out wedge, so that was going to be our route too. There was some minor scrambling to get in place below it...

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Me starting the scramble into the upper left chimney. Photo: Whiley H.
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Bizarre rock I expected to be complete garbage, but was actually very solid and grippy. Photo: Whiley H.

... and then a few moves of Class 5.easy, wedging oneself securely into the chimney and inching up to reach those far off handholds and eventually a good ledge, then to the top. The small, layered texture of the rock wasn't good for fingers or edging, but provided a ton of texture for friction. With enough counter pressure our trail runners were sufficient to make the few moves required, and exposure here was minimal.

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Examining the final Class 5 moves to the summit. Photo: Whiley H.
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The chimney is too narrow to really wedge more than an arm into, but using counter pressure in the wedge...
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... you can step up and reach higher holds...
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... and get high enough to grab that big ol' jug, and get a foot onto the step that was at head level.

These mice had found their wheel of cheese, and a highly enjoyable and flavorful cheese it was!

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Sheep and the connecting ridge, both looking alien. Photo: Whiley H.
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"Lake Point"'s northeast ridge. That's some scary rock!

Descending the chimney was easier than ascending it, since we could just gently lower ourselves onto the block at the bottom of the chimney.

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Easy descent, once again using counter pressure to remain firmly wedged in while lowering. Photo: Whiley H.

We picked our packs back up and then backtracked slightly along the ridge, to a shallow saddle, and then began straight down a steep scree slope into the basin between San Miguel and "Lake Point".

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I love scree. *cracked, toothy grin* Photo: Whiley H.

The upper part of this descent was the steepest and contained a bit of careful Class 2+ down climbing, and then once past some rough chunks of exposed rock it was just a scree ski to the bottom.

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Soft, yellow dirt and red chiprock. I'd imagine the geology of the San Miguel to be complex, confusing, and altogether fascinating.
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The wonderful slope we slipped'n'slid down, with the scruffy rock band we navigated.

In the basin we headed northeast on a rock glacier so large it spilled down onto the next bench below.

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Reaching an area where the path ahead is unknown. Does this even go? Photo: Whiley H.

Talus in the basin gave way to scree and dirt, and we skirted to the left around another cliff into the lower basin, which eventually turned into grass and trees.

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What a shot! Still not sure if we can get down all the way into the forest without any nasty surprises. Photo: Whiley H.
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Upper bench below San Miguel and "Lake Point". Not great rock, but not difficult in any way. We went looker's right around the cliff in the middle. Photo: Whiley H.

Once in the grass we followed a creek down until it became a waterfall. Looking further left it didn't appear there was a way down the cliffs, so instead we went right and across the creek to a bench that became a steep but manageable slope down past all of the cliffs and waterfalls.

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While this is a quick way down, you will also die if you go this way. Photo: Whiley H.
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Looking back up the forested gulch. We mostly stayed on descender's left of the creek until we hit an impassable cliff...
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... before crossing the creek at an easy spot and taking an eastern trending, treed bench down.
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Now to the northeast of "Lake Point", and directly north/below San Miguel's northeast ridge.

We crossed a second creek as we continued east, and then went straight down to the valley floor, to within a couple hundred yards of the trail. We passed the highest waterfall of the trip here, and it was hidden enough that most people on the trail would never even notice it.

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Spectacular and gorgeous waterfall that isn't visible from the trail.

Once back on the trail we reascended the switchbacks, which we were at the bottom of, and made our way towards Hope Pass with the plan to do "V 9" as well. We stopped short of the pass to have a snack break. Whiley set her phone down on the rock we were sitting on, and it promptly slid down and into a crack about hand width wide. We could see it in there just a few inches in but had no tools to get it out with, so we left it there, ran back down to the trailhead, grabbed some tools, and headed back up to get it out, which we did not succeed at. We left it for a second time that day, returning to the trailhead with two new peaks and one less phone. This was a brand new iPhone, and though we weren't able to get it out on this trip we did on a subsequent trip! Whiley and I were both thankful she was able to fish it out, so while there was no fun to be had on "V 9" on this day everything did end well.

Technological mishaps aside, this was an excellent day, and I highly recommend "Lake Point" for its unique geology and climbing. I also enjoyed San Miguel Peak, contrary to what many others think of it, and I know Whiley was having a great flow on both peaks and enjoyed them as well. There was plenty of fun (and yes, sketchy) scrambling to be had on these peaks, and the views are almost unparalleled. "Lake Point" is yet another unranked peak that is sadly overlooked by its larger neighbors when it in fact steals the show. Go get you a little nibble of that cheese.


Statistics¹

¹Note: I have posted two sets of statistics here. The "clean" statistics are those that I pulled out of the GPX track for this day, after I removed the segment with our failed bid on "V 9" and the time spent trying to get Whiley's phone out of the crack. The "dirty" statistics are with that segment still in tact. I post both for the sake of accuracy and honesty. Not included is our third ascent, this time from the trailhead, on our second attempt to retrieve Whiley's phone. I also cleaned up the GPX I attached to this report, removing a segment in the middle. The removed segment began when we hit the trail on our descent from "Lake Point" and ended when we returned to that same spot on our descent from trying to fish out Whiley's phone. The GPX is thus able to be used for the San Miguel Peak and "Lake Point" combo.

Climbers: Ben Feinstein (myself), Whiley H.
Trailhead: Lake Hope
Total distance: 8.4 miles (clean) / 11.46 miles (dirty)
Total elevation gain: 3,623 feet (clean) / 5,157 feet (dirty)
Total time: n/a² (clean) / 6:36:18 (dirty)
Peaks: One ranked thirteener, one unranked thirteener

  • San Miguel Peak, 13,752'
  • "Lake Point", 13,506' (unranked)

Splits (clean):

Starting Location Ending Location Via Time (h:mm:ss) Cumulative Time (h:mm:ss) Rest Time (m:ss)
Lake Hope Trailhead San Miguel Peak 2:28:08 2:28:08 0:00
San Miguel Peak "Lake Point" 1:07:09 3:35:17 0:00
"Lake Point" Lake Hope Trailhead n/a² n/a² Trip End

²No times here because we didn't go directly from "Lake Point" to the trailhead. The "dirty" split below is from "Lake Point" to near Hope Pass and back to the trailhead, so you could probably take an hour to an hour and a half off that time for a "clean" time.

Splits (dirty):

Starting Location Ending Location Via Time (h:mm:ss) Cumulative Time (h:mm:ss) Rest Time (m:ss)
Lake Hope Trailhead San Miguel Peak 2:28:08 2:28:08 0:00
San Miguel Peak "Lake Point" 1:07:09 3:35:17 0:00
"Lake Point" Lake Hope Trailhead 3:01:01 6:36:18 Trip End

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):




Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60


Comments or Questions
hogantheepic

wow
03/02/2021 17:51
this is some really pretty geology, nice pics!


DaveLanders
Choss
03/02/2021 18:15
If you "enjoyed" the rock on San Miguel, you'll really have "fun" on V8 and V9


whileyh

Fun peaks, bad week
03/02/2021 18:38
Thanks for running up and down and up and down Lake Hope Lake Trail like a madman carrying a strange array of hardware store tools, sticks, and grill tongs past the hordes of humans in a fruitless attempt to get my newly replaced iPhone.
And for letting me crash in your badass van for 8 nights to keep my streak of dirtbagging peaks after Mr.T broke down for the majillionth time.
And being there for my broken heart.
Benito con un grande corazón.


Sbenfield

Geology
03/02/2021 20:29
I agree w Hogan. Really cool geology, also like the shots of the Vermillion group in the background


mtngoatwithstyle
Hope is really not hope... but maybe a lake?
03/02/2021 21:06
Ben, Those photos Whiley and you took are just astonishing!! . There were some photos where even with your descriptions of how you both approached parts of the climb and went up, I still could not see past choss, dinner plates, boulders, loose rocks and ad infinitum... I promise I really was trying to find your route but did not get past that part! ;) I will try to make it this summer to Hope Lake & Lake Hope and even if I do not climb those peaks, I will think about both of you up there!.


supranihilest

Saint Michael
03/02/2021 21:54
@Hogan: Thanks! Now that you've finished the 14ers add these to your list!

@Dave: I haven't done "V 8" yet (edit: Whiley reminded me that "V 8" is actually 13,300 D, which I have done!) but I did do "V 9" via the north ridge from Hope Pass (and then 13,300 D/"V 8", Beattie, Fuller, Vermillion, and Golden Horn) and I emphatically did NOT like "V 9" (edit: "V 8" wasn't bad, just a ridiculous amount of Class 2+ boulders). There were OK parts of "V 9"'s north ridge, but the lower part off the pass and the upper part were steep and loose enough to be rather scary. Definitely a peak requiring care.

@Whiley: I still remember hearing your whooping with joy from "V 9" after you got your phone out! Twas a good day. Eres mi amiga y estoy feliz de estar allí contigo.

@Steve: You and Hogan are totally right about the geology up there. Some places in the San Juan are like this, just so many different kinds of rock in such short order, but this stuff is so much more in your face than usual!

@Teresa: Thank you! There's a lot of awful rock up there but make a visit to Lake Hope and you won't have to deal with any of it while still getting the refreshing views of all of the peaks. It's a hard area to beat, and with Ice Lakes probably being closed for a while it will be a popular one!


osprey
Lake Point
03/02/2021 22:25
I climbed Lake Point in 1992 and repeated in 2018 and wrote the first Lake Point TR.
It is best done in spring as a snow climb when snow covers the scree.


CaptCO

Yaaaaa buddy
03/03/2021 07:24
Amazing fliks, let‘s run some ridges this summer pal


Jay521

Geez...
03/03/2021 08:01
Stellar pix, my friend... And some solid work getting those peaks.


Tornadoman

Beautiful and ugly
03/03/2021 09:02
Beautiful scenery but that is some ugly looking rock. I am not sure if I am sold. Haha.


CaptainSuburbia

Nice!
03/04/2021 13:54
Great report and photos! You're going to keep me busy this summer.


cougar

Rainbow mtn
03/12/2021 08:35
Wow, that Lake Point looks a lot like Perus Rainbow Mtn. Didn't know we had one on CO, have to get down there.



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