Peak(s):  US Grant Pk  -  13,767 feet
"V 4"  -  13,540 feet
Pilot Knob A  -  13,738 feet
Golden Horn  -  13,780 feet
Vermilion Pk  -  13,894 feet
Date Posted:  08/11/2008
Modified:  06/19/2012
Date Climbed:   08/09/2008
Author:  lordhelmut
 Ice Lakes Basin w/ strange weather  


Ice Lakes Basin
"V4" (13,540)
Ulysses S Grant Pk (13,767)
Pilot Knob (13,738)
Golden Horn (13,780)
Vermillion Pk (13,894)
Fuller Pk (13,761)

2 days camp @ 11,300 ft

Since neither of us had been to the Ice Lakes region and it looked to have a bunch of easy to access scrambles, it'd make for a nice warm up, but neither of us were in any way prepared for what this basin truly had to offer.

Picked up Chris around 4pm, we decided to take 285 to 50 to 550 on the way to Silverton and then planned on taking 550 to 70 back to compare times and ease of road travel. After a brief run in with the law for a burned out headlight in Montrose, we reached the S.Mineral Creek TH around midnight, pitched a tent in the rain and crashed for the night. The "4wd" turnoff onto Clear Creek Rd, by the way, is a very easy, not too steep road, pretty much any car could make it up it, just a FYI.

Alarm went off around 3, we packed up our stuff for the weekend and made way for the basin. We only ended up hiking a little over a mile to where we'd set up camp, but it was a good 900-1000 feet elevation gain. We found a nice, protected site in the trees around Lower Ice Lake, set up camp and backtracked about 50 yards for the turnoff to Island Lake, V4 and US Grant. We decided to start out with this group since its closer and easier than Pilot Knob/Golden Horn/Vermillion/Fuller.

I had forgotten my headlamp, so a purchase at the Montrose Conoco was in order for a 9.99$ LED flashlight, which looked pretty budget, but ended up doing the trick. After all the s**t Chris gave me for wasting my money on such a thing, by the end of the trip, he admitted it was pretty bright after all. I agreed, too bad Montrose Conoco's don't have the same return policy as REI, or else I would've traded it back in for a 4-pack of Red Bulls for the ride home.

Anyways, light began to hit the basin just as we reached Island Lake. We had a nice view of our route and first peak of the weekend, V4.


We made our way around the left side of the lake towards the obvious East Ridge of V4. We had some loose scree and teetering boulders to navigate through, but the hardships were greatly rewarded with this shot of Ice Lakes Basin :


And our view from the ridge/saddle towards V4, just a couple hundred feet above us :


After a short scramble to the summit, we topped out a little before 7am and had some solid views of our traverse over to US Grant, which looked a little something like this :


The view of the Sneffels region from here was pretty amazing, as was the blanket of clouds looming over the Grenadiers to the East. The clouds in the San Juans would prove to be somewhat of a natural wonder. Rain and some thunder clouds flirted with us the entire weekend, but not a single drop of rain or flash of lightning was anywhere to be seen or found, very strange.

The traverse over to US Grant was mainly straightfoward, except for a tower closer to the summit of V4, where we had to downclimb loose rock and scree to bypass on the left (west) side. Once we reached the saddle, we made up for lost time until we reached the crux of the traverse, a short class 4/low 5 upclimb to a ledge. Without wet boots, it would've been pretty easy, but we had good hand and footholds, made short work of it, traversed around ledges to the final gully under the summit and had a cloud covered summit to ourselves still very early in the day :


After signing the register, we descended the way we came and after some clearing of the clouds, we agreed to make our way for V2, a class 2 ridge run from below the cliffs of US Grant. Chris proved to be the more motivated of the two of us, he gained the saddle, while I sat down on the middle of V2's slope feeling sorry for myself after a tedious, slope traverse around Grant. I yelled up to him and said I'll meet him at the lake, essentially giving up on the mountain, a first for me, but I downright lost interest and wanted to hang out by the lake anyways.

While Chris jogged up to V2, I snapped this final shot of Island Lake with V4 in the background, looking West :


We didn't feel like hanging out at camp all day, so we veered around to Ice Lake and took some shots of 3 surreal peaks and a very blue lake that make up the basin, it was a euphoric feeling. Never have I seen something so blue, surrounded by so much green so high up and capped by red and white stoned peaks.

Camp was reached around 4pm, we took a 3 hour nap, woke up, ate some tortolini and hit the sack with another 3am day to look foward to.

The next morning, we hit the trail a little after 4am, but since we camped 1000 feet higher from the car, we'd be ok.

We hiked passed Upper Ice Lake in the dark and got our first glimpse of the basin a little before 6am :

US Grant - a replica of Sneffels?

Our objective for the day was Pilot Knob and then after a weather observation, hopefully a ridge run to Golden Horn, then Vermillion and then Fuller as the finalizer. Pilot Knob was more or less our reason for driving 8 hours to thie godforsaken place, it would certainly not disapoint.

To gain the East saddle of Pilot Knob, there is some annoying scree slopes to ontend with, much like one you would find en route to say Cathedral Pk in the Elks, thats what it reminded me of the most at least. The scree slog was quickly forgetten, since we were both rewarded with our mutually favorite view of the Wilsons to the West :


And a front row seat to a scrambler's paradise known as the Vermilion Group :


After traversing around 100 yards to the other side of Pilot Knob's craggy ridgeline summit, we located cairns pointing us in the correct gully leading up to Knob's summit. After some easy, but exposed class 4 scrambling, we found ourselves about 50 feet under the summit with this last section to figure out :

Our route went directly over this knobby, but excellent rock section, the exposure was very exciting

And I captured this shot of Chris enjoying a very cool, flat summit, with Grant in the background

This is what the summit ridge looks like, looking West

The summit of Pilot Knob gave us a good look at our day's objectives. We both agreed the Knob ranked right up there with Lone Eagle and I'd even throw Spearhead in there in terms of pucker factor (at least to reach it). There were steep drop offs on all sides and it was one of those earned summits with complex route finding issues.

Our initial plan was to descend back into Ice Basin, traverse around the base of Golden Horn and gain its saddle with Vermillion from below, but after a glimpse of the backside of Pilot Knob, a traverse around that side seemed more practical and a hell of a lot easier since we wouldm't lose anywhere near as much elevation.

After traversing some annoying, loose scree, we reached the saddle linking up to Golden Horn, here was our view :


And a look into Ice Lake Basin and Grant with some confusing cloud cover

The ridge to Golden Horn was ridiculously easy, we stayed on the ridge crest the entire time, traversed around the base of the Horn and made our way up the class 2+ slope to reach the summit, an hour after leaving the Knob.

View of Vermillion to the South from Golden Horn, a fun class 3, with section of 4 scramble to the top of the Vermillion Couloir and eventually the summit

We must've gotten off route a few times along the northern ridge up to Vermillion's summit, cause we were making some interesting, creative moves to reach the eastern ledges leading over to the top of the couloir.

Chris topping out on Vermillion Couloir w/ clouds

I think we stayed on Vermillion's summit for less than 5 minutes, since Chris wanted to bag Fuller to finish off the day AND get some Mexican food in Montrose, but I was pretty much on the same page, so after a brief argument over why its worth it to climb Fuller, we quickly traversed our way around to the Vermillion-Fuller saddle, running into the same guy and his son I camped next to in Chicago Basin the summer before, small world. After a quick conversation, we dropped our packs at the saddle and were on Fuller's summit 15 minutes later, with a final view of our days work :


After trying to converse with a marmot, we made our way back to the packs, did some foot glissading down to the basin and made our way for camp.

Here are some shots on the way out :

Looking into the valley (East)

Waterfall near one of the stream crossings below Ice Lake

Notes :

- Although a long haul from the Front Range, these peaks are worth a visit before you die, simply put. If you like scrambling, between the Island Lake region and the Ice Lakes, there is something for everyone. I'm pretty sure mother nature or god or whoever designed this area had scrambling junkies in mind, there is a reason Cooper has almost an entire chapter in his scrambling book on these.

- Pilot Knob will be your favorite mountain after you climb it, its a real treat, definately the highlight of the weekend.

- If you can bear the temp of Ice Lake with a nice afternoon swim, you are a better man than I, that lake is damn cold. Then again, we had variable weather and a breeze, which would make for some raisin sized gonads.

- Don't camp anywhere near Lower Ice Lake, its a cesspool

- Never has climbing 6 peaks in one weekend been more feasible, if you follow the backside of Pilot Knob to Golden Horn and beyond, climbing 4 peaks in less than 4 hours is a very real possibility, its honestly not that tough, if you are in any sort of shape.

- El Jubidor's in Montrose has some damn fine Chipotle Chicken Enchiladas (its right across the street from Checker Autopoarts). Combine that with a Moutain Dew and you'll be sittin pretty (and sharting yourself on the drive home)

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

 Comments or Questions

Thanks Kevin
08/12/2008 06:07
your shots in your SP page of that area were pretty phenomenal as well, kind of our inpiration for heading down there. Pilot Knob is worth the trip by itself.


I agree with Kevin
08/12/2008 13:04
about the pics. The first photo of Ice Basin is gorgeous! It makes me excited to get down there. Excellent report as usual, Brian.


08/12/2008 14:12
Wow those pics are incredible. What kind of camera are you shooting with?


Very photogenic place
08/12/2008 16:15
Caroline - thanks regarding the shots, its pretty easy when the landscape and lighting takes the role of manual settings, when you headed down there?

jdfors - Thanks, I use a Canon sd1000, pretty standard elf series, very small lense but capabilities are diverse. I think 7-8 megapixels is an ideal size and if you get used to tinkering with the manual settings, it‘ll make for some solid shots. Slaggbottom, a member of this site, has literally perfected the art of panoramic shots, something I‘d like to familiarize myself with and start framing some stuff on my walls.

Sarah - good to know there are others out there who were fascinated with Pilot Knob. The weather was a surprise, given the forecast called for 70% chance of t-storms and rain all weekend. Sorry to hear it didn‘t fare well for you in the Gores.


Photo ops galore
08/13/2008 23:38
Ice lakes was easily one of the highlights of my summer. We took roughly 1000 pictures that weekend. Highly recommend it to everyone! Nice job!


Awesome pics
08/14/2008 16:21
As a fellow Canon ELPH owner (SD800), I applaud your skills to get such great quality shots.

My tips on stitched shots: I just release the button half-way and continue taking pictures (this keeps the same focus/exposure), instead of putting it into a ”stitch mode”. The photostitch software that comes with the camera works pretty well, and I recently found a freeware stitcher online called AutoStitch, which I use for ~half of the panos. AutoStitch isn‘t as crisp in the end, but merges well where Photostitch screws up.

Thanks for introducing me to the beauty of the Ice Lake region. I gotta visit!

Great TR and Photos
08/15/2008 19:39
I was there last year..same time Kevin B was there. I can appreciate the work that went into those climbs. Place really is as beautiful as your pictures, too.


One of the best places in the state!
11/30/2010 17:28
Awesome trip Brian! You're right about Pilot Knob - it may be my favorite 13er... every time I'm in the area I can't take my eyes off of it! I'm so dissapointed I didn't go to the SJs this weekend. Seems the weather was pretty manageable. Instead I spent two miserable rainy days in the swamp (aka the Gores).


Ice Lake does not disappoint
01/19/2011 03:38
And neither do you two. Typically great stuff.
I was just up there Tuesday for some misadventure of my own making. Don‘t try Fuller to Vermillion from the other side above the old cabin--worst, scariest loose dinner plate rock in history), but got some of the best photos I‘ve ever taken.
Yes, Ice Lake is cold. Very cold. Some old woman asked me if I was from Minnesota after I got out (?).
Good luck next week. Should be epic.


01/19/2011 03:38
edit... duplicate posts. Sorry.

Kevin Baker

fabulous pics!
02/05/2011 00:22
Those are some awesome pics! Thanks for bringing back fond memories of Ice Lakes basin. I‘m looking forward to returning for Pilot Knob.


great TR
09/07/2011 02:01
Brian, your TR came in very handy over the weekend. My wife and I did almost the same trip as you guys. We, too, had a difficult time finding a class 3 route up the NE ridge on Vermilion, which was a pain b/c we had our pooch with us. On a side note, I credit your mad camera skills for your awesome photos, not the price of your camera.
Thanks again for the beta!


07/23/2013 01:05


07/23/2013 01:05

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