Pilot Knob – 13,746

RT Length:  12.6 miles

Elevation Gain: 4162’

This was my second attempt of Pilot Knob, the first being a few years ago when I tried to link it up with Golden Horn and got caught up in some seriously scary scree.  This time I was approaching from the north, my only fear being lingering snow from an early September storm. 

I arrived at the Ice Lakes trailhead at 5am and was the only vehicle in the lot.  It was a balmy 22 degrees and since I wasn’t in a hurry I decided to take a nap in my truck until first light.  I was on the trail at 6:45am.  The trail starts at the obvious trailhead sign at the west end of the parking area

From here it was an easy hike on a class 1 trail all the way up to Ice Lakes Basin.  The avalanche area was easy to navigate. 

Stay left here

And continue to follow the trail to gain the basin

Once in the Ice Lakes Basin the trails get kind of goofy.  I skirted Ice Lake to the south and continued heading west.

After Ice Lake there’s a little stream to cross, and then the trail ends and the class 2 section/route finding begins.

Here’s an overall view of the route I took up to Pilot Knob

And step by step (sorry, I couldn’t resist; I thought this was cool)

I followed the drainage west up the basin

And once I reached the basin I turned right and headed for the gully that would lead me to the ridge

There are a lot of ways to ascend this gully, none of them fun.  The rock here is loose, the scree runs out below you, and there aren’t many handholds.  Basically, pick your line and head for the ridge. Microspikes and poles help. I took the solid line up, the dotted line down, but there are tons of options here

Once on the ridge I continued to skirt the north side of Pilot Knob.  There was a little bit of snow here, but nothing that required traction.  Here the wind picked up, and in the shadows it got really cold. 

I rounded the corner and picked up a faint trail in the scree that continued to skirt the mountain.  You basically want to stay high here.  The scree here is loose, but much, much more table than the scree when coming from the opposite direction (Golden Horn).

By sticking high here I came upon cairns that led me to the access gully.  This gully is extremely well cairned and easy to follow.  The climbing is class 3, bordering on class 4, and when you see a cairn and think to yourself “There’s no way I go over that”, you do.  Stick to the cairned route here; it goes.

Here are some highlights:  I followed the gully northeast to the ridge

Once on the ridge the scrambling got interesting.  This is class 4 and there’s exposure, but luckily the rock is grippy.  Here’s the exact route I took, staying to the left of the ridge

The last bit to the summit was underwhelming, and very, very windy.  And cold.  And windy. 

I summited Pilot Knob at 11am

Pilot Knob: 

Here’s a look down at the way I came in through Ice Lakes Basin

Time to head back.  Here’s an overall view of the ridge to the gully

And a step by step view back down the gully

Once down the gully, here’s the route back to the access gully

The access gully was much more fun do descend than ascend.  I put on my microspikes and literally scree-surfed the entire way down, stopping a few times when the rubble became dangerously fast. 

Once at the bottom of the gully I followed the same route out

Past Ice Lake and down into the lower basin.

And back down to the trailhead

I made it back to my truck at 2pm, making this a 12.6 mile hike with 4162’ of elevation gain in 7 hours.  On to the next trailhead!

Author: Laura M Clark

Laura has summited over 500 peaks above 13,000' solo, including being the first woman to solo summit all of the Colorado 14ers, as well as the centennials. After each hike, she writes trip reports for each one and publishes them on her blog, which is read by fans all over the world. Author of Wild Wanderer: Summiting Colorado’s 200 Highest Peaks, which is available to purchase on Amazon.

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