V4 – 13,541 and V2 – 13,319

RT Length:  12.74 miles

Elevation Gain: 4921’

Due to colder weather than anticipated, I’d abandoned my initial backpacking trip after the first night and was looking for a “Plan B”.  Going through my binder of potential hikes, I narrowed it down to ‘something around South Mineral Creek’ and decided to drive to the trailhead.  It was full when I got there, but that was ok, as I was planning on hiking the next morning (I’d already put in 15 miles that morning).

The trailhead was open this week, after being closed due to last year’s fire.  There was an information center set up at the trailhead, with a place for volunteer park rangers to talk with hikers.  There were also signs educating hikers about wildfire.

Speaking of wildfire… where was it? From the parking area there was no evidence of a fire.  As people slowly made their way back to their vehicles and left the parking area, I ate my dinner of noodles and chips, sipped some whiskey, and read a book.  I made it an early night, wanting to get some sleep before it got really cold.

It got really cold.  Another night in the 20s, which made for a layer of frost on everything when I woke up.  I didn’t want to get out from my sleeping bag, where I was warm.  And, I had a headache?  I really wasn’t feeling it this morning, but got ready anyway, and was on the trail at 6:30am, 2 hours later than I’d originally planned.  It was still dark outside.  The trail starts at the west end of the parking area, and has a trail register and signage.  I didn’t sign the trail register, because it was covered in a layer of frost and my hands were cold enough at it was.

The trail was very easy to follow.  The fire burn area was short, and ended just before the waterfall/4WD trail cutoff.  It seemed to follow the avalanche area from a few years ago. The trail seemed unaffected, and was clear of debris. 

I followed this class 1 trail 2.5 miles to treeline.  At treeline, I started feeling more like myself, excited now I chose to hike today (isn’t that always the case?). 

At the junction around 11425’ I turned right and followed the trail into the upper basin, towards Island Lake.

Here’s an overall view of the hike to the V4/US Grant Saddle (the lake isn’t visible yet, but it’s straight ahead).

At the junction I turned left, towards Island Lake.  This is the junction I’d be coming back to when it was time to hike V2.

I decided to skirt the lake to the left, on the obvious trail, but you can take either side.  Note: there isn’t a clearly defined trail to the right, but it’s an easy trek either way. There was a thin layer of ice on the lake.

Once past the lake it’s ‘choose your own adventure’ to the saddle.  All routes go here.

Here are some closer pictures

When I hit the scree I put on my microspikes, and didn’t take them off until I made it back to this spot.  There’s a runnel you can follow, as well as tundra and scree routes.

Once at the saddle I turned left, towards V4

I skirted the north side of V4, hugging where the talus met rock, following the contour of the mountain west.  This is loose rock.

Following the contour of the mountain brought me to a scree-filled gully.  I ascended this gully (microspikes were very helpful here, as it’s steep).

At the top of the gully I turned right and followed the scree up

This is where it got complicated.  I’m not entirely sure which it the actual ‘summit’.  I saw a cairn, and scaled the first tower I came to (this was easier than pictures make this look).  The cairn is circled in red

But when I got to the top, it looked like the actual summit might be the next tower. 

So, I checked my altimeter.  It read 13,540’.  I backtracked and made my way to the next tower

But when I got to the top of the next tower and checked my altimeter, that too read 13,540’. I turned and looked back:  the first point now seemed higher to me, and it had a cairn, so I figure that was the high point.  Peakbagger said the peak was 47 feet behind me, but somewhat closer to the first tower… which would have put me in empty space. 

I made my way back to the first tower and took some pictures.  I summited V4 at 10am.  (Not sure why I said V3 in the video, but by the time I realized my mistake I was already back by Island Lake).


I headed back the way I’d come, back towards the US Grant/V4 saddle

I stayed high here, to avoid the loose choss

My next objective of the day was V2.  Here’s the overall route I took to get there

I made my way back down towards Island Lake, this time skirting the lake to the north, picking up the obvious trail on the other side that leads to the US Grand/V2 saddle. 

There’s a small fork in the trail about halfway up the hillside, but it doesn’t matter which way you go, as they both merge back together. Microspikes are a good idea here too.

Once at the saddle, I turned right and followed the ridge east, immediately coming across a memorial plaque

There was a trail here, and it was easy to follow.

It was a bit rocky near the summit, but there was still a trail to follow.  Easy class 2

The summit was long. I walked the entire length to make sure I summited, but I’m pretty sure the actual summit is about 1/3 of the way across.  There’s a wind break there.

I summited V2 at 12pm


From the summit, here’s looking back at V4

It was getting cold, quick, so I headed back to Island Lake, and followed the trail from the morning back out of the basin

Here you can see the burn area (along the 4WD road)

Here are some pictures from the hike out

There were so many people on the trail hiking out!  And everyone seemed to have a dog.  I was discouraged to see trash on the trail:  it hasn’t even been open a week and people are already littering.  I picked up a few pieces on my way out. 

I made it back to my truck at 1:30pm, making this a 12.74 mile hike with 4921’ of elevation gain in 7 hours

On to the next trailhead!

Fowler Peak – 13,498 and PT 13544

RT Length: 10.53 miles

Elevation Gain: 3985’

I’d already been away from home a few days before this trip, so I stopped at Ouray Hot Springs to get in a quick workout and a shower (they only charge $4 for a shower, which might be nice if you’re hiking around Ouray and want to freshen up every few days).  The only downside?  The parking was terrible, even on a weekday in the morning. 

After cleaning up I drove to the Rock of Ages Trailhead. The drive in was a bit bumpier than I remembered, but also fun, because I was seeing what Miles (my new Tacoma) can do.  He handled the stream crossing and ruts in the 4WD road without needing to be put into 4WD.

I made it to the trailhead and was the only one in the lot (another good thing about arriving on a Thursday). 

I walked around for a bit, and immediately realized the mosquitoes were going to be a problem.  I’ve ordered a topper for Miles, but it’ll take up to 3 months to get here, so until then I’m sleeping in the back seat of the cab  (It’s a tight fit but luckily I’m small).  I made the decision to get to bed as soon as possible.  I ended up waking up several times during the night because I was so warm, but at least waking up ended one of my nightmares:  a dream about sharks in a swimming pool swallowing children whole. 

Ok.  So, I woke up and was on the trail at 4:15am. The route starts at the south end of the parking area, and follows a well-defined trail south.

I quickly came to a gate, and walked around it.

Next, I saw this sign to my right, and continued on the trail

I followed the trail to treeline. 

Shortly after making it to treeline I came to the Elk Creek Trail junction. From here there are several options, but your main goal is to make it into the basin.  You can follow Elk Creek Trail and lose some elevation, then follow a faint road into the basin.  Or, you could continue along the Rock of Ages trail and eventually hook up with the 4WD road that enters the basin from above (a bit chossy, but I chose to take it on the way out).  On my way in it was dark, I couldn’t see any of these ‘routes’, and I chose to just head straight into the basin.

If you take the mining road, here’s what the entrance looks like from the Rock of Ages trail.  It’s about half a mile past the Elk Creek Trail junction, on your right.

If you take the upper road, this is what the junction from the trail to the road looks like

In any event, I made my way into the basin. Here are the routes.  To the left you can see the mining road, and to the right you can see the abandoned dirt road.  They both lead to the same place.  (On my way in I didn’t see either of these roads and just headed south through the basin).

Once in the upper basin you want to gain the ridge.  This sounds easier than it turned out to be. It’s “choose your own adventure”, and on the way up I chose wrong. I ended up getting into some class 4 scrambling, which was unnecessary.  It’s my advice to do PT 13540 first, and gain the ridge to the left (southeast).  However, all areas here ‘go’, if you’re willing to do some scrambling.  When I made it to the ridge I found thick wire cording going where the red line is (I’m guessing that could be used as leverage if needed:  it wasn’t moving anywhere). I ascended via the orange line.  The dotted orange line is probably a better route. The best route is my descent route (pictured later).

I’ll spare you the scree-y and large-loose-rocky gully details of ascending the ridge.  Once on the ridge I turned right and followed the ridge southwest towards Fowler.  The ridge was all class 2

If you haven’t already, now is a good time to put on your helmet.  Here’s a picture of that cable I was telling you about.  It goes up and over both sides of the saddle.

Here’s an overall view of the rest of the route to summit Fowler.

And step by step:  It started out chossy as I ascended the ridge

I made my way to the gully to the left/middle.  This area had more solid rock, but it was littered with scree/rubble.  At the base of the gully I took off my pack and decided to go up with just my cell phone (and a summit register in my pocket, just in case).

This is the class 4 part of the climb, and lasted for about 120 feet of vertical gain.  I started by going straight up the gully.  Here’s my route:

Step 1:  ascend the chimney.  I went to the right of the chimney, and found adequate hand/foot holds.

Step 2: Once above the chimney I stayed to the center of the gully.  This is also where I saw an anchor set up (circled in red).

If you decide to rappel here, bring a new anchor, as this one looks like it’s been here for a while, and what’s been added to it doesn’t look recent either.

Step 3: From the anchor I continued straight up the gully (still class 4)

Step 4: Here’s a view of the last bit of the gully, before topping out.  This felt class 3

At the top of the gully I turned left and headed towards the summit.  It was a bit of a false summit, but all class 2/easy 3

I summited Fowler Peak at 7:45am

Fowler Peak: 

I sat and enjoyed my views of the Wilson/El Diente Traverse for a few minutes before heading back.

There was a summit register, but it was one of those tube ones.  It hadn’t been closed properly and all the papers inside were wet, so I left it and also added a new register with dry paper to write on.  And a new pencil.  Here are some pictures of the trek back to the saddle

Back down the gully

To my stashed gear and back to the ridge.

I followed the ridge over to PT 13540.  This was a simple ridge hike, if a bit loose.  Lots of rocks here. I stuck mostly to the ridge the entire time, only dipping to the right a few times when necessary.

I summited PT 13540 at 9am

PT 13540:

I worked my way back towards the Fowler/PT 13540 saddle

Once at the saddle there was what looked to be a boarded-up mine.  In fact, it looked like everything here had been blown up at some point, except this area, which was strategically filled with large rocks (but may have been blown up too).  I passed it and headed northeast back to the old mining road

This area was steep, and I did some scree surfing, but it was much easier to navigate when compared to the route I took to ascend the ridge. I saw tons of mining trash here:  lots of old cans and pieces of mining equipment, most of which were in small pieces, all made out of cast iron.  This was the most intact item I came across

Here’s the route I took down from the ridge (I’d recommend ascending this way as well)

Once back on the road you once again have options to exit the basin.  You can stay high, to the right/east, and follow the old mining road, or you can stay low and left/west, and follow an old dirt road. 

Here’s a better look at both roads.  Both take you out of the basin, and back to Elk Creek Trail / Rock of Ages trail (If you take the mining road all the way to the Rock of Ages trail, turn left and follow it to the Elk Creek Trail junction, and then continue following the Rock of Ages trail).

Once back on the trail I followed it through the trees northwest, back to the trailhead. 

I made it back to my truck at 11:15am, making this a 10.53 mile hike with 3985’ of elevation gain in 7 hours.

It was still early, and quite warm, and the mosquitoes hadn’t magically disappeared overnight.  I had a friend meeting me here at 6pm to hike Wilson Peak tomorrow, so I’d planned on staying at the trailhead until he got there, then heading to bed.  I’d brought a lot of things to do, but they all required sitting down, and once I did that the mosquitoes swarmed me.  It was like one would find me and sing its song to its friends and there’d be dozens to shoo away. 

If I was outside I needed to have a jacket on, but it was hot! I tried sitting in my truck with the air conditioning on, but that wasn’t going to work for 7 hours straight.  It was kind of funny watching the mosquitoes (and flies!!!) swarm my truck:  they seemed to know I was in there with the air conditioning on. 

So, I entertained myself for the next 7 hours by reading.  I got out my current book (On the Road by Jack Kerouac) and read while steadily walking around the trailhead in circles.  Continuously moving seemed to keep the mosquitoes at bay.  Luckily, the trailhead has a large parking area and I was the only one there.  Every few hours I’d take a break in my truck, and then get out and read again.  I would have started a campfire to shoo the bugs away, but they’re currently banned.  I can’t wait to get the topper on my truck!  It would have solved the mosquito/heat problem.

PT 13540 and PT 13403

RT Length: 8.95 miles

Elevation Gain: 4206’

CR 30 has had some work:  the road was much nicer to drive than it was last year.  No more potholes!  At least the firsts 11 miles or so.  The last 5 were still a little rough.

I parked near Cooper Creek and settled in for some dispersed camping.  There was a storm rolling in I and I got to listen to the thunder roll as I ate dinner (Pho, which was awesome) and read a little.  After a while campers set up across the way.  I went over and talked with them:  It was a father and son duo from Alabama, road-tripping because the son had just finished college.  Very cool father/son time. 

I made it an early night, sleeping until my alarm went off at 3am.  I hit snooze and was on the trail by 4am.  The route starts out following CR 30 west for about a third of a mile, then I left the road and followed the drainage/Rock Creek northwest.

The area where you leave the road is also the site of a recent avalanche:  a house was destroyed, and there are pieces of the house, roof, furniture, shoes, etc. strewn about the area for about 100 yards.

I followed Rock Creek into the upper basin, staying to the left of the creek (but hugging the creek the entire way).

Once in the basin I followed it as it curved northwest.

There was a lot more snow here than I’d expected:  I put on my microspikes and climbed into the upper basin.

Once in the upper basin there was even more snow.  Microspikes were still ok at this time, but I knew I’d want to take a different route down, as the sun was going to warm up this snow quickly and there was no telling how deep I’d be postholing.  I aimed for the ridge, and once on the ridge, followed it west to a kind of saddle

At the saddle I turned right and followed the ridge northeast to the summit of 13540.

There was a class 2 rocky section to navigate.  I just went up and over this.

Here’s a look at the summit

I summited PT 13540 at 7am

PT 13540: 

Here’s a look back down at the upper and lower basins. 

My next objective was PT 13427

Here’s the route to get there

I turned and followed the ridge southeast.  Here are some step by step pictures

The area in the above picture, circled in red, is pictured below.  I skirted this to the right

Then followed the ridge, glad I’d put on my microspikes

Eventually I came to an area where I started losing elevation.  The snow was largely avoidable by sticking to the left on the ridge.  I was a little worried about that cornice in front of me however

I lost about 475’ of elevation to the saddle

Then started up the east slope.  This area was covered in scree, and quite steep. I kept eyeing the cornice, trying to find the best way to ascend.  While I had snowshoes, I didn’t have crampons, so my microspikes would have to do if it came down to it.  Here’s the path I chose to take to the summit, looking for a stable but accessible part of the cornice to climb.

When I got to the cornice, I was able to kick in steps with just my microspikes, although, lacking in forward facing spikes, they needed a little creative help from my ice axe at times. 

Towards the top I started postholing as the cornice leveled out, and had to slide on my belly the last few feet to make it to the tundra. Once over the cornice the summit was obvious, to the north

I summited PT 13427 at 8:30am

PT 13427:

Here’s a look back on PT 13540

It was still morning, but the snow was softening up quickly.  I wanted to get back over that cornice asap. I turned and headed back towards the cornice

It was easy to find my entry/exit point, as I could still see the marks from where I army crawled a few minutes ago.

I did the same thing again, facing the mountain and using the steps I’d kicked in earlier.  It was rapidly warming up:  the tip of the cornice was now steadily reedripping water.

Here’s a look at the ridge back up towards PT 13540

I slid down the scree and followed the ridge back. 

The snow was mostly avoidable until I made it to where the ridge kind of levels out for a while.  From then on it was posthole city

I knew there was no way I wanted to re-enter those basins, so I decided to take the southeast ridge down.  It parallels the basin, and while there was snow, a lot of it was avoidable.  Where it wasn’t I was postholing.  I had snowshoes, but was too stubborn to put them on.  Here’s the overall route out

And step by step, first down the ridge

Then following Rock Creek back to CR 30

Here’s a picture looking up the ridge (in case you want to take the ridge up)

I came to the avalanche area, and it was then I realized a house had recently been destroyed (more on this in my next trip report on “C.T.” Peak). 

I made it back to the road and followed it back to my truck

I made it back to my truck at 11:15am, making this an 8.95 mile hike with 4206’ of elevation gain in 7 hours, 15 minutes.

For reference, here’s a look at my route up to PT 13540 (solid line) and down (dotted line), as seen from the west ridge of “C.T” Peak.

It was still early:  I’d initially intended to add “C.T” Peak on today as well, but didn’t want to re-enter the basin with the way the snow was warming up, so I switched my plans and was going to do that peak tomorrow.  Instead, I got out a book my daughter just finished reading and was eager for me to read as well so we could discuss it together.  I walked around Argentum, found some old structures hidden way up in the hills behind my campsite, relaxed, and sipped whiskey.  Dinner was a block of white cheddar cheese and some bacon.  I had new neighbors, so I welcomed them, and then made it an early night.  It rained.