A series of sky-cleaving peaks encircle the Ice Lake Basin. Of all the mountains along the basin’s arc, summiting V2 requires the least effort in distance and elevation gain, and is accessible for any strong trail hiker. Finish on a safe and pleasurable linear summit ridge overlooking spectacularly colorful lakes.
The hike to Ice Lake has gone viral on the world stage. Leave the crowd behind with every upward step toward Peak 13,309’, known to the climbing community as V2. The San Juan Mountaineers, founded in 1912, assigned alphanumeric designations to select unnamed peaks. “V” means the mountain is on the old 15-minute Vermilion USGS quadrangle. There are ten peaks with “V” designations in the area.
From the trailhead, elevation 9,840 feet, switchback up the generous path on an excellent surface. Flora is rich on the woodland floor beneath subalpine fir and aspen. Hop across Clear Creek on its mad rush to South Mineral Creek. At one mile, leave the trail on a short spur to see the Clear Creek cascade.
Flowers take over in a clearing and then the track enters a thick stand of mature conifer. In this forest, the Hardrock Hundred Mile Endurance Run course comes in from the left and joins our route to Island Lake and from there, over Swamp Pass. This hardcore footrace begins and ends in Silverton, linking Telluride, Ouray and Lake City with 33,992 feet of climbing over 100 miles. This year’s race is scheduled to start at 6 a.m. July 20 in Silverton.
At 2.2 miles, the secondary trail to Island Lake takes off to the right at 11,460 feet. This juncture is intermittently marked with a cairn and is easy to miss. It is located at the very beginning of Lower Ice Lake Basin.
In the west, the dramatic triumvirate that heads the Ice Lake Basin commands and holds attention throughout the remainder of the hike: Fuller Peak, Vermilion Peak and Golden Horn. Vermilion at 13,894 feet is ranked the 74th tallest in Colorado.
The track begins due north then turns northeast to contour across a hillside under a cliff band. Once past this obstruction, the thin treadway switches west. Midsummer, the flowers are truly magnificent. Standouts are orange sneezeweed, sulfur and rosy paintbrush, alpine avens, bluebell and American bistort. Bordering a rivulet are brookcress and Parry’s primrose. As you approach Island Lake, handsome Ulysses S. Grant Peak, elevation 13,767 feet, consumes the sky.
Just off the trail in the Island Lake basin is a solitary boulder. It affords a nice view of the lake and V4, Peak 13,540’. From here, V2 is less than an hour away.
The trail up and over Swamp Pass is located on the right side of a commanding outcrop. After passing through red scree, the trail splits. Stay low on the proper switchback to mitigate further erosion. The last couple hundred feet are steep and slick on resistant soil. Trekking poles are helpful. If I get sketched out on this short segment, I remind myself that Hardrock 100 runners do this by headlamp every other year, as the course alternates direction each year.
Reach Swamp Pass at 3.5 miles, 12,900 feet. Every pass opens to a new world. Way below, the town of Ophir is tucked against the Silver Mountain wall. And on high, nearby South Lookout Peak is wildly rimpled and serrated.
To reach V2, turn east on a slender social trail and pass by the Joel Zucker memorial. He was a Hardrock competitor up until his death in 1998. Etched on the plaque are the words of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “Whatever you think you can do or believe you can do, begin it. Action has magic, grace and power in it.”
The footpath tracks along the west side of ridge humps, little piles of red scree and then makes for the ridgeline. It is constricted but wide and flat enough to be comfortable. Seamed rock stacks are playful and beautiful. Astonishing views continually unfold.
The actual highpoint of V2 is hard to peg. A tall summit cairn presumably knows what it is doing, located exactly four miles into the hike. The peak falls off precipitously on either side with sheer cliffs on the north face. It’s enough to make you stand back and catch your breath.
From the summit, look out over some of Colorado’s most challenging and visually captivating mountains. Completing the Ice Lake series, Pilot Knob is the flat-topped technical peak to the right of Golden Horn. Visible on the eastern horizon are the fourteeners Wetterhorn, Uncompahgre and Handies. Swirling around, you can see Half Peak, the Grenadiers and Needle Mountains, Engineer Mountain, Rolling Mountain – it’s endless.
Lakes fill the basins below. Clear Lake, a popular four-wheel drive destination, hugs the base of the north cliffs. Island Lake beguiles directly below. Ice Lake scintillates. Fuller Lake dominates on high.
The descent from Swamp Pass is a Slip ’N Slide. Be aware that electrical storms can come early to the Ice Lakes region. But, if the weather allows, follow up the peak hike with a loop to unique Ice Lake. Additional effort is minimal.
For tips on getting from Island Lake to Ice Lake, consult: debravanwinegarden.blogspot.com