Colorado 13er: Golden Horn

Back in July, my friend asked me, mid-concert in the park, drinks in hand, if I would like to climb Golden Horn that weekend. I’m never one to turn down mountain adventure so I agreed, although I was slightly concerned about how slow I might be headed up the mountain.

After what felt like an early start (but not to shabby since we live close enough to wake up in our own beds), we found ourselves at the trail head cruising rapidly up towards Upper Ice Lake. Above the lake, I finally got to solve the approach question from Fuller Lake towards the ring of 13ers above the basin (I had a storm come in when I first attempted Vermilion from Ice Lakes).

I’d climbed Fuller Peak (on the left) and Vermilion (center) in 2015 and was very excited to head up Golden Horn (on the right)!

I’d almost forgotten how much I actually enjoy(?) relish(?) feel alive(?) when making my way up loose San Juan rock. The weather was perfect as we worked our way up the gully to the Vermilion-Golden Horn saddle.

Once we were on the summit, we were treated to a fantastic view of the Wilsons:

A gorgeous view of upper Ice Lake and all of the San Juans:

As we headed down, the sky got really moody and we felt an urgency as we headed down the mountain. The rain started just as we started descending the headwall into the lower basin.

I’m always so glad to hike with Nadia because she is totally willing to gush about these mountains with me the whole time.

I’ve seen Golden Horn now from several angles and every time, I think of this fantastic day and smile.

Ice Lakes Basin

After parting ways with the FSJ guys, I headed down South Mineral Creek road headed for the Ice Lakes trailhead. I was pleased to discover that by following the Clear Lake road I was able to cut off some elevation gain and Sprocket and I promptly hit the trail. The trail to the lakes doesn’t mess around: it climbs about 2,000′ to the upper basin in right about three miles.

When I emerged into the lower basin, my jaw dropped. This basin was one of the most gorgeous places that I’d ever visited. Since the goal for the next day was to climb Vermilion Peak, San Juan County’s high point, I continued on to the upper basin to remove as much elevation gain as possible for the next day. (I camped at Ice Lake this time and will probably continue all the way up to Fuller Lake next time.)

The upper basin was more alpine and austere than the lower basin but in some ways I loved it all the more. It was rather chilly up in the 12,000′ basin so I bundled up and enjoyed reading in the last of the sun’s rays.

The next morning, we didn’t rush out of the tent because we’d cut our approach distance by camping in the basin. This was a mistake, while it was brilliantly sunny at 7:30, by 8:15 fluffy clouds had started to appear in the sky. It was still super early so I headed out, climbing above Fuller Lake studying the sky the whole way. As I reached the bench above the lake, I heard the first roll of thunder. It was time to call off the hike. It wasn’t quite 9am but the weather was speaking clearly.

I hustled back to the tent, quickly shoved it in my pack, and started downhill as quickly as possible. The clouds were rolling in over the mountains and things were about to get realllllyyy interesting. As I reached the lip of the upper basin, the hail arrived.. The descent down the headwall was nerve wracking as thunder boomed around us. Sprocket fell in at my heels and we headed down as quickly as the wet rocks allowed.

As sad as I was that my Southwest Colorado high point adventure started out this way, I’m not sad that I’ll have to come back to Ice Lakes basin soon. This was one of the most beautiful places that I’ve ever been to, thunderstorm and all.