Monday, 04 December 2017 21:00

Climbing Grand Turk and Sultan Mountain in late November

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Ice Lake Basin 13ers from the Grand Turk / Sultan area Ice Lake Basin 13ers from the Grand Turk / Sultan area

When the forecast in late November calls for sunny skies and temperatures exceeding 60 degrees, there are two thoughts that immediately come to mind: "climate change is real," and "maybe I should go climb a mountain!" Both Grand Turk and Sultan Mountain have been on my radar for many years, ever since I saw them for the first time from Ice Lake Basin in 2013. With the abnormally hot weather we have had in Southwest Colorado this autumn, I figured a quick 45-minute drive to the trailhead at Little Molas Lake would be a great way to spend a Sunday morning after a week of induldging on Thanksgiving leftovers. I also decided to make a stop at Molas Lake to see if I could get a decent photograph of sunrise from there. This turned out to be a great decision, as the clouds were fantastic. The lake was covered in very thin ice, making for a very interesting reflection!

Molas Lake sunrise

I decided to more or less bushwhack up into the basin between "East Turkshead Peak" and "West Turkshead Peak" from Little Molas Lake. My full GPS file and route are available on Gaia GPS, which is an amazing program! I highly recommend it to anyone with a smart-phone. It is better than a stand-along GPS unit (let's admit it, you all carry cell phones) and is usable in airplane mode. Amazing stuff.

For this hike and climb, I decided to bring my full compliment of prime lenses and my telephoto lens. I have to admit, my camera gear is so much more manageable now that I am shooting with a Sony mirrorless system. I love it. Camera and lenses used:

As I hiked up into the basin, the views just got better and better over time and did not let up. I was quite happy to have chosen this route. Snowdon Peak rose above Little Molas Lake behind me in a grand display of early winter.

Little Molas Lake and Snowdon Peak

East Turkshead Peak, which is seen from Molas Lake, marked the right half of my passageway.

East Turkshead Peak

Finally, the La Plata Mountains and Engineer Mountain came into view as well.

The La Plata Mountains and Engineer

The Twilights were looking pretty amazing too from this area.

Twilight Peak from Sultan Trail

Snowdon demanded my gaze on a frequent basis.


This lone dead tree caught my interest so I framed it with some mountains.

Sunscreen tree

I never get tired of looking at the rugged Needles of the San Juans.

San Juan Mountains sunrise

My telephoto lens allowed me to get nice close-up shots of the La Platas too.

La Plata Mountains

And Engineer Mountain...

Engineer Mountain

Below is a view of the route I took up into the basin. Pretty much straight ahead between the two rugged peaks.

The route up Grand Turk

A low blanket of clouds pretty much stayed in place all day, making for some interesting lighting conditions.

San Juan Mountains

The patterns in the snow and rock on the Twilights was mesmerizing.


And of course, the Grenadiers, how could I forget about them? They almost made me trip over a rock so many times. I can't stop looking at them. 

The Grenadiers

The route was pretty straight-forward, with a small trail going all the way up into the saddle. I decided to take my first rest and eat some snacks and enjoy the view south across towards the Twilights and the Needles, including Pigeon Peak and all her friends.

Rest stop below Grand Turk

From here I had to make a decision. I could take the direct route and bypass UN 12,899 (seen left below), or go over it. I decided to go up and over it.

Spencer Peak

East Turkshead Peak dominated my view for much of my ascent of UN 12,899.

East Turkshead Peak

From this slopes of UN 12,899, I could pretty much make out every major peak in the Weminuche Wilderness Area.

The San Juans

But then, as if I could not be any happier with the view, the line of sight to the west opened up, revealing all of the Ice Lake Basin 13ers, including Vermillion, Golden Horn, Pilot Knob, and U.S. Grant. What a great view from UN 12,899!

Ice Lake Basin 13ers from UN 12,899

I could also see the remainder of my route for the day and how much further I had to go to reach Sultan. It was expansive! The plan was to hit Grand Turk and then head over the Sultan (left), but I also noticed Spencer Peak (right) was another possible target. Why not?

Grand Turk and Sultan come into view

One last shot of the Needles from 12,899 was in order before heading over to Spencer Peak. I laid down on my stomach to get this one.

Needles of the San Juans from UN 12,899

All those Ice Lake 13ers were looking mighty fine too...

Ice Lake 13ers

It appeared that most people bypassed Spencer Peak to get to Grand Turk, based on the trail I could make out on the west slope. 

Spencer Peak from UN 12,899

More awesome views of Pigeon and friends...

More East Turkshead

I found some interesting vantage points along the way over to Spencer which made for fun shooting of my shadow.

Shadows of myself

Sultan still dominated the horizon.

Grand Turk

More shadow play.

Shadows and 13ers

I reached the summit of Spencer Peak in no time and enjoyed the views of Engineer from there.

Spencer Peak summit

Looking down at Grand Turk from Spencer revealed another trail that bypassed Grand Turk altogether. I decided to head down and then go up Grand Turk (and I hit all of her sub-summits too).

Looking at Grand Turk from Spencer Peak

Perhaps my favorite photo from the hike, I really liked the way the snow lit up in the early morning sun, sparkling in interesting patterns, all leading up to a view of Pigeon Peak and the Grenadiers.

The Needles of the San Juans from Spencer Peak slopes

Reaching the saddle between Spencer and Grand Turk made for a fantastic view back at Spencer, which looked quite large from this vantage.

Spencer Peak

I reached the summit of Grand Turk pretty quickly and gazed over at Sultan, which still looked like it was a long ways away!

Sultan from Grand Turk

There was a nice view of the town of Silverton from Grand Turk, which had many notable 13ers and 14ers in view above it, including Half Peak, Jones & Niagra, Handies, Whitecross, and even the tip of Uncompahgre poking out.

Silverton and the San Juan Mountains

From the eastern-most summit of Grand Turk, looking back across the various sub-summits of Grand Turk and the Ice Lake Basin 13ers made for an impressive vantage and composition.

Grand Turk summit

Grenadiers! :-)

Grenadier Mountains from Grand Turk

It's just a sea of peaks up here.

Grand Turk

Off to Sultan. What a steep slog. Not bad though. She has an impressive stature.

The road to Sultan

On the way up Sultan, I took many breaks to take shots of the surrounding peak, including Engineer Mountain.

Engineer Mountain

And this tight zoom of Vermillion, Golden Horn, and Pilot Knob...

Vermillion, Golden Horn, and Pilot Knob

I was alone most of the day, but about half way up Sultan, I noticed some climbers cresting the ridge between UN 12,899 and Spencer. I enjoyed photographing them with the telephoto lens from my vantage points.

Climbers on Spencer

Here they are ascending Spencer.

Climbers on Spencer Peak

And no doubt, enjoying the reward of the summit on Spencer.

Climbers summit Spencer Peak

Another favorite shot from this climb. A tight zoom on Vermillion, Golden Horn, Pilot Knob, and U.S. Grant. I've done 2/4 of those so far.

Vermillion, Golden Horn, Pilot Knob, U.S. Grant

A tight zoom of the Grenadiers was in order too. 

The Grenadiers from Sultan

Pilot Knob and the top of Wilson Peak.

Pilot Knob and Wilson Peak

How about a tight zoom on Silverton?

The town of Silverton

Or Pigeon Peak in black and white? 

Pigeon Peak black and white

Over and above Silverton...

Silverton and the San Juan Mountains

And of course the obligatory self-timer on top of Sultan.

Matt Payne on top of Sultan

After spending a few minutes on top, I decided to head down so I could catch the Broncos game (what a disgrace they are this season). On the way down, I caught a nice shot of Pigeon framed by Spencer Peak and Grand Turk.

Pigeon Peak framed by Spencer and Grand Turk

I made really great time down and stopped only a few more times to take photos. I loved the striations in the rock face of East Turkshead Peak which led into the Grenadiers.

Parting view of East Turkshead Peak and the Grenadiers

And that was it! A lovely local hike and climb of two very dominant 13ers above Silverton, with the addition of the easy UN 12,899 and Spencer Peak. I hope you enjoyed this one? As always, feel free to reach out if you have any questions! Climb on!

Additional Info

  • Trip Date: November 26, 2017
  • Yosemite Decimal Class: 2.0
Read 903 times Last modified on Monday, 04 December 2017 23:17

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