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!
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:
- Sony A7RII body (amazingly light and incredible image quality)
- Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 (amazingly light, sharp, and portable lens)
- Sony Zeiss FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA (amazingly light, sharp, and portable lens)
- Sony FE 70-300 f/5.6-6.3 telephoto (pretty light for the focal length, decently sharp)
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.
East Turkshead Peak, which is seen from Molas Lake, marked the right half of my passageway.
Finally, the La Plata Mountains and Engineer Mountain came into view as well.
The Twilights were looking pretty amazing too from this area.
Snowdon demanded my gaze on a frequent basis.
This lone dead tree caught my interest so I framed it with some mountains.
I never get tired of looking at the rugged Needles of the San Juans.
My telephoto lens allowed me to get nice close-up shots of the La Platas too.
And Engineer Mountain...
Below is a view of the route I took up into the basin. Pretty much straight ahead between the two rugged peaks.
A low blanket of clouds pretty much stayed in place all day, making for some interesting lighting conditions.
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 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.
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.
East Turkshead Peak dominated my view for much of my ascent of UN 12,899.
From this slopes of UN 12,899, I could pretty much make out every major peak in the Weminuche Wilderness Area.
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!
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?
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.
All those Ice Lake 13ers were looking mighty fine too...
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.
More awesome views of Pigeon and friends...
I found some interesting vantage points along the way over to Spencer which made for fun shooting of my shadow.
Sultan still dominated the horizon.
More shadow play.
I reached the summit of Spencer Peak in no time and enjoyed the views of Engineer from there.
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).
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.
Reaching the saddle between Spencer and Grand Turk made for a fantastic view back at Spencer, which looked quite large from this vantage.
I reached the summit of Grand Turk pretty quickly and gazed over at Sultan, which still looked like it was a long ways away!
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.
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.
It's just a sea of peaks up here.
Off to Sultan. What a steep slog. Not bad though. She has an impressive stature.
On the way up Sultan, I took many breaks to take shots of the surrounding peak, including Engineer Mountain.
And this tight zoom of 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.
Here they are ascending Spencer.
And no doubt, enjoying the reward of the summit on Spencer.
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.
A tight zoom of the Grenadiers was in order too.
Pilot Knob and the top of Wilson Peak.
How about a tight zoom on Silverton?
Or Pigeon Peak in black and white?
Over and above Silverton...
And of course the obligatory self-timer 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.
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.
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!