Peak(s):  PT 13,510 B - 13,510 feet
Telluride Pk - 13,509 feet
Date Posted:  07/10/2021
Date Climbed:   07/04/2021
Author:  Kiefer
Additional Members:   ReginaThomas
 Black Bear to Imogene Pass   

Ptarmigan Lake

Regina starting down the lower trail

“So yeah, whenever you get a hold of any peppers that are insanely hot, chances are, it’s been a wet season. The capsaicin is basically plant, chemical warfare. It’s a fungicide. When it’s been a wet growing season, gardens have an explosion of molds and fungus. Pepper plants will increase capsaicin production to protect themselves!”

“And if it’s been dry? What do they do then? Regina asked wryly.

“Well, then the plants don’t need to expend as much energy to produce excess capsaicin. The volume of molds and such just isn’t there. So your jalapenos won’t be as hot. Oh, and bell peppers are related to their ‘Chuck Norris’ cousins too! They just lack the genes to make capsaicin, but same family! Are we stopping in Ouray for more coffee?” I ask over Regina’s laughing.

“More coffee? Haven’t you had enough already? I haven’t seen you this chipper and awake at this hour in a long time.” She continues laughing.

“Sorry.” I smile sheepishly. But I do love that ‘Stuff you should Know’ podcast. You seemed to like the episode on earwax.”

“Let’s keep driving to Black Bear. I love Ouray and all, but I want out of here before it turns into a royal shit-show.”

It was the 4th of July. Considering the town was already inundated with tourists, the ensuing parade and drunk revelers would make this little mountain chalet intolerable. I nursed my coffee for the remining drive south on 550 and enjoyed the bitter taste. I took stock of a few mines I spied in the forest to come back later and investigate. Good thing we only live 20-30 minutes away.

Regina leaving 13,510 en route for Telluride Peak

We crested the top of Red Mountain Pass and a few seconds later, turned onto Black Bear Pass Road. The road is relatively easy on the San Juan side. It’s only when you crest the top and pass into San Miguel County (Telluride) is when things get serious. But of course, we weren’t planning on going that far today.

I pulled the Jeep over into a small pull-off downhill of the unmarked switchback we needed. I thought about just driving the extra few minutes and parking at the switchback, but the five-minute walk up the road would prime our legs. Plus, the views were just too good to be ignored.

In short, the unmarked trail leading away from the road up and across the tundra would net us about 2.1 miles of easy hiking to the summit of 13,510’. As said, it’s all easy tundra hiking on a primitive trail with the expected talus fields the closer to the summit you get. The trail is marked on LoJ topos but NOT on Google Maps or Gaia. It was clear that this trail didn’t see much use. I built a few small cairns along it to hopefully minimize future impact on the tundra.

I however, found myself wandering all over the ‘Jackson Pollack’ basin (made so because of all the wildflowers), looking for mines (found some) and taking pictures of Trico Peak. Regina was all business though, staying to the trail and keeping to the task at hand, gaining the summit of 13,510.

From the car, it took us a little over two hours to reach the summit. The upper basin would be a dicey place to be in winter. It was a huge terrain trap. But in the summer, it would serve as a nice stand-in for the into to, “The Sound of Music.’

Caption Here

We plopped down onto the belvedere of 13,510’ and enjoyed the views. We could even see the town of Telluride out to the west. I thought it was cool to finally be here considering I look at this peak all the time from town. The Jeep noise from Black Bear Pass however, I could have done without. Meh, small price to pay for being alone on the 4th. I know it’s sacrosanct in most circles to leave anything on a summit let alone, in the mountains that isn’t natural, but I left a string of prayer flags on the summit for my fallen friends.

We packed and Regina made her way down the north shoulder and onto the easy traverse over to Telluride Peak. So far, this was a nice change to the typical, ‘get up & get down’ fast kind of trekking I’m use to. It’s nice to slow down and enjoy the moment for a change. I mean, isn’t that why we do what we do (rhetorical)?

The ridge from 13,510’ to Telluride Peak is only class-2 and roughly .6 miles in length. We scooted across it quickly and smoothly. This is when we decided to add on T7. It was still in the cards, but the weather would decide that. The clouds were building but nothing was really consolidating yet. Darkening clouds of which, some definitely were, are a solid sign of precipitation. The darkening or blackening on the underside of clouds is due to the suspended water vapor condensing into large water molecules. When this happens, less light is reflected back. So the cloud appears darker and eventually, the water droplets will reach a size unsupportable by the inter-cloud winds and start to rain (or varga). When I’m in the high-country, this is what I look for in deciding to push on. We decided to make that decision once we reached Imogene Pass.

Even though Telluride Peak is only soft-ranked (289’), I thought the summit was more exciting and interesting than 13,510’. It was a bit more convoluted with rock more similar to Trico Peak (think granite flakes) or what I like to call, ‘Tortoise Shell.’

The views over to Imogene Pass and down into the basin were stellar. As we were about to leave, some skiers made a final push climbing a north-facing gully to a highpoint on the western ridge. We waved and yelled and took our leave. On the way over to Imogene Pass, we stopped along the ridge and watched them ski down. That snow had to have been absolute mush. But wow! The dog that was with them gave zero fu*cks and bee-lined it straight down trying to catch up with its owner. It was truly impressive! The ridge line from Telluride Peak to Imogene Pass came in at around .6 mile.

Trico Peak

Above Imogene Pass is a small building called, Fort Peabody. It was restored by the San Miguel Historical Society back in 2010. Named after one of Colorado’s earlier Governors, it stands as a reminder between the constant struggle between profits of the mine owners, in this case, The Camp Bird Mine which was located on both sides of the pass and the everyday conditions miners were forced to endure*.

At Imogene Pass, we decided to forgo T7. The clouds were just too dark for my comfort. We found a good patch of grass to sit on and enjoyed a beer. Even though I consider the mountains my estivated home, sitting among the shivoo of Jeepers, dirt-bikers, a few mountain bikers and even a couple dogs, the whole noisy affair wasn’t to our liking. Plus, with having a decent hike a head of us, and I wanting to snoop out Ptarmigan Lake and the miners shack there, we probably should get going anyway.

The miners shack was incredible. The structure was large with multiple rooms. A group of four people followed us down off Imogene Pass but they were there to fly-fish. I have no idea if the lake has fish in it or not.

Machinery and splintered power lines littered the grounds around the lake and for a decent chunk of our traverse back to Black Bear. We left Ptarmigan Lake (12,980’) and followed a scant trail south crossing a few basins, meadows and even dodged some cliffs. Having already done the three peaks that incorporate the Red Mountain Massif and Brown Mountain to the east, I’ve always wondered what this side of 550 looked like.

We arrived back at the Jeep in Mineral Basin. Regina and I both agreed that the traverse was absolutely fantastic! It was the highlight of the day, more so than summiting two new peaks. And the fact that the hills were sketched out in hues of: yellow, red and violet didn’t hurt!

Telluride Peak

Inside the cabin

Summit of 13,510'

Inside the old cabin at Ptarmigan Lake

Leaving Imogene Pass

7.52 miles


Avg. speed: 2.0 mph

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
Loved it…
07/10/2021 19:55
This was such a great day!!

Glad to see it
07/10/2021 21:20
Thank you for posting the Trip Report, Kiefer. It is always helpful to the Colorado mountaineering community.

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