Peak(s):  Pilot Knob A  -  13,738 feet
Golden Horn  -  13,780 feet
Vermilion Pk  -  13,894 feet
Fuller Pk  -  13,761 feet
Date Posted:  09/01/2021
Date Climbed:   08/22/2021
Author:  pgres
 Choss and Pretty Rocks   

Choss and Pretty Rocks

Presented By:
Team "ET^2" (Estrogen Testosterone Squared): This was the first time my partner and I had been on a trip where the majority where not female, so we felt it was necessary to commemorate the moment appropriately. The alternative name was "Two Sticks and a Bush". We tried something with "Two Toadstools" as well, but alas...

You know those mountains you see in Ice Lake Basin - this is a way to connect them all... a very contrived, chossy, type 2.5 "fun" kind-of ridge traverse.

Route Description: From Island Lake, Pilot Knob via the West Gully, traverse under the cliff band on the west side to the connecting ridge w/ Golden Horn, ridge walk (w/ gratuitous scrambling in the middle) to Golden Horn and then summit via the Southwest Ridge, Vermillion Peak via a traverse under the cliff bands to the saddle connecting Fuller and Vermillion, Then Vermillion and Fuller each by their standard routes.

Route Information:
Mileage: 15.6 Miles
Elevation: 7127'
Class: 4

Exposure: High
Rockfall: High
Route-Finding: High
Commitment: High


Into the Basin We Go!
South Lookout Peak - Coming Back for This One!
Panorama... Obviously
Enter Choss
More Choss - Truly Horrific w/ Backpacking Packs
Sunset From Island Lake

Pilot Knob: Approach

Pilot Knob is without a doubt the most difficult and uniquely beautiful of the 4 peaks we climbed in the basin. We took the Class 3 Gully on the West side, though there is supposedly a Class 4 route on the East side of the ridge that gains one of two yellow gullies closer to the prominent middle bump in the ridge. We had a long day ahead of us and decided it would be smarter to keep things easier rather than harder.

Alpen Glow on the Ridge to Come - Everything the Light Touched, we Climbed (Right-to-Left: Pilot Knob, Golden Horn, Vermillion, and Fuller)
Golden Hour Coming to an End

We followed the right side of the creek that feeds Ice Lake until we found a good place to cross higher up in the basin. From there, we contoured up through the basin until arriving at a bulge that basically took us up to the base of the scree field below the ridge. Initially, we looked at the gullies and tried to gain the ridge further to the right because the rock quality looked better (scrambling as opposed to scree surfing). When we topped out on the ridge, we realized there was no way to move to the left on the ridge to access the North side of Pilot Knob's summit. We were forced to descend and then traversed across the slope (sticking to solid rock) into the primary dirt gully. The solid line is our actual route (less the ridge top out and backtrack) whereas the dotted line is likely the most efficient way to gain the ridge. That being said, we found some interesting old mining equipment and and old mining shaft with our indirect route.

Gaining the Ridge
Fun w/ Mining Equipment
Runaway Mine Cart!
Giant Crystal Thingy

Pilot Knob: The Gully

Once you gain the top of the ridge, traverse bellow the steeper rock to arrive below the ledge in the distance - there's a grey cairn on the grey rock, which becomes more obvious as you approach it. From here, you'll turn left and follow a faint path through the scree that traverses the west side of the cliff band. You'll continue to traverse until you find the first gully that looks even remotely climbable (Class 3 vs. 5.something-ridiculous). Turn left up the gully to gain the ridge. There's plenty of loose rock here though, so make sure your mindful of any partners below you!

After Gaining the Ridge Under the North Side of the Summit - Traverse under the Steeper Terrain on the Left
Following the "Trail" to the Gully
The Wilson Group in the Distance
Pretty Colors
Start of the Gully
Middle of the Gully
Near the Top of the Gully
Harrison Exiting the Gully (White Helmet)

Pilot Knob: The Ridge

The ridge is fairly straightforward and is one of the few were staying ridge proper is actually the easiest path to the summit. You'll be looking up towards the top of a tower that looks very airy and doesn't look like it goes, but it does. I actually got off route here and tried traversing around the right side of this high point. This very quickly put me in 5th class terrain that I had to backtrack from. Upon further investigation, we saw yet another grey cairn on grey rock that we had missed because it was hidden in shadow. We subsequently built a bigger cairn so it's better marked. You'll have an airy down-climb on the back side of the ridge high point. From there, you'll encounter a tower. We traversed around the left (West) side of the tower by following an obvious ledge demarking the rock. From there, approach the final summit block. The weakness in the rock band is hidden until you're closer, but you'll see a short gully that permits access to the summit block on the left side of the rock band. Enjoy the summit! This was definitely our favorite of the 4 peaks.

Top of the Gully
Going Up and Over the Airy Section (Heading Towards the Summit)
Following the Ledge Around the West Side of the Tower
Looking North Towards Ulysses From Pilot Knob Summit
Looking West Towards the Wilson Group form Pilot Knob Summit
Looking South from Pilot Knob Summit
Retracing Our Steps West of the Tower
Harrison on top of the Airy Section
Transition form the Airy Section
Approximate Route Back Down to the Gully

Pilot Knob: The Traverse Around the West Side

The traverse around the west side of Pilot Knob's cliff band was the worst kind of terrain - extremely loose, shift, steep, and exposed. Think terrain that would normally be "screeable", but with exposure and basketball sized boulders mixed in with scree and dirt. We showered the mountain side below us with rocks every step we took. The traverse can be split into two sections, separated by a rock rib of sorts. We made a mistake on the first section and tried to traverse high, close to the base of the cliff band. In hindsight, our route would have been easier had we descended 50-100 feet to a lower-angle section of he hillside for the first section. If you go low and stay low, you'll be in a good spot for the next section, which necessitates going low to go underneath a cliff band. The second section went much easier. As the terrain allows, begin making your way up and towards the left to gain the ridgeline between Pilot Knob and Golden Horn (see photo below of the section right before gaining the ridge). Aim for the path of least resistance and you'll end up on a pile of grey rock below the south end of the cliff that makes up Pilot Knob's summit ridge. From here, cross over the ridge and descend down the East Side on grey choss and dinner plates before making your way to the right along the ridge. Once past the grey rock, the terrain eases and the majority of your difficulties are over! Staying on the "ridge" was extremely contrived and likely took us more time than had we descended back into Ice Lake Basin and gained the saddle for Golden Horn via the standard route.

Almost Done with the Traverse
On the Ridge After Pilot Knob - Descend to the Left on the Grey Choss to Get to the Nicer Red Dirt Section + Remaining Route

Golden Horn: Traverse and South West Ridge Route

Once you're on the red rock, the traverse is fairly straightforward less a mound right before you reach Golden Horn. You can stay down and to the right of this section or climb directly up and over. I found directly up and over to be a lot of fun - lots of interesting pillars and towers. Aim for a notch in the Southwest Ridge of Golden Horn (should NOT exceed Class 2) and make your way onto the standard ascent route. Head in a general upwards direction to the summit! Routed finding is required, but the route should never exceed Class 3. The West summit is the proper summit, though the East summit is a more entertaining scrambling objective. After Golden Horn, descend down to the ridge between Golden Horn and Vermillion via the same route you took up.

Golden Horn Summit Above Ice Lake Basin
Looking Back at Pilot Knob
Another Summit Photo

Traverse to Vermillion and Vermillion Summit

We thought about making an attempt on Vermillion's NE Ridge to access the summit, but we're pretty worn out from the ordeal that was the West-side traverse around the summit ridge of Pilot Knob. From what we've read, it is possible to take the NE Ridge and it allegedly goes at Class 3 with careful route finding through some of the lesser cliff bands until you hit the final cliff band that makes up the top summit block. From here, beta says to traverse the ledge below this cliff over to the obvious couloir that splits the face and then ascend the couloir to the notch to meet up with the standard route. This all looked possible, but we decided to traverse across a ledge system that transitions into a faint use trail and meets up with the trail that zig-zags it's way up to the saddle between Vermillion and Fuller (see photo below)

The trial to the summit of Vermillion is well-defined and is Class 1/2 until you hit the obvious notch below the summit. From here, there's a short, easy Class 3 scramble to gain the notch and then the summit.


Looking North Towards Golden Horn and Pilot Knob

Looking East Towards Fuller - Chicago Basin and the Grenadiers are Visible in the Distance+

Traverse to Fuller and Fuller Summit:

Retrace your steps down the saddle between Fuller and Vermillion and then hike the nice Class 1 trail to Fuller's summit if you're so inclined! It's not a fun summit, but it definitely rounds out the ridgeline above Ice Lake Basin and has beautiful views of all everything you just hiked!


From the summit of fuller, descend back to the saddle and follow the zig-zagging use trail to the basin below - from there, follow the cairns, which will take you to a junction with Fuller Lake. From Fuller Lake, the obvious Ice Lake Basin trail network resumes - time to head back to the car for post-hike dranks.

One Last View of Island Lake
Descending from the Basin
Sunset Lighting in the Aspens

In summary, a very chossy, but incredibly beautiful traverse!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
seeking timberline
09/01/2021 12:12
And impressive. I love these seemingly crazy ridge traverses.

09/01/2021 13:56
Thank you for this beautiful report. I was curious to know what approach you used to start this hike, did you come from Hope Lake?. I believe this area is closed until further notice, right? Let me know as I am planning on going to Hope Lake in October and was wondering how the road to the lake is. Thank you.

Closure Map
09/01/2021 14:07
@mtngoatwithstyle - Not familiar with Hope Lake or it's approach, but here's the USFS link to the closure map
@seeking timberline - Thanks! It's an obsession lol

09/01/2021 21:13
The road to Lake Hope is open and accessible by almost any two wheel drive car with regular ( but not low) clearance although it is a slow drive due to some rough spots

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