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I had returned to Silverton after my outing through Ice Lake Basin earlier in the day, and stopped by the BLM/USFS, Public Lands Visitor Center to see if I could get some information on hiking to Kendall Mtn rising up on the SE side of town. The trouble I'd found earlier was in crossing the Animas River, the topo map I had being somewhat out of date and showing a crossing where there was none. County Rd 33, starting where 14th street goes across the river was the ticket, but unfortunately I found it a bit too rough for the van and backed down after only a mile. This one would be better saved when I have access to a high clearance vehicle. While I had been at the visitor center I'd asked about some other routes as a backup, in particular the Boulder Gulch route up to Storm Peak, starting on the north side of town. The elderly gentleman gave me some info on finding the TH, but the better beta came from a local woman with two small children who happened into the office around the same time. Overhearing my line of inquiry, she stepped in to offer what she thought was a better option - a loop ascending Hematite Gulch a few miles further east, then descending Boulder Gulch. This sounded like a much better plan, and after failing on my attempt to drive up Kendall, I went with this. I needed to do some additional research online to figure out how to tie Tower, East Storm and Storm together in a scramble I could manage without getting in over my head. I found a trip report on LoJ that described just such a route (but a different starting TH), although at the end it comments, "I would recommend doing Storm and E Storm separately ... they do not combine well." The report describes some nasty class 4 downclimbing on E Storm's South Ridge that I didn't find at all, which is a little odd since our GPX tracks are very similar in this section. Overall I found they made a nice combination, albeit not an easy one.
I left my van along County Road 2 near the base of boulder Gulch and rode my mountain bike a couple of miles east out of town to the abandoned site of Howardsville. Like many of the hiking routes in the area, the trailhead for Hematite Gulch is unsigned and hard to spot unless you know where to look. I parked the bike just before the road crosses the Animas River, locking it to a small utility installation alongside the road where I had noted an old Jeep track heading away. It was not long after 7a when I set off on foot along this somewhat overgrown road, soon finding the well-used hiking trail. A small group of older hikers were found after ascending the trail for half an hour, the only folks I'd see until I returned to the road later in the afternoon. The trail is easy to follow through aspen groves and open, meadowy slopes as it switchbacks steeply up the drainage, gaining 2,300ft in less than two miles.
Before reaching Hematite Lake, I turned left off the trail and began ascending to Macomber's SE Ridge, finding a use trail that made things easier. Though the north side of the ridge is fraught with steep cliffs, the SE Ridge itself is a delightfully grassy, class 1 slope with fine views overlooking Kendall Mtn and the Animas River drainage to the south. I spent about 40min on the ridge, reaching Macomber Peak by 9:20a. A small register had been left less than a week earlier and had already been signed by two additional visitors in the meantime - surprisingly popular. When I had asked the woman at the visitor center about the Macomber-Tower traverse (she had been up Hematite Gulch on numerous occasions) she had shrugged and said, "I don't know, I've never been to Macomber." The topo shows it as a potentially narrow, tricky ridge but it proved anything but. Though somewhat steep on the east side, the west side is far gentler, grassy and with firm talus footing underneath. It took only 30min to cover the 3/4mi distance. An identical register with the same entries and dates was found here as well. The summit sits at the apex between the South Fork Animas River drainage and Hematite Gulch, offering superb views looking down into both. A small communications tower is found just below the summit to the west, with Boulder Gulch and East Storm Peak behind it.
Turning northwest, I continued the easy walking with a grassy descent down the NW Ridge to a saddle at the far north end of Boulder Gulch. The Boulder Gulch Trail goes over this saddle, eventually connecting with the trail I'd taken at the end of my hike two days earlier. East Storm and Storm can both be seen to good advantage from this saddle, the former appearing to offer no great difficulties from the connecting ridgeline. I crossed the trail to continue west and southwest along the ridge, most of it continuing with easy travel. There is a sharp gendarme on the ridge as one approaches East Storm and the grass gives way to more drab talus and rock. This feature is easily bypassed on grassy slopes found on the east side, leading to the final headwall to East Storm. There is some steep and loose class 3 near the top, some footing provided by the vegetation clinging stubbornly to slope.
I made it to the top of East Storm shortly after 11a. I found Mike Garratt's 3rd register, though this one was missing one of the intervening visitor's entry. Up to this point, the route had been almost a cakewalk. I say "almost" because I had gained almost 5,000ft by this time which would be difficult to classify as such. But really, there were no technical issues at all save for the short stretch of class 3 below the summit. Things would not go so easy henceforth. I walked over to the WSW Ridge connecting to Storm, downclimbing a short distance to ascertain it was the chossy, scary stuff I had expected. Turning to the South Ridge, I began traversing along it, keeping an eye out for an escape route off my right side to the west. At the low point along a saddle I stared down for several minutes to assess the steep scree chutes found there, eventually concluding it would not be wise to head down since I couldn't see an exit through the lower part where there appeared to be cliffs. I continued along the South Ridge, expecting some downclimbing difficulties as described in the TR, but found nothing by class 2-3 scrambling. Eventually I found a grassy slope off the west side as hoped, using it to drop into the basin well above the lake found at the bottom at 11,900ft. I scrambled across talus and scree before climbing up more grassy slopes to the two small, unnamed lakes tucked below Storm's SE Face. This face looked to have much tedious and disagreeable scree lining the bottom half of the slope below cliffs. Others have climbed up through this stuff, but I found it off-putting. Instead, I turned left and followed along the eastern edges of the two lakes to then make a traversing climb up a grassy slope to reach a saddle between Storm Peak and Pt. 13,254ft to the south, the saddle separating Hancock and Boulder Gulches. Some class 2-3 scrambling led around to Storm's SW Ridge. More easy hiking up grass slopes leads to the final 1/6mi to the summit. The grass gives way to boulder, rock and class 3 scrambling for the remaining distance. I topped out about 1:10p, having taken almost exactly two hours on the traverse from East Storm Peak, the same time reported by the others in the TR I'd read. No register, but nice views of Boulder Gulch to the SE and others looking north and west.
After returning to easier ground along the SW Ridge I changed plans on the fly, deciding to descend SW down what looked like continuing easy slopes rather than the more circuitous route back into Boulder Gulch. It wouldn't save any time but it gave me the opportunity to make a bigger loop of the day and cover more new ground. There are no trails, use or otherwise, but the SW Slopes of Storm between Illinois and Hancock Gulches showed no real difficulties with the added bonus that I eventually picked up County Road 70 at around 11,300ft after descending about 45min. Without knowing this was a public road, I was a little hesitant when I came across a landowner motoring his way up on an OHV not far from the bottom. He stopped and shut off his engine, and the two of us enjoyed a nice chat for about 10min. He seemed happy to have someone to talk to, surprised to learn where I'd come down from. I reached the junction with County Road 110 just after our parting, with another hour's walking to get back to Silverton and the van at the base of Boulder Gulch. I tried hitch-hiking to speed up these last three miles, but alas there weren't many vehicles coming by and the ones that did where either seated to capacity or simply drove on by.
I got back to the van around 3:40p and picked up the bike a few minutes later up the road where I'd left it. Once again I drove back to Silverton for dinner, this time at the Mexican restaurant next to the BBQ place I'd frequented earlier in the week. July was coming to a close and it was time for me to start thinking about heading back to California. Luckily, there were plenty of hiking options available on the long drive back to help break up the journey...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Tower Mountain - Storm Peak
This page last updated: Tue Oct 20 07:55:42 2020
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