Sun, Oct 8, 2023
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Eric was taking a rest day today, leaving me to do something a little more challenging than we'd done over the past few days. I chose to visit Pilot Knob, a class 3+ summit with some challenging route-finding. Golden Horn is an adjacent summit to the southeast of Pilot Knob, an easier effort though its summit is higher than Pilot Knob. My starting point would be from the west at the Hope Lake TH. The two summits together would require about 3,500ft of gain, but less than five miles total.
Mine was the only vehicle at the TH when I started out at 8a. There would be more than a dozen by the time I returned in the afternoon. I followed the good trail for less than half a mile until it reached Poverty Gulch. Before the trail crosses the creek, I found a use trail heading up the gulch which turned out to be pretty sweet. I was able to follow the trail for about a mile until I was above 12,000ft. The area has a great deal of talus and morainal material, but there are grass slopes that allow one to get to nearly 12,600ft before the talus cannot be avoided. The talus is bit tedious, but I found my way to the saddle between Pilot Knob and Golden Horn by 9:50a. I had to follow the ridgeline towards Pilot Knob, careful to avoid lingering snow on the NE faces. After about 10min, it was time to start traversing on the west side of the ridge where upward progress along the ridge is abruptly stopped. I had only a vague idea of what I was doing past this point. I knew I had to find my way to a class 3 chute that offers access to the summit ridge. Others have reported climbing the wrong chute and getting onto some dicey territory. I was hoping I might find a use trail around the west side, and in places there is something of one going through the talus, and I even spotted a few ducks. But for the most part, I was kinda winging it. I knew how far the summit was based on my GPSr, so I used that to guide me along the west face. I was 0.12mi from the summit when I figured I was getting close and spied a class 3 way up through the cliffs. This worked nicely until I was high enough to see that I was still quite a ways from the summit and I had no easy way to work my way along the summit ridge. Back down I went. I continued traversing much further this second time until I was nearly under the summit. I had to cross a couple of short snow fields that were a little sketchy - what I thought was the crux of the day. Crampons might have been helpful, but I'm not sure - the snow wasn't very deep and the talus underneath it moved easily. I found the correct class 3 chute and worked my way up. The initial step was class 3, then becoming easier class 2-3. Working my way up the top of the ridge, I could see the summit was now only a few hundred feet away. The rock quality was good, better than anything I found on the west side, and I enjoyed the nice scramble, airy in a few places, that eventually saw me to the summit just after 11a.
The summit has spectacular views in all direction. I was surprised how long those few inches of snow five days earlier have hung onto the north-facing slopes - it seems very little of it has melted at the higher elevations, while the south sides are dry now. Pilot Knob's NW Ridge stretches out to Yellow Mtn, while the NE Ridge connects to the higher Grant Peak. Vermillion Peak rises as the highest summit in the area a mile to the southeast. It was a very clear morning with little wind, making for a very fine summit stay.
I was doing pretty good, so decided to add Golden Horn as a bonus. I returned back along the summit ridge, down the class 3 chute, then the tedious traverse back along the west side of Pilot Knob. Once back at the saddle with Golden Horn, I continued on the connecting ridgeline, eventually traversing onto the west side of Golden Horn to get to the SW Ridge where I knew the class 2 route could be found. Coming from Pilot Knob, Golden Horn looks exceedingly difficult, but once around to the SW Ridge, it is easy to see the class 2 east side of the SW Ridge. From there, it was only another 10min to the summit. There are two closely-spaced points vying for highpoint honors. It appears that the southern point is a couple feet higher. I took a few photos of the surrounding peaks and basins, left a register, and then returned back down the SW Ridge.
It would take me a full hour to descend what seemed like endless scree for more than 1,200ft. I was happy to finally pick up the use trail which would make the remaining descent a piece of cake by comparison. Less than 30min would see me back to the Hope Lake Trail and Trailhead, finishing up just after 2p. That made for a six hour outing and would finish off my day. Time to head back to Telluride for a shower, pizza, and October baseball...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Pilot Knob - Golden Horn
This page last updated: Sun Oct 22 11:13:10 2023
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