(G & M: #588)
North Twilight Peak
North Twilight Peak is a pleasurable and scenic Class 2 summit. It is usually combined with Twilight Pk., South Twilight and for stronger climbers, West Needle Mtn. as a one-day excursion from a base camp at the beautiful Crater Lake. If using the lake as a base, there's a 5.25 mile backpack from the trailhead at Andrews Lake. Others may choose to climb the Twilight summits as a day hike from the Andrews Lake TH. That trailhead is accessible by any passenger vehicle.
North Twilight East Ridge Route
If coming from Montrose-Ouray-Red Mountain Pass, drive on down US 550 to Silverton and do not go into the town. Rather continue right at the junction just west of town and head uphill on US 550 as it switchbacks and climbs to Molas Pass. At the 10,899 ft. pass, (where there's a large visitor pullout area with vault toilets), drive south and west on US 550 for .9 mile to the signed turnoff for Andrews Lake. The one-lane, paved road to the lake is just over .6 mile to the lower parking area, which is intended for day-use only. There is another fork to this road that heads uphill to a higher, and very large parking area that's intended for overnight horse-packing groups, backpackers and others staying longer term. There are picnic tables here and vault toilets. If climbing for the day of backpacking to Crater Lake, use this higher lot.
If coming from Durango on US 550, drive to Coalbank Pass, where there are pullouts for day use hikers on either side of the road. Continue driving north on US 550 for an additional 6.4 miles, first dropping in elevation to about 9,800 ft. at a sharp bend in the highway, then gaining steadily back up to the turnoff for Andrews Lake. The turnoff is signed. If you arrive at the summit of Molas Pass, you missed the turnoff. Turn around, drive back down .9 mile and drive on in and follow the directions above for parking.
Primitive and designated camping opportunities abound in the area. There is a Forest Service campground and trailhead at Little Molas Lake (west of the highway and just north of Molas Pass). The City of Silverton maintains a campground at Molas Lake where you can also find pay showers. The upper parking lot at Andrews Lake we have spent several nights in sleeping in the back of our pickup. There is no tent camping there.
The hike/backpack begins at Andrews Lake at an elevation of 10,744 ft. Follow the paved trail across the west side of the lake. It soon turns to a wide dirt trail and heads south working its way up the hillside on a few switchbacks. (Note: this is not the route shown on the older USGS map that goes around the north and east side of the lake.) This is trail #623 on both the San Juan NF map and the Trails Illustrated map. After gaining about 450 feet in elevation, (this is the steepest gain of the entire hike) the trail levels out and heads straightway through open meadows to the southwest. This Crater Lake trail is the only officially maintained trail in the West Needle Mountain wilderness. You’ll probably notice a less used trail turning off to the left and crossing a grassy meadow. That’s a trail used by climbers trying to summit Snowdon Peak, about two miles off to the southeast. From an access on its north ridge, Snowdon Peak offers a mostly Class 2 climb with a brief section of Class 3 to reach the summit.
In the next mile, the trail will gradually lose some elevation and cross an unnamed drainage. Then it ascends again about 350 feet and works in and out through forest and meadow, gaining another hill crest at about 2.5 miles. All along you can enjoy fantastic views, especially to the west, with peaks like West Turkhead, Grand Turk and Jura Knob in the distance. As the trail begins to turn more to the south and then the southeast, you’ll begin to gain the elevation needed to reach Crater Lake at 11,620 ft., but it never climbs steeply. Although the actual elevation difference between Andrews and Crater lakes is only about 900 feet, when you add in the additional “ups and downs” the total elevation gain will be closer to 1,250 feet. For backpacking in the Colorado Rockies, that’s still an easy one!
One of the last sections of trail will lead through an extensive area of forest and fallen timber. Fortunately, forest service workers have done a good job of clearing the path and removing obstacles. Not far beyond that area, you’ll find yourself approaching Crater Lake, after you’ve skirted a marshy area and hiked over a hill. Once at the lake, most of the primitive campsites are located along the northern and western shores of the lake. There are some really excellent sites to choose from and almost all have an easy access to the lake for water and are located in open forest which offers shelter from possible afternoon thunderstorms with accompanying winds and rain. (Please be sure and follow Forest Service regulations about how far to camp from the lake.)
Best camping is at Crater Lake along the north and west shore of the lake. If it's too crowded there, there is a smaller lake about 200 feet in elevation higher, directly east of Crater Lake.
N 37° 40' 31.08", W 107° 42' 47.79"
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Year Climbed: 2010
North Twilight Peak will be sequenced with Twilight and South Twilight for a half-day route from a base camp at Crater Lake. Some sources suggest working around to the SE side of the lake and heading SE through some willows to a small pond at 11,750 ft., and then from there, turning SW and heading up a broad NE ridge toward N. Twilight's east ridge. While that route goes easily, you can short cut it some by walking from a campsite on the west shore of the lake around to the south end, then heading directly uphill through trees for a while, emerging into an inviting, open basin of scattered low trees, grass and rock outcrops.
A little further up the open, grassy basin, you should spot a trail that appears at about 12,200 feet and follows along the edge of a NE running ridge. The trail ascends steeply following just east of that northeast ridge. The trail will lead into a steep gully that then intersects the east ridge, well above any of the lower obstacles, at about 12,800 ft. You will now be about ¼ mile east of a prominent notch visible from below. Cross one minor notch and continue to the more prominent one. A year or two earlier, when some friends of ours had reached this notch, it was full of snow and they felt it was too exposed to continue, so they turned back. When we came to the notch, there was no snow and it was an easy matter to just drop down some on the north side and then re-ascend on the other side of the notch. Since our climb was in early September, it would seem prudent to at least have an ice axe for this notch, if climbing earlier in the summer.
While the lower climb out of the basin is mostly on tundra, you will now be on a tundra-rock mix. Continue hiking directly along the ridge after the notch toward the now rocky, and fairly flat summit. This is an elongated summit of smaller to medium rubble. The highest point will be toward the western end. Soak in the magnificent view, especially of Engineer Mountain to the west, then plot your route over to Twilight Peak.
Links to other information, routes & trip reports for this peak that may be helpful.
"Ask not that the journey be easy; ask instead that it be worth it." John F. Kennedy