#334 / 13,380' South Lookout Peak

Range › San Juan Range
Quadrangle › Ophir
Summit Location › Peak Route Icon N 37° 50' 10.11", W 107° 47' 25.36" (Not Field Checked)
Neighboring Peaks › Peak Icon V 2 Peak Icon V 5

Peak Summary

A mountain with a foreboding reputation, or as one climber we met put it, "it gives off bad vibes," South Lookout Peak is an easy stroll followed by a short but difficult summit finish that goes at Class 4 by our suggested route. 4WD will make accessing this peak shorter and easier by way of Clear Lake. Helmets very useful. Rope & protection may be needed depending on the experience level of your group.

South Lookout East Face Route

Class 4
Medium Day // Take a Lunch
RT From South Mineral Creek TH: 10.8 mi / 3,600'
RT From Clear Lake: 2 mi / 1,500'
  • Trailhead
    • South Mineral Creek TH

      From the Town of Silverton and the US 550 intersection on the west side of town, drive north on US 550 and in a little over 2 miles turn west onto FR585. If coming from Ouray, drive south on US 550 over Red Mountain Pass and watch for the FR585 turnoff on your right before reaching Silverton. Drive west on this graded dirt road to the campground and trailhead parking appx. 4.7 miles in. The last mile of road gets a little rougher but should still be navigable by passenger cars.

      Alternate TH: This should only be used if accessing peaks in the Ice Lake basin area. Do not follow these directions if trying to access peaks at the head of the South Fork of Mineral Creek.

      Follow directions from Silverton or Ouray as before, but before arriving at the campground, watch for a 4WD drive road that heads diagonally up the hillside on your right, a little more than .7 mile before the campground and lower TH parking area or about 3.9 to 4.0 miles in from the highway. The road you're looking for is called the "Clear Lake Road," #815. It does not show on the older USGS quad, but does show on the Forest Service map. It turns off at these coordinates: N 37° 48' 19.49" W 107° 45' 46.26". Drive about a mile up this road to the first switchback and park here for summits in Ice Lake Basin if a space is available (very limited parking and no camping here). Parking coordinates are: N 37° 48' 37.64" W 107° 46' 35.63" Elev. 10,335 ft. Beginning your hike here will not save overall mileage but will save about 400 feet of gain. 4WD with better clearance recommended. From the car park, a trail heads NW and quickly comes to a crossing of Clear Creek. Getting across when water volume is high can be problematic & even a bit risky. If you succeed, continue following the trail on the other side. It will shortly be joined by the main trail coming up from the trailhead at the parking area by the South Mineral Campground.

      This same road also continues to Clear Lake and the basin below South Lookout Peak. If in a lower clearance 2WD vehicle, you will not want to drive up this road any. Park wherever you can find a place to do so near where the road #815 turns off from FR585. If you have a good clearance, 4WD vehicle, you can drive all the way up to Clear Lake.


      Camping

      All along FR585, there are numerous at-large, primitive sites. Upon turning off US 550 and driving less than a mile, there's a large open area on the left with a vault toilet. There are usually a large number of RV's here. There is also the South Mineral Creek Campground and before arriving at the campground, you will see a number of other camp spots. Expect competition on the weekends for sites. This is a very popular area. There is no "allowed" camping at the trail head parking area.

    Approach
    • From South Mineral Creek TH via Clear Lake

      The approach for South Lookout, V.5 and possibly V.2 involves driving up the Clear Lake Road to Clear Lake. The turnoff for this road is provided in the trailhead directions with GPS coordinates. It's about 3.9 - to 4.0 miles in from the turnoff for the South Mineral Campground from US 550 and turns off to the right if heading west. Drive up the road for .9 mile to a switchback. There's room for a few vehicles to park here for access to the "upper" trail into Ice Lake Basin. For Clear Lake, continue driving up the road. For the most part, the road is in good condition. Most any stock 4WD should be able to handle it and some lower-slung all-wheel drive vehicles may also be able to navigate. There's a total of 8 switchbacks in the trees. At the last two, there are some camping possibilities, but weekends may find even these taken. Higher up, above tree line, there are 4 more switchbacks to gain the basin at lake level. There's some parking at the lake and another parking area at the mouth of the basin and just west of V.5. Driving the road may take a half hour or longer depending on how much you want to beat up your shocks.

      Camping

      There are some camping possibilities on the last two switchbacks along the road while still in the trees. There is also some room to camp at the lake, but no trees.

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    Peak Icon Route Map Photos

    Route Info South Lookout East Face

    Route Description

    Year Climbed: 2007

    From wherever you choose to park in the vicinity of Clear Lake, walk on up to the lake and then follow a trail around the east end that heads up toward the saddle on the long connecting ridge between V.5 and South Lookout. There is a rocky summit west of the lake that is mistaken by some to be South Lookout. It is not. It is a "soft-rank" summit however and a worthy climb if you have the time. The true summit of South Lookout is NW of the lake and not actually visible from the lake or on your way up.

    After you have followed the trail to the saddle up for some distance, begin to veer away to the NW and hike up through lush displays of wildflowers toward the false, south summit of S. Lookout. The hike all the way up will be mostly on grass & tundra, with some soft scree as you near the false summit. It will take most of an hour to reach the false summit, which is unnecessary to go over. The easy strolling is now over. The survey map gives no indication of what lies ahead.

    The true summit of South Lookout, when examining the USGS quad, is the middle of three high points. The north point shows an elevation of 13,357 ft., but this is not the highest point, which is found on the middle summit. In attempting this peak, we had a few sources of beta. I believe the route we took was not described on any of that other beta. The others seemed to have you contour farther along the east face of the peak than what we did. I believe our route provides a shorter, but not necessarily any easier approach to the summit. The climbing required is not difficult, so we rate it at 4th class, but loose rock and some exposure may make this seem as 5th class.

    If one proceeds directly north along the ridge crest, from the false, south summit, you will not get far before being confronted with a vertical wall of rock. There is no apparent way to circumvent this wall on the west side. All the information we had indicated the way to the summit was on the east side, and we could see why this was the prevailing opinion.
    Our plan then, was to follow the sketchy directions we had from a couple of sources.

    From the east side and below the false summit, we began by hiking at a descending/contouring angle down the east flank of the mountain, crossing one branch of a larger couloir, then a very minor rib of rock and entering the second branch of the wide couloir. We continued angling down and arrived at a vertical wall of rock that halted further progress north. Total elevation loss to this point was less than 100 ft. and one could have easily scrambled directly up and have been back on the south ridge. At the wall of rock that confronted us, we continued to descend some until we came to a place in the wall that was not so vertical and appeared to offer a scrambling access to whatever lay above. Ascend on up the receding rock layers above at this breach in the wall. A 4th class scramble of about 30 vertical feet will bring you to a small perch where you can change direction toward the left and cross over the crest of the rib. If using a rope, there are a couple of spots where you can belay others up here. On the rib crest, peer into an extremely steep gully just a few feet away. A rock ledge, about 4” wide and 3 feet long leads into this narrow gully.  Enter the couloir. It is so narrow, you can stretch out your arms or feet and touch both sides. It was almost like a near vertical slot canyon. Earlier in the season, it would most likely be filled with snow and require the security of an ice axe to cross. Exit the couloir at almost the same level at which you enter, scrambling up only a few feet to find a good exit point. Walk out onto the more stable and secure slope above the couloir and perhaps find a faint trail. There may even be a cairn. Hike NE along the slope of rock ledges and tundra, cross the next minor ridge and then ascend west in yet another flat scree-like slope to a flat area immediately below the middle summit block. From here, it's just another easy, 3rd class scramble to the summit on secure rock. We did not use rope on this ascent, however, in returning to this same route in 2013, we did use rope, in part for the sake of another party member who was not at ease with the exposed scrambling, but also because it just felt better to have it on the many loosely perched rocks you have to scramble over. If taking rope, you don't need more than 100 feet and some sling to set up an anchor.

    From the summit, you have an impressive view north of the long east-west running ridge of Silver Mountain, San Joaquin Ridge, etc. To the west, US Grant offers an imposing east face. And then to the SW, the summits around Ice Lake Basin are visible. The views are quite impressive. To return, going back exactly as you came is the safest bet. If you have time, consider tagging the soft-ranked summit west of Clear Lake. It makes another interesting climb without the fear factor of South Lookout.


    Additional BETA

    Links to other information, routes & trip reports for this peak that may be helpful.
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