#125 / 13,752' Storm King Peak

Range › San Juan Range
Quadrangle › Storm King Peak
Summit Location › Peak Route Icon N 37° 40' 35.43", W 107° 33' 34.21" (Not Field Checked)

Peak Summary

Storm King Peak is a challenging and entertaining 3rd class ascent in the Weminuche Wilderness. This lofty, top 200 summit has no easy vehicle access. The closest vehicle approach is the Beartown/Kite Lake trailhead north of Hunchback Pass. 4WD with good clearance is required. Though Storm King could be climbed in a long day from that trailhead, most peakbaggers will plan a multi-day backpack trip in order to climb the many 13er summits located in this area.

Storm King South Ridge & Couloir Route

Class 3
backpacker icon + Peak Icon
Backpack + Medium Day
RT From Bear Creek/Hunchback Pass/Kite Lake: 14.5 mi / 6,200'
RT From Storm King Pass : 1 mi / 1,000'
From Storm King Pass: 0.50 mi / 1,000' (One-Way)
  • Trailhead
    • Bear Creek/Hunchback Pass/Kite Lake TH

      WARNING: This trail head approach REQUIRES 4WD with good ground clearance. The drive as described below from Silverton may take up to 2.5 hours.

      From the Town of Silverton, and where the main road splits at the NE end of town, drive 4.2 miles NE up along the Animas River on blue-signed County Road 2 to Howardsville. Turn right onto FR589 up Cunningham Gulch and stay right at the turn for the "Old Mine Tour" (4.4 miles) but do take the left fork toward Stony Pass (FR737) at 5.9miles. Once on the Stony Pass Road, expect 4W conditions. The road climbs steeply to the pass. Abundant wildflowers as you approach the pass may delay you. Once across the pass, the road becomes FR520 and eventually leads to Rio Grande Reservoir, but you will not drive that far. The road eventually descends down the valley to a low water crossing of Pole Creek. There are several primitive campsites on both sides of the Pole Creek crossing. Watch out for the steep embankment climb out on the east side if the road is wet from rains. You could easily slip off the edge. After the crossing, continue south for under a mile to another fork where you'll turn right (west). Another long, low water crossing is found here across the Rio Grande River. This crossing is usually more shallow than the Pole Creek, but the closer you are to runoff season, the more difficult these crossings will be.

      It is also possible to come into this area from either Creede or Lake City over Slumgullion and Spring Pass to Rio Grande Reservoir. From state highway 149 either about 20.5 miles from Creede or 32 miles from Lake City, turn west onto FS520 and drive all the way to the reservoir on the well-signed, graded dirt road. Passenger cars can make it all the way to the "Lost Trail Campground" at the far west end of the reservoir. Beyond that point, FR520 continues west and crosses some rugged sections before connecting with the other section of FR520 coming down from Stony Pass and the low-water crossing of the Rio Grande. We have never driven in all the way on this section and from those we know who have, they have complained about one particularly difficult stretch.

      From the Rio Grande crossing, continue up what is now, the Beartown Road for a slow 4 miles (mainly because of potholes) to the former location of Beartown. (There's really nothing left to see there, but just before the road crosses Bear Creek, beyond the old townsite, there is some good camping. The road goes all the way to Kite Lake at about 12,100 ft., but the Hunchback Pass trailhead is about 1/2 mile below the lake. There's a trail sign there and some very limited parking is available. Road Notes as of 2018: About half the distance toward Beartown, the road crosses an unnamed creek and at that spot, there are some difficult mud/potholes that have really been dug out. Longer bed vehicles may have some difficulty getting through. Take it slow. Closer to Beartown, the road passes through a fence line. At that point, the road conditions will begin to deteriorate and become more rocky as it begins to gain some elevation.

      As the road begins climbing more steeply toward Kite Lake and the Hunchback trailhead, after crossing Bear Creek, it becomes quite a bit more rocky in that stretch as well. For a long section, the road is deeply entrenched in the middle because of runoff and the trench tends to fill with loose rocks. If you have driven in here to do the Ute Ridge group of summits, camp in the vicinity of where the road crosses Bear Creek just past the old Beartown site. See coordinates below. From that creek crossing, it's not quite .3 mile to the trailhead for Ute Ridge, which is a jeep track that turns off to the left and drops down to cross another lesser fork of Bear Creek. Park somewhere along this track if heading for Ute Ridge. On the Caltopo map, this trail is called the "Bear Town Trail" and designated FR869. On trails Illustrated Map #140, it does not appear to have a designation. Coordinates for this road & trailhead are: N 37° 42' 54.53" W 107° 30' 35.00". You can find a good camp spot here as well. You can also find some additional camp spots within a few hundred yards of the Hunchback Pass trailhead. One of those spots goes off to the south to an old mining area.


      Camping

      You can find some very limited camping spots in the immediate vicinity of the Hunchback trailhead. There's one particularly good spot back down the road a fairly short distance on the south side. There's also some good camping back toward the Beartown site. See coordinates provided.


      Campsite Locations

      Beartown Campsite › N 37° 43' 05.02", W 107° 30' 35.47"
    Approach Map Photos
    • From Bear Creek/Hunchback Pass/Kite Lake TH via Storm King Pass

      • Hunchback Pass to Nebo Creek  Moderate | RT: 5.5 mi / 1,900’

        This "approach" is part of a sequence of approaches that utilize the Vallecito Trail beginning near Kite Lake and above the "Beartown" site. The trailhead is located at: N37° 42' 44.57" W 107° 31' 04.97". Use the "Beartown/Kite Lake/Hunchback trailhead information for instructions on how to drive to the TH.

        The trailhead is actually within the Rio Grande National Forest. The TH number is #813 on both the San Juan and older Rio Grande National Forest maps and is a part of the "Continental Divide Trail" at this location and segment. Once the trail crosses Hunchback Pass, it crosses over into San Juan National Forest and becomes #529, continuing south all the way to Vallecito Reservoir. If using Trails Illustrated #140, they identify this as the Continental Divide Trail and use the #813. Walk south from the TH and follow the easy gradient through open terrain with some willows to Hunchback Pass. The trail first sweeps SE, then makes a gradual turn SW, then west to the open, tundra-covered pass with about 900 feet of gain over just under a mile. Coordinates for the pass are: N 37° 42' 16.62" W 107° 31' 12.37". Hunchback Mountain is west along the divide and can be easily climbed by those interested in bagging all the 13ers. You can drop your pack, stroll to the summit and return in under an hour.

        From Hunchback Pass, continue south heading straight down an unnamed fork of Vallecito Creek (or could perhaps be considered an unnamed fork of Nebo Creek.) The trail cuts trough plenty of willows in this section and stays on the west side of the drainage until a little before the trees. Because of the numerous willows, plan on getting pants & boots drenched if it has rained recently. Also, as a general point, the Vallecito Trail is utilized regularly by pack horse groups so you can expect to see and experience some of the typical trail damage done by horses. The trail then turns to the SE and comes to an intersection. A newer trail (#813) that does not show on the 1964 USGS map heads east up Nebo Creek, crosses the Continental Divide and goes to West Ute Lake. That is the continuation of the Continental Divide Trail. The Vallecito Trail continues south and west from this intersection. Near the trail intersection, there is a very large and good campsite on a prominent knoll above Nebo Creek on the NW side. The campsite makes a good base camp for 13ers off the CD trail including Mt. Nebo, UN13,110, UN13,230, and UN13,169, all of which can be done in a single day from the campsite. See "Camping info" for more details.


        Camping

        The Nebo Campsite sits near the intersection of the Vallecito Trail and the Continental Divide Trail. This camp site is not to be confused with another located about a mile farther down the trail where Nebo Creek is actually crossed. The elevation is appx. 11,400 ft. Coordinates are below. These coordinates have been field checked. The campsite is right off the main trail. Because of the beetle kill damage to the old growth trees here, the original camp area has seen some ground vegetation moving back in. There is still one, good, main tent site with fire ring as of 2018, a smaller but usable tent site just off to the NW from the fire ring and 50 yards south, there is a potential camp site located on the grassy knoll. Water may be obtained from Nebo Creek which will lie east of and downhill from the campsite.


        Campsite Locations

        Nebo Campsite N 37° 41' 10.9", W 107° 31' 14.7"
        11,400 appx. elevation

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      • Nebo Creek to Trinity Creek  Moderate | RT: 2.5 mi / 1,000’

        This "approach" is part of a sequence of approaches that utilize the Vallecito Trail beginning near Kite Lake and above the "Beartown" site. The trailhead is located at: N37° 42' 44.57" W 107° 31' 04.97". Use the "Beartown/Kite Lake/Hunchback trailhead information for instructions on how to drive to the TH.

        From the Nebo Creek campsite and the trail junction of the Continental Divide Trail #813 and the Vallecito Trail #529, head south, then SW down the Vallecito Trail. The trail swings to the west through forest, staying above Nebo Creek and then makes an abrupt turn back to the north to cross the unnamed fork of Vallecito Creek that originates near Hunchback Pass. Watch carefully for this minor crossing. Then, the trail continues down and generally west to SW. Along this next stretch there is one small campsite we've noticed on the south side of the trail that has some slope and could accommodate one tent. This is what we would call a "do-in-a-pinch" type of site. Continue down trail to the WSW to a switchback that will drop you to Nebo Creek (which by this point has been joined by the aforementioned unnamed fork and now carries a lot more water). Just below this switchback, there is a not-too-noticeable trail that heads off to the SW which we believe to be an alternate route into Stormy Gulch. When you arrive at the crossing of Nebo Creek, we have usually found this crossing to be a little difficult and somewhat intimidating. The water is swift and nearby the stream heads over the beginning of a waterfall. Sometimes there are logs you can walk across and other times, there's little help. You may have to wade. You can also explore upstream where you may find a better crossing place with rocks that allow hopping over the stream. In our July, 2018 visit, the water was so low, crossing anywhere was easy. Before crossing, if you follow the stream up, there are some good campsites with as many as four possible tent sites. Beyond the last tent site there is a picturesque waterfall.

        After crossing Nebo Creek, continue downhill, through a series of switchbacks and at 1.25 miles from the Nebo campsite, you should come to an open meadow on the right (west) side of the trail and see a secondary trail heading over to a crossing of Vallecito Creek, below where Trinity Creek comes in. This meadow area is often used as a camp spot by various groups, though it tends to be a little lumpy. From this location climbers can reach The Guardian, Mt. Silex, Storm King, and Peaks Seven, Eight and Nine as day hikes/climbs by heading up Stormy Gulch. But if you're willing to lug your pack back uphill, read about other higher elevation campsites under the "approach" for those peaks. If hiking back up to the Nebo Creek camp or back over Hunchback Pass to the trailhead, this section from Trinity Creek back to Nebo Creek is the steepest part of the return hike gaining about 1,000 feet in elevation. It is also possible to hike all the way up Trinity Creek and cross the ridge that separates the Trinity Basin from the Vestal Basin and access the Vestal Creek summits.


        Camping

        An easily identifiable trail turns west off the main Vallecito Trail and leads over to where you can cross Vallecito Creek, downstream from where Trinity Creek comes in. This trail leads across an open meadow that is frequently used as a camp location. See approximate coordinates below. The trail that leads west across the meadow can be rather faint. The best campsite will be a few yards north of that trail (see field checked coordinates), and there's another campsite in some younger trees 50 yards south of the trail.


        Campsite Locations

        Trinity Creek N 37° 40' 33.01", W 107° 31' 30.7"
        Elevation 10,560 ft.

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      • Trinity Ck to Storm King Pass  Difficult | RT: 5.5 mi / 2,300’

        The Trinity Creek Trail is generally an easy trail to follow up to treeline. From the campsite just west of the Vallecito Trail and below where Trinity Creek joins Vallecito, the place to wade across is obvious and the trail can be seen on the other side of the Vallecito. Fortunately the Vallecito is not as deep or swift here as it is further down where you cross for Sunlight Creek, nevertheless, it's a frigid wade across, especially in the early morning hours. By the end of a long day of hiking, you may find the wade rather refreshing.

        Once across Vallecito Creek, the trail heads up along Trinity Creek staying on the south side and mostly in conifer forest. This is not a maintained trail and does not show on ANY of five maps we have of this area including the USGS and Trails Illustrated. You can expect typical trail conditions for an unmaintained trail. At about 11,000 ft., the trail crosses to the north side of the creek and continues gaining elevation through open forest and grassy meadows. Above where the creek draining Silex Lake comes in, there are some usable campsite locations if you search around. It's also possible to continue on up to Trinity Lake and set up a base camp there, particularly if interested in climbing Peaks One, Two and Three from here.

        If heading on up to what we have called "Storm King Pass," you'll need to continue up the trinity trail to about 11,400 ft. elevation, then turn toward the south to begin an ascent into the basin that holds Lake Silex. On our last visit here in 2005, there was an intermittent trail that headed up into the basin that led up through the steep tundra slopes and ramps with rocky outcrops on the NW side of the drainage from Lake Silex. If you can't find this trail, there's still more than one way to get up here. Where the creek that drains Lake Silex comes out near Trinity Creek, there's the tongue of a rock glacier/talus field that you want to make sure you are west of in an open area that sits at the foot of a steep, mixed tundra & rock slope. If you have access to Google earth, there are three photographs that illustrate to some degree the route/trail up through here, or check out our approximation on the Google Earth view provided. If you manage to find the trail, it will first take you to a rocky bench area at about 11,860 ft. On this bench, you may be able to spot the trail passing through a gravel area if you've still not found it.

        The trail then continues up through mostly rubble and scree to a higher tundra/rock bench about 300 feet above the lake and WNW of it. From there, continue contouring around into the valley west of Lake Silex. (If climbing Mount Silex and/or The Guardian, you'll need to veer off here and contour south and east around and above the lake as best you can to access a steeply angled couloir that allows access to the SW ridge of Silex.) Walk west on up the valley to the pass between Storm King Peak and Peaks Eight and Nine. This is what we're calling "Storm King Pass." This last stretch up the valley will be on mostly broken rubble, scree, talus, etc. Before mid-July, you may get lucky and find enough snow patches you can string together to ease the hiking on the rubble. We've also seen some very friendly mountain goats in this area. Keep an eye on your equipment. They'll run off with anything salty. From the pass, you'll be positioned for Storm King, Peaks Eight and/or Nine or Seven. It's also possible to continue hiking WNW from the pass heading down toward a couple of small tarns that provide a good high camp location. See our map.


        Camping

        Best camping locations are at about the 11,400 ft. level along Trinity Creek and near the base of the tundra/rock slopes that lead up into Silex Basin. There's also above tree line camping near Trinity Lake and a smaller lake below Trinity Lake. We've also seen Outward Bound groups camped about 300 feet above Lake Silex along the faint trail to Storm King Pass and then there's better camping opportunities west of the pass near two small tarns that lie on a shelf above Balsam Lake. That section of basin is much less rocky and lush in places with vegetation and wildflowers.

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    Peak Icon Route Map Photos

    Route Info Storm King South Ridge & Couloir

    Route Description

    Year Climbed: 1994

    The mileage and elevation gain estimates provided are based on starting this route at the "Storm King Pass" located between Storm King and Peak Nine, west of Silex Lake. If using the suggested campsite at the two small lakes at 12,200 feet west of the aforementioned pass and up above Balsam Lake, then the mileage would be 1.25 one way with total elevation gain of about 1,550 ft. If using that camp location, you'll need to make your way back up to the Storm King Pass to begin this route. Also - we've set the Hunchback Pass to Vallecito Creek to Trinity Creek approach as the primary approach for Storm King. We've also set "The High Traverse" from the basin north of Jagged Mountain as a secondary approach for Storm King and the other peaks located nearby.

    Even in 1994, we found a very clear trail at the Storm King Pass heading up the south ridge of Storm King. Follow it up on steep and fairly secure footing. At various points, the trail may diverge into one or more paths, but eventually, they all lead to the same place, so just stay close to the ridge and always on the west side. Things steepen as you progress upward. After about 500 feet of gain, you'll come to a significant notch in the ridgeline. This notch is easy to see from either the east or west sides of the peak. The path we followed veered left (west) and dropped us down into the very steep and narrow couloir, south couloir. Within about 75 feet of ascending up the couloir, it narrows even more to where you'll be doing 3rd class scrambling on solid rock at times. Some may argue this section is 4th class and the less experienced may feel a desire for roped protection, but the rock is good enough to make that unnecessary. Most of the time, the narrow bottom of the gully will accommodate your feet while you can place hands on opposing walls for holds and friction. This section is quite fun. After about another 100 feet, the couloir begins to widen out, maintaining about the same gradient, but becoming much more loose. Talus will be everywhere. In 1994, we found no cleared off path through this section. After perhaps 200 feet more of gain, begin working to the left to intersect the ridge and a trail may become evident again. Stand a little more erect now as you gain the ridge and then it's a short clamber to the summit, which is a little farther to the west.

    The summit of Storm King Peak allows a view of the northwest face of Silex. You can also see trinity Lake far below to the north and Peaks One, Two and Three along with White Dome. Much of the trinity Creek drainage can be seen and to the SW is the vast basin above Balsam Lake. Return as you came, but be careful to exit the couloir where you entered it. It would be a good idea to not get caught in this gully in a rain storm. Doing so could lead to critical problems. If you've already done Peak Seven, then you may want to call it a day. If not, you may want to consider adding it to the days agenda. Silex and Guardian may also be possible in the same day from strong climbers who don't mind long days on the peaks.


    Additional BETA

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