A great deal of talus plus strategically placed cliffs render the Twin Sisters Peaks a Class 2+ hike that requires some careful route examination if done from the headwaters of the South Fork of Mineral Creek. An alternate route we used years later to climb UN13,042, offers perhaps an easier way to climb Twin Sisters than our initial route, keeping it closer to Class 2. If climbed in the earlier season, snow fields may aid in avoiding some of the talus.
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.
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.
This "approach" is intended for those with reliable 4WD with good clearance. From the trailhead parking area by the South Mineral Creek CG, you can continue driving west, beyond the campground, then turning SW on what quickly becomes a single-lane 4WD track that follows on the west side of the South Fork of Mineral Creek for about 2.8 miles to a large, open, grassy meadow at 10,640 ft. There is a trailhead here for the "Rico-Silverton" trail #507. This is also an access for a portion of the Colorado Trail system, which contours below the south slopes of the Twin Sisters. This road receives quite a bit of 4WD visitation on summer weekends. If you don't have your own 4WD, you may be able to hitch a ride. Last time we were on it, the road was not particularly rugged and we easily drove to the end of the road at the meadow in a Jeep Cherokee Sport.
As you drive up this road, there are a few primitive campsites that can be found off the road and down towards the creek. The best camping will be at the roads end in the large meadow. There are numerous places here where you can set up, assuming the Forest Service has not come in and closed it all down. Since this is a trailhead, some camping is probably still allowed close by.
At the trailhead, you may want to take time to examine the west and southwest flank of Twin Sisters West, identifying cliffs and areas of talus you may want to avoid later on. From the trailhead for the Rico-Silverton Trail, head south for about 2/3rds mile to the open area on the USGS map identified as "South Park." The "park" comes shortly after crossing a tributary side stream that flows from the west facing basin between the two Twin Sisters summits. In early season, unless the Forest Service has constructed a "bridge" of some sort in recent years, stream crossings may be difficult, especially when you initially have to cross to the east side of the South Fork. The flat meadow can be rather boggy as well and you may encounter more bogs in South Park. From the park, ascend SE up the steepening hillside through trees to something of a bench area between 11,600 - 800 feet, mostly covered with rock talus. From that bench, ascend even more directly to another bench or small bowl at 12,100 ft. where contours open a little. This is a little north of directly west from a saddle south of Twin Sisters West.
Continue your ascent on ever steepening terrain into a shallow couloir that will lead to the saddle just mentioned. 800 feet of more gain will bring you to that saddle. If later in the season, most of this will be on unsteady talus. Early season climbers may find the couloir snow-filled, thus avoiding much of the talus, but ice axe will be handy and you'll be doing a lot of tiresome kick-stepping. Once at the saddle, walk with greater confidence to the summit of West Twin Sisters over a much easier ridge. Continue from that summit NE, following the connecting ridge to Twin Sisters East, the higher of the two summits. The traverse will take about a half hour. The descent to the connecting saddle will be on some tundra with more rubble and talus. The final ascent will be mostly more tolerable rocky rubble.
If you're contemplating or actually working on climbing all the 13ers, then continuing on from here to UN13,042 (V7) would make a great deal of sense. If not, you can return by the same route as you came or return by the following alternate route to climb these two summits and V7:
Alternate Route: From the Rico-Silverton TH, drive back down the road about one mile to a place with an old, unused road veering off to the left at about 10,600 ft. A trail is marked by a small cairn on the side of the road near this location. Appx. coordinates are: N 37° 47' 29.80" W 107° 47' 37.95". It leads down to the creek, losing about 100 feet, and then begins climbing on the other side. This newer trail appears to be used by the Silverton 100 as part of their route. This trail does not show on The San Juan NF map, the USGS quad or the Trails Illustrated #141. It does show on a "Drake Mountain Map" published in 1997 titled: "The Mountains of Silverton, Telluride and Ouray." At the creek, we had to take off our boots and wade across before getting underway. After climbing up about 100 yards or less, the trail joins another trail that parallels the east side of the creek.
Above the creek, the trail follows along the forest edge and begins climbing steeply along the north edge of a steep, shallow gully with no water. (May have running water earlier season.) The steepest hiking was in this section where we gained well over 600 feet on a series of switchbacks. Around 11,200 ft., the trail moderates some and begins to contour more, winding through the forest, crossing a minor ridge and then bringing you out into a clearing at the foot of a great, rock glacier. Follow the trail down some to the east, crossing a flower filled basin with some water in a small stream and then contour through more forest to a crossing of Porcupine Creek. Before this crossing, we passed through an interesting area of great boulders, covered in moss and other plants, that had fallen from cliffs far above, many ages ago.
On the other side of Porcupine Creek, the trail climbs east, then south through a field of gorgeous flowers, mostly blue columbine, paintbrush and assorted yellow, daisy-like blooms. The trail climbs up one switchback into a small, level area, ascends another rock band and emerges at yet another large, level meadow. From here, head for the pass at 12,200 ft. on the eastern flank of Twin Sister East. The entire area is laced with elk trails. From the pass, ascend west along the broad ridge of Twin Sisters East over mostly mixed tundra and rock giving way to rocky rubble as you hike higher.
From the summit of Twin Sisters East, you can easily traverse over to Twin Sisters West and return, taking only about an hour to do so, over mostly rocky conditions.