Thirteen thousand-foot Grand Turk and Sultan Mountains loom over Silverton, Colorado, like guardians cloaked in capes of cobalt storm clouds. But when the weather is right, the summits of these captivating peaks can be gained back to back, and all you need is an adventurous spirt and a dash of gritty alpine enthusiasm.
Parking at Little Molas Lake's trail head to the Colorado Trail on Molas Pass a half mile south of Silverton on U.S. 550, you can catch an obvious trail at the entrance to the campground circle by back tracking up the road you drove in on. Hang on to this trail as long as you can, but don't panic when it's gone. Your goal is moving north, gaining an unmistakable saddle between Turkshead and West Turkshead, both around 12,800 feet.
As you make your way, game trails help you pick through some conifers and patches of dense willow, and as you climb up a series of benches you will see the saddle you're aiming for.
There is a running creek – try to stay on its east side, and be ready for grouse as well, good sized ground birds that rely on camouflage and then explode into the air when you get too close. There is a faint trail on the eastern slope of this basin. Note the view behind you of Little Molas Lake, and keep this is mind for your return.
Once you navigate easily through the saddle's rocks, you'll find grassy tundra and likely a bit of snow. Here, travel northeast toward yet another saddle skirting a green bowl of summer's blossoms.
When you access this saddle, you'll see the Sultan. Travel east and north, leading to the north face of Spencer Peak. This 13,087-footer is easily achieved, but remember you have two other objectives. As you gain ground on Spencer, you'll come to a defined trail that traverses its steep north slope. Use caution and take this incredible trail to yet another saddle in between Spencer and Grand Turk.
This is amazing alpine hiking. Maintain the trail you are on and when you drop into its saddle, begin your ascent of Grand Turk. This mountain has three summits, and the highest point – 13,160 feet – is the farthest. Choose your battles wisely, but it's well within reach.
You can retrace your steps back to the Spencer/Turk saddle or carefully pick your way down to a talus trail that leads to the Sultan ridge. Use caution – that's a long way down to the north.
The Sultan ridge trail is the stuff of dreams. At first the trail unwinds before you like it's miles away, but it's less difficult than it looks. It's narrow but not sketchy. You don't want to fall, but the stunning summit bid at most calls is an easy scramble. Bag the peak – 13,370 feet – look for the register in the plastic pipe, and log your entry.
Upon your return, you can use Little Molas Lake as a point of reference as to which direction to travel.