Peak(s):  Sultan Mtn  -  13,368 feet
Grand Turk  -  13,180 feet
Spencer Pk  -  13,087 feet
West Turkshead Peak - 12,849
Date Posted:  01/20/2022
Date Climbed:   08/20/2020
Author:  supranihilest
 Bowing to the Sultan: My Favorite Silverton Hike   

The Sultan Mountain cluster of peaks west of Silverton are some of Colorado's most wonderful mountains. Easy access, casual hiker friendly, and simple, unassuming beauty define these peaks. For me they were a mental reset from a spate of physically and mentally draining climbs, at a time when the exhaustion was starting to wear me down. I wasn't really sure if I even wanted to do these peaks before heading out, and had texted Whiley that I wasn't sure if I could continue at the pace I'd been going, that I just felt like the 13ers were something I wasn't sure I wanted to do anymore. For those who know me or have read my reports, you know that's very unlike me. I was at a low point in energy and motivation and almost said "screw it" and went back home to Boulder. I had to force myself to get my act together and head into the mountains, and I was glad I did. These peaks were just what the doctor ordered.

I started at Little Molas Lake Trailhead after work. It was a sweltering day, and felt unusually humid. I was sweating sitting still, so this would be a hot hike as well. I followed the Colorado trail northwest for a short distance and then left the trail going almost due north through unusual terrace-like rock bands and benches. The hike started off nice and reasonably angled and open. As mentioned the peaks were unassuming but attractive, which was great. I didn't want a nasty scramble on loose rock, I just wanted to walk and lose myself in the hills.

From shortly after the start of the hike, with "West Turkshead Peak"'s south ridge on left and "Turkshead Peak" on the right.

I picked my way through the terraces and headed in a generally northern direction, aiming for the saddle between "West Turkshead Peak" and "Turkshead Peak", which I assumed would give access to Sultan, Grand Turk, and Spencer. It'd be a ways around otherwise, and I didn't know if there was any access from elsewhere. (There is, for reference.) Along the way I ran into a short section of awful, 8- to 10-foot tall willows that I powered through, which was the only unpleasant part of the entire hike. Once past the view-blocking willows I got phenomenal views of the two Turkshead twelvers and the passage between them.

Willows in the alpine? Say it ain't so!
"West Turkshead Peak" is behind these walls.
"Turkshead Peak".
Though not super clear from here, a trail ascends to the saddle between the peaks and avoids the small cliffs.

The upper valley closer to the peaks was green and vibrant, and it felt good to be there. I could feel my spirits rising, even though I was going much slower than my usual pace. I may have been depleting my body's tank on this one, but my mind's was being refilled with the joy that only the mountains can create. Travel as I neared the peaks improved, and I ran into a trail below "Turkshead Peak"'s southwest face.

Aiming for the saddle on the left.
The trail, which wasn't visible from below.

The trail ascended through a very brief, loose section of Class 1+, then deposited me in the grassy upper meadow in the triangle between the Turksheads and Spencer Peak.

Short, crumbling section where the trail fades briefly.

The trail snaked around the east side of a bump, then around and up some small, shoddy towers on Spencer Peak's south ridge at the saddle.

Southern side of Spencer Peak.
Trail up to the saddle.

The little towers were pretty junky, but they were over quickly and contained maybe a couple moves of Class 2+. There were at least two options through or around them as well. A large portion of the remaining route became visible in this section.

Looking east towards Storm Peak and Silverton.
Unpleasant rock but not difficult. I scrambled through the notch but could potentially have gone around this tower as well.
Sultan Mountain on the left and Grand Turk on the right, behind Spencer's west face.

Past the towers the trail continued up to a junction with the left branch heading towards Sultan and Grand Turk, and the right branch going up to the summit of Spencer. I went left.

Grand Turk's gentle slopes.
Trail up Grand Turk.

The trail split again underneath Grand Turk's short south ridge, and I again took the left branch towards Sultan. It shot across Grand Turk's southwest face across steep, dinnerplated rock. The rock was a little shifty underfoot, but not too bad.

Trail across Grand Turk to Sultan.

The remaining hike up Sultan from the saddle was easy, though by now it was apparent all of these peaks were basically just big lumps of multi-colored talus.

Sultan Mountain: natural art.
Faint trail through the broken rock. It's more stable than it looks.

A hop, skip, and a jump later and I was on top of Sultan Mountain, with the usual San Juan breathtaking views to behold.

West towards the San Miguel.
Anvil Mountain.
Back the way I came; Grand Turk and Spencer Peak left and right of center, respectively, and "West Turkshead Peak" with a splash of sun on the far right.

After a few minutes of taking it in I returned to the saddle with Grand Turk, then headed directly up its west ridge instead of following the trail back around.

Grand Turk's west ridge.

What initially started out as the boilerplate gray talus of the area turned into grainy, red, sand-like scree with a healthy heaping of aforementioned gray talus on top.

Nasty overall, but there wasn't much of it.

A few minutes of slipping and sliding around on the sand and talus led back to pure talus, then tundra on the wavy summit ridge. There's a few bumps on the ridge and it's difficult to tell which is the highest, so I went out to the farthest but the one in the middle is in fact the highest.

Lumpy bumpies on the Grandest of Turks. The one on the left is the summit.
Almost the same height as the summit, which is where the photo was taken.
Summit most Grand.
Silverton again.
Gentle gray giants.

It was mid-afternoon by now and the skies were in some quantum state of both looking threatening and actively raining nearby, so I didn't stay too long.

Spencer's congruently conical cap.

Spencer was super easy to add on my way back, as its summit was less than 100 feet off the main trail anyway.

Molas Lake and the Weminuche Wilderness.
Grand Turk.
"West Turkshead Peak"

Given that Spencer was unranked and really didn't afford any new sights, I stopped only to take a few photos before continuing south down the short bit of trail off the summit to the main trail, back through the rickety gendarmes, and made my way towards the lumpiest of the day's peaks, twelver "West Turkshead Peak".

Well that is certainly non-descript.

The hike up "West Turkshead" was uneventful, pretty, and a rejuvenating way to finish the day off.

"Turkshead Peak", which has some ugly notches to deal with.
Bulk of the day's work.

It was still surprisingly muggy on "West Turkshead" and I had no desire to navigate what looked like an unpleasant climb up "Turkshead Peak", so I began making my way back down to the trail and benched slopes to the trailhead.

Blue above, green below. The prominent peaks in the foreground are the Snowdon group on left and Twilight and West Needle group on the right. Little Molas Lake is over the slope on the right half of the photo.

Having had my undesired encounter earlier in the day with willows I found a way around them by following the trail until there was a reasonable path through, and then staying east of the main bulk of them. It worked out pretty well and was much easier than my earlier 'whack. Once past I trended southwest back to the trailhead along the numerous little terraces dotting the area.

There are dozens of these in this area. They're visible from US 550 as well, and look oddly manmade.

Simple and short though this little thirteener cluster may have been, they ended up being my favorites of the entire year. I'd been going too hard for too long and needed this gentle reminder that I can both do more than I think, and that I don't always have to do more than I think or want. Sometimes slowing down to smell the flowers is more beneficial than having the pedal to the metal all the time, and that can be a difficult thing to both realize and act upon when the latter is your default mode. I repeated these peaks in spring 2021 with my friend Heather and she also enjoyed their simplicity. A trip to the Sultan's Palace is a great treat full of Grand Turk(ish delights) and royal comforts, and I will be sure to make calls upon it when the need arises. With a bow and a turn on my heel, I bid you adieu, Sultan.


Climbers: Ben Feinstein (myself)
Trailhead: Little Molas Lake

Total distance: 8.99 miles
Total elevation gain: 3,790 feet
Total time: 4:21:51
Peaks: Two ranked thirteeners, one unranked thirteener, one ranked twelver

  • Sultan Mountain, 13,368'
  • Grand Turk, 13,180'
  • Spencer Peak, 13,087' (unranked)
  • "West Turkshead Peak", 12,894'


Starting Location Ending Location Via Time (h:mm:ss) Cumulative Time (h:mm:ss) Rest Time (m:ss)
Little Molas Lake Trailhead Sultan Mountain 2:02:15 2:02:15 4:20
Sultan Mountain Grand Turk 0:29:10 2:35:45 1:41
Grand Turk Spencer Peak 0:17:07 2:54:33 0:00
Spencer Peak "West Turkshead Peak" 0:32:58 3:27:31 1:39
"West Turkshead Peak" Little Molas Lake Trailhead 0:52:41 4:21:51 Trip End

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39

Comments or Questions
01/20/2022 17:10
What a great hike. Love that pic of the bulk of the day's work! Great stuff! Looks like a great day in the mountains. I'll have to keep this one on the list!

Gorgeous pics
01/20/2022 18:26
And good to know you‘re human and feel tired sometimes like the rest of us! Haha. Great report

01/20/2022 18:38
And then the man he steps right up to the microphone. And says at last just as the time bell rings. ‘Goodnight, now it‘s time to go home‘. Then he makes it fast with one more thing ____.

(I want to do this hike, Ben, thanks to you. Looks chilled, good workout, and swingin!)

at my age
01/20/2022 20:33
Slowing down to smell the flowers comes quite naturally.

Taking a bow
01/20/2022 21:44
@Ritzn1: it's an excellent use of a day, glad to share it!

@Soren: the secret is a secret no more! I am, in fact, human.

@Stu: get that swing brotha!

@Fish: slowing down enough to smell the flowers sometimes is actually quite nice. We could all use a little more of it, I think.

Beautiful Pics
01/21/2022 08:40
Good stuff Ben. The choss and constant grind can totally lead to burnout after a while. Flowers and alpine lakes keep me going.

01/21/2022 10:09
Thanks, Yusuf. You're totally right, the summit isn't always the driving force - it's just as often the flowers, the lakes, the clouds, the colors around us.

01/21/2022 12:00
These are some of my favorites near Silverton too. Silverton is my favorite place in CO, so it‘s one of my goals to hike as many peaks that surround the town! Great pictures

This group
01/21/2022 13:44
Has been on my radar for a while. Easy TH access and a not too intense day. Thanks for the reminder and sharing your pictures!

01/21/2022 13:49
@Steve: These peaks are just so good. I'm usually partial to the scrambles and snow, but something about these just hit so close to perfect. I'll have a TR coming out soon for Storm and "East Storm" - keep your eyes peeled for that.

@Andrew: You're welcome, and thanks for reading and the comment! These are excellent peaks. If you make a trip out for these let me know, I have to make at least one trip up these a year. It'll be a new tradition for me.

Those peaks are on my radar
01/24/2022 12:16
Thanks for the trip report. I've been wanting to climb those peaks for a few years but just haven't gotten around to it... too many peaks near Silverton, which is a good problem to have.

01/24/2022 12:54
Eddie, you're welcome. It's definitely a good problem to have, and one that I'm surprisingly close to not having anymore! Ditto what I said to Andrew - send me a PM when you get to these and see if I'm in the area, it'd be great to meet the Folks of Fourteeners.

Report saved!
01/24/2022 13:36
Thanks for posting one that us mere mortals can follow, Ben Looking forward to this one, sometime, somewhere down the line

01/24/2022 16:51
We're all mortals, even me! This hike was a good reminder that mortality is A-OK. Enjoy the hike when you get to it, Steph!

Nice report
01/27/2022 16:00
I was there about two weeks after and while walking near your photo 13 felt very strong smell that reminded me of cat's litter. It was coming from behind, from the direction of point 12899. I believe that I was first in the area that morning, which made me a bit apprehensive. I was looking, but couldn't see anything moving on that slope. Later in the day, on the way back, there were people hiking around the notch and the smell was gone.

Awesome views from those peaks, totally worth having hair standing on the back of my neck for a while!

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