RT Length: 6.5 Miles
Elevation Gain: 3000’
It has been a long weekend! Friday I did Snowmass and Saturday I took my High School aged Girl Scout Troop to Mt Princeton Hot Springs for the day. That was a lot of driving, hiking, and adventure and not much sleep. In fact, I’d only had 6 hours of sleep in the past 2 days. That wasn’t keeping me from summiting again today though! I had the day free, so I was going to hike! I just picked an ‘easier’ mountain today that didn’t have much distance (I still have blisters and sores from where my boots rubbed my feet raw from that dip in the lake and long hike out).
I packed my gear the night before, including extra band aids for my tender feet and lots of moth balls. I’d heard of the trouble the marmots and other varmints do to parked vehicles while the owners are away, and I wanted to stop them before they started. Hence the moth balls.
The 2WD road in was a breeze. Nice and clear and wide enough to pass other vehicles when needed.
I arrived at the trailhead and was on the trail by 5:30am. I decided to park below the lower trailhead to make up that extra 50’ in elevation gain, bringing the total to 3000’. I didn’t want to risk having someone say it ‘didn’t count’ because I didn’t gain at least 3000’ in elevation, and this seemed like a simple solution.
There’s a fire in the area, and I could immediately smell the smoke. After about 5 minutes of hiking however I could no longer smell the fire and I couldn’t see smoke, so it couldn’t have been too close. It was obvious a storm was moving in however, so I’d need to get a move on to successfully summit today.
There was a San Juan guide vehicle parked at the lower trailhead (there’s a clean restroom here), and people camping in the basin. Since there was only one vehicle I assumed they belonged to each other.
The 4WD part of this trail is indeed 4WD. My truck could have made it, but why risk it? There were so many opportunities for popped tires!
And a few spots had snow crossings. On my way out I did see a modified 4Runner up there, a Suburban, and a few off highway vehicles, but they’d all come just to off road for the day.
In the end the hike isn’t that long: I’d suggest playing it safe and parking at the lower lot and hiking the extra mile in. I didn’t have cell service, so getting a tow truck would have been a bit of an issue. I made it to the trail register, signed in, and looked at my route.
I was trying to decide whether to take the Southwest Ridge or the Lavender Couloir. I had mixed feelings about both. There was a storm coming in, and I wanted to summit in the most efficient way possible. The ridge might take longer, but everyone I talked to said to take the ridge. I signed the log stating I was taking the ridge but reserved the right to change my mind when I could see both routes properly.
There didn’t seem to be much to the hike. I was already above treeline. All I had to do was cross the basin and traverse the ridge or the Lav Col.
About halfway across the basin I got a good look at the Lavender Couloir and that settled it. Nope, nope, and more nope. After Snowmass on Friday I was done with scree filled gullies for the near future. I was taking the ridge! I’m only sharing this post because it has Mt Sneffles in it.
This trail had tons of signs indicating the route up to the saddle.
I crossed the basin following a well established trail with large patches of consolidated snow throughout.
I had a great view of Gilpin Peak.
And the ridge I’d need to cross. At this point my camera died. It kept telling me to switch the battery pack. Not my phone camera, but the DSLR I lug around. I was shocked! I’d just charged that battery 2 days ago and it usually lasted forever! Drat! I was going to have to rely on my iPhone from now on for pictures (which don’t turn out nearly as well) to conserve battery power. Hopefully I’d still be able to take a summit photo.
I gained the ridge and looked back on the trail
That seemed too easy! Next I looked at the ridge before me. This looked like fun! I’d need to pass in and out of the towers a few times Here’s the beginning of the route:
The first part of the ridge was easy and straight forward. Even the snow along the ridgeline was easily manageable
After the snow ended, the real work began. Luckily what this route lacks in distance it makes up for in climbing. The ridge route has gullies too. These aren’t filled with scree, but with large rocks. I much prefer rock scrambling gullies to scree filled gullies. This route had a lot of scrambling! Look at all those rocks! And not one of them was stable. I had to watch every hand and foothold to beware of a rock coming loose (and many did).
What was difficult was the route finding! I’d follow the directions I had, but they never seemed right. I kept thinking to myself “there’s no way this is the right route” and apparently everyone else thought the same thing because trails went off in every direction, looking for a different alternative. Nope, I really was supposed to go through that notch and descend into that gully, only to climb the next gully full of snow…
Here’s where it became seriously tricky. It was possible to climb this gully without touching the snow, but in order to do so some seriously clever moves were required on some seriously unstable rock with lots of exposure. I know I got in some class 4 scrambling at this point. I was going to have to figure out a safer way down when my pack put me off balance.
My directions said to exit the final) gully (there must have been 5 or 6) at the kissing camels. I missed them but I did end up exiting the correct way. I’d been traversing between those pillars I’d seen earlier from the basin. Once out of the gullies I just had to follow the ridge to the summit. This was easier said than done, as there were dozens of routes visible. Here’s a view of the final pitch to the summit. This was the most stable rock I’d encountered all day, and FUN to climb!!!
I summited at 8:30am and turned on my camera for a summit photo. I was hoping I had enough battery to get a good summit shot. I got one in and it refused to turn on again, so this is what I got. I swear I’m not as large and awkward as this photo makes me look!
I took a selfie with my phone I was much happier with and a video from the summit.
I looked back on the route down and saw what looked like people climbing. Cool, I’d get to meet people on my way down.
Following the path down was much more straightforward than following it up, but the exposure was real!
I made it to the kissing camels I’d missed on my way in. They really were a cool sight to see!
I was just getting to the point where I was wondering about the other climbers I’d seen? Maybe I hadn’t really seen them at all? I turned the corner and there they were, halfway down (up) a gully. There were three climbers: a couple with a guide, all roped in together, but not secured anywhere. I don’t know much (anything) about roped in climbing, but this seemed really counterproductive. If one person fell, wouldn’t they all fall because none of them were secured to anything? Am I missing something to this? (I know I am…). How is this safe for anyone involved?
The couple didn’t talk with me, but the guide and I discussed gullies. His climbers looked exhausted and frightened. I’m assuming they bit off more than they could chew.
I rounded the corner and saw the cairn I was looking for, and what looked like a rock bull standing sentinel.
This was the start of the gully I knew I wanted to climb down with my ice axe and crampons. I’m pretty sure I could have done it without them, staying to the rocks, but one false move/slip of my feet or the rock and I wasn’t surviving that fall. So I did the wise thing and geared up.
This ended up being a fantastic choice! I felt much more stable on my way down than I had climbing up. Proper gear is the way to go! Ice axe, crampons, and helmet all the way! I made it down this gully and back over the notch and felt I was home free. That to me had been the crux of this climb. From here on out I still had to watch every step, but it was all downhill from here!
A storm was indeed moving in, and I was glad I’d gotten such an early start. I met two more hikers on my way down who’d intended to climb the gully but were turning back due to weather. I also saw two hikers halfway up the gully. I seriously hope they made it back down safe.
I signed out of the trail register at 10:30am
And hiked happily back to my truck. That had been a fantastic climb! I was so glad I took this route instead of the Lavender Couloir. I would have been a miserable snot hiking that thing. The ridge was much more technical, but a lot of fun!
Doesn’t my truck look like she enjoyed herself while I was away?
Well, remember those moth balls I’d brought to toss under my truck to ward off the marmots while I was hiking? In my excitement and eagerness to get started I’d left them inside my truck during the heat of the day, so when I went to open it I was blasted by an overwhelming scent that reminded me of my granny. That smell’s not going away anytime soon. Note to self: Next time put the moth balls OUTSIDE!!!
The Mt Sneffles Summit Sticker can be bought here