Ouray County Highpoint Trip Report
Mount Sneffels (14,150 ft)
Date: June 11, 2005
Author: Kevin Baker
Sneffels has been on my to do list for quite some time and it did not disappoint.
This would be my first foray into the Ouray area, and this was the
most scenic area I have been to so far in Colorado. My wife was along for the
ride this time to get her some training for a climb in Idaho later this month as
she had only hiked above tree line once since last summer. We left Colorado
Springs around 2:30 pm with hopes of arriving in Ouray before dark. The long
5.5 hour drive didn't seem too bad with the incredible scenery to gaze upon
along the way. As we came to Montrose, views of the San Juans to the south
unfolded and Sneffels stood tall as the monarch of the area.
We made it up the narrow areas of the shelf road before dark, driving all the
way to our intended starting point at just above 11,000 feet. The shelf road
would be a scary proposition in winter or with an approaching car. I parked at
11,00 feet to satisfy my personal 300-foot total gain requirement, when in
hindsight I should have just parked at the 2WD trailhead or at one of the
pullouts I did not know about above this spot. Since it was dark, I did not
pull to the edge of the road and had a few choice words on my car when we returned.
We slept in the car and awoke to clear skies at 3:45 am.
After the usual scrambling about in the dark getting things ready, we set out at
4:30 am with temps probably in the upper 20's. The jeep road was for the most
part clear all the way to the 4WD trailhead at 11,420 feet but was more like a
creek bed in spots with all of the recent snowmelt. At this trailhead, we met
another couple who were preparing for the climb. As expected, the snow was
pretty deep beyond this point with 2-3 inches of fresh powder on top of a well
consolidated layer. Snowshoes were not needed for the entire day as the
temperature probably stayed below 40. As dawn approached, the basin came alive
with color and we were rewarded with incredible views of 13'ers Potosi,
Teakettle, and Gilpin. The couple we met below soon passed us and they or a CMC
group broke trail for us the rest of the way. I called it our "stairway to heaven".
At around 11,800 feet, we decided to avoid traversing underneath a
loaded slope and gain the shoulder to our right, following the couple's steps.
The CMC group soon passed us, so as long as the weather held and
conditions in the gullies above were favorable, the summit was attainable.
We stashed our snowshoes at around 12,400 feet, preparing for the climb up
Lavender Col. As we rounded the corner, we came to the base of the first gully.
There was no evidence of recent slides and the base layer was very solid, so I
felt that the avalanche danger was minimal. As the gully steepened, we donned
our crampons about halfway up, as did the other groups. This was the first time
I have worn my Petzl crampons and I was pleased with their performance.
As we approached the 13,500-foot saddle between Kismet and Sneffels, I noticed that
the couple had decided to take an alternate route up another couloir.
I knew the standard couloir was at the top of the saddle, so we pressed on.
To get out of the wind, I climbed all the way to the base of the couloir and waited for
Jenni who was a couple hundred feet below. It was apparent that she was
struggling with the steeper, harder snow, so I went back down to assist her to
the shelter of the rocks. I knew she was flustered by the steepness, so I felt
she should wait for me here as the weather was going to hold and conditions were
comfortable enough to wait.
I made my way up the 600-foot couloir, following the tracks of the CMC climbers.
The sun had still not hit the snow here, so conditions were very safe. As I
climbed, I saw the back of the group climbing the class 3 section to the right
of the standard route through the v-notch. As expected from recent trip reports,
the easy v-notch was still blocked by a sizeable cornice, so I climbed solid
class 3 rock with my crampons on and topped out with a view of the summit.
I made sure I had solid purchase on every step from here, as the drops to the left
were a little intimidating for me. The CMC group was making their way down as I
approached the summit, warning me of cornices to the right. I finally topped
out at 9:34, as the couple we had met were getting ready to leave. I wish I had
had more time to enjoy this stunning place, as the views here were the best I
have seen on any summit. Hard to believe there is such a straightforward route
on this mountain from the way it looks below! After some crampon adjustments,
video, and pictures, I was headed back down at 10am to race the weather and
Leaving the summit, there is a lot of air below you to the right, so I used the
rocks for extra security and peace of mind. This stretch would be easy when dry,
but is a little intimidating with snow. The class 3 down-climb was not as bad
as expected and the hard part was over. I met back up with Jenni and most of
the CMC group at the saddle, at which point a fun glissade awaited.
Dark clouds now loomed to the west but they looked to be no more than snow showers.
Snow began to fall as we followed our tracks down to our snowshoes but the visibility
never deteriorated significantly. Since Jenni doesn't hike much in soft snow,
we made slow but steady progress back to the car. The postholing was minimal
even on the descent, so we were lucky to have such a fine day.
We made it back to our car at 12:30, packed our stuff, and headed down the entertaining shelf
road to Ouray for pizza and a relaxing visit at a hot spring pool (not the big one).
Snow can make things quite interesting, but it sure made the eye candy of
the mountains even more appealing.
Climb statistics: 6 miles round trip with 3,000 feet of elevation gain.