Mt. Sneffels: Ascend the Southwest Ridge via Wrights Lake; Descend the Standard Route on Lavender Col

Date hiked: 08/12/16

Mileage: 8.2 mi; 3.5 hrs

Head Count (how many other hikers I saw): 8-10 groups

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The illustrious Mt. Sneffels.

I’ve been watching her since day one, just waiting for those nine months of winters snow to shed. In fact, this mountain is the reason I moved here in the first place. But with winter lasting well in to June up here (very fitting, as Sneffels is the Nordic word for snowfield), and a heavy spring snowmelt easing right into a thunder prone summer, my slim window of opportunity opened later than I would have hoped.

In my journey to conquer all 96 of the U.S. 14ers, the first roadblock hanging over my head since that first mountain two years ago was summiting a class 3. Just short of needing ropes, a class 3 14er involves bouldering, and a certain level of comfort in exposure. It’s a true test of your endurance. Now, with Sneffels’s southwest ridge, I’ve climbed one crucial step closer to my goal.

Starting out at the lowest 2WD trailhead below the Ruby Trust Mine, one-third of your mileage involves a hike along Yankee Boy Road to the upper 4WD trailhead at 11,800 feet. Yankee Boy Basin’s ribbon of thirteeners – Potosi Peak, Teakettle Mountain and Coffeepot, Cirque Mountain, and Gilpin Peak – dominates this section of the hike, but as you slowly gain on the elevation, Mt. Sneffels’s face slowly sidles out from behind her southeast ridge.

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Yankee Boy Basin’s sidewall rising above Ruby Trust Mine

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Ruby Trust Mine

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Gilpin Peak

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Mt. Sneffels is hidden behind her sun-capped southeast ridge.

From the lower 4WD trailhead, the standard route follows the road as it climbs another mile to where it dead ends at the upper 4WD trailhead. But where the road really starts to steepen, a more private option wraps westward towards Wright’s Lake.

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This signed junction is where to exit for Wright’s Lake.

Aiming for the north side of a low ridge, the Wright’s Lake trail snags 12,000 feet before climbing into a flat expanse beside the lake. It then skirts the water to the north, where the trail eventually finds the scree covered slopes leading up to Blue Lakes Pass.

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Wright’s Lake, with Mt. Sneffels lit up in a streaked alpenglow.

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A look at “The Hand”, the jagged pinnacles giving Sneffels its class-3 rating.

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At Blue Lakes Pass, an unrelenting landscape opens up to both sides of the divide. In the west, Mt. Sneffels bathes a reticent Blue Lakes Basin in deep shadows. And to the east, a sluggish sunrise creeps higher over Potosi Peak.

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Blue Lakes Basin

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Potosi Peak

From Blue Lakes Pass, the route up Sneffels’s Southwest ridge becomes apparent in the scree.

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Aim for the gully on the right.

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A closer look.

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Then drop into this notch, climbing up and over to the other side.

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Aim below the right side of this outcrop, losing about 30 feet…

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…then follow the cairns to climb up the other side. This is the first time a good amount of exposure really comes into play.

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The route then ducks behind this ledge (out of view in this picture)…

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…and into some fun class 3 bouldering.

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When you see the rightly dubbed Kissing Camels formation, you’ll know you’re on the right track.

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A tight gully dumps you into this rugged talus expanse along the ridge.

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Scrambling higher, the summit comes into view. Keep right for a safer route – I found the ridge proper to be a little too exposed without much to hold onto.

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A look down after climbing the final obstacle.

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Alone at the summit.

IMG_9400 (3).JPGRecuperating at the summit for a quick minute, I continued along the ridge to find the standard route down, Lavender Col. With the steep grade and loose scree, this route is actually a bit more laborious than the Southwest Ridge. Nearly everyone I had started out with at the crack of dawn were still struggling their way up. While this option is  rated a difficult class 2, I found myself a bit side-tracked on some more class 3 scrambling.

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The route aims for the low saddle towards the right side of this image. If you look hard, you can spot the faint track zigzagging along the right side of the ridge.

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A look back up Lavender Col. Careful here, the rock is very loose. A helmet might come in handy.

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Back on the road.

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All in all, Class 3 wasn’t nearly as bad as I had been anticipating. The worst part for me was wayfinding. The correct route isn’t always apparent, and getting off-track could easily lead you into class 4 or 5 situations that could have disastrous consequences. A GPS is helpful, but the 14ers website was by far my best tool for preparation.

Trail Map

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Directions

(From Ouray): At the first switchback south of Ouray, turn onto Camp Bird Road. After 4.7 miles, keep right to turn onto CR-26. 1.3 miles up the road, there is parking for low-clearance 2WD vehicles at Walker Mine. With 4WD, keep right and continue onto Yankee Boy Basin Road. The lower 4WD trailhead is .8 miles up the road, and the upper 4WD trailhead for high clearance SUVs is 1.7 miles beyond this.

7.7 miles to the lower 4WD trailhead; 33 min

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