Date hiked: 08/12/16
Mileage: 8.2 mi; 3.5 hrs
Head Count (how many other hikers I saw): 8-10 groups
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.
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.
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.
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.
From Blue Lakes Pass, the route up Sneffels’s Southwest ridge becomes apparent in the scree.
Recuperating 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.
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.
(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