Mt Sneffels Colorado - 14,150'

By David Metsky

During a two week hiking trip to Colorado in the summer of 1998, Brenda and I climbed Mt Sneffels from Blue Lakes. We had been in Colorado for 4 or 5 days, getting acclimatized and seeing some wonderful scenery. After leaving Brenda's cousin Libby in Lizard Head Wilderness Area, we headed up to the Blue Lakes trailhead for a late afternoon hike in to base camp for Mt Sneffels, which was to be the first 14'000 peak for either of us. Our packs were pretty heavy since we didn't really know what to expect and brought lots of stuff. We headed onto the trail around 2:00 for the 3.5 miles and approximately 1,600 foot climb to our expected campsite near the shores of Blue Lakes at 11,000'.

After about 2 hours, we began to see the range of mountains that we were headed to. Eventually, the basin of Blue Lakes was apparent, as was the waterfall for the stream draining the lakes. We were dead beat when we arrived so we dropped our packs and quickly found a suitable campsite in the woods. Then we wandered down the shores of the lowest of three gorgeous alpine lakes. All along the shore there were wildflowers blooming in a mad confusion of color. It was near sunset and the light made the cliffs on the opposite side shine orange in places. Behind us were taller cliffs with fantastic waterfalls that we could watch for as long as we could stand it. Near the lake shore was a large boulder that we climbed on and took in the majesty of the mountain ampitheater.

There were two women camped nearby that were climbing Sneffels the next day and we chatted about routes and start times. They ended up heading out about an hour before us and we didn't see them until much later that day. We got out of camp around 7:00 as the sun was just hitting the ridge above us. As we passed the second lake a marmot poked up out of his hole and whistled to us as we passed. Later on we could look down on the the upper two lakes as we passed by some columbine, the Colorado state flower. We climbed a huge slope up to Blue Lakes Pass (13,000') with 16 (I counted) switchbacks until the pass was in sight. Here was our first big accomplishment of the day, we had climbed 2,000' in about 2 hours and were sitting on a high pass between Blue Lakes and Yankee Boy Basin. The spectacular scenery was hard to ignore while we ate our Powerbars and drank water.

The pass is the border of the Mount Sneffels Wilderness Area, the peak of Mt Sneffels is actually outside. The usual route for hikers is to come drive up the 4-wheel drive road to Yankee Boy Basin at 12,500'. There were several vehicles that we could see from the pass discharging paying passangers and either parking or heading back down. The true route dropped down from the pass until it hit the main route, then headed back up the scree slope to Lavendar Col. Instead, we headed across the jumble of rocks we could see how much elevation we'd dropped from Blue Lakes Pass. Soon we were joined by a large group, guided by a nearby ranch. The scamble up the loose scree was worth it as we crested the pass and were rewarded with more hero shots. But the most challanging part was yet to come, a 500' climb up a rocky couloir. We took it very slowly, because the rocks would shift under us, threatening to twist or break an ankle. But we kept climbing higher until we reached the top of the chute. The guided group took a slightly different route, going to the left of the couloir and out of our site. On the way up we ran into the two women who left before us from Blue Lakes. They were the first ones to Blue Lakes Pass and with no one else around to follow they missed the correct route up to Lavendar Col, but eventually found their way and were now headed down. About 20 feet below the top of the couloir there was a notch on the left. The top ended with a beautiful view down a huge cliff face. Once through the notch there were a few minuts of scrambling on some pretty exposed ledges, then the top. We'd made it!

One of the most amazing parts about being up there was that we could see exactly where we'd started that morning. With binoculars we could see our tent. We summited around 11:30, about 4 1/2 hours travel time for the ascent and we felt pretty good about that. Neither of us had headaches and we were tired but elated. We ate a good sized lunch and drank lots of water, but it was hard to pull our eyes away from the views in all directions. There were lots of other people up top, but everyone was in a good mood and friendly. We swapped stories with people and took photos for other hikers and had ours taken. But we wanted to be off the summit by noon, so we packed up and headed back down. Climbing back through the notch was the only nervous section for me. The trip down the rocky couloir was a bit difficult and tough on the ankles and nerves. But from Lavendar Col down into Yankee Boy was one huge scree ski. There were lots of folks still headed up but fortunately for them the weather held that day. We did the off trail traverse to the Blue Lakes Pass trail and paused before our last climb of the day, back up to the pass.

The big descent from the pass to the higher was very hard on us. We'd been hiking for seven hours and the constant downhill was getting to our knees. Our water was pretty much out and we were going to pump more once we got the lakeshore. There we made a decision to hike out that afternoon. Since Brenda was trying to go easy on her knee, I was going to go on ahead and break down the camp so we could pack up and head back down. The last part of the day felt so different than the first. I was exhausted, but knew there was more hiking ahead. The alpine lakes looked very different in the bright afternoon light versus the morning shadow. I wished I could just shower in the waterfalls but we both wanted to get out that day. I started packing up camp and Brenda arrived just about 15 minutes later. We were packed up and on the trail in another 30 minutes, neither of us wanted to stop for anything. We hit the trailhead with great relief around 5:00 and in another hour we were checking into a motel in Montrose.

Sneffels was a wonderful first 14'er. We could have spent another night at Blue Lakes but the shower and fine Italian dinner were calling our names. The Blue Lakes Pass route was much quieter and scenic than hiking up the Yankee Boy Basin road and we were glad we did it, even though it's longer.

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