Mt. Sneffels in “Winter“

Route Stats:

Route: Started at the Camp Bird road winter closure at 9140’ and hiked the standard route up the Lavender col to summit and back
Crew: Adam, Jamie and Prakash
Distance and Elevation Gained: 15 miles and ~5000 feet


I’d been considering a long 14er trip over the Prez day weekend since I wanted to take small steps towards getting my ass in mountain shape again. Divi persuaded me to take off despite Valentine’s Day falling over that weekend. I began speaking to Jamie about a Holy Cross ascent but as we got closer to the weekend we found much better conditions in the San Juans… Jamie suggested a shot at Sneffels instead and I bit immediately. Although he much preferred a shot at Tea Kettle he graciously agreed to do Sneffels with me since I wanted a 14er ascent + skiable descent route, besides Sneffels was on his list as well. While I was packing on Thursday night after work, Divi baked me some paleo-friendly brownies to share with the dudes (on top of letting me vamoose on a bachelor trip on Valentine’s day), which perfectly satisfied sugar cravings without the dairy to exacerbate my HAFE.

Jamie and I met Adam at the Morrison Park and ride on 285 and we drove together to Aaron’s place in Ridgway. We arrived there a little past midnight. While Aaron is one hell of a guy already for putting up with our late night disruptions, he did one better by giving us a bit of beta from one of his Sneffels climbs a few years ago with the legendary Ken Nolan. After catching up we turned in a hair past 1AM

The Approach:

When the alarm went off at 3:04AM we oozed out of our couches and sleeping bags with as much alacrity as middle aged sloths heading down their trees to make daily excrement. We readied our packs, crammed down some breakfast and drove to the trailhead. We arrived at the winter closure at ~9100′ and geared up. We left the car at about 4:40AM. I carried skis and boots on my back and was thankful that I’d brought light hiking shoes since the mining closure leaves winter outdoor enthusiasts with a long ~3-ish mile, ~1600’ dirt slog approach in this dry SJ winter.

We began the slog steadily and made decent progress up the steep road inhaling refreshing carbon monoxide from the parade of mining vehicles that were kind enough to help us HTFU by neglecting to offer us a ride. Adam’s pace is very Speedy Gonzalez and he wanted to go ahead and nap for a while whilst waiting for us to catch up where the dirt ended and snow began – an insult to our fitness levels, but it served as another reminder to HTFU. He blasted off while Jamie and I followed at a more mortal pace, licking our salty wounds. The plowing ended at roughly 10,700’ past the mine but there was no sign of Adam. Jamie got on snowshoes and I got on my skis, leaving approach shoes by the sign for Sneffels. We saw snowshoe tracks ahead and surmised that Adam headed up the trail. We went ahead yelling for him every few minutes but found no further Speedy prints or scat.

The high peak summits began receiving sunhit as we continued up YBB road over one of Stony’s low, broad shoulders.

There was no sign of Sneffels yet but Teakettle made a guest appearance.

We kept on skinning and snow-shoeing ahead making steady progress up while the sun finally rose up from behind Potosi and gently toasted our gizzards that had previously shrunk to the sub-coccal area.

The Climb:
We reached the 4WD summer trailhead at 8:50AM and hung out for quite a while. There was still no sign of Adam and we wondered if he’d missed the trail cutoff and headed off to Governor basin.

Gilpin strutted about proudly at the head of the basin in her wintry woolens trying to draw our attention away from Sneffels and succeeding, for Sneffels who looks grand from 550 looks like a random pile of rubble from the South.

The snow slope up to Lavender col was littered with rock and wet-slide debris and coverage in one of the birthday chutes originating closest to the summit also looked questionable from our vantage point.

Jamie needed to hasten to some personal business while I began skinning up the still rather icy snow slope to the col. To maintain the intended PG13 rating for this report, a veil of modesty must be cast over pictorial representation of him dropping the kids off.

A couple hundred feet below the col it got too icy to continue skinning at that slope angle – a little softer and I could have probably managed to get to the top without having to shoulder the skis.

Jamie heading up towards Lavender col…

At the top of the col I continued going up a small couloir that bypassed a fourth class crux to the ridge which is supposedly sketch in the winter. I started out without crampons and the ski boots wouldn’t bite the snow without crampons anymore so I pulled off into a small shelf to strap crampons on and take skis off. Jamie stopped to strap up a short while before the col. I imagine the Koflach Degres might not offer as much purchase in hard pack as AT boots.

The couloir to the ridge…

We continued past the shelf up on to the face below the summit and followed deep, weaving post holes from a prior descent. The snow on that aspect had softened more than the one leading up to the col but was still not starting to get wet.

Summit and Descent:
We topped out shortly after noon. Gilpin looks small from the summit of Sneffels…

We’re just a couple of sgladbach fans after all, and wished he could have joined us on this trip…

At this point we saw a spot hauling ass up past Lavender col and we decided to lounge around in case it was Adam. About 45 minutes later we were pleasantly surprised to find that it was Speedy after all – he’d hauled up behind us after a ‘short side trip’ to Governor basin. The guy is incredibly fit and motivated.

While Adam topped out and took pictures I began hustling down to get skins off and prep for the descent since it was starting to get pretty warm. Jamie and Adam followed soon after and we began descending the couloir to Lavender col – them plunge stepping and me skiing.

The snow slope below the col was starting to get soft… very late Spring feel. It took a bit of work to thread a line between the boulders. I napped for a bit by the 4WD TH and signed the register.

When Adam and Jamie reached the 4WD TH they asked me to ski off and meet them at the car which was nice of them. The ski was a blast despite the trap crust, mash and surprise creek crossings hiding behind bulges. The steep road was a bit of a pain to walk down at the end of the ski. I was cautious walking down the shelf road because it was littered with signs of melting ice and rock releases. I also stopped and chatted with a few local ice climbers exploring the various cracks and crevices in the shelf road that were laden with ice.

I was back down to the car at a little before 4PM. When Adam and Jamie got back down we wasted no time driving back to Aaron’s to let him know we were safe and then drove back to the Denver area right afterwards with myself and Adam trading driving shifts. Thanks, fellows for one more excellent adventure in the SJs.


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