For my 2010 trip to the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness I had two primary objectives, climb Snowmass Mountain and climb Len Shoemaker Peak. I had wanted to try both of these climbs on my 2009 trip to the Bells, but for a variety of reasons attempts never materialized. Due to this, for my return trip to the Bells this year, attempting to bag both of these peaks became the focus. We backpacked into Snowmass Lake on Monday and were fortunate enough to summit Snowmass Mountain on Tuesday. We saved Len Shoemaker Peak for Thursday but unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate and we weren’t able to summit. It rained nearly the entire time we were on the trail and on the mountain, and attempting a wet climb up the class 3 summit ridge was not prudent. So we settled for just climbing up into Len Shoemaker Basin.
While just climbing into the basin might make it sound like we were just settling, the challenge involved with climbing into the basin drew me to Len Shoemaker Peak as much as trying to reach the summit itself. Kane’s Mountain Page for Len Shoemaker Peak, along with several trip reports for Thunder Pyramid, described the difficulty of just negotiating through the cliff bands up to the basin itself. So while yes I would have preferred to summit, I realized early in our day that that wasn’t a reality, but at least getting up into the basin was feasible despite the bad weather. And getting to Len Shoemaker Basin would be a victory in itself.
I apologize for the poor quality of many of the photos in this report, but weather on the day of this climb was horrible. The rain never let up so it was impossible to keep my camera lens dry, resulting in less than high quality photos. Also, these pictures are being submitted more for informational purposes than inspirational purposes. I have tried to detail the route up into the basin. That being said, if you prefer to go after a route with less beta than more, than you probably want to stop reading now.
We got a good look at Len Shoemaker Peak from Minnehaha Gulch on our climb out from Snowmass Lake on Tuesday. Len Shoemaker Peak dominates the center of the picture, with Len Shoemaker Ridge to the right and the Pyramid Massif to the left of Len Shoemaker Basin.
Signs of things to come. Looking up into Len Shoemaker Basin from West Maroon Creek Trail. The clouds lied low and it was already drizzling. The weather would get no better the rest of the day.
Several hundred yards after crossing West Maroon Creek there is an obvious clearing and a small cairn marking a faint trail initially leading up towards the first cliff band and gully.
After leaving the West Maroon Creek Trail follow the faint trail up towards the boulderfield. The key to success for reaching Len Shoemaker Basin is to find the breaks in the cliff bands that will lead you higher into the basin. The first gully is not easily visible even after starting the climb up the boulderfield, but eventually does become quite obvious as you ascend.
After ascending a short way up into the initial boulderfield, the entrance to the first gully becomes obvious.
Rob, entering the 1st gully.
Looking up the 1st gully. Plenty of loose Elk Range rock!
Looking up the 2nd gully. Shortly after leaving the 1st gully the 2nd gully comes into view. It is really hard to miss!
To reach the entrance of the 2nd gully we climbed above the boulders at the exit of the 1st gully that led to a small grass clearing. From there the entrance to the 2nd gully was quite obvious.
Looking up the 2nd gully. Again, pleny of loose Elk Range rock!
Rob, ascending the 2nd gully.
Rob, at the top of the 2nd gully, getting ready to ascend the 3rd gully.
Above the 3rd gully there is still one more cliff band to negotiate through. There appeared to be two options for negotiating this cliff band. About half way up in this picture there is another boulder infested gully leading off to the right. This gully does appear to take you up to the basin. We chose to stay on the tundra, get above the trees seen on the left, and veer left on tundra to a tundra gully that finally led us into Len Shoemaker Basin. Once above the 3rd gulley we were done fighting loose rock.
The 4th gully, which we chose to not climb.
Rob, veering left on the tundra, so we could avoid the 4th gully.
Looking up at the tundra climb to Len Shoemaker Basin.There is a narrow break in the cliffs just right of center, and we were able to stay on tundra up through this break.
Looking up at the break in the cliff band and the last portion of the tundra climb to Len Shoemaker Basin.
Cold and wet, but very happy to have made it up into Len Shoemaker Basin.
On our descent, looking down at the 3rd gully from above. I highly recommend making good mental notes on your ascent to aid in route finding on the descent. There are a few small cairns to help with the route finding, but with all the boulders, the route down got a little confusing at times.
Rob, at the bottom of the 3rd gully, heading for the entrance to the 2nd gully.
Rob, heading through a small break in the cliffs which leads into the 2nd gully, on our descent from Len Shoemaker Basin.
A look back at Len Shoemaker Basin on our hike out. We had high hopes earlier in the day that the weather would clear. Obviously it never did!
"So I was sitting in my cubicle today, and I realized, ever since I started working, every single day of my life has been worse than the day before it. So that means that every single day that you see me, that's on the worst day of my life."
--Peter Gibbons (Office Space)