OverviewLocated in the West Needles Group of the San Juan Range, less than an hour from Durango, Colorado, Snowdon Peak is a fun mountain that is very accessible and can easily be climbed in a day. Although it does not have quite the magnificent relief of its more famous neighbor to the Southwest, Engineer Mountain, Snowdon is an impressive peak that yields incredible views of the rest of the San Juans, including the remote 14ers Mount Eolus, Windom Peak, and Sunlight Mountain to the South. From the summit you can also see the beautiful town of Silverton and the Animas River Gorge, thousands of feet below the summit. Total elevation gain from the trailhead is about 2,300 feet. The easier Northeast Ridge Route involves about 6 miles of hiking round trip, with the West Buttress route being a mile or two shorter.
Perhaps the most appealing point of Snowdon is its ease of access and proximity to Durango. The routes are easily visible from HWY 550 and can be accessed in an hour or so from the parking lot at Andrews Lake. This means that you can get an early start in Durango, head up 550 and bag the summit of Snowdon before afternoon thunderstorms become a threat, and be back in Durango enjoying nachos and beer by late afternoon.
There are two esablished routes on Snowdon, the the Northeast Ridge ,an easier second to third class route and the West Buttress, a more difficult third to fourth class route. There is also an inviting coloiur that cleaves the mountain below and left of its summit proper. Hopefully someone will give us more information on this potential route.
Snowdon is not a talus heap like many mountains in the area, but is actually composed of fairly solid rock that yields the buttresses and "roofs" seen in the middle of the mountain below the summit. However, the routes of this mountain traverse many areas of loose rock, which is fairly typical for mountains in the San Juans.
Snowdon shares a roadhead with numerous other peaks, including the Twilight Group and West Needle Mountain, which form the popular backdrop for Purgatory/Durango Ski Resort. If you have some time in the area, a tour of Snowdon, the Twilights and Engineer is a great way to spend a few days in this beautiful area of Colorado.
A decent guide for the mountains in this area is The San Juan Moutains: a Climbing and Hiking Guide by Robert Rosebrough. Although the route descriptions are a little spartan, this guide is a great introduction to all of the classic routes in the area, particularly those not covered in the more famous guides to Coloroado's Fourteeners.
Getting ThereFrom Durango take US HWY 550 north for about forty miles to just south of Molas Pass, which is the second pass you encounter on the way from Durango to Silverton. Turn off of 550 onto the paved road to the East that heads to Andrews Lake. Follow the road for a quarter of a mile or so and park at the paved lot near the lake. Here you will find restroom facilities and a dock for fishing. (Updated access info courtesy of attm).
The trail starts just south of the lake. The road from 550 to Andrews Lake is impassible in winter but is used as a cross-country ski trail. If you come here during winter, park on the shoulder of 550 and follow the trail to Andrews Lake.
The easier route involves 6 miles and 2,333 feet of elevation round trip.
Red TapeNo permits or fees are required. Parking is usually adequate, but this can be a popular spot on weekends.
When To ClimbJune through September are generally best. Winter and Spring ascents are possible, but be prepared for massive amounts of snow and possible avalanche danger.
As with almost any moutain in this part of the country, beware of afternoon thunderstorms that can develop in minutes and unleash a fury on you. One is very exposed to lightning on this mountain and the rock would be very slick in the rain.
CampingAn overnight stay is not necessary for this peak, especially when the bars of nearby Durango beckon. The town of Silverton, about 20 miles to the North, also has limited lodging. Nevertheless, abundant camping can be found in the area around Snowdon Peak and Engineer Peak. Camping is apparantly allowed at the trailhead. Good backcountry camping can be found in the beautiful meadow next to Crater Lake, which is situated about five miles in from the trailhead on a high, broad plateau below Snowdon Peak.
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