When Angi suddenly found herself with a day off at the post office in observance of Ronald Regan's death, I quickly opened up the guidebooks looking for a long trip for our three day weekend. I picked Snowmass due to it's long approach, and figured it would be a great time of year to see the mountain's famous snowfield.
Thursday night before we left we had to pack in the dark since we had a pretty long power outage. At least we knew our headlamp batteries were good. We left Boulder at 11am and quickly found ourselves turning South in Glenwood Springs, headed for the Elk Range.
As always, Roach's directions led us directly to the trailhead, where we found only two other cars. Angi packed her new gaiters which she was very happy to own, considering her old ones. Also, I forgot to pack the lower half of my zip off pants, despite two reminders from Angi. Fortunately, I had my extra pants (which I later ripped with a crampon).
We finally were on the trail at 3:30pm. I had read many differing reports of the steepness of the trial to Snowmass Lake. It found it to be somewhat uphill for a few miles at a time, and almost flat for a few miles in some sections. The first part is somewhat uphill, but I didn't notice too much with the amazing aspen forests surrounding us. It was really incredible, we felt like we were on safari in the jungle (almost).
Once we had gone roughly halfway, we were greeted by tremendous views of North Snowmass to the west. We did not know this was the summit at the time, but noticed it's distinctive shape on the descent. When you catch this view of the peak, you'll know you're halfway to the lake. Also, as you crest the rise beyond this point, and enter the flat valley which holds Oxbow Lake at 10,000' there are some stinging nettles to watch out for. Make sure you've got gaiters or long pants on.
We then reached Oxbow Lake and saw some people camping. They were headed for the summit, but had decided to camp rather than cross the creek below the lake. They had followed Roach's description and stayed on the east side of the lake, which proved fruitless, and they had to return to the bottom of the lake to find a way across to pass the lake on the west side.
There was an obvious trail on the west side of the lake, so we chose to cross. Since Angi's boots are quite waterproof still, I suggested she put on her gaiters, and make a run for it through the knee deep water. She did, but did not cinch them down sufficiently, and we both found ourselves with wet feet on our way up to the lake. I knew we would need to find a better method on the return trip.
After five hours we found ourselves at the lake, greeted by the fading pink of sunset. We knew time had been short, and we had achieved our goal of reaching the lake before dark. We quickly setup camp and got dinner going and soon found ourselves happily in the tent.
The next morning awoke in the dark at 4:45 and were headed around the south side of the lake by sunrise. The path around the lake was steep snow, where a slide would send you into the lake, so we moved carefully. We took about an hour to reach the far side of the lake, only .75 miles from our camp.
We chose to ascend the snowfilled southern gully, as it seemed to be the most direct route to the snowfield proper. We paused to put on crampons and helmets and headed up the couloir. There was a bit of rockfall around, most of which came from the rubble strewn pile on the right side, rather than the cliffs looming above the left side. Angi was dragging pretty badly, and we had a pretty close call with a watermelon sized rock. We exited the couloir after about an hour, gaining about 1,000'.
It had been three hours, and we had only ascended 1,000' above the lake. Although we had 2,000' remaining, the summit looked very close, as it was difficult to gage distance over the vast expanse of the snowfield. We made steady progress which reminded me greatly of traveling over the Great Sand Dunes. We would try to find the most efficient route over the rolling hills of stark white snow, with the imposing cliffs and sounds of rockfall to our left.
We had now reached 13,000' after slow and steady progress up the snowfield. I paused to check the route description and map, and we aimed, as suggested by Roach, for the prominent rise between the Hagerman-Snowmass saddle. The route did seem to be the easiest access to the summit ridge, although the last section seemed quite steep from our vantage point. The day had dawned clear, but clouds had been building all day. Not only stormy clouds, but high clouds as well.
I continued to lead toward the rock band which would lead to the summit ridge. When I was almost close enough to reach the rock, the snow suddenly gave way under my feet, and I sank to my waist in rotten, wet snow. I foundered a bit, and got my balance under control. I searched for a while, but there was no way to safely access the rock above which seemed so close. It was out of reach, and we were out of time.
We took a quick picture, and decided on a descent route. The slope was very steep, but soft with a safe runout, so we removed our crampons and started off on a very exciting glissaide. The rest of the snowfield was not as steep, so I used my shovel as a sled to keep sliding on the wet snow. We aimed for the standard route, rather than the gully we had ascended.
Without difficulty we found where the normal route descends from the snowfield, as it follows the large creek down the loose face. We paused to pick up some garbage, and soon found ourselves post holing badly on the steep snowfields on the south side of the lake. In hindsight, it would have been worth our time to have worn crampons while traversing the snow when it was frozen hard in the morning, as it would have made progress faster. Also, a fall into the icy lake would have at the very least, ended our summit day.
After seven hours of work, we finally collapsed into the tent, and stripped off our gear, wet from the melting snow and warm temperatures. After our nap, we just hung out in the tent until dinner. At dinner, it began snowing, and we were welcomed by some very noisy neighbors, who camped across the creek from us.
Since this was the most beautiful place I have been in Colorado (I've been living here for 22 years!), I felt I had to get up early for some sunrise pictures. Also, as a sucker for punishment, I chose to ascend a steep gully to the south of the lake, so get a view of Snowmass Mountain from a less frequently seen angle. The morning was cloudy, and I only managed to get a few pictures with the morning sun on Snowmass, but it was awesome none the less.
On the descent, we were again annoyed by all the deadfall on the trail, which made progress slow as we carefully navigated many large trees which had fallen across the trail. I chose to cross Snowmass Creek below Oxbow Lake on the large logjam. It was very sketchy, and I risked a fall into waist deep water, but with the aid of trekking poles, I kept both my feet completely dry. Angi cinched down her gaiters and made a run for it across the creek, and faired much better than on the ascent.
Next time, I will make sure to bring a fishing rod, as there were numerous large fish in Snowmass Lake. In fact, we saw a few which were probably 18 inches, which is very large for a high mountain lake. This was truly the greatest place I have been in Colorado, and I cannot wait to return to reach the summit.