Via Lead King Basin TH
Wednesday July 29, 2009
After working all day on Tuesday my friend Kevin and I made ready his 4 Runner and headed out due West on I-70. We made good time and after a brief stop in West Vail for a bite to eat, proceeded on to Glenwood Springs where we exited and picked-up route 82 heading South. The traffic wasn’t too bad and we soon made a right turn on route 133 and stopped for gas in Carbondale. Route 133 is a pleasant two-lane road that heads up along the Crystal River and before long we drove through Redstone and then made a left turn on route 3 towards Marble. We passed through this quaint little town and found the way to dirt FR 315 and headed out this 4-wd road with many switchbacks, hairpin- turns, ruts, narrow sections, humps, creek crossings, elevation gains and more lost as it took a good 45 mins to finally come to the end of the road at Lead King TH.
There wasn’t much daylight left as we parked at the very end of an open parking lot with two cars already there but no one around. We got ready the tent and tarp as thunder began to echo in from the West and barely finished getting all our stuff pulled together before the rains started. It was time for bed anyway, so we bedded-down as the storm got worse and the unmistakable sound of heavy hail was pelting down as I dozed-off to sleep.
My watch alarm sounded at 4:00AM as we awoke to clear/starry skies and we slowly got a quick breakfast down, readied our packs, donned our headlamps and got started at 5:05AM. First challenge was finding the trail which it turns-out was at the opposite end of the parking lot, next we lost the trail in the dark then backtracked and crossed a creek and finally found the good trail heading up into a small stand of aspens. The growth around the trail was very heavy as it was most apparent that this area has been getting plenty of rain this season making the trail barely discernable in the dark. We were soon drenched from the thighs down as the heavy rains from the night before had everything totally wet and brushing up against the growth became the only way to go.
The trail climbs up a series of meadows, switchbacks and over hill and dale as we heard and then saw a long continuous waterfall on our right that tumbled down from above and made for a beautiful scene right at first light. We stored-away our headlamps and continued up along a creek and then to Geneva Lake; a really picturesque setting with lots of trees, tall peaks, and a hand full of posted campsites. Directly ahead and above; Snowmass Mt rises above all else with its steep western pitch now most visible, at the very top there appeared to be a person standing on the summit.
The trail gains and loses elevation in several places and the wet growth had us pretty uncomfortable in the cool of the morning as the sun wouldn’t reach us for some time. We continued on the good trail to Little Gem Lake another postcard scene and then the trail becomes a bit faint as we headed to the left of a large rock outcropping and up over yet another rise and down to a large, very rocky rubble field to where we now stood at the very base of Snowmass Mt.
We reviewed out 14.com print-out and studied the route we would try best to take with a large green area about a 1/3 of the way up being a visual reference from below. Crossing the rubble field became the first of many obstacles and finding a line through the loose boulders and up to the right of a short gully directly ahead. My pace was a bit faster than Kevin’s and I made the top of the gully and then crossed a short wet section and got over to the left side and onto a grassy section where I then climbed up just to the left of the rocks and made good progress as I could now see where others had hiked here before me.
It wasn’t too long before the grassy section ran out and I was back on rock and dirt but still managed to see where others had hiked and continued up now where the pitch was steeper and finding my way up to the “green spot” became my next challenge. I was working pretty hard and that’s what kept me more comfortable because I found that when I stopped for a rest I could see my breath and with my wet condition it brought on a most unwelcome chill here in the shadows. The “green spot” brought the next obstacle; gaining the high ground just to the left of this patch of growth. I looked down far below and saw no sign of Kevin; I could only assume that he had turned back as I would have seen him in the grassy section below otherwise. I would go solo from here on.
Several rock slabs with very wet conditions made this area way slick and I took my time, grabbed a hand and foot hold wherever I could and cautiously climbed to the left and then up and across above the green patch and up onto more rock and dirt. Previous readings I had done from others trip reports told me to stay left of a large, snow-filled gully now visible and I made a zigzag advance on dirt wherever I could as the rains from the night before packed things down where if it were dry would have been an unpleasant, loose, scree. Gaining the top of this gully was my next task and as I looked around the morning was most beautiful with bright sun on the peaks to the west and rising clouds from the evaporating wetness down below.
Staying left and climbing on rock and dirt often on all fours made for a tiring passage up the side of the long gully and another smaller snow-patched gully was above this one. I took my time and was drying-out slowly as I went as I stayed hydrated as best I could as I still had a ways to go. Reaching the top of the long gully revealed the next smaller gully and then a prominent rock prow of sorts above that. From the readings I knew not to simply hike up the gully and reach the ridge above, but to continue above and to the right. I cleared the top of the smaller gully and then scrambled up the rocky prow where the sun now shown bright for the first time and I stayed right to where I could now see a rock formation with long, narrow blocks forming a small notch above and further right. I called this the “peace sign” and made this my next challenge.
Scrambling above and over to the “peace sign” was another tiring endeavor but my progress was good although slow and finding hand and foot holds on the loose rock was job one as a fall from here was unthinkable. With my face to the rock and climbing on all fours I made my way just to the left of the “peace sign” and gained a high point leading up a rocky rise and I soon clambered my way up and onto an empty summit at 10:44. Thanks to the writings of others and the mental notes I had made my route finding was spot-on and I found that what appeared to be a person from way below was in fact a large, narrow vertical block right on top.
The views were breath-taking and looking down the East side of Snowmass Mt with its massive snow-filled “bowl” from which it gets its name was awesome. Capital, Pyramid, the Maroon Bells all appear with their distinctive features and countless other peaks as far as the eye can see. Geneva and Gem Lakes well below to the Southwest looked even more brilliant from this high vantage. I was now very aware of dark building clouds moving in fast from the West. I didn’t waste much time and after taking some photos, some food & drink, signing the summit registry I knew it was now a race down before the eventual precipitation would begin. I filled my pocket with some Skittles and started down at 11:00AM.
Winds now became stronger from the West and scrambling down the way I had come seemed much easier for me as I’d made some more mental notes on my way up to help with the descent. “Crab-walking” with my tail against the rock on all fours worked well in many places and being able to look down to see where I had to go also went well. The dark clouds were closing fast and the winds brought unwelcome graupel and sprinkles. I kept moving as fast as I possibly could and still make a safe passage as things were starting to get a bit wet and slick. I also said my prayers to the good Lord above to help me to stay safe and help me to find my way down without mishap.
I only stopped long enough to get into my raincoat and I took in a few Skittles and water as I went to keep my energy up and my enthusiasm needed no further prodding to keep me on task to reach the low ground. Reaching the point above the “green patch” now showed a much easier passage just left heading down and the precipitation eased as I made it back down onto the lower section heading back through the grassy sections. It was however quite slippery here and I lost my concentration and footing in one spot and ended-up on my butt and was now rather wet once again. I slowed a bit as I continued uneventfully back across the rock/rubble field and back to more level ground and on to the trail proper here at tree line.
Weather conditions had now improved completely and I was soon out of my raincoat and making my way back through the forest and meadows where I took some more photos as I went but kept pressing on down with the sun now shining bright again. Here I saw and conversed with many people for the first time all day with warmer temps and humidity back through the overgrown trail as I kept a brisk pace through these lower sections filled with wildflowers in full bloom of countless types and colors; spectacular!! Back through the aspen stand and to the TH at 2:23PM where the clouds were now building yet again for another go. I was glad to find Kevin at the tent and made it inside with a couple cold beers just as the rains and hail started hard. I was pooped and was glad to lay down in our dry place for a good rest.
The rains finally stopped and we didn’t hesitate in breaking camp during the lull as the sun poked through again and allowed us to pack it in and get started back on the long road back to Marble at 4:05PM. Thankfully my prayers had all been answered……… My 45th 14’er………sweet!!