View of the Traverse
From the West: (from left) Capitol Peak, "North Snowmass", Snowmass Mountain, Hagerman Peak, Snowmass Peak.
This is a complete ridge traverse of the long, difficult ridge that rises northwest from Trail Rider Pass in the Elk Mountains. Summits along the ridge include Snowmass Peak (13,620'), Hagerman Peak (13,841'), Snowmass Mountain (14,099'), "North Snowmass" (14,020'), and Capitol Peak (14,325'). When Goldielocks and I attempted this in September 2011, we affectionately named it The Gift That Keeps on Giving after a rather trying effort. We abandoned the route after completing Part 1.
Primarily rockfall and exposure but also loose blocks underfoot, which can result in falls and getting crushed. Wet weather increases the risk.
Part 1 of the route takes the climber from Trail Rider Pass to Snowmass Mountain and back out via Snowmass Lake and the standard route on Snowmass. 21.6 miles, 7,150' elevation gain
Part 2 of the route takes the climber from Snowmass Mountain to Capitol Peak and back out via Moon Lake and West Snowmass Creek. 20.26 miles, 7'839' elevation gain
The Gift That Keeps on Giving (Part 1 + Part 2 in one effort): 20.37 miles, 9,189' elevation gain
Please sign the climber's log if you have completed Part 1, Part 2, or (incredibly) the entire Gift That Keeps on Giving.
Logistically, there are only a couple ways to complete this route because it will be necessary to return to the starting point:
If completing the entire route in a single, multi-day effort, use the Snowmass Creek Trailhead.
Use either the Snowmass Creek trailhead or the Lead King Basin approach (from the west side, requires 4x4).
Use the Snowmass Creek trailhead.
The route is described from the Snowmass Creek Trailhead just outside of Snowmass Village.
Take the Snowmass Creek trail to Trail Rider Pass. The trail is wide and well-trodden and take care crossing the log jam. It is likely that the approach or retreat (or both) will be completed during the night, so watch for signed junctions. Be wary of your water supply. The main trail does not go down to Snowmass Lake and once you pass the turnoff (to the lake), there is nothing. If you need to refill, take the time to walk down to the lake.
On the return from Part 1, be sure not to miss the trail junction: the West Maroon trail cuts off to the left and Maroon-Snowmass trail cuts uphill to the right. This occurs after the 1st cattle gate and before the 2nd cattle gate. In 2011, this sign was broken and low to the ground. But it is there and it is obvious if you're expecting it. On the off chance that you do miss the junction and discover 2 miles later that you've taken the wrong trail, don't fret: I've been told that the wrong trail actually spits you out about 10 minutes from your car! (This is where a GPS really comes in handy.)
From Trail Rider Pass, head north, straight up the buttress that comes off the southeast face of Snowmass Peak. The best path is the direct one. This climb is loose but easier than it looks. It is similar in difficulty to Pyramid’s class 4 section. Snowmass Peak is nothing more than the end of the ridge to Hagerman Peak.
Continue west along the ridge to Hagerman Peak and then head north across the Class 3+ ridge to Snowmass Mountain. It is important to realize that you will be changing cardinal direction once past Hagerman.
The Hagerman-Snowmass ridge is composed of large, loose blocks and can be quite exposed in sections. While it may be tempting to traverse along the west side of the ridge (the east side is a sheer drop off), this is also the most dangerous part of the mountain. Multiple ribs and gullies shoot off the ridge, and it is best to avoid these. Also, giant rock avalanches are common here. Snowmass Mountain's west face has claimed at least one life. Stay on the ridge.
Once you finally reach Snowmass Mountain you have completed Part 1 of The Gift That Keeps on Giving. Breathe. This is the moment of truth...do you have what it takes to keep going? Or will you take the standard route down to the relative security of Snowmass Lake? If you still have energy, now is the time to decide where you will bivy, because Part 2 of the Gift is no place to be climbing after dark.
Part 2 will take you across "North Snowmass" to the frightening Snowmass-Capitol ridge. Prepare yourself.
Although a couple recent reports tell of 5.7 runout technical climbing along the traverse from Snowmass to Capitol, two individuals have claimed a solo traverse from Snowmass Mountain to Capitol Peak, indicating that it can be done without gear. Larger parties that have attempted and completed this section of the ridge have tended to rely on roped climbing, thus slowing them down. Keep in mind that on a ridge of this nature (length, exposure, solidity, etc.) there will likely be several variations. Regardless, careful attention to every grab and foothold is imperative along the entire ridge. This may be one of those ridges that is best done in the winter, when snow glues everything together. Use your own judgement.
Once on Capitol, descend the standard northeast ridge to "K2" then, if you are hearty, continue the ridge direct route descent. If not, then drop down to Moon Lake and locate the West Snowmass Creek trail. Arrive at the car and collapse.
This bonus peak is for the truly hearty. From the Daly saddle, complete the cirque by ascending Mt. Daly (13,200'). Return to the saddle and follow the trail down to Moon Lake and then out via West Snowmass Creek.
I have rated this traverse as 5.0 YDS. I am not an expert at rating routes; however, a few points: Very few people have completed any part of this ridge traverse and, as far as I can tell, only one climber (Noah) has suggested a proper rating (5.7). In September 2011, Goldielocks and I set out to confirm the difficulty of this ridge. While we did not complete our quest, I believe a lower 5.X route exists, possibly even Class 4. The difficulty encountered will be a direct result of route-finding. It is usually best to expect the worst.
In my opinion, speed is a key factor for success in the loose jambalaya of the Elk Mountains, something to keep in mind when you're overloading your pack or continuously slinging a rope. Use your best judgment.
Essential GearPart 1: helmet, lots of water, rope & slings recommended, ice ax if you plan to descend Snowmass Mountain's snow field.
Part 2: helmet, more water, 60 meter rope, webbing for slings, small rock rack (for emergencies), harness, biners or rappel rings.
External LinksCapitol-Snowmass Traverse Route Description
Capitol to Snowmass Trip Report, by Kiefer Thomas
Capitol Peak's Northeast Ridge Direct Route
Snowmass to Hagerman Traverse (from Lead King Basin) Trip Report, by maverick
Another Trip Report of Capitol to Snowmass Traverse (same party as above)
And the Mountain Project Route