Sneffels has been on my to do list for quite some time and it did not disappoint! This would be my first foray into the Ouray area, and this was the most scenic area I have been to so far in Colorado. My wife Jenni was along for the ride this time to get her some training for a climb in Idaho later this month as she had only hiked above treeline once since last summer. We left C. Springs around 2:30pm with hopes of arriving in Ouray before dark. The long 5.5 hour drive didn't seem too bad with the incredible scenery to gaze upon along the way. As we came to Montrose, views of the San Juans to the south unfolded and Sneffels stood tall as the monarch of the area.
We made it up the narrow areas of the shelf road before dark, driving all the way to our intended starting point at just above 11000'. The shelf road would be a scary proposition in winter or with an approaching car! I parked at 11K' to satisfy my personal 3K' total gain requirement, when in hindsight I should have just parked at the 2WD trailhead or at one of the pullouts I did not know about above this spot. Since it was dark, I did not pull to the edge of the road and had a few choice words on my car when we returned. We slept in the car and awoke to clear skies at 3:45am.
After the usual scrambing about in the dark getting things ready, we set out at 4:30am with temps probably in the upper 20's. The jeep road was for the most part clear all the way to the 4WD trailhead at 11420', but was more like a creek bed in spots with all of the recent snowmelt. At this trailhead, we met another couple who were preparing for the climb. As expected, the snow was pretty deep beyond this point with 2-3" of fresh powder on top of a well consolidated layer. Snowshoes were not needed for the entire day as the temp probably stayed below 40. As dawn approached, the basin came alive with color and we were rewarded with incredible views of 13'ers Potosi, Teakettle, and Gilpin. The couple we met below soon passed us and they or a CMC group broke trail for us the rest of the way. I called it our stairway to heaven! At around 11800', we decided to avoid traversing underneath a loaded slope and gain the shoulder to our right, following the steps of the couple. The CMC group soon passed us, so as long as the weather held and conditions in the gullies above were favorable, the summit was attainable.
We stashed our snowshoes at around 12400', preparing for the climb up Lavender Col. As we rounded the corner, we came to the base of the first gully. There was no evidence of recent slides and the base layer was very solid, so I felt that the avy danger was minimal. As the gully steepened, we donned our crampons about halfway up as did the other groups. This was the first time I have worn my Petzl crampons, and I was pleased with their performance. As we approached the 13500' saddle between Kismet and Sneffels, I noticed that the couple had decided to take an alternate route up another couloir. I knew the standard couloir was at the top of the saddle, so we pressed on. To get out of the wind, I climbed all the way to the base of the couloir and waited for Jenni who was a couple hundred feet below. It was apparent that she was struggling with the steeper, harder snow, so I went back down to assist her to the shelter of the rocks. I knew she was flustered by the steepness, so I felt she should wait for me here as the weather was going to hold and conditions were comfortable enough to wait.
I made my way up the 600' couloir, following the tracks of the CMC climbers. The sun had still not hit the snow here, so conditions were very safe. As I climbed, I saw the back of the group climbing the class 3 section to the right of the standard route through the v-notch. As expected from recent trip reports, the easy v-notch was still blocked by a sizeable cornice, so I climbed solid class 3 rock with my crampons on and topped out with a view of the summit. I made sure I had solid purchase on every step from here, as the drops to the left were a little intimidating for me. The CMC group was making their way down as I approached the summit, warning me of cornices to the right. I finally topped out at 9:34, as the couple we had met were getting ready to leave. I wish I would have had more time to enjoy this stunning place, as the views here were the best I have seen on any summit. Hard to believe there is such a straightforward route on this mountain from the way it looks below! After some crampon adjustments, video, and pics, I was headed back down at 10am to race the weather and melting snow.
Leaving the summit, there is a lot of air below you to the right, so I used the rocks for extra security and peace of mind. This stretch would be easy when dry, but is a little intimidating with snow. The class 3 downclimb was not as bad as expected, and the hard part was over. I met back up with Jenni and most of the CMC group at the saddle, at which point a fun glissade awaited! Dark clouds now loomed to the west, but they looked to be no more than snow showers. Snow began to fall as we followed our tracks down to our snowshoes, but the visibility never deteriorated significantly. Since Jenni doesn't hike much in soft snow, we made slow but steady progress back to the car. The postholing was minimal even on the descent, so we were lucky to have such a fine day. We made it back to our car at 12:30, packed our stuff, and headed down the entertaining shelf road to Ouray for pizza and a relaxing visit at a hot spring pool (not the big one). Snow can make things quite interesting, but it sure made the eye candy of the mountains even more appealing!