While I am recognizably an amatuer climbing 14ers (Windom, Massive, & Uncompahgre thus far), I thought it might be helpful to others for a report on the mountain as of today.
My friend Doug & I drove up Yankee Boy Basin on the morning of 5 July bright and early with plans to climb Mt. Sneffels. We proceeded near the end of the passable portion of the 4wd road at Wright Lake Spur trail. We parked and headed into Wright Lake Spur Trail as suggested by the Standard text by Gerry Roach.
It was apparent that we had one other group ahead of us based upon the trail register. The time was about 7:30am. Another couple of climbers met up with us a Wrights Lake as they started a few minutes behind us. With considerable snow in the upper basin, we discussed what would be the better route. Doug and I decided to continue to the right of Wrights Lake as indicated by the Roach book. The other couple decided to go to the left over some snow fields. I turns out that we picked the easier route that led to some old jeep trails and kept us out of the snow for as long as possible and soon led to the marked intersection reading "Sneffels, 0.9," The other group ended up burning much more energy than necessary but eventually reaching the same point after giving up and regaining a good deal of elevation over large snowy slopes.
As mentioned in the guidebook we held to the trail until our GPS read 12,700 ft at which point we left the trail and proceeded up the coulior toward the saddle. As one might expect, the less sloping lower 2/3 of the 900-ft coulior was snow covered with very few protrusions of talus. We worked our way up the snow which increased in steepness until we were on a mixture of scree and smaller talus with some dirt alleys toward the upper 1/3 of the coulior. As we neared the top of the coulior, we met the other couple that took the long way around on their way back down. We felt sure they had summitted and were already headed for home as they appeared to be very fit and experienced Colorado residents. Initially, they claimed to have summitted but upon closer dissection of their story they admitted turning around due to very steep snow on the gully leading to the summit from the saddle. A few minutes later, we met up with the two fellows that were first out that morning on their way down. They immediately told us that they had aborted thier summit push at the saddle because of the very steep snow and their lack of ice axes and crampons.
Upon hearing this from two groups of two climbers each that all looked to be much more experienced than Doug and I we were considerably discouraged but decided that we should continue the 200 vertical feet in the scree to see what we thought.
After a good 30 minutes, we arrived to see what they were talking about! As the corniced saddle transitioned into the gully leading up the last 400 feet up the summit, the snow reached an angle of 45+ degrees (1 to 1 slope). The runout on the slope lead to perilous snow on the larger coulior we had climbed up and a treacherous looking batch of talus on the other side. Doug climbed about 30 vertical feet up the gully against my advice but came to realize that the real difficulty was in downclimbing. He had at least 3 near misses on the way down just 30 feet. And with the runout and angle of slope, a glissade was out of the question for us. We decided, as did the other climbers, that climbing the snow up the last 400 ft wasn't safe for our experience levels.
While I wouldn't recommend novices such as myself climbing Sneffels for the next 2-3 weeks, an experienced climber should bring an ice axe and crampons for this final gully. For those of us less experienced, Sneffels will probably be in good shape by the end of the month or by the first of August.
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