The ApproachMountains: Snowmass Mountain (14,092’) and Hagerman Peak (13,841’)
Route: Started at Lead King Basin TH and climbed the West Slopes Route to Snowmass’ Summit. Traversed to Hagerman and looped back to the TH
Elevation Gain - 5000’ (approx)
Roundtrip Mileage / Time - 12 miles / 9hours
TH to Snowmass Summit - 4 hours
Snowmass to Hagerman - 2:15
Hagerman to TH - 2:45
We drove out of Boulder late on Saturday afternoon rather tired and dehydrated from the previous night’s party at doumall’s. We drove to the little town of Marble and drove up FR 315 pretty quickly (this, along with Forest Road 314 are rather tame and do not warrant comparison with South Colony Lakes (before its teeth were pulled out), or Lake Como Road). We went to bed at 10:30PM at Lead King Basin TH with an alarm set for 3AM. The night was clear, but there were passing showers overnight. When we did wake up finally at 5:15AM, we saw clear sky directly overhead but storm clouds approaching from all directions with lightning and thunder in the distance. We decided to hoof it anyway… at least we’d be safe until timberline and we’d assess the situation from there. We started hiking under headlamps at 5:50AM. The hike up to Geneva Lake went quickly. Close to the lake there is a maze of trails heading right and left to campsites. We stayed left on most of them staying high and to the left of the lake the whole time, and ascended a bench that took us to the foot of Snowmass. The sky due South boiled up several doses of trouble for us. The first wave of hail hit us at around 7:30AM. We ran for cover under a canopy of trees and lay there for about 20 minutes cursing our luck when the sky cleared up and we headed on again.
The West Slopes:
We reached the foot of the climb at 8AM. The route was pretty obvious.
The talus at the base of the slope was not too bad. We stashed our poles and quickly headed up the slope and over the grass. We stopped for a quick bite to eat and to warm up at 12,450’ at 8:30AM. As we prepared to leave we looked due South at the next approaching wave of weather. We would have to move quickly to be able to summit and descend to safety. We figured we would be fine if we summitted by 10AM. We resumed the climb at 8:45AM, aiming for a little over 1600’ vert in the next 75 minutes.
The following pictures reveal much of the terrain that is prevalent in the last 1600’ leading up to the Snowmass summit on this route.
About 150’ below the summit Joe yelled and pointed to the South. The clouds we’d neglected for a bit while concentrating on the Class 3 climbing had rolled closer. At this point he quickly scrambled up and left to North Snowmass while I ran up Snowmass. A cloud descended on us and there was wind and a little rain. We covered the last 150’ to our respective summits in 5 minutes. Joe grabbed this quick picture of Capitol from North Snowmass.
We both turned and ran downhill and reconvened at a sheltered gully roughly 50 feet below summit. We decided to buckle down and wait out the current wave for a few minutes. Like clockwork the sky cleared up again 15 minutes later, and Joe uttered the magic words… “I think we should attempt the traverse”. We climbed back up to Snowmass’ summit.
We looked across at Hagerman and assessed the weather situation. We might have just enough time to traverse across before the next wave came in from the South. We needed to move quickly and confidently over tricky terrain. There was one portion, the crux tower a little over halfway across the ridge which held the potential to cause problems, but we had a solution to work with from reading Lordhelmut’s (another climber on 14ers.com) report on the traverse from a few weeks prior.
We started down from Snowmass at 10:25AM. The initial part of the traverse is a fairly simple class 2+/3 scramble down to the saddle. We quickly covered ground half hiking, half running, and keeping a close watch on the next wave of weather.
This was what lay ahead of us…
The weather above us was clear now, but we absolutely had to get past the crux tower at any cost before weather rolled in again. There is an exposed knife edge that leads up to this tower. Thar she blows…
This is the close up shot also furnished in previous reports.
We studied an exposed ledge system skirting the tower along its right, but decided that the left looked a little better. We did not find a solution to summitting that tower that did not involve an exposed 5.0-5.2 move. We shuffled along a ledge heading to the left of the tower.
Joe headed up along the left of the knife edge
and I followed… The exposure on this particular section put a few spots on the LB-Blanca traverse to shame. There were no hand holds as this picture suggests. The wall in front of us was smooth as marble and it was immediately obvious to us that slipping was not a desirable option.
Here’s another look at the exposure below us.
Joe took this route up to the summit of the tower… There was a slight bulge and not the best holds. The rock was loose at spots and Joe mentioned that a 5.5 move was required.
I took a different route, climbing the crest of a fin to the left of this dihedral.
The holds were minimal. I would guess it was highly exposed 5.3, but the holds were solid although sparse.
What seemed like an eternity to me was exactly 2 minutes from the base of the fin to where Joe was positioned. Past this section the summit of the crux tower was close. There was a little exposed down-climbing on the other side of the tower, but the holds were great.
Here’s a shot of the tower with Snowmass Mtn. in the background. This was taken from a ways past the tower.
We scrambled quickly and could now smell the paper on Hagerman’s summit register. We were close. The next wave of weather was now rolling in and I heard muffled cloud to cloud thunder at least three times between the tower and where we were, but there was no bailing off from here. Joe had not heard the thunder yet. At that very moment I heard it a fourth time and yelled “Did you hear that?” The anticipated response arrived… “Oh $h!t”. We needed to move fast over Class 3/4 terrain. The summit pitch was hidden from where we were and there was no telling what would come around the bend and present itself. A cloud moved in on us like a shroud bringing visibility down quickly.
We rounded one final bend and found ourselves at the base of the summit pitch.
While this looks easy, it required a couple exposed low 5th class moves on smooth rock… and these moves were to be made with haste.
The exposure was keen, and the reward for enduring it was tremendous, given our mind-set… for right beyond this we found the summit block. The celebration was short-lived and we found no time to sign the register or even get summit photos except for this one…
We quickly ran down the first gully we found heading right off the summit. We scrambled from shelter to shelter. Adrenalin kept us in the game. I had never moved so fast down loose talus and scree.
We were down to around 13,400’, which translates to 461 vertical feet of descent in 7 minutes. Beelzebub’s minions were at work all around us.
We heard the sharp sound of lightning striking rock from the direction of the connecting ridge closer to Snowmass and heard a wave of hail approaching us. Snowmass’ summit would be an unhappy place to be we thought. At this point Joe actually found another person on Snowmass’ summit. We were now getting struck by hail the size of chick peas. We were in a mad rush now. We made it down below the hail and the storm clouds before we stopped for a breather... 1500 feet in the 35 minutes since leaving the summit. All thanks to adrenalin.
The rest of the trail was rather easy to follow although there was plenty of slipping and sliding over steep grassy slopes. We followed a cairned trail alongside a stream down to the lake. Down below the lake it started raining again. Lightning struck the high ridges and summits all around us and we got soaked in a very heavy downpour. We finally got back to the trailhead famished, tired and extremely lucky… The next time I hear chicken noises from the pit of my stomach when I head out on a bad weather day I’m turning around and heading back home.