Sat/Sun, September 1-2, 2007
Snowmass Mountain (14,092’) – CO Rank 31
East Slopes (Class 3)
Jim & Karen Ohl, Jeremy Myers
It’s hard to believe but we finally reached our last scheduled 14er of the summer, Snowmass Mountain. Snowmass is one of the more remote 14ers with a couple of different class 3 routes to choose from. After a bit of research we opted for the East Slopes route, which would involve a long but gentle approach with an overnight at beautiful Snowmass Lake. Seemed like the perfect way to enjoy an extended September weekend.
After a 90 minute battle Saturday morning trying to get the VCR to talk to the satellite dish receiver (which ended in vain) so I could tape the Virginia Tech home opener against ECU, I finally gave up and we left Colorado Springs around 10am. The drive over to the Aspen area plus a few brief stops put us at the Snowmass Creek trailhead and ready to hike at 2:50pm. The parking lot was packed and we hoped there would still be a good camping spot left for us at the lake. The first 3 miles went by fast as we gained scarcely any significant elevation and managed to keep a quick pace.
Cool spires making up the north ridge of 13er Willoughby Mountain
The views along the way through the aspen were beautiful, although it was a bit strange to hear cows mooing at us from across Snowmass Creek. We kept a solid pace all the way to the creek crossing at mile 6.3, reaching the log jam at about 5:20pm.
Karen crossing the log jam on Snowmass Creek
The last 2 miles up to the lake were a bit of a slog as we were feeling the weight of our packs, but we made it to the lake by 6:25pm, ahead of schedule and in time to enjoy the spectacular views lakeside before setting up camp. Jeremy Myers had been kicking around the idea of driving over from Grand Junction after work Saturday, and day-hiking up to the lake Sunday morning to meet us at our campsite to hike to the summit, so we secured a good campsite where he would be able to find us if he made the trip. We were both looking forward to a fine dinner of chicken Ramen and sunflower seeds when we realized we had everything we needed except some sort of utensils…doh!...there’s always something. Karen made due using the pot holder as a spoon and I just drank my dinner from the pot lid. We went to bed around 8:30pm with clear skies, a good sign for tomorrow.
Beautiful Snowmass Lake!
The alarm went off at 5:20am Sunday morning and I was surprised to see clouds overhead when I crawled out of the tent. The forecast was for a 20% chance of rain so I hoped these clouds would just burn off as the sun came up. We stripped our backpacks down as much as possible, grabbed a quick breakfast, and set off around the south side of the lake at 6:15am. The first half mile or so wound around the lake along a narrow trail overgrown with tall willows. I was glad it hadn’t rained the night before as swimming across the lake would have probably left you drier on the other side. From the west side of the lake we proceeded west across a small boulder field marked with cairns to a steep scree gully leading up from the lake. The cairned trail continued on up along the left side above the gully for a few hundred feet and then crossed over to the grassy slopes on the right side for the rest of the way.
Our approximate path shown in red
There was a faint trail or more often individual steps up the grassy slopes, but it was much more pleasant than climbing the scree gully. I was feeling pretty sluggish going up this slope, realizing I hadn’t recovered well over night and really needed to eat. Karen did a good job keeping me going and we gradually made our way to the top of the slope where the angle relented. I had plotted the next segment of the route in my GPS, but the rounded bump on Snowmass’s southeast ridge we were targeting was obvious. Typically the route to the ridge is snow-covered, which I’m sure makes for a fun and more efficient snow-climb, but in September the east slopes is just a giant rock garden.
Ascending the rock garden on the east slopes of Snowmass Mtn
We tried our best to spot the cairned route to the ridge but to say the cairns are sparse is an understatement. In hindsight, we probably wasted more time looking for them than it was worth as most were tiny and blended in well with the terrain. If I had to do it over again, I’d just make a beeline for the bump on the ridge. We managed to pick up the pace a bit and spotted a group of climbers we had been tailing gain the ridge about 700-ft above us. The slope steepened a bit as we made our way to the ridge and we spotted a few cairns to help navigate our way there. Once on the ridge we crossed over onto the west side and took in the awesome views toward Geneva Lake and Meadow Mountain. I had read that the traverse to the summit stays about 20-ft below the ridgeline so we moved ahead with that in mind. We followed cairns along the way and did some of our own route finding on more stable rock closer to the ridge proper.
The real fun begins here!
The exposure along the traverse was obvious but this summer’s experience has increased my threshold to the point where I could calmly say “it wasn’t that bad.” The route 20-ft below the ridge was definitely loose in areas, but I felt like it didn’t exceed class 2+ from a technical aspect. We ran into CincyBearcats (Andy and Sarah) as they were descending and they gave us some good advice to stay on the more solid rock of the ridge proper to the summit. I took their advice but Karen was further along and kept going up the more loose pitch on the west side of the true summit, topping out at 9:54am.
Karen just about to top out
The views north to Capitol Peak from the summit were spectacular as was pretty much everything else around us. I’d put the views from the top of Snowmass in my top 10.
The views north to Capitol
Awesome centennial Hagerman to the south. Our approximate routes on the ascent (red) and descent (blue)
We milled around the summit a bit chatting with a pair of climbers who had come up from the west face route. No more than 10 minutes later we hear someone yelling at us from down the ridge. We about fell off the summit when we realized it was none other than Jeremy Myers. This wack-o had left the parking lot at 4am, didn’t make it to our camp in time to meet us at the lake, but managed to summit just after us, a mere 6 hours after leaving the parking lot. Pretty amazing for a guy carrying 20-oz of water and wearing a construction “rock” helmet, basketball shorts, and giant orange clown gloves. Nice work Jeremy! Are you thirsty?
Obligatory summit photo (Jeremy, Jim, Karen)
We hung out for almost an hour taking in the views as the summit began to get a bit crowded, and started heading down around 10:40am. Just before leaving we ran into another hiker that we’d first met on Kit Carson/Challenger a few weeks back, and it turns out that she is a fellow VT grad. Go Hokies! The four of us made our way down, staying on the more exposed, but stable rock of the ridge proper until we came across a notch halfway between the summit and our original cross-over point. We decided that crossing over through this notch lead to an easy downclimb back to the east slopes that would save us some time.
The notch we exited back to the east slopes in circled in red
The next few hundred feet down were much more loose that what we originally came up, but we managed to make it down pretty quickly. Halfway back down to the lake we caught up with CincyBearcats and their crew, took a nice break to exchange 14er stories, and continued to do so as we made our way down to the lake – great meeting and chatting with you guys!
Almost back to the lake!
Back at the campsite we found Jeremy catching a few z’s after getting a bit ahead of us. The bad news is, we still have 8.3 miles to go…the good news is it’s all down hill. We packed up camp, filled up on water and took of, hoping to be down by 5pm. All I can say is that I pretty much ran out of gas after mile 3. I’m ashamed to say it actually ended up taking us 20 minutes longer to hike down that 8.3 miles to the car than it took us to hike up to the lake the previous day. Nevertheless, we made it and it never felt so good to drop my backpack and take off my boots. Altogether a successful and worthwhile trip, and picturesque end to our 2007 14er hiking season.