The Southwest Ridge of Mount Sneffels

The Southwest Ridge of Mount Sneffels

Page Type Page Type: Route
Location Lat/Lon: 38.00360°N / 107.7923°W
Additional Information Route Type: Hiking, Mountaineering, Scrambling
Seasons Season: Summer, Fall
Additional Information Time Required: Most of a day
Additional Information Rock Difficulty: Class 3
Sign the Climber's Log


Dallas Peak
Southwest Ridge on Mount Sneffels with morning light, Dallas Peak in the background
SW ridge - winter view
SW ridge - winter view from Yankee Boy Basin
Mt. Sneffels
Mt. Sneffels and its southwest ridge as seen from Yankee Boy Basin

This route was recently erased from Summit Post. I tried to re-create this page since it it my favorite route up Mount Sneffels. Hopefully, the below information will be a sufficient replacement for the original page. Thank you.

Truly a classic and my favorite route up Mount Sneffels. This ridge provides an impressive backdrop to Yankee Boy Basin. The spectacular pinnacles that dominate the lower part of the ridge might scare off the aspiring scrambler, but in fact the route bypasses these features quite easily.
The difficulty of this ridge is rated class 3, but some sections may feel like class 4, especially if you run into some wet or ice sections. Mountain guides usually rope up their clients up this route. I found it comfortable without a rope, make your own decision, a slip could be fatal here. 
Tour de Sneffels - ascend via southwest ridge and descend the standard route South Slopes gives you a nice overview of the area. 

Sneffels name has been a source of contention for years. Some believe that the name is from Jules Verne's book Journey to the Centre of the Earth. In this book, Verne refers to a volcanic mountain in Iceland, known as "Snaefellsjokull", as the gateway to the center of our planet. Most of us had not idea how to pronounce it, and it became "Sneffels". Other rumors persist that a "Mr. Sneffels" existed. A third explanation is that miners who worked on the mountain called it "Mount Sniffels", due to the cold-induced conditions of the chilly tunnels.

I would not recommend to take a dog on this route. You will see some images of my dog Duchess. I have 
fond memories of my beloved companion. She passed in May 2015, and has summited Sneffels many times via the standard route. Duchess has summited over 300 peaks in Colorado. 

Some stats Mount Sneffels:

Colorado Rank: 27

  Parent Lineage: Uncomphahgre Peak

  Wilderness: Mount Sneffels

  Difficulty: the easiest route is 2+, Southwest Ridge class 3

For more information on Mount Sneffels see Mt. Sneffels main SP page

For more information on Mount Sneffels area see SP page Sneffels range


Getting There 

Camp Bird Road
Camp Bird Road
Camp Bird Road
Camp Bird Road
Toilet Trailhead
Toilet Trailhead
From the town of Ouray, head south on U.S. 550 (=Million Dollar Highway) for 0.3 mile from the south end of Main Street, and turn right onto the Camp Bird Mine Road. Cross the upper bridge over the Uncompahgre Gorge (= location of Ouray Ice Park during the winter) at 0.4 mile and continue on the dirt road up Canyon Creek to a junction at 4.9 miles (9,620 feet). The road stays open in the winter up to Senator Gulch (about 4.5 miles). Continue up the road past some active mines. Take the right fork and head up Sneffels Creek (road is marked Yankee Boy Basin) to a parking area at 8.3 miles = "Toilet Trailhead" parking lot.

Note that the road becomes progressively rougher as you proceed, and the drive to the parking area requires a 4WD vehicle. It is possible to drive considerably further up this road, but are we climbers or jeepers? The road is popular with four-wheelers and jeeps in the summer, and there can be a lot of traffic especially on weekends. If you choose to drive to the end of the road you can make it up to a high parking area (the end of the road, right below Kismet and Mount Sneffels) at 12,314 feet, and above Wright's lake.

Of note, I have seen low clearance cars making it to the "Toilet Trailhead", but you are risking getting stuck. The road has been recently nicely repaired by mining companies and you can encounter even some industrial traffic at lower sections. 

Toilet Trailhead also provides access to other mountains in the area: Teakettle, Coffeepot, Potosi, Cirque Mountain, Gilpin Peak etc.

You can also approach the Southwest Ridge from Dallas Creek Trailhead, which would require 5.7 mile hike to get you to the Blue Lake Pass. This trail is much longer, steeper, but incredibly scenic when hiking around Blue Lakes (lower, middle and upper). You can camp out and do this as an overnight trip. For more information see Blue Lakes SP site.

Route Description

From the parking area (=Toilet Trailhead), walk up the road for 0.8 miles to a point where the Wrights Lake Cutoff Trail leaves the road. Take this narrow trail for 0.4 miles to a small lake, where the trail rejoins the road briefly. Continue above the lake towards Blue Lake Pass. You will pass a parking lot where the road ends. At Blue Lake Pass (13,000), take a moment to look at the ridge. You can see that a climber's trail bypasses the difficulties of the lower ridge on its left (west) side.
Head up the climber's trail as it hugs the left side of the ridge, climbing on talus. Continue up to the 13,500 foot level, and move right, through a notch. There are small cairns marking the trail. Drop down about 20 feet and then traverse on ledges into the large, south-facing gully. You can also stay to its let edge, but you will be forced back into the gully eventually. Again, there are cairns along this section, just follow it. Follow the gully to its end before exiting a narrow slot on the right edge. Just follow the climber's trail in this section.
The slot deposits you on the upper ridge. The scrambling from here to the summit is on ledges with very solid rock. Stay either on the ridge (great for photos) or on its right (east) side.
From the summit, most people descend the well-used "normal route" trail. This uses a narrow gully that parallels the east ridge and takes you down to Lavender Col. There is tons of loose rock on this section, but it is not as steep as your way up. From the Lavender Col, descend the broad, shallow couloir to the defined trail taking you to the Blue Lakes parking lot. Follow the road back to your car.

Round Trip Distance: 5.3 miles (if you start from Toilet Trailhead)
Round Trip Time: 6 hrs (varies based on your fitness level, I have done it in the past in 4 hrs, and did not rush)
Starting Elevation: 11,316 feet
Highest Elevation: 14,150 feet

Route in images as you go up it - enjoy the scenery

Trail to Wright s LakeTrail to Wright's Lake
Resting by Wright s LakeResting by Wright's Lake with Mount Sneffels in the back
Walking towards Blue Lake passWalking towards Blue Lake Pass
Duchess by Wright s LakeDuchess by Wright's Lake
Trail towards Blue Lake PassTrail towards Blue Lake Pass
Near the Blue Lake PassNear the Blue Lake Pass
Trail to Blue Lake PassTrail to Blue Lake Pass - looking down, nice view of Gilpin Peak
Blue Lake PassResting at Blue Lake Pass
Top of Blue Lake PassTop of Blue Lake Pass and Gilpin Peak in the back
Blue Lakes as seen Blue Lakes (upper and middle ones) as seen from the Blue Lake Pass
The Southwest Ridge overviewThe Southwest Ridge overview as seen from the pass
Initial section of the ridgeLooking back from the ridge towards Blue Lake Pass and Gilpin Peak
Drop inside the gullyDrop inside the gully
Deep snow at some sectionsDeep snow inside the gully was easy to negotiate
Peek-booMany interesting rock formations along the route
The path was pretty obviousThe path was pretty obvious with many small cairns
It feels safeFinal Ridge
almost there...Summit is just a little bit above :)

Essential Gear

Good hiking boots. Trekking poles ok for the lower section, but higher up you will have to use your hands, so trekking poles may be more of an obstacle higher up. Some parties feel more comfortable roping up, professional mountain guides usually short rope their clients up this route.
Jacket, hat, gloves, snacks.
Remember weather can change rapidly high up, a beautiful morning can turn into a snowstorm :)

External Links



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