Alpine Ventures

Outdoor adventures in Colorado and beyond

Mt. Sneffels (8/13/10)

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Dallas Peak and Blue Lake

Heading into the second week of August, I had three straight days off from work (Thursday through Saturday), so that meant it was time for a little bit of a road trip.  My main goal of this trip was to head down to the San Juans and climb a 14er, then backtrack back to Gunnison, where my friend, Jay, lives, and then we’d all hit up Crested Butte for some world-class mountain biking.

My friend, Matt, decided to join me since it would be his last weekend in Colorado before heading back to school in California.  We met up in Golden around 10:30 on Thursday morning, then headed west.  There was a summertime cold front moving through, so we drove through some heavy rain showers and thunderstorms, but luckily, the weather forecast was calling for completely clear weather for the next few days with no thunderstorms… and unusual treat for midsummer in Colorado.

Our plan was to end up in Ouray, then drive to up to Yankee Boy Basin and camp at the trailhead for Mt. Sneffels.  On the way out, though, we decided to take a little detour and stop at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.  This was well worth a side trip (even with the $15 entrance fee), as the canyon is very dramatic and awesome to see, and the variety of vegetation is cool too, with lots of scrub oak and deciduous plants to go along with the fir trees.  We parked at the visitor center and went on a short hike around the rim of the canyon to get some exercise and get a little taste of the Black Canyon.

Due to the afternoon lighting, my pictures don’t really do the canyon justice, but I highly recommend a visit to anyone who’s in the area.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison
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After leaving the Black Canyon, we drove to Ouray, with the dramatic view of the San Juans, highlighted by Mt. Sneffels, greeted us as we drove south from Montrose.  This was the first time I ever visited Ouray, and it’s definitely one of the cooler mountain towns that I have visited.  It’s situated right in the middle of a deep valley, and has a friendly, old-school western town feel to it.  We ate at an Irish pub there, then headed up to Yankee Boy Basin to camp.  We couldn’t have picked a better night to camp in the San Juans as there was a meteor shower going on at the time.  We both slept outside under the amazingly star-filled sky, and it was pretty cool watching the display of shooting stars in the crystal clear sky.

We set our alarms for 5 a.m., and woke up to frost on the ground during a surprisingly cold summer morning (of course, we were at about 11,000 feet).  Due to a generous starting elevation, we didn’t have a long approach ahead of us, unlike some of the other fourteeners I’ve summited this summer.  We hiked up through Yankee Boy Basin as the sun rose, aiming for Blue Lakes Pass, from which we’d pick up the class-3 rated Southwest Ridge Route.

The spectacular San Juan Range presented itself to us as it got light outside.

Gilpin Peak
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Blue Lakes Pass, looking up at the Southwest Ridge of Mt. Sneffels
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The southwest ridge ended up being a fun, mostly straight-forward route on mostly good rock.  Following cairns, the route up the left side of the ridge is pretty easy to follow initially, and the only part that’s kind of tricky is when you have to cross over to the right side of the ridge.  At this point, when staying left would pretty much force you to be cliffed out, you drop into a larger gully on the right side, scramble up the gully (which is fairly loose) for a little ways until picking the ridge back up again.  From here on out, the rest of the route to the summit is pretty obvious.

Matt checking out the route
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Looking west at Dallas Peak
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Wildflowers growing out of the rocks
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The notch that we crossed before dropping into the aforementioned gully
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This gully was the only nasty part of the route, but fortunately we didn’t have to stay in it for long
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More solid terrain awaited us upon exiting the gully
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Looking southwest at the Wilson Group and Lizard Head Peak
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Just before the final pitch to the summit, the route traverses under the summit and then ascends up the right side of the peak.  It’s tempting to just go straight up, but as we found, it was easier and quicker to just stick to the route and follow the cairns.

Matt looking at the final stretch to the summit
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Final push to the summit
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We reached the summit at 8:15 a.m., breaking a personal record by 15 minutes of the earliest I’ve ever summited a mountain (Longs Peak and the Crestone Needle were tied for my previous record, at 8:30 a.m.).  It was a good thing this route was short and we made it to the top early, too, because I left my sunglasses in the car… something you should NEVER do in the mountains!

As expected, the summit views were phenomenal.  We had total bluebird skies on what was really a fall-like day.  The monsoon season had hit southwest Colorado brutally hard in the prior weeks, too, so we were really lucky.  A couple of locals we saw said it was the first clear day the San Juans had seen in over three WEEKS.

Summit views, looking back over Yankee Boy Basin
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Matt enjoying the views
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Looking north, Uncompahgre Valley in the distance
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Dallas Peak, with the Wilsons (Mt. Wilson, Wilson Peak, and El Diente Peak) in the background
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Where are my sunglasses??
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With the sun higher in the sky, the views on the way back down the mountain were awesome, too.

Another wildflower growing out of the rocks
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Lizard Head Peak
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Looking down at Blue Lakes Pass
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Blue Lakes and Dallas Peak
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Looking back up at Sneffels, still wishing I had my sunglasses
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Wildflowers on the hike out
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Teakettle Mountain (I think)
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Yankee Boy Basin
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We got back to the car around 11, and since we still had a long day ahead of us, we drove back to Gunnison and met up with my friend, Jay, to hit up some of Crested Butte’s world-renowned singletrack that afternoon… continuing what turned out to be a pretty epic weekend.

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Written by Alan

September 13, 2010 at 2:32 pm

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