September 9, 2010

San Juan Shuffle (Part 1): Mt Sneffels

Mt Sneffels (right of center) from Wrights Lake

September 3, 2010
Distance: ~7 miles
Vertical: ~3000 feet
Time: 4.5 hours
Peaks: Mt Sneffels (14,156 feet)
Route: Southwest Ridge from Yankee Boy Basin

This is Part 1 of our Labor Day weekend 14er blitz in the San Juans. The rest of the reports are found here: Part 2 - Part 3.

After abandoning our planned CO 14er trip in early July to interview for the job I currently hold, and subsequently pushing the John Muir Trail up on the priority list, I gave up on my quest to complete the 14ers in this calendar year. But with amazing weather forecasted for SW Colorado over the holiday weekend, the chance to head down to the San Juans and tackle a handful of peaks was too good to pass up. Andrea and I headed out from Salt Lake City on Thursday after work, and after some heavy delays in Provo, we made the long drive to Ouray. From there it was 7 miles up a 4WD road, in complete darkness, to Yankee Boy Basin, where we arrived just after midnight. Under more stars that I have ever seen in my life, we caught a few hours of sleep in the back of my jeep, then hit the trail once the sun broke over the horizon.

The primary objective of this trip was the Chicago Basin group of 14ers, but the train we'd be catching later that day didn't depart until 2:45pm, so we had time to hit a quick peak in the morning. I also wanted to get Andrea some scrambling practice on a semi-exposed route. The Southwest ridge of Sneffels fit the bill perfectly.

After a bit of hiking on the upper jeep road, we took the detour to Wrights Lake (slightly longer but much nicer than hiking on the road) and quickly made our way past the lake and up to Blue Lake Pass. This is where we picked up the ridge and the fun began.

The lower sections of the ridge has some loose rock, but overall not too bad. Route-finding was not an issue, as even the "non-standard" routes are incredibly well cairned compared to anywhere I've been in Utah so far. A few days later I was chatting with a fellow climber who remarked that "the 14ers are almost becoming too easy." To a certain extent I agree with that, but there are always ways to make climbs more challenging if that's what you are looking for.

The last few hundred feet of vertical (beyond the "kissing camels") was the best part of the climb. We stayed right on top of the ridge, which provided some exciting exposure to the west side, but the rock was solid and grippy. The section was probably our favorite section of scrambling of the entire trip.

We reached the summit around 8:30am and had it all to ourselves on a beautiful, clear morning. An easy descent had us back at the jeep, eating lunch by 11am, and then off to Silverton to catch the train to Needleton (Part 2).

Our route took us to the saddle (low point), then up the prominent SW Ridge

Heading up to Blue Lakes Pass

Andrea on the ridge with Gilpin Peak (left) and Dallas Peak (right) behind her

Yankee Boy Basin

Blue Lakes

Andrea taking a break on the SW Ridge

Scrambling on the ridge

The Kissing Camels

Andrea and I on our first summit of the trip

Summit Panorama

Andrea holding Misha, the cute little puppy we met at Blue Lakes Pass on the descent

Free ride

Driving away from Yankee Boy Basin on the shelf road

Sneffels (center) from the Owl Creek Pass road. I took this picture a few days later.

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