Wednesday, November 7, 2012

FEATURED ROUTE: Mt. Sneffels (Southwest Ridge)

FEATURED ROUTE: Mt. Sneffels (Southwest Ridge)

Miles: 8.0
Elevation gained: 3,500'
Difficulty: Class 3

The Southwest Ridge of Mt. Sneffels is an excellent scrambling route that is exciting, scenic, exposed yet not too difficult. It makes an excellent alternative to the popular standard route which, as Sneffels is likely the most popular mountain in the San Juans Range. The Southwest Ridge takes the same approach, from Yankee Boy Basin, but avoids much of the loose scree of the standard route. For someone who is comfortable with class 3-4 scrambling on exposed rock, this is one of the better more challenging ways to climb Mt. Sneffles.

From Ouray, take Highway 550 south towards Silverton and Durango. About a half mile outside of Ourday, turn right onto a dirt road (CR 361) that enters Yankee Boy Basin. Measure from this point. Around mile 3-4 there is good camping. Pass an exposed shelf section of road at mile 5. The usual trailhead is found at mile 7 where there is good parking and a bathroom. Some passenger cars can make it to this point. 4WD only after here and even then the road gets pretty rough. The highest possible trailhead is at mile 9.7 at 12,440'. Continue past the parking lot for a short ways, taking a left at a fork in the trail towards Blue Lakes Pass (the right fork goes to the standard route). Follow the switchbacking trail for three-quarters of a mile past the end of the 4WD road to the summit of the pass. The approach is over.

Leave the trail and turn north along the southwest ridge proper to a set a jagged gendarmes. These spires are foreboding in appearance during the approach but as you will find at this point, they are easy to avoid on the west (left) side.

After the gendarmes, veer slightly left into a gully. Cinch down your helmet here if you havent already, for the crux moves are not far ahead and the rest of the route from here to the summit is steep, exposed, and littered at times with loose rock. Follow the well-cairned path of least resistance up class 3-ish terrain through a series of disjunct gullies to a prominent notch at 13,500'. Cross through the notch and downclimb to the east (right) into a prominent, loose gully. Ascend the gully to a large notch in the ridge, easily visible on approach.

Turn right at the top of the gully and face what I thought was the route's crux, a steep class 4-ish section. We found ice in early September here and were forced into what was definitely class 4 terrain. I am told that even a good line here might have some class 4 moves. Above this crux headwall you ascend a steep gully, passing the "Kissing Camels" formation on the left, and exit onto the ridge proper at 13,700'. Cross over to the south face and climb the last few hundred feet and easy but wonderfully exposed class 3 rock directly to the summit.

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