Monday, May 13, 2013

PEAK OF THE WEEK: Snowmass Mountain (14,092' or 4295 m)

Snowmass Mountain from 13,500'
Snowmass Mountain is one of Colorado's more remote and beautiful 14,000' peaks. Situated deep in the Elk Range, Snowmass holds a premium position in one of Colorado's most spectacular areas. From any side Snowmass is a formidable peak, and it is difficult to see from civilization. From certain distant peaks, however, such as Mount of the Holy Cross and other Sawatch and Mosquito Range vantages, Snowmass's distinct twin-summit can be located. It is often one of the last peaks with snow still on it. Both Snowmass and Geneva Lakes on the mountain's east and west sides respectively are two of my Colorado favorites. They are dramatic and both teeming with great trout. They epitomize the area and Colorado. While 13,600' Snowmass Peak, a subsidary and "unofficial" satellite of 87th ranked Hagerman Peak (13,841') dominates the foreground from Snowmass Lake, the view from the West or from the Pierre Lakes to the north reveals Snowmass as the beast it truly is.

Snowmass Trailhead (Snowmass Lake Approach)
From Highway 82 28 miles south of Glenwood Springs (or 13 miles north of the roundabout in Aspen) turn west at the town of Old Snowmass (not to be confused with Snowmass Village, the ski area) onto Snowmass Creek Road. Turn left at a T-junction after a mile and a half (right will take you to Capitol). You hit the dirt road seven miles after turning off Hwy 82 and cross the creek at mile 10.5. Take a right at another intersection a half mile later and the trailhead is only about a quarter-mile beyond that.

Crystal Trailhead (Geneva Lake approach)
Geneva Lake near Marble, Colorado on the west side of Snowmass Mountain
Geneva Lake
From the town of Marble off Highway 133 south of Carbondale, follow the main road through Marble until it steepens and becomes dramatically rougher. It is only about five miles to Crystal City but those miles are slow, agonizing and rough. Along the way you will pass the Crystal Mill Falls, one of Colorado's most photographed spots. Crystal City is not far past the photogenic waterfall and there is good parking in a flat area just beyond the city before the road becomes even worse. 4WD is highly recommended if not required even to get to this point. This normal trailhead is just shy of 9,000' elevation. If you like abusing your vehicle, a strong 4WD vehicle can continue all the way to Lead King Basin to shorten the climb 2 miles each way and knock off 800' of vertical.

There are several ways to climb Snowmass Mountain, and there are pros and cons to each option. No matter which way you go, you will be forced to deal with loose rock, exposure, class 3 scrambling, and lots of vertical gain. Snowmass is one of Colorado's more challenging 14ers to do in a single day.

East Slopes Route (class 3, 5,700' elevation gain)
The summit area of Snowmass Mountain in the Elk Mountain of Colorado
Snowmass Mountain's summit block
The East Slopes route is the standard route on Snowmass Peak. But with a low trailhead (8,400') and a lot of loose scrambling, it is still a long, arduous ascent and certainly no gimmee. A near-permanent snowfield requires some knowledge of snow travel in all but the driest conditions and the mountain's loose rock is notoriously dangerous. Despite these drawbacks, however, this route is one of my favorite of all the standard routes on any Colorado 14er. It is beautiful and classic. I recommend two days with a basecamp at Snowmass Lake. This is a popular spot, so don't expect solitude, but the awe-inspiring beauty more than makes up for it.

West Face (class 3, 5,100' elevation gain)
The West Face of Snowmass is a shorter climb with less vertical, but it is looser and more dangerous than the East Slopes standard route. For those that are trying to climb Colorado's 14ers as expediently as possible, this is probably the best route for you. It can easily be done in a single day. However, I find this route to be not quite as beautiful or engaging as the East Slopes. If you can, I recomened a bivvy at Geneva Lake. Not really because it shortens your summit day, but because this small lake is a hidden gem with great fishing. It is a quiet and amazing corner of a generally over-crowded Elk Range and well worth spending the night at. From Geneva, this route take a nearly direct shot up a shallow gully/couloir left of center on the face. This route is very loose and there is more sustained class 3 section than on the East Slopes route. This route has been known to be deadly, usually due to its bad rock and tricky route-finding, so approach this route with caution.

S-Ridge (class 3+, 5,100' elevation gain)
the west side of Snowmass Mountain from Geneva Lake
West Face of Snowmass from Geneva Lake
The S Ridge takes the same approach as the West Face but diverges at Little Gem Lake to tackle the s-curving ridge (hence the name) between the West and South faces of Snowmass Mountain. This route is even shorter than the West Face but has even more complicated, exposed, and loose scrambling, so takes longer to climb. The rock on this route is so loose, actually, that this route is seldom climbed.

Snowmass Mountain lies in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area and special regulations apply. For example, you are not allowed to camp within 100 feet of lakes or streams. Beware, they will ticket you at the compular camping area at Snowmass Lake so be diligent. You are also not allowed to have fires in most areas within the Wilderness Boundaries. It is also required that you carry a permit which includes all of the rules. Check out this page by  that gives more information about the special regulations of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness area.

Snowmass Peak and Lake
Snowmass Mounain, Geneva Lake, & the Four Pass Loop-a narrative of a 7 day backpack trip on the Four Pass Loop with an extension out and back to Geneva Lake and culminating in an ascent of the East Slopes Route to the summit.

Snowmass Mountain on a user-created site with lots of good information. This page includes information about a variety of routes on Snowmass Mountain.

Snowmass Mountain on the most popular website dedicated solely to Colorado's 14ers. This page includes details information and photographs about Snowmass Mountain and its primary routes.

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1 comment:

  1. The S Ridge is actually pretty solid. Beautiful white granite, and although there is a lot of blocks to move around, I found very few that were loose compared to the rest of the West Face. One of the best routes of any of the 14ers, to be sure!