Mt. Sneffels

Mt. Sneffels (Uncompahgre Range, Yankee Boy Basin TH)

  • Attempted 8/08/14
  • 2.5 miles round trip (from *upper TH parking lot)
  • Apprx 4 hr hike
  • Moderate 14er (Class 2 Difficult – Standard Yankee Boy Basin approach)
  • +1,700′ net elevation gain to peak (14,150′)
  • Equipment:
    • sunblock (at that elevation, you’ll feel the sun)
    • tech shell (you will want a shell to protect you from the wind)
    • Soft shell (always layer when attempting a 14er)
    • headlamp (you always start a 14er in the early morning if you intend to summit)
    • microspikes and ice axe (there is a section in a gully that doesn’t see much sun, so it had a section that was solid ice in the morning and slushier by our descent)
      • This made for a dangerous section if unprepared.  I would not suggest this 14er until you have some experience scrambling rocks.
    • hard climbing hat (while not technically climbing, it would be wise to use a hard hat in rock scrambles)

Offroading Yankee Boy Basin (Class 3 off road trail)

We were staying in Ouray and left our room around 3a or so.  We were in complete darkness when we began to offroaded in our stock 2003 Toyota 4Runner Limited (4.7L V8).  Make sure to have a map of the offroad trails loaded onto your phone, because you will lose service and it is easy to start heading up a wrong road (trust me on this, it wasn’t easy to back out of a class 4 trail).  We had to use 4WD Low for most of the upper trail. I am quite experienced at offroading and this trail was the toughest trail a stock 4Runner (9.1 in clearance) could handle – it certainly tested my skills at parts. Some ascents will require a powerful engine too, I predict that weaker V6 engines would struggle at parts.

People without SUVs will park very far down and will seek rides up.  This is easy to do because there are a plethora of lifted jeeps that’ll be tackling this trail once the sun breaks over.

Which SUV looks out of place?  It might be our blue 4Runner.  Everything else was a jeep or lifted Tacoma.
Which SUV looks out of place? It might be our blue 4Runner. Everything else was a jeep or small truck.

Moreover, there is a lower parking lot that some SUVs will go to if they want to try some of the trail but bail before the going gets tough.  *Word of warning: Do NOT attempt the upper trail unless you are comfortable with your offroading skills, as it is very difficult to turn around on the skinny trail.

When we got to the top, there was a man (who WAS) sleeping in his tacoma until our roaring engine woke him up as we ascended the last hill.  We began hiking before the sun was out at approximately 5-5:30a (we got a bit lost on the offroading trail network and took our time so we didn’t bottom out).

Mt. Sneffels Hike (Class 2+)

This is by far the prettiest 14er I have attempted, however, it shouldn’t be attempted by those who are inexperienced at rock scrambling.

Oh look, here comes the sun after we completed the first ridge.  Likely a mile into the hike.
Oh look, here comes the sun after we completed the first ridge. Likely a mile into the hike.

At the summit of the first ridge, you’ll be faced with two gullies.  You will, as you might have guessed, be taking on the more daunting of the two.

Zoomed out shot of the gully that'll take you to Mt. Sneffels.
Zoomed out shot of the gully that’ll take you to Mt. Sneffels.
A view of a gully that'll take you to another peak (maybe Gilpin Peak, a 13er, not sure).  Either way, my brother and I decided that since we didn't need to be back in Ouray until 1p, we should try to summit this neighboring peak.  It'll only be a 15-20 minute detour.
A view of a gully that’ll take you to another peak (maybe Gilpin Peak, a 13er, not sure). Either way, my brother and I decided that since we didn’t need to be back in Ouray until 1p, we should try to summit this neighboring peak. It’ll only be a 15-20 minute detour.

A rock scramble is necessary to get to the ridge.  One can see in the picture below just how far we have traveled from the parking lot (near that small lake in the picture, which can also be hiked to for those not feeling like a 14er).

A view on the descent.  One can see the first ridge where one has to rock scramble to get to.  There is also a man on the other mountain that my brother and I attempted before Sneffels.  It is very difficult to get to the peak of the spire and we didn't want to get tired on that mountain.  Save your effort for the 14er!
A view on the descent. One can see the first ridge where one has to rock scramble to get to. There is also a man on the other mountain that my brother and I attempted before Sneffels. It is very difficult to get to the peak of the spire and we didn’t want to get tired on that mountain. Save your effort for the 14er!

My brother and I reached this snow patch around 7a and learned that it was pure ice, so we opted to wait until the sun came around to melt it.  Another hiker and his son came to the ice patch and agreed that it wasn’t safe until it softened up.  Once the sun came around, at about 8:30a, we decided it was soft enough to take some rocks to it and try digging out some foot holds, as this thing is rather steep!  It was after this 14er that my brother bought me an ice axe, because it sucked using stones as makeshift ice pics to carve snow and hold in our hands to stabalize ourselves as we climbed the ice patch.  Above us, some hikers were descending from Sneffels having come over the Southwest ridge, which is a class 3, also very pretty.  As we were on the ice patch, they dropped a large boulder down but failed to call it out to us.  The man, who took point on climbing the ice, noticed the rock just before it hit him and moved out of the way just in time and then called it out to us below, so we dived to the side.

PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE suck up your pride and call out below if you dislodge a rock.  No one below you will judge you – they will be grateful that you gave them the heads up to get out of the way!

Then they even had the nerve to climb down the ice patch as we were climbing up, which made for very awkward (and unsafe) maneuvers as we tried to shift past each other.  PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE wait for the ascending group to finish before you attempt a descent.  At least with as much snow as we found, two groups couldn’t use the single path we created.  It is worth the 20 minute wait to let the group finish ascending/descending before you begin yours.

The snow patch at the top is rather dangerous.   The rock scramble is also steep with lots of loose rocks.  Please be sure to call out if you drop a rock below.  My brother dislodged a rock but luckily I was below him and caught it.  We STILL called out this loose rock to hikers below in case I couldn't secure it, but I managed to secure it and let the hikers below know that it was safe.
The snow patch at the top is rather dangerous. The rock scramble is also steep with lots of loose rocks. Please be sure to call out if you drop a rock below. My brother dislodged a rock but luckily I was below him and caught it. We STILL called out this loose rock to hikers below in case I couldn’t secure it, but I managed to secure it and let the hikers below know that it was safe.

Next up is this V-shaped notch.  It isn’t as easy as it looks to maneuver yourself into it, so be sure and have a friend spot you.  Then, you spot them from above.  You can only put your feet in exact places and you may even need a boost or a hand to complete this section.  It is a sheer fall to the left if you misstep, so best not take any unnecessary risks.  On the other side of the notch is pretty steep and exposed, but with a slow ascent it isn’t as dangerous as the notch or the rock scramble from earlier.  However, coming back through this notch is also tricky, so be sure to spot again.

The notch one must get through to get to the final ascent before the summit.
The notch one must get through to get to the final ascent before the summit.

At the summit, it is unlike any other 14er I have ever been on.  So rewarding after offroading and hiking up the gully.  No nearby 14ers, so your view is very open.

A panoramic shot at the top of Sneffels.
A panoramic shot at the top of Sneffels.
A view of some lakes behind Sneffels that you can hike to.
A view of some lakes behind Sneffels that you can hike to.
A view SW from the summit that can't be beat!
A view SW from the summit that can’t be beat!

Overall, I would consider attempting again with my knowledge and the correct gear.  But if I couldn’t make it to the upper lot, I would be sure to hitch a ride with a jeep around 7a.  At that, I would have arrived at the same time and attempted the ice field if I had crampons/microspikes and an ice axe.  Otherwise I would arrive at the upper TH around 7:30a so it melts a bit since the hike is rather short if you are in shape.

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