| Mt. Sneffels - Standard Route (From Blue Lakes Basin)
This is the first trip report I have ever entered, so here goes, and I'll give it my best. I have enjoyed the information on 14ers.com for a good while and have climbed 21 of the 54 (mostly Class 2 & 3 routes...Crestone and Longs Peaks being the more difficult standard routes I have accomplished) from the time I was 11 yrs old when I first hiked up Mt. Elbert and La Plata Peak with my dad. This was a very special trip however, and I want to put it down on this site "for the record." I am now 41 years old and the father of 3 awesome kids. Mt. Sneffels was the first Fourteener ascent for me and my son together! My youngest, Dillon, is 12 years old and has a great love for the outdoors. We live in the high desert (6,500 ft elev.) of Gallup, NM (about 2 & 1/2 - 3 hours south of the southern San Juans). We have spent a lot of time outdoors and have hiked smaller peaks (up to 11,500 ft) together. Sneffels has been on my "to-do list" for many years and Dillon has had enough experience bouldering and hiking in the mountains to merit this as his 1st 14er attempt. I had read all of the route info and many of the past trip reports...I felt confident about the route. However, Labor day weekend was our only time slot (due to school, work and soccer schedules) and the potential crowds worried me a bit. We decided to launch our trip via a short back pack into East Dallas Creek and Blue Lakes Basin (this would be Dillon's 1st real backpacking excursion as well). This ended up being one of my favorite summits thus far (with the exception of the crazy Labor Day weekend crowds coming up out of Yankee Boy Basin).
Dillon and I left Gallup on Friday morning the 31st of August, after having filled our menu list at a local grocery store. We made another quick stop in Farmington, NM, for a few more menu items and then a final stop in Durango for lunch and a few last-minute gear items. This placed us a little more behind schedule than what I had planned, but I was optimistic about our afternoon trailhead arrival and rain didn't look to be heavy in the forecast for that day. We were at the Blue Lakes Basin trailhead 9 miles outside of Ridgway, CO (on County Rd 7) by 4:00pm and were packing up the 3.3 mile East Dallas Creek trail to the Lower Lake by 4:30pm. Dillon and I took turns leading up the trail at a steady pace and we arrived at the Lower Blue Lake by 6:15pm to set up camp and cook a meal of filet minon, asparagus, fresh blueberries, and a jalapeno cheese bagel to wrap up our day. We had successfully accomplished a nice little pack in to one of the more beautiful places I have ever seen in Colorado and I was very proud of Dillon already, and so very thankful to share such a gorgeous place with my son.
We woke Saturday morning to an overcast sky and light drizzle. I had planned to just hang around camp this day, fish some and hike up into the basin a little higher to explore the upper lakes. We could see tiny people atop the summit from our position at the lower lake at about 9am. The sky was clearing more and I was hopeful for our plans to summit as early as possible the next morning. We spent the day taking in the incredible views and marveling at the captivating, rugged nature of the San Juans. Early to bed and the the skies cracked open with thunder and heavy rainfall from about 9:30pm to somewhere close to 11-11:30ish the night before our climb. It was monsoon season (rains to be expected)and I was still hopeful for clear weather the next morning.
And clear it was! We awoke at 4:45am to starry skies and a beautiful big moon to light the way out of camp. We were hiking by 5:20am and covered ground quickly. We topped out on Blue Lakes Pass at 13,000ft to greet the sun rising at 7:10am. The air was cool with the hint of fall and a light breeze whisped through the saddle as we started making our way down into Yankee Boy Basin. We quickly started noticing people below us making their way through the lower boulder field below the Lavender Col. We made our way across the basin to the boulder field and ate the remains of breakfast, took off a layer or two of clothing and helmeted up for the ascent up the mixed scree and talus slop. There were about a dozen climbers ahead of us as we began to make our way up the slope. We kept a steady pace and hugged the left side of the scree, crossing into the boulders occasionally for more solid footing. By the time we made it to the top of the Col, Dillon was beginning to feel the "weight of responsibility" he had felt moving through loose rocks...he was quite worried about knocking rocks down onto people below us and learning how to move nimbly through unsteady terrain. His first glances into the upper gully seemed to unnerve him a little (he later told me that he thought that if one of those big boulders started moving, that the whole "sha-bang" would go tumbling down with it)! Side note...he really got concerned after two climbers (who had taken an early detour to the left about mid-way up out of the Lavender Col) knocked several rocks out of their couloir and out into the greater masses of people heading up the standard route...thankfully folks were able to dodge the bullets and no one was hurt.
By now we had passed most of the crowds and there were about 2 people ahead of us in the upper gully that we could see. We gathered ourselves for the remaining ascent and decided to pick a line hugging the right side of the gulley most of the way up. About 2/3 of the way into the gully a climber exited a small notch in the left-hand side of the wall. He was from Boulder and shared that the small couloir he had just came out of was solid and that we would be on the slabs/shelves 200 ft below the summit after a 30 ft push through the top of this narrow slot couloir. I decided we would give it a go (against my better judgement to just stick with the "standard route plan" and enter the slabs at the "V-notch" still 50yrds of bouldering above us). I had Dillon enter the narrow slot above me as I spotted him along the way up. The climber had been correct...it was only 30ft up, solid (no loose rock)..but very few places to grab...especially for a 12 year old without as wide of an arm/leg span as most adults might otherwise have. Dillon had a moment where he froze and felt unnerved to move up the last 5 ft out of the slot to the open slabs. I felt angry with myself for breaking away from my game plan and getting us in this momentary predicament! I coached Dillon out of the top of the slot as there was no turning back to down-climb what we had just come up. We gained the solid rock/shelves below the summit and took a breather as we took in the amazing views of the mighty San Juans...we also made note to not come back that way and to again..."stick with the plan." We started picking our way up the final 200ft of great rock toward the summit and gained the top at 9:10am with 2 other guys from Grand Junction, CO. They were enjoying banana bread on the summit and were kind enough to offer some to us. I was so distracted by the views that I later realized I didn't take any...and I love banana bread! We took lots of photos and were on top for about 30 minutes as other climbers began to join us. I asked the fellas from Grand Junction if they would mind if we joined them on the trip down and spot us down-climbing through the "v-notch" since we had not come up that way and it would be less familiar . They gladly agreed and we were off. We negotiated the "v-notch" very smoothly and made it down to the Col fairly quickly. The crowds were amassing in force...I am always amazed to see the absurdity of some folks in the high country. Tank-tops, no packs, no water, no-nothing! People with small children, even a baby in the back of a pack (couldn't have been more than 8 months old)...heading straight up the Col as clouds began to form above! We counted people as we passed them on the way down....stopped counting after 30! Wow...so glad to have been on top and down early!
We made our way back over Blue Lakes Pass and stopped at the upper lake on the other side for a quick lunch...the the first crack of thunder struck right about the time we were packing up to make the final descent into camp! All I could think about was the incredible numbers of people at exposed altitude back on the other side of the summit . I said a prayer for them and we just kept on trucking! The skies opened into a significant down pour on us about 1/2 mile above camp and we entered camp soaked but thankful! An afternoon nap and a peaceful walk around the lake as the afternoon skies cleared was great reward after a successful morning up high. We reconnected with another older couple we met at camp "Mike and Mona" and enjoyed an evening conversation with them as the sun went down and cast a fiery alpenglow on the summit of Sneffels...what a show! Thank you Lord! It was amazing and I will forever have that moment etched in my memory (and some digital images). Mike had to be in his late 60's and he had summited Sneffels with his daughter and 14 year old grandson that morning via the Southwest Ridge route. We enjoyed talking of the day's adventures and parted ways to settle in for dinner and sleep. All was peaceful until a massive rockslide startled everyone in the area about 10pm that night...it was obviously dark outside and the rock fall was coming down the far side of the lake from us all...but the echoing booms and cracks of massive rocks sailing and colliding down the slopes in the basin was magnificintly loud and boisterous!
We slept in a little and broke camp the next morning. We were packing down the trail by 10:30am. We passed Mike and Mona on the way out, said our goodbyes and made our way back to the trailhead and car. We ate at a great little burger joint in Ridgway and then cruised it on home...by way of Ouray, Silverton, Durango, Farmington...all the way back to Gallup to meet up with my wife and older daughters that night! What a trip it had been! Dillon and I reflected on things seen, lessons learned and character built along the way. I had seen my son take on a big task (much bigger than he had truly been able to imagine beforehand) and I could not have been more proud of him and the way he just stepped right up to the plate and ate it up for all its worth! He did not want to come home...and I could relate. He had school and I had work the next day...how do you leave such a place, such an experience as that and just walk back into the normal again. We all learn to do it...but it's not so easy is it!? I am thankful for this trip, for this time with Dillon. For a breathtaking step into some of the grandest of God's awesome creation! Thankful....
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