| Big-time payoff on Mt. Sneffels' SW ridge
So what started out as a planned Tour de Massive weekend morphed into heading down to Ouray to do Sneffels' southwest ridge. Not that I haveanything against Mount Massive, but I can't imagine a better weekend in the hills.
The group included Oso Blanco, dcbates80911 and cookiehiker. Needless to say, I was the junior dude on this totem pole. We camped up the road from the outhouse at the 2WD trailhead, then drove up to the 4WD trailhead further up Yankee Boy Basin. Blue skies, few clouds and no smoke that day, and decent cool-ish temperatures.
The ridge includes a short hike up to Blue Lakes Pass, then a turn up toward the summit for a mix of Class 2+ hiking and Class 3 scrambling on mostly solid rock, although some parts had some unfriendly loose stuff near the first gully climb. Anyway, here's a look at the route.
It starts out with this hike up toward the ridge. You can also get a good look at the ridge.
The hike up to Blue Lakes Pass.
Once we got to the ridge, we got this view down into Yankee Boy Basin. One of many amazing views that day.
Looking down into Yankee Boy Basin.
And here's a look at Dallas Peak. The Dallas Divide has to be one of the most stunning vistas among the 14ers.
Dallas Peak and the Dallas Divide.
The Class 3 stuff is mostly climbing up steep gullies. Most of these chutes are pretty solid, but some are not. Test every handhold and foothold. The next couple of pics show a ledge walk down into the first gully, followed by another shot showing us going up. There was still snow here, but it was pretty hardpacked in the shadows or otherwise avoidable. Snow going up was not a problem, and I can't imagine it will be around for too much longer.
The gang heads down this ledge toward a snowy gully.
Climbing the gully and steering clear of the snow. This particular gully had iffy handholds.
Eventually the route takes you away from the shadowed gully climbs and onto the ridge crest. If you stay more toward the right, the exposure level remains third-class. Further to the climber's left, you hit fourth-class exposure, with a big dropoff on the mountain's north face. Here's a look at the ridge crest.
The crest of the upper portion of the ridge.
The final couple hundred yards to the top included good scrambling on very solid rock. It's pretty slabby, but the route is well-cairned and holds are fairly easy to come by. Eventually it mellows to a steep stair-climb hike to the summit. Here's a look at the slabby portion to the top, followed by a view from the summit.
Climbing the final pitch. The rock here is solid.
A view from the summit.
We decided to go down the standard route, being the main south face gully. The top half of the gully was still filled with snow, so at this point we stopped to put on crampons and get out ice axes out. Many others did not have this type of gear, which made going down dicey. We came across one woman, with no snow gear, who was stuck and spooked. She'd been left there by a guy she was climbing with so he could tag the summit. Too freaked out to go up and scared to go down, we lent her a pair of microspikes and a trekking pole so she could feel more secure getting out of there. At the bottom of the snow was her daughter, who had cashed it in before going up the snow. They hiked down together; I have no idea about what happened to the guy who "led" them on this climb.
I was grateful that nothing bad happened to them or to the others in the gully who were similarly unprepared. I saw one fella fall and basically freeze, hoping friction would slow him down, which it did. As it turns out, the snow was too chunky to glissade, which also helped this guy stop. Thankfully, the lack of gear and experience on snow did not end with anyone getting hurt that day.
Anyway, here's a pic of the gully going down.
Oso Blanco heading down the snow-filled gully.
When the snow ran out, all we were left with was an unpleasant, scree-filled hiked down the bottom half of the gully. Going down this mess convinced me that the SW ridge is the only way to do this mountain. Going up or down that gully, sans snow, is just an exercise in frustration. But eventually the gully ended and smoother hiking took us back to the trailhead.
A look up the bottom half of the gully...
Looking up the lower half of the gully. Loose scree is not fun.
For most of us, driving to Yankee Boy Basin is a pretty long stretch, but it's worth it. My favorite climb so far, as it had a little of everything -- snow, scrambling, exposure and the best views in the San Juans that I've seen to date. It's also pretty short in terms of route length, and we were able to knock this off in a leisurely four hours. Given the lengthy stay at the top and how long it took to negotiate the scree hell, we actually went up faster than down.
Hats off to my climbing buds. Cookiehiker and Oso Blanco did this route last summer and were game to do it again; DCbates 80911 is a beast on the hill.
The group on the summit.
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