| First solo 14er
With many things going on in my life lately, most of which seemed completely out of my control; I decided it was time for a break. I was originally going to go to Lake Powell with a lot of my family and a few friends. But as my “allotted vacation days” crept closer (I work for THE MAN and vacation has to be well planned) I realized that what I needed was not time with people, but time away from people. THE MOUNTAINS!
After a quick consult with my bestest good buddy MountainMicah, I decided upon Mt. Sneffels from the Blue Lakes approach, doing the class 3 southwest ridge. He had seen these lakes on one of his many, many mountain adventures and knew it would be a great place to blow off some steam.
Apologies for the few crappier pictures. I used my phone and my point and shoot camera. Not exactly the greatest equipment for photos.... not like the guy I saw near the upper lake with his fancy new HDR camera. I wish I had gotten his e-mail... he was working on getting a shot of Dallas Peak, Gilpin Peak and I'd imagine Sneffels too.... so if you are reading this I'd love to see that shot!
Sunday I dropped my daughter off with her mom, my trusty Jetta TDI got filled up in Woodland Park and I was on the road at 11:30a.m. It is quite a drive from Colorado Springs all the way to Ridgway, I allotted 5+ hours to be at the trail head but should have planned on 6. I hit the trail head at 5:20p.m. I only stopped once briefly in Salida for a foot long sub sandwich and bathroom break. Driving over Monarch pass and next to the Collegiate Peaks and down into the San Juan Range has to be one of the most beautiful drives someone can make through Colorado!
I set off from the Blue Lakes trail head at 5:45p.m.
Nervous that I would be trying to find a campsite in the dark I hoofed it just about as fast as I could go. I haven't been at any real altitude in probably over a year, and my lungs sure let me know! My legs however felt great and I pushed my way through some amazing views, amazing flower patches and a few creek crossings. I made it to lower Blue Lake at about 7:15p.m.
Upon arrival at the lower Blue Lake, you are greeted with a nice sign that reminds you to bury your poop, and pack out your paper. Also – keep the wilderness wild - no camping withing 100ft of water. I was shocked to see a massive group of tents, probably around 10 or more, all camped near the lake. My heart sank just a bit as I had really hoped to camp near lower Blue Lake.
Lower Blue Lake
I decided to head up the trail a ways since I still had some light and find myself a more secluded area to put up my tent. I'm actually really glad that I did, because where I eventually camped was just gorgeous. I was probably 150ft above the lower lake, tucked into a nice little grotto if you will. The sound of the waterfalls kept me company all night long. The moon was INTENSE and I had to cover my eyes to actually sleep, because it filled my entire tent with light. I could have read a book in that light!
Camp Site - the area in the sunlight is where all the deer were in the morning
My alarm went off at 4:00a.m. I had put my small bag filed with food up in a tree about 100ft away from my tent, so first things first I had to have breakfast. When I got out of my tent and started towards my bag I woke up about 6-8 deer who were all sleeping around my tent! They didn't seem to care about me one way or the other, just lifted their heads to watch what I was doing. Very carefully and quietly I pulled my bag out of the tree, made breakfast, packed my day bag and hit the trail at around 5:10a.m. The deer never moved! It didn't occur to me that I could have got a picture of them chillin out there until after I left!
The trail up past the lakes and to the Blue Lakes Pass is well maintained and easy to follow. The switchbacks make the elevation gain pretty easy going, even for an out of shape hiker like myself. The hills are littered with the most abundant wild flowers I have seen yet... I couldn't help but stop and get a lot of pictures of the Columbine Flowers, since they are my favorites.
The class 3 ridge is rather easy to follow, so I won't try to explain it here. Gerry Roach's book pretty much sums up whatever you could need to know. The exposure on the upper parts of the ridge is a wonderful treat, and the ease of climbing only adds to the experience! I brought my helmet along, but never really felt that I needed to wear it since there was nobody above me at any part of the climb. Had anyone been climbing the route above me I would have donned the helmet to protect my noodle. There are loose areas of rocks that could easily dislodge, tearing apart any squishy human flesh and bone.
Class 3 Ridgeline
I made the summit around 7:30a.m. The views from up there are incredible to say the least. There was a lot of haze at that point in the valleys and far off, but I could still see for miles and miles.
Gilpin Peak from the summit of Sneffels
I went back down the southwest ridge with relative ease. I met one gentleman from Montrose on the way down, and let him get on past me before I continued my journey back to camp. I was hoping to head up Gilpin Peak while I was there, but I knew that my lungs weren't going to take me up there; the lack of altitude in my life lately left me a bit weak. I think doing Sneffels' ridge from the Blue Lakes trail head is about 6 miles one way and 5k feet of gain, so I felt pretty good about that already! My first SOLO 14er summit!
On the way down I passed several marmots, a buck and a doe who ran past the trail, and watched a fish in the middle lake “hunting” for food. There is a lot of wildlife up here! I got a video of the deer running around, and the fish, too. The marmots were entertaining, as they always are! I always try to mimic that noise they make... kind of like a chirp and a whistle at the same time....
What a wonderful treasure the San Juans are, and I will definitely be back for some more San Juan climbs! I stopped in Ouray and had a mandatory celebratory beer at the Ouray Brewery. Good beer, good food, and nice people to chat with!