| Winter Snowmass
Snowmass Mountain (14,092 ft) Via the West Slope Route
March 14-16, 2014
21.5 miles RT, 6100’ gain
From 0.25 miles past Marble
Participants: Nate Hughes, Danny Gilbert
Having done a little bit of research on this route prior to heading out I can say that winter information on Snowmass is pretty scarce. Kiefer has a report on Summit Post that is good, but for the East Face Route. SarahT has a good report for the West Slope Route on her website 13ergirl.com that was very helpful. Not normally a trip report kind of person, I figured this was probably worth documenting since I know I would have liked to have had a little more info myself.
Nate and I had been planning a longer trip this winter for some time. After considering a few peaks, mostly Holy Cross, we decided that Snowmass would be a good choice. I found out this winter that I really want to get a splitboard. I also found out that splitboards are out of my price range. Having a splitboard on Snowmass would probably be a bummer so while I save up this peak makes sense. Deciding on the route took a little while. I was more inclined to go for the East Face, since that's how we did it in the summer, but the headwall at the end of Snowmass Lake gave us pause. That face is unavoidable and if the snow was unstable we would have to turn around. The West Slope is typically windblown, and all things being equal with the approach Dawson describes it as "probably safer". In the end, we sided with Dawson and it didn't hurt that Sarah had also decided to go that way.
The road from Marble was in OK shape and we were able to drive all the way to the Lost Trail Rd/Crystal City Junction. Right at this junction however a truck (below) was stuck and blocking the road enough so that we couldn't get to a reasonable parking place. We tossed our packs out of my truck here and retreated most of the way back to Marble to park. This was around 12:30 PM.
After retrieving our overly heavy packs we headed off toward Lizard Lake.
Descent Toward Lizard Lake
Nate at Lizard Lake
We had good weather, and were making good time on a fairly well traveled snowshoe trail. We made it to Crystal City some time around 2:45 PM.
The Famous Crystal Mill
We stopped here briefly to sit at a picnic bench on some guy's porch reasoning we probably weren't going to have any chairs for a while. We also found a clothes hanger here that Nate was able to use to repair is shovel handle. Since Nate's shovel is mostly around to save me, I was stoked. After our rest, we continued on to the summer TH. After Crystal City the terrain became a bit more unfriendly and our pace slowed.
Ascending out of Crystal City
Heading to Summer TH 01
Heading to Summer TH 02
Heading to Summer TH 03
Heading to Summer TH 04
We stopped at this bridge near the summer TH to explore.
Continuing on toward Geneva lake we started to gain some elevation.
Breaking trail to Geneva Lake
We had a great view of the Bells.
From this point forward the trail breaking began to get much more difficult. The terrain started getting steep, and the snow started getting deep. We also lost the sun. Neither of us took any pictures of this section, probably too tired to really care at that point. Both of us were pretty frustrated that it was taking so long to get to Geneva having figured we would get there with plenty of time to set up camp and break trail to Snowmass. We continued to traverse and ascend through deep powder until finally we caught a glimpse of the lake. We ended up a little off route and ascended a bit too far but thankfully it was a clear night and a full moon so we managed to get our bearings. We got to Geneva and discussed camp sites. After setting up the tent hastily with bad results on a previous trip we had promised ourselves to spend a little extra time selecting a location. Too tired to head to the North end of the lake, we found a cluster of trees on the south side that offered some protection from the wind and began construction. Nate cooked dinner on his MSR and shortly after I passed out with my headlamp on.
Around 4AM a storm rolled in. Around 5:30AM my alarm went off. Around 7AM we decided to wake up. Having a 3 season tent that weighs just over 2 lbs means sometimes the inside of the tent is similar to the outside of the tent.
The weather wasn't so great. We knew a storm was going to hit though, so we weren't surprised. With wet slabs a major concern having it below freezing for our entire summit day was probably the best we could hope for and we had plenty of expensive clothes that made us look like mountaineering studs.
Knowing we were not going to be interested in stopping all that often we opted to cook some breakfast and slam a few calories. We had a jetboil vs. MSR duel, and the MSR killed it as it so often does. I was pretty bummed. I think about this all the time. Having watched a documentary of the first 8,000m winter ascent and seeing plenty of jetboils I am convinced it is a great stove - but for the life of me I cant get the damn thing to perform in cold temps. I bought the special "4-season" fuel mix and kept it in my bag all night. It kicked ass for a bit, but then eventually the fuel got cold and it stopped working. If anybody has any suggestions, that don't involve a science project or water filled Tupperware apparatus I would love to hear them. Sarcastic "Just buy an MSR" comments are of course welcome.
We departed from the tent around 8AM (I think). The Geneva lake area was covered in snow. It took us a bit to get to the base of Snowmass and our route was a little inefficient but overall it wasn't that bad. For my part I retreated into my gear and thought about my wife, and my kids.
Heading Up toward Snowmass 01
Heading Up toward Snowmass 02
Heading Up toward Snowmass 03
Nate heading up from the lake
Upon reaching the base of Snowmass we began to feel optimistic that we had it in the bag.
First View of the West Slope
From the Base
We paused and considered routes for a bit, opting to follow a snow gully toward the climber's left. This seemed to be the easiest line, at least to start since it didn't require any serious climbing. This gully was also just South of a sizable rock rib with a mostly continuous line to the summit ridge which we liked because we didn't know what to expect with the snow. We continued on right up to the rib in snowshoes and then, as we removed our snowshoes the storm intensified significantly. Visibility become a concern. We had been on trips where this was a problem for us in the past, One time wandering around completely lost on Shav/Tab for hours. Neither of us wanted that. The lure of the summit can be pretty powerful though, and we had sufficient equipment to deal with the situation so we opted to continue, with the caveat that we would carry our snowshoes to avoid searching for them later in a white out. Since I can do sooo many freakin pull-ups I didn't really mind too much about the extra weight. Nate, who can't do as many pull-ups as me was a trooper throughout.
This is another section of the trip for which neither of us took any pictures. They wouldn't have been very good anyway. We did manage a glimpse of Cap at one point that lasted for a few minutes but then it was back to a few nearby rocks and white.
The snow gully proved very difficult, so we opted to mostly stick to the rib. When we did occasionally need to go through snow it was a chest deep energy sapping bummer. One thing I am thankful for though, we didn't really have any issues with loose rocks. We continued at a snails pace to the ridge. Just having it in a single sentence like that doesn't really do it justice though, that part took forever. We popped up about 500' or so to the North of the summit so we had to traverse the ridge for a bit. Two locations gave us some trouble. Since I don't have pictures and my descriptions would suck I will just say there is exposure up there and some commitment is required.
Finally we reached the top:
For the descent we opted to go strait down from the summit, not wanting a second go with either the ridge traverse or the rock rib. This was a good call. It took us around 4 hours to climb the face, and only 45 minutes to descend it.
We put snowshoes back on and descended through the trees to camp in ever improving weather.
Looking back at Snowmass
We got back to camp at around 6:45PM. Not wanting to sleep on the ice bed we had formed the previous night we decided to pack up and head for Crystal City. By the time we were on our way, the sun was setting but the skies had cleared and the moon was full.
The descent from (and technically the ascent to) Geneva requires a traverse on a slope over a cliff. This slope is steep enough that on the way up we decided to go one at a time in case of an avvy. On the way down with 4" of fresh this slope was really slippery. We decided to get our ice axes out, which was a good call because more than one self arrest was made - not easy with 80L of gear and snowshoes on...
Eventually we got back to Crystal City and camped on that same guy's porch.
The hike out the next day was uneventful and in pleasant weather.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):