| Sneffels, finally
First Attempt (July 4 weekend, 2005):
May of 2005 the San Juans experienced some late-season snowstorms. Because of this, the last couloir up Mt. Sneffels was still thick with snow. After climbing up a little we decided it was too dangerous to push on (especially due to the fact that we didn't have crampons or ice axes). So we turned back, just hundreds of feet from the summit.
Second Attempt (Saturday, Aug. 26):
After sleeping through a rainy, thunderous night at the Ouray Chalet Inn, we (Jen, myself and a couple friends of ours from Indiana – 14er newbies Andy and Carrie) started driving up Yankee Boy Basin at about 5:30 a.m. I was thinking to myself, "Mexican food was a bad choice."
Shortly after 6 a.m. we parked at the bathroom (people often refer to that parking area as the "bathrooms," but there's really just one stinky bathroom). The weather was crap – cloudy, cold and raining lightly. We probably only hiked a half-mile or so before the weather started to intensify. The rain began to come down harder, the wind blew stronger and the clouds started to swirl. About that time we heard a gentle rumble of thunder in the distance. This stopped us in our tracks as we scanned the sky. Soon thereafter a clatter of thunder snapped in the sky right above us, prompting us to haul ass back down the road to the truck.
We sat in the truck for a few minutes, and watched, as the skies seemed to get better. We then decided to drive to the end of the 4x4 road to check out the sky from a higher vantage point. That road is pretty burly in some parts, but it's not much of a challenge if you have experience and you're in a decent stock 4x4 or better. However, the road seemed much worse than when I was there in 2005, especially with the recent rains, which seemed to have created some washed-out, rutted areas.
At the upper trailhead we hung out for at least a half-hour before deciding to save the mountain for another day. The sky was like a looped movie reel, with repeating patches of nasty clouds passing overhead.
Third Attempt (Sunday, Aug. 27):
At 2 a.m. I woke up and took a peak out our hotel's window. I couldn't see any stars, which wasn't a good sign. But then I realized I was looking at a dark mountainside. In the sliver of sky between the top of the mountain and the hotel's overhang I could see some twinkles of light, and then I smiled.
At 5:30 a.m. we started up the dark road. Even on the second go-round, the shelf road was still spooky in the dark.
This time up we drove a little further than the stinky bathroom and parked on a nice pull-off. Instead of taking the single-track trail, we just walked up the road to the upper trailhead at the end of the road. The storm from the previous day left a lot of white poo everywhere. Actually, at that elevation, the trail was laden with hail chunks. Further up the trail, near the base of the wide gully, it was more like regular snow.
We ascended the gully slowly, so as not to kill our flatlander friends. Eventually we made it to the col, where the snow got a little deeper. Dry rocks were much harder to find from this point on.
Somewhere near the saddle Andy started feeling bad but he said he was OK to keep climbing up. In hindsight, it probably would‘ve been better had he stopped at the saddle (and maybe even started descending). But it was hard to tell just "how bad" he was. These things aren‘t always clearcut.
Here's a view from the saddle:
We also took the final couloir slowly.
Eventually we made it to the V-notch, which was an interesting little spot on the mountain. Going up through it wasn't so bad. You just had to make sure not to take that bad step to the left. There's a nice little staging area just before you climb through the notch (can't really see it in my picture below).
After the notch, the scramble to the summit was also interesting. If it were dry it would've been a cakewalk. But because there was quite a bit of snow (slushy, slippery snow at that time, to be precise), it demanded some attention.
About this time, Andy seemed to be experiencing some intense altitude sickness with a migraine on top. Because of that, and the fact that the clouds seemed to be gathering, I cranked up the jets. I ended up traversing too much – instead of climbing straight up – and I found myself on some precarious, snow-covered ledges. Not good, so I backtracked a little and started climbing up the driest rock I could find. None of us spent much time on the summit, especially with Andy's worsening condition and the weather and all. We just snapped a few pics and then we were on our way down.
In the photo below: Andy (faking a smile and looking much happier than he really felt), Aubrey, Jen and Carrie …
Here‘s a shot taken from the top. You can see Telluride in the distance.
As we headed down to the V-notch we came across some Mennonites (I think). Can't say I've ever seen Mennonites on a 14er before. I was amazed that the two women I saw made it up there in sneakers and dresses.
At the V-notch, some of us passed through face out and some of us passed through face in. Regardless, it was helpful to have someone guide your foot placements from below. As you're descending through it, facing the mountain, the only difficulty is when you're trying to step down out of it. There really isn't a good handhold to your right, just a bunch of flat rock. There are some good steps, though. It's not that this section is difficult; it's just that it requires some attention. A fall there could be fatal.
The climb down was slow and cumbersome. Andy was foggy, out of sorts and in pain, so the world went in slow motion. Luckily the weather held.
After making it to the col/saddle, we came across a circus of people and kids. I've never seen so many people on a San Juan 14er before.
And then I noticed a poor little dog, literally shivering from cold and/or fear. His paws were so cold he was lifting them off the snow. After talking with some folks on the saddle, I learned that the owner was far down the gully (close to the bottom), expecting the dog to follow eventually. Well, the dog wasn't following. It was just standing there freezing. I felt so sorry for the little dude, so I told my wife to help Andy down and I scooped up the 20-pound dog and scree/snow skied down the gully. As I descended, I put the dog down at least three or four times to see if he'd start running down on his own, but I could never get him to move. From the saddle, I caught up with the owner and his group (near the base of the gully) in about 20 minutes. With little thanks, I handed the dog off to the owner. I don't think he realized just how done his dog really was.
At that point, I waited about 45 minutes to an hour for my group to catch up to me. After watching them climb down slowly, and getting a better look at Andy (who looked kind of like a zombie), I decided to go fetch the truck and bring it up to the upper trailhead parking lot. Andy said his head felt like a hose clamp bound it tightly.
After jogging down the scree- and talus-filled trail, and then about a mile or so down the road, I hopped in the truck and boogied up the 4x4 road. Had some fun on the second run up that mother. The new shocks are working out pretty well.
Shortly after I pulled into the upper lot they were coming off the trail. In the end, we all made it down. Not sure of our times, but just know it was a very long day.
Sidenote: Many, many years ago I bought a poster (photograph by David Muench) that pictures a climber in front of some jagged peaks. I have always been fascinated by this image, even though the climber is really cheesy-looking (he's wearing a Jansport-style backpack with a flannel shirt and red socks). Anyway, long story short, I felt like I came full circle with this climb. I've been looking at this mountain scene for probably a decade … and I just lived it.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):