| Sneffels.....My sweet 16 that almost never was
I just added the pics!! Crampons are necessary if your starting very early, you can get away without them if you start later but they could make life easier. The snow is really melting fast though and the conditions actually change depending on the hour that you climb the gulleys.
Below is more details with the pics…..
I've been wanting to do Mt. Sneffels for a long time. When my camping reservations where cancelled 3 weeks ago and I was doing the Culebra group climb so why not knock out some southern peaks with Sneffels being the culmination of the trip. So after Culebra & Red mountain, Mt. Lindsey, San Luis Peak, Redcloud Peak & Sunshine Peak, Handies Peak in the previous 5 days, I think a had case of summit fever. Based on a recent TR that suggested an early start, I decided to start it as I did the other peaks. I parked at the restrooms as I didn't feel like driving my truck through the rough road to Yankee Boy Basin.
Mt. Sneffels at sunrise
The first section of the trail was easy, just a couple of small snowfields that were solid that early in the morning. I reached the lower gully that was finally starting to melt out and show the rocks below. Definitely a lot had changed since the most recent TR several days earlier. I pulled out my ice axe and started up the snow field. At first I had now problem using previous kick steps and post holes to climb up the hard snow. As I worked my way up the coulier, finding steps were getting harder to find and the snow was still very hard. At this point I wish I had crampons, I finally reached a group of rocks and continued up until I reached the snow again. I started to snow climb again and was still within my comfort zone. This soon started to change as I reached an extremely icy portion. I actually couldn't kickstep anymore and actually started making step holes with the adz of my ice axe. At this point I started arguing with myself that I should stop, well the part of my with summit fever won rationalizing that I was only 30-40 ft from the saddle and then things would improve.
Looking up at the lower gulley
Looking down at the lower gulley
I made it to the saddle, well now I thought that if I made it this far, I could handle the upper gulley. At this point it was about 8am. I started up and the portion of the coulier that was in the sun. It was slick but underneath it was still hard. I got up about 1/3 of the way and the arguing with myself. I knew I would get up but would I safely get down afterwards. When I saw a 3' X 3' boulder that had slide at least 20' down the coulier, I knew I had too many things stacked against me( climbing alone, questionable gear for conditions, and conditions that were testing my climbing experience). I worked my way back down to the saddle, I did lose my footing once and luckily I had my axe, as I couldn't get any grip with my boots.
Looking up at the upper gulley
Another look at the upper gulley(on the left)
At the saddle, my summit fever was flaring up again. I contemplated if I should concede and go down or wait for the sun to soften the coulier. But how long would that take? I decided to head down. After I starting climbing down rock on the east side of the lower gulley, I saw several people at the base. I climbed down a bit but decided to stop mainly since I didn't want to knock rocks down on them. They really seemed to be climbing well, so I decided to see if the could reach me. The got half way up without crampons or an ice axe. I told them that they wouldn't make it without them. I glissaded down a little bit when I saw another group. They appeared to at least have axes. At this point I had thoughts of trying to summit again if I just had some climbing partners. As they climbed up I found out they didn't have crampons either but they were making good progress. The snow had definitely soften by now at 8:30.
My summit fever flared up again as I regain several hundred feet to the saddle. Once the first guy reach the rocks that I mentioned earlier, I checked with them if they were still planning on summiting. They were. This was enough for me to retry the upper coulier. Now it was mostly in the sun and while is was a bit slick but I could reasonably kickstep(Amazing what an hour will do!), plus I felt comfortable that I could get back down. ! I suspect that it was because I wasn't completely alone this time. One of the climbers passed me 2/3 up the upper coulier, it was sure nice to have some kick steps in place. We got through the notch and proceeded through a couple tiny snow fields and reached the summit at 10:10. It turns out that I had passed Bryant and Chris on Redcloud and Sunshine 2 days earlier.
A look approaching the last few feet towards the summit
The wilson group from the summit
We took our pics and headed down at 11. When we reached the upper coulier, the snow was really getting soft. We all decided to glissade down and did the same for the lower coulier. Down them in 20 minutes. I got to my truck at 1. So instead of 5 hours it took me about 7 hours. Plus I added an extra 500' of vertical gain.
A look from the NE the next morning
At this point I felt great that my persistence had lead to my most satisfying summit ever….ahhh sweet 16, my 16th 14er…. Mt. Sneffels. I won't forget this one. However I still wonder if my Summit fever was out of control or if it pushed me just hard enough to "build character and experience". I think that I kept a cool head and never panicked so the later is the case……perhaps comments will tell me otherwise..