| Snowmass all to ourselves - July 4th, 2009
The Fourth of July weekend excursion to Snowmass Mountain began with a Friday morning drive to the trailhead. On our way in, sdkeil and I stopped in Aspen for lunch and to browse the farmer's market. After spending about an hour enjoying the warm sunshine and blue skies, we decided not to push our luck any further and drive on to the trailhead. We knew afternoon thunderstorms were in the forecast with a 70% chance of rain.
We arrived at the Snowmass Creek Trailhead and started the 8 mile approach at 13:45. Clouds were already building in the sky and thunder could be heard off in the distance. The adventure began right away as we passed through the first gate that allows you to travel through private land for a short while. As I pulled back on the bar that locks the gate into a wooden post, I felt a sudden pain near my right shoulder. I realized I had been stung and sdkeil confirmed a hornet's nest inside the hole in the wooden post. (Be careful as you pass through here. The hornet was ready and waiting on our return.)
After that unfortunate event, we continued along a well traveled dirt trail most of the way, with a few muddy spots and small stream crossings. We stopped twice and sought shelter under pine trees due to the rain and thunderstorms, which fortunately lasted only about 15 minutes each. At about 6 miles into our approach, we reached the infamous log jam that spans a lake into which Snowmass Creek feeds. Sdkeil crossed first; when he was about half way over, I started in myself. Unfortunately, the afternoon storms made for a high water level and slippery logs, increasing the difficulty of the crossing. Floating logs added an extra challenge; they appeared to be supported underneath, but would quickly sink beneath you with the slightest amount of weight. It took us about 15 minutes to cross. Some people reach this point and turn around. However, we met a guy who crossed it while carrying his dog. Regardless of how careful you are, prepare to have wet feet unless you bring waterproof shoes.
Views of the approach trail:
Sdkeil seeking shelter from the rain under a pine tree:
Crossing the log jam:
Once we crossed the creek, we pushed on for the final stretch of the approach. This is where we gained most of our elevation to reach Snowmass Lake at 10,980 feet. The lake is every bit as beautiful as everyone describes it to be. We stopped to take in the view and then went in search of a campsite. Our long hike in was rewarded with a campsite complete with a lean-to within which we could stand, and a wide rock slab supported underneath by two smaller rocks, forming a kind of seat. After setting up our tent and preparing for the early morning hike up Snowmass Mountain, we enjoyed dinner while sitting on a log that provided a great overlook of Snowmass Lake.
The beautiful views from camp:
Saturday morning the alarm woke us up at 05:15. We snoozed for another 15 minutes, and then finally managed to get up and moving. After downing breakfast and getting geared up, we were greeted by a pink glow on Snowmass Lake and the snowfield above it as we hit the trail at 06:20. The first 0.75 miles around Snowmass Lake's south side consisted of muddy ground, wet willows that crowded in on either side of the trail and a few patches of snow. As we finally reached the lake's west side, we began the steep ascent to the snowfield above. Sdkeil led the route, sticking mostly to the grass slopes just to the right of the scree. At about 11,700 feet, we crossed the stream that had been on our right to reach more grass slopes and avoid the scree off to our left.
Snowmass Lake and Snowmass Peak in the early morning light:
A picture of our route, with the ascent in blue and where our descent differed from the ascent in red:
At 12,300 feet we finally reached the snowfield and made our own route. Here, the snow was packed enough to not require crampons. At 13,100 feet, we took a break on some exposed rocks to refuel and pull out the crampons and ice axes. Sdkeil then led the way up the upper snowfield, which, at its steepest part, reached a slope angle in the low- to mid-30 degrees. The soft snow made it easy to kick steps in even without crampons, but we felt safer with them on. We finally approached the ridge at 13,700 feet. After following the upper snow line on the ridge's east side for a short while, we decided to take off the crampons and stick to the relatively dry rock on the west side of the ridge. We tried as much as possible to follow the cairns for the summer route, but large patches of snow blocked our way in some places, forcing us to climb higher up on the ridge, and sometimes on the ridge crest itself.
Making our way up the upper snowfield:
The ridge crest leading to Snowmass Mountain:
We reached the summit at 10:50 and enjoyed the mountain top and blue skies all to ourselves. In fact, even though we saw three other groups camping at the lake, we were the only ones hiking up Snowmass that day. From the summit, Lake Geneva could be seen to the southwest, Capitol to the north, and the Maroon Bells to the east.
The Maroon Bells:
Sdkeil on the summit:
About 15 minutes later, we decided to head down as clouds were building in the sky. Instead of traversing all the way back across the ridge, we found a good snow field about 0.1 miles north of our ascent route and began our descent there as a few snowflakes fell around us. We again used crampons and ice axes for about 300 feet of the descent to avoid a cliff band below us, and then enjoyed a very long glissade down 1000 remaining feet. Sdkeil clocked a high speed of 13 mph at one point.
Me glissading down the snowfield:
Upon reaching the grass and scree slopes, we carefully made our way down, skirted back around the lake, and made it to camp at 13:40. This was just in time to change into dry clothes and curl up in the tent for a quick nap right as an afternoon storm made its way through the valley. After the storm had passed, we enjoyed the rest of the afternoon lazing about the lake and watching some of the other campers fish. Sdkeil took advantage of this opportunity to shoot some pictures of Snowmass Lake in the setting light of the sun.
Snowmass Lake and Peak:
Sunday morning we had a nice slow start to our day. Once we packed up camp, we started the 8 mile return to the TH at 10:30. This time around the log jam was easier to cross as the water was lower and the logs were relatively dry. It only rained once during our hike out, but there was evidence of heavy rains from the night before. The trail was considerably muddier most of the way, and there were many puddles to cross. We passed several groups making their way up to the lake. One group had three goats with them that paraded along, carrying the gear and sounding like Santa's reindeer from the large bells around their necks.
At 14:30 we returned to the trailhead, took one last look at the scenery around us, and then climbed into the car to begin our return home. It was a rough transition back to city life as we sat in the traffic with everyone else stuck on I-70.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):