| Sneffles the Long Way Round
Thursday morning dawned bright and clear and there seemed to be a pause in the monsoon afternoon storms, so I decided to take the afternoon off and head south from Montrose to climb Mt. Sneffles.
While Sneffles is typically climbed from Yankee Boy Basin, I have enjoyed a 13 mile loop that starts at the Blue Lakes trailhead and goes up to the Blue Lakes Pass and follows the SW Ridge route to the summit and then down to the saddle between Yankee Boy and Blaine basins and then descends Blaine Basin back to the start. This loop works either way, but is described here in the counterclockwise direction.
On this day I got to the trailhead about 2:00 p.m. and returned to the car by 8:00 p.m. To complete this route in 6 hours you will have to push pretty hard.
While I highly recommend this trip, I caution those unfamiliar with the area around Blaine Basin that the area is quite remote, that the pass is farily trecherous given that it is hardpacked clay with small rocks like marbles and the travel between the pass and Blaine Basin is unmarked and there is no discernable trail between treeline and the pass.
From Ridgway head West on Hwy. 62 for a few miles till you come to a forest access road, County Road 7.
This dirt road takes you nine miles to the trailhead. It is easily traveled by any vehicle, but the last two miles get a little rough in spots. At about 8 miles in you get a nice view of the north side of the mountain.
At the trailhead the trail to the left goes to Blaine Basin and to the right, Blue Lakes.
After a mile or so you enter the Sneffles Wilderness Area where there are some impressive old trees.
As you make your way around the West side of the mountain you get a nice preview of the SW ridge.
When you get to the lower Blue Lake there is a sign for the pass, 2.1 miles ahead. Be sure to take a short detour and visit the lake. The true color becomes more evident as you climb above it.
The area between the lower and upper lakes is some of the most beautiful scenery anywhere.
Once you reach the upper Blue Lake the pass is in view. It's a long haul up to the pass on the 16 switchbacks.
I counted them just for this trip report. Here is the view a little more than half way up at switchback 11.
Once you reach the pass there are many ways to ascend the ridge. They all work out. There is 4th class scrambling for those who want it, or it can be kept easier by careful route finding. This is a typical view of the first part of the ridge from the pass.
Care must be taken not to dislodge the loose rock. It is all very unstable.
After climbing on the W side of the ridge for a while you come to a flat place and a notch to the E side. Here you can descend about 150' to bypass a 4th class move or head straight through it. The difficulty of this 50' pitch is avoided by committing to the climber's right of the main crack system. The following images show the notch to the East side, a view of the class 4 pitch and then looking back down at that same pitch.
After that there is a little more scrambling around until you get to the final 1/3 of the ridge from where you have views in all directions. Here is a look from Left to Right of Teakettle (note the handle on the right) Kismet and Potasi.
This image also shows the saddle between Blaine and Yankee Boy basins. The white streak down from the saddle is the standard route.
A nice view of Yankee Boy Basin
There are many trails on this part of the ridge on the East side, but it seems more enjoyable to stay on the ridgecrest as much as possible. There is also some amazing exposure on the West side of the ridge that you will not be able to enjoy if you use the trails off the ridge. With just about 200' vertical to go, here are views of the ridge looking both ways.
From the summit the descent to the saddle between Blaine and Yankee Boy can be tricky, especially if you haven't been here before.
The access to the snowy coulier is fairly inobvious. It is also possible to avoid the snow altogether by staying on the rocks, but it is important to stay close to the snow and not drift off to the right on what looks like various trails but leads to a variety of cliffy situations. As a general rule, get in, or stay close to the snow when you descend to the pass.
As I mentioned earlier, getting from the pass to treeline in Blaine Basin is probably going to be the least fun of your day. Take your time, be careful and take advantage of any snow that remains. Going up or down, this section is a real bear.
In June you can make this descent in about 10 minutes on the snow. By August it will take up to 90 minutes.
Once you get down the first steep part you are truely in a wild place.
There is no trail to get you down to treeline and you must just use your good judgment to find a safe way down. When you reach the flowers it is a short way to a good trail the rest of the way back to the trailhead.
Take one look back from where you have just been.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):