| Scree Surfing USA
Frank and I left Denver on Wednesday for the long drive to Ouray. Our plan was to tag Sneffels on Thursday, then meet up with Marc and Len to grab the Wilson group on Friday and Saturday.
We arrived without incident and found a campsite off the Yankee Boy Basin road just a few hundred yards past the Forest Service campground. It was a convenient site with a decent view, but upon checking it out we found there were beer cans strewn all over the place by the previous occupants. We spent about 30 minutes collecting all of them (at least three dozen) while wishing lots of bad karma upon whoever decided to leave their mark on such a beautiful area.
We woke up at about 6 and started up the road. Frank's Corrola made it to the "private property" sign at the Sneffels Mine. A deep rut in the road kept us from going any farther. We were only about a half mile from the "lower" trailhead, so it wasn't too much extra hiking.
The slog up the 4WD road to the upper trailhead was not too bad, but it still reminded me of why I hate hiking on jeep roads. The steep/loose sections are tough on the legs! And of course the tourists with Iowa plates meandering by just made it worse.
Upon reaching the upper trailhead we were pleased to see that it was "only" 1.2 miles to the summit. The first half mile or so was pleasant rolling with spectacular San Juan scenery all around.
The climbing quickly started when we reached the bottom of the gully leading up to the Lavender Col. I had heard the horror stories about the scree on this section of the climb, and the higher we got in the gully the worse it got. Little did we know coming down would be roughly 100 times worse.
At the Col we decided to don our helmets as the upper gully looked pretty steep, rocky, and narrow. No one else ahead of us on the trail had helmets, but (and I can't speak for Frank here) safety trumps dorkiness in my mind.
The more stable rock in the upper gully made the climbing much more pleasant. There was still a snow field present just below the "notch" which most people elected to cross using handholds along the edge.
Frank ascending the snow field
Just below the top of the gully there's a passage to climber's left that leads to the "notch" - the crux of the route. There's a bit of exposure to the left, but the rock is very solid. A few easy moves are required to get through.
Once through, the summit is only about 200 vertical feet above. I found easy Class 3 scrambling on very solid rock all the way to the top. I'm sure the difficulty can be kept to Class 2+ if you pick your line carefully.
Panorama looking north
Uncompahgre overlaps Wetterhorn - cool view of those two peaks!
We lounged on the summit for about 20 minutes. The downclimb back through the notch was uneventful. Downclimbing the snow field was a little more sketchy than going up - a slip here would have been bad news. We took it slow and got past it without incident.
I was about halfway down to the saddle when I heard the word that nobody likes to hear on a mountain - frantic yells of "rock!" above. I looked upslope just in time to see a flat dinner plate-sized rock careening down directly towards me, about 100 feet away. While uttering many words my mother should never hear me say I scrambled to get out of the way. It's a lot harder than you'd think to keep your eye on the rock, try to figure out the best direction to go, AND find solid places to put your feet at the same time.
Luckily for me, the rock came to rest just above me. I was more surprised than anything because I didn't think anyone was in my fall line above me. I found out a few minutes later that some climbers were trying to downclimb a steeper shortcut directly below the notch instead of continuing the traverse out to the main gully. Unfortunately this meant that the rock they kicked loose was funneled down directly towards the main route below. If anyone decides to try this shortcut, PLEASE be careful!
Two days after our climb, in I suspect the same area, another climber was seriously hurt by a falling rock described as the size of a VW. Fortunately he will make a full recovery - thanks in no small part to the helmet he was wearing and the quick response of those around him.
Back at the Lavender Col, we started the scree surfing down the lower gully. The route at this point is badly eroded. I tried staying in the rockier sections, but the rock there was loose as well (and what I like to call "ankle twister-sized"). At one point Frank lost his balance and sheared one of his trekking poles in half trying to stay upright.
We reached the upper trailhead and continued back down to the car. Our total time on the trail was about six hours. We packed up the campsite and headed back to Ouray to continue our trek to the Wilsons (with a stop for Frank to get some new trekking poles).
The "C" on the Yankee Boy Basin road
Dallas Divide panorama (Sneffels is right of center)
Sneffels was a good climb in a beautiful area, but I can't stress enough the need for a helmet! If I were to try the peak again, I'd probably give the Southwest Ridge route a try instead to avoid the pitfalls of the standard route.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):