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 Peak(s):  Mt. Sneffels  -  14,150 feet
 Post Date:  07/29/2010
 Date Climbed:   07/16/2010
 Posted By:  mattrts

 Mt Sneffles and my 2010 expedition   

(I got a shotty memory so bare with me on the details. This is about my whole trip, if your just interested in the basin and climb scroll down to "Sneffels and Yankee Boy basin" and "Summit Day" respectively)

I've made it a personal goal no to visit Colorado atleast once a year and climb a 14er. This year I had 2 in my sites. I planned on Sneffles and Uncompahgre.

I started my trip on July 14th as I departed Lewisville, Tx at 530am after a 30 minute supply raid in Wal Mart. Thanks to no traffic and slight speeding, for the second straight year I made it to Amarillo before noon (great news for the acclimitization hiking in New Mexico). Upon entering New Mexico I was greated by boring paved highways through desert land speckled with abandoned houses and rusted farm equipment. Eventually, out of no where I found my self scaling a beautiful slope where everything turned from yellow to green. Upon reaching the top I was greeted with more flat landscape...

I eventually encountered the beautiful Enchanted circle. The original plan was to camp in Taos ski valley but due to time and convenience, I opted for Red River which was better than I'd expected.

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Camp in Red River, NM


I departed Red River between 6 and 7 am aiming for lunchtime in Ouray. The drive down from Red River was spectacular with nice mountain views and the Red River gorge was a beautiful roadside attraction. (an amazing bridge might I add)

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Rio Grande River Gorge


Driving through the lower San Juans was very scenic but a death trap for drivers. You pass loads of Deer and Cow warning signs for a reason. Going over a hill at about 70mph I had to hit the breaks pretty hard, though at a comfortably distance, because a cow decided to take an outrageously slow stroll across the street. It took pulling within 10 feet to get the thing moving at a decent pace. 10 minutes later coming around a bend there were 2 more grazing in the roadside ditch.

The drive from Duranto to Ouray was a little more than I was expecting. I'd never driven on true mountain passes and highways before and I learned its not for the faint of heart. Some of those drop offs and turns were a little nerve raking but the excitement was overwhelming. I was so tuned in to navigating the curves that I didn't even get to enjoy the scenery (though it was quite fun, felt like I was in a car commercial). I'm also quite curious to how successful or often those runaway truck pull offs are. It seems that by the time a truck would get to there it would have plunged off a cliff already. All that being said, the drive was amazing and a ton of fun.

I arrived in Ouray around 1230pm and will say it is quite the breath taking town, though filled with tourists like myself. After a decent burger I walked up the main street in search of some bottled water. Being accustomed to the unnecessary amount of convenience stores on every corner in suburban America, bottled water was a little hard to find but I eventually found the city market. I also picked up an amazing NatGeo map of the area which came in handy. Now to the important part…

Sneffles and Yankee Boy Basin

A quick profile of my truck…

Stock 2003 Ford Ranger 2WD regular cab with generic cheap tires

Everything that I read made me believe my truck would make the lower trail head. Warning for others… that road beat the crap out of my truck. On top of that, I got into some down right scary situations. My truck weighs next to nothing, especially in the back, so once I get going up hill on loose gravel I can't stop, cause I won't get going again. This all came together when I was approaching a tight corner when an SUV came around and we both had to hit our brakes. It took some serious rubber burning and sliding before I was able to get going again. Backing down was not a option due to safety so It was quite an experience. I thought my truck was going to call it quits on me but when I was feeling discouraged I passed a Mazda Miata and felt confidence rush into my veins.

After passing the split off to Governor basin the road got even more choppy and around the first turn I stopped. In front of me was a dip I was sure my truck couldn't make so I backed up a bit and turned to a 90 degree angle then got out to take a look. After a short debate I decided to continue and believe I could make the lower trail head. Fingers crossed, I went for it and thankfully no grinding or snapping. I trucked on passed a half dozen more of those before throwing in the towel at a parking area off to the left with a few openings. To my surprise I was just a few hundred feet or so short of the lower trail head restrooms. Though I felt relieved I was terrified I would find a puddle of fluid under my truck or the thing wouldn't start when I got back but that was all in the back of my head now. I was near the foot of my target!

I used the restroom and returned to load up for the hike into the upper basin. Upon returning to my vehicle I was confronted by another solo hiker named Jeff who was inquiring about where to camp. Being unsure myself of where I would be sleeping, we began talking. A little later and couple of gentlemen were returning to there cars after summiting Sneffles and we gained some valuable updates on the conditions. After hearing of the amount of snow in the upper gully I asked Jeff if I could join up with him because he was significantly more experienced as he was rounding out his last 6 14ers. To my relief he was okay with it and we hit the trail after deciding on a potential camping target.

Due to the amazing weather outlook we decided to hike into the upper basin to camp and had our eyes set on nearby water sources. The hike was all that I had imagined for the last 6 months. I was enjoying some of the most amazing views I could have ever dreamed of. We decided to camp just short of the upper trail head and scouted the area to the north of Wright's lake for a flat spot and set up the tents. The weather was beautiful and I took advantage of the time and my partner's knowledge to learn how to glissade. Being my first time with an Ice Axe, I'm more than thankful to have met and experienced hiker.

Glissading was a blast. I enjoyed some nice sized snow fields near the upper trail head. Glissading was better than I could ever imagined; with the exception of soaking and numbing my rear end. We enjoyed some beef stew and I was amazed at the amount of vehicles driving to the upper trail head. We set a 6am departure target and returned to our respective tents. Sleeping around/over 12000 was a little difficult and I was wide awake at 3am. I took advantage of the situation and the gazed at the stars before falling asleep around 4am.

Summit Day

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Morning View of Camp

I woke up to the unusual surprise of a person and their camera a few hundred feet away facing in the general direction of our camp… a little weird. We left around 6am and the trail to the base of the Lavender Col was pretty nice. Hiking up the Col was a different story. I will say that I was prepared for some horrible sketchy hiking up some severely loose terrain and it wasn't all that bad. I think I read so many complaints that it just didn't seem all that bad.

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Morning Sun on Gilpin


At the top of the Col I encountered a very small snow pitch and was quite excited at what was to come. We stopped for some air and water and I got some great pictures before we decided on our route and headed up.

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From the top of Lavender Col looking WNW

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Upper Gully and Snow Field


We decided to stick to the standard route and took on the snow field. This seemed like nothing to Jeff but after his instruction I went for it and to be honest, was a little scared for the first little while and a little more on the way down. There was a couple hundred feet of snow to ascend but there was a generous large body that conveniently stomped huge solid steps. Within the last 30 feet or so the steps mysteriously disappeared and the fear set in again but with encouragement I made in above the snow. The rest of the climb was pretty easy and just as laid out in the posted standard route.

The views from the summit were far more than rewarding. It was between 8-9am if I remember correctly and we were positive we were the first up there for the day. I signed the log and was snapping pictures when a solo climber arose from the SW ridge. One of the first things he said was, "Did you see that bear on the Col?" (quote not exact due to my faulty memory) We were both shocked and I was a little in disbelief. He then whipped out his camera to show us the picture and sure enough, at the top of the Lavender Col was what appeared to be a bear that was behind us on the trail! I was kinda hoping that picture would hit the forum but I haven't seen it. Upon discussion we agreed that it was probably passing basin to basin.

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Summit Picture

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Summit Views

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Summit Views


The time on the summit was short lived and we headed down to beat the crowds. The snow down climb was a little unnerving for me but a great experience for a first climb on snow. Once we hit the Lavender Col, Jeff showed me how to slide down the scree. At first I was hesitant as it didn't seem safe and I wasn't quite sure what I was doing so I decided to just try and follow. 15 minutes later I was having a blast surfing this stuff all the way down and we made some amazing time on the down climb. We returned to camp and started packing up. If I remember correctly the climb time was a little over 4 hours round trip so we made pretty good time.

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Sneffels behind the lake


The hike back to the cars seemed a little longer than we remembered and both of us were worried if our cars would make it back down.

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Hiking down

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Stoney mountain

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more Yankee Boy Views


We decided to meet back up in town for some lunch at the pub before going our separate ways and we headed down. Traffic was starting to pick up on our way down but not too bad. We both made it with functional vehicles and I enjoyed an amazing French Dip compliments of Jeff (thanks again). After learning that the directions Google Earth gave me to get to the Nellie Creek trail head would lead me up another mountain pass on a loose gravel road that my truck probably wouldn't make and the only other option is a 2-3 hour drive around to Lake City, I abandoned Uncompahgre. (other reason's being fear for my car and I was exhausted due to moving twice and a soccer tournament all in the past 3 weeks) I changed my plans up and headed straight for Mesa Verde.

Mesa Verde

I am continuously impressed by the National Park service. Mesa Verde was a blast. Though feel I spent a ton of money there, I enjoyed my experience and understand their shortage of cash. It felt like a step back in time and being an architecture student it was quite an intriguing place to visit.

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Mesa Verde

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Cliff Palace

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Cliff Palace

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Cliff Palace tower


The rangers were knowledgeable and there was plenty to see and history to take in. I left by 1 and headed of to my next destination…Bisti Badlands National Wilderness.

For those of you who haven't seen this place, it was a quite a place to visit. I felt like I was on a different planet; rock formations straight out of an intoxicated dream. The 45 minutes or blistering desert heat were worth it. I left my car with a bottle of cold water and returned with some nice hot water.

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Bisti Badlands

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More Bisti

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Amazing

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Scorched Earth


After that I turned my eyes to Taos with a goal of climbing Wheeler Peak. The weather didn't look promising so I crashed in Sante Fe. Slept in a real bed for the first time in 3 days and got some medicine to get rid of my splitting head ache. The following morning the weather didn't look good over the mountains so I decided to tour Sante Fe on foot and fell in love with the city. The architecture, history, culture, and food were amazing. It was brilliant start to a great day. I covered the whole city by noon and went and had some good food.

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I left Sante Fe a little after 1 and headed home. Got back into my apartment around 1 am on a successful trip.

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In summary…

- I would not recommend a 2wd truck to venture far up into Yankee Boy Basin
- I was more than glad to have my ice axe
- And more than lucky to have joined up with a more experience climber

Great climb!!



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