It's been a slow year for me as far as mountaineering goes. My first summer as a father has proven hectic and trying and I haven't had much time to get away. But, with paid time off to burn, I decided to plan my first trip to the San Juans. I threw a dart and it landed on Sneffels. With Sneffels being renowned for its' spendor, this was the perfect introduction to this rugged range. I found myself drawn to the look of the Blue Lakes basin. I've been a resident of Colorado for four years now, and until now had not been on an overnight outing in the Colorado wilderness. With my pack loaded with all that I thought I would need, I set out on the long drive from Denver to Ridgway.
The drive was uneventful until a few miles south of Grand Junction when out of nowhere the whole of the Sneffels Range pops into view. I reached the Blue Lakes Trailhead at around 2pm and began the trek to the lakes loaded like a pack mule. I arrived at lower Blue Lake with enough time to set up camp and pull out the fly rod. It wasn't long before I snagged a cutthroat on a stimulator. (would have made an excellent dinner, but caught and released)
Satisfied with the catch and with dark quickly approaching, I took a few shots of my lofty surroundings and put myself away for the evening.
It came as no surprise, but the next day didn't start as planned. My alarm didn't go off, but luckily I naturally woke up at 6:30. Having checked the weather reports the day before and seeing that there was a 50% chance of t-storms, I wasn't enthused to see tall cumulus clouds quickly moving in over Dallas Peak.
The sun stayed behind the pass as I followed the switchbacks up and towards the southwest ridge of Sneffels.
I took a quick water break and with a cool breeze blowing, I pulled out a softshell along with my helmet to start the ridge.
By now, the clouds were getting wider and darker like the bottom could drop out at any minute, but against my better judgment, I pushed on. When I got to the top of the first notch, I looked southwest towards the Wilsons and noticed a squall line that was dropping heavy precip. This line of clouds were headed my direction and after a few minutes, had overtaken the Wilsons.
The snow patches at center were not there before.
I continued up the ridge knowing that at any moment I too would be overtaken by falling snow.
The snow and graupel hit all at once and I had to pause for a few minutes to contemplate whether to continue or retreat. Most of the snow melted shortly after it hit the rocks, but some of it remained in small pockets. I was surprised that it didn't hinder my traction much, so I kept moving upward. The snow continued to fall until I reached the kissing camels and finally abated. The remainder of the climb was pleasant and dry.
The summit views were breathtaking. The north face seems to drop straight down into oblivion and the valley below the Uncompahgre Plateau seems to stretch north forever. I spent plenty of time on the summit taking in the views...too much it would seem.
Looking back at Blue Lakes. The lowest lake is so blue I was afraid to filter water from it for fear of disolved copper
Looking back at the SW ridge
I descended the nasty standard route knowing that I would have to re-ascend the pass to get back to Blue Lakes. In hindsight, this was a mistake. The class 3 southwest ridge route is in better shape than the standard route.
Spires on the SW ridge on the traverse back to Blue Lakes Pass
As I began the side-hilling traverse back to the pass, booming thunder was rumbling in the near distance. Then I saw a flash somewhere in the vicinity of Gilpin Peak just across Yankee Boy Basin and the unobstructed thunderclap one or two seconds later shook my bowels so that I nearly let it go. It was a sprint up and over Blue Lakes pass and I skipped most of the switchbacks down trying to lose elevation as quickly as possible knowing that I was still the tallest object for quite a radius. I stopped to quickly filter water at the outlet of the upper Blue Lake and continued back to camp drenched, but unscathed. I laughed a laugh of relief as I shed the wet clothes and curled up in my sleeping bag for an afternoon nap while the rain continued.
The rain stopped around 5:00 and I packed up and headed back to the trailhead for the long drive home.
Looking back from camp after the descent
One last look on the way back to the TH