Ascent and summit ski descent of Mt Sneffels (14,150')
Approximately 10 mi. RT, 5000' climbed and skied
Crew: SarahT (ringleader), Dominic, Dwight, Kevin, pioletski (token two-plank trash)
Sometimes things just come together the way they should... like an opportunity to ski the Birthday Chutes on my dad's birthday and send him a video about it. All the sweeter when the experience is shared with new friends and involves new toys! I had met Sarah and her compadres two days earlier on San Luis and asked to tag along when they mentioned plans to climb Sneffels. With their gracious approval, I joined this intrepid crew.
So I shook myself out of my cozy bivy sack at 3:30 am. That seems awfully early right after the transition to Daylight Savings time. (In May it feels like sleeping in, of course.) The Camp Bird Mine Road is plowed to just over 9000 feet, about 1/2 mile past the Thistledown campsite. We were underway at 4:00, with a starry sky overhead. Nobody seemed very talkative at that hour (imagine that!), so I marched up the road alone, taking advantage of the efficiency of skis on a gentle, hard-packed surface. By the time we regrouped it was 7:30, smiling rosy-fingered Dawn was making her presence known, and we had ascended about 2400 feet. Sunrise in Yankee Boy Basin is a treat to behold!
By 8:30 we had attained the highest summer trailhead:
Upper trailhead at sunrise
This is a very wide-angle shot, the people in the picture are closer than they appear. Gilpin Peak, the doorkeeper of Yankee Boy Basin, shone in the early morning light:
Rounding the corner to the outlet of the Lavender Couloir, my intended descent route came into view:
Looking up the Birthday Chutes
Again, my companions are not far away...
Looking back from Lavender Couloir
Ascending to the Lavender Col, it was my turn to struggle to keep up. My companions were on snowshoes and were able to use both their flotation and cramponage to good effect. Meanwhile, when the slope became too steep for skinning, I was relegated to postholing in my boots for a few hundred vertical feet. Above the Col, however, the playing field evened out once more. We climbed a short distance up the obvious chute above the col, then gained an arete just to the south and followed it to the spectacularly airy summit:
At the summit
At the summit
I understand now why so many climbers name Sneffels their favorite 14er:
View toward the Wilson Group
We arrived at the summit at about 10:30, perfectly timed for a spring ski outing. After a pleasant 1/2 hour in the brilliant sunshine we parted for the descent. I broke out my latest new toy: a helmet-mounted video camera, which took the somewhat lame still shots I have placed in this TR as well as the following video of the descent:
I waited at the bottom to thank my companions for sharing this fabulous day - but I didn't wait for them at the trailhead. Rapid descent is the skier's main advantage; I was back at the car before noon.
Notes on snow conditions: unlike San luis, the snow on Sneffels has not made a full transition to spring firn, though it is about as bomb-proof as it gets.
Thanks for reading, and thanks again to the crew!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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