Peak(s):  Snowmass Mountain  -  14,092 feet
Date Posted:  08/14/2011
Date Climbed:   08/06/2011
Author:  kullpeak

 A True Clasic: Snowmass Mountain  

The Start

Tahoma and I are getting into our final few 14er climbs to finish them all. Tahoma needed Snowmass Mountain and I still remembered it as one of the best backpack/climb combos I had every done. This trip confirms this as one of the best of the best; it is sensationally beautiful, includes an excellent peak approach and allows for a nice Lake setting. I'd do this one again soon!

We left west Denver around 7:15 am on Friday and decided to take Independence Pass from Leadville. After a brief snack in Aspen we arrived at the trailhead and left at 11 am.

Early on trail

The trail starts with a slight climb but is very level for three or so miles. After a brief climb both before and after the lookout point at mile 4, it levels again until about the last 1.5 miles which is a challenge after 6 plus miles of backpacking. After the first 90 minutes of hiking we discovered that Tahoma's bladder was empty, worst yet he was developing a blister. Tahoma never gets blisters. After some brief foot care we moved on, sharing my remaining 1 -2 liters of water.

Snowmass and North Snowmass from lookout

While in the final climb we ran out of water. Hunting for water source we found one at the junction just below the lake. While pulling out the "down-water" tube, the pump was broken at the joint, and was no longer functional. Thanks to what became our Snowmass friends; Reed, Dillon and Ross K. from Greeley let us use their pump as needed. A big thanks to our Greeley friends!!

That evening we inspected Tahoma's blister - it was real bad!


Dinner time was approaching, and while pumping the white gas whisper-lite, a connection broke. It took us a little while to get dinner going, as we were able to rig the thing to work. We were starting to feel a bit down. I saw it in his eye's Tahoma was committed - we will climb the peak!

Snowmass Peak

Early morning peak

We started right at 6 am (first good light) - which I would recommend to everyone. We talked with people later that day that had got "stuck in the Willows" or went to high on Trail Rider Pass - losing a couple of hours. The key point is about 50 yards further up trail from the stream crossing; at this point three trails break off. The lower one which traverses across low near the lake (wrong), the second one climbs due south and up Trail Rider(Wrong) and the middle one that traverses about 50 feet up from the lake - the right trail!

It took us about 30 minutes to cross the lake and get to the beginning of the scree. We crossed the scree and came upon a steep trail which crosses the stream about 50 feet above the steep stream that enters from the north. Just north of the main stream a good, steep trail proceeds up the hill - it is essentially a series of steps until you crest and approach the rock slabs. The wild flowers across the lake front and up the trail to the rock slab were incredible. Perhaps as diverse and plentiful as any hike I have done. This part of the climb took about 75 minutes.

As we moved to the rock slabs we spotted our approach and aimed for the notch just south of the large peak face. This allowed us more snow cover, which Tahoma both prefers and wanted due to the mounting pain of his blister. This was a fun approach and provided a little variety up through the notch. As you climb to the east side of the peak for the final approach, about 10 minutes of class 3 scrambling remains. As we had been told from previous reports - aim a little high on the ridge , it is more solid climbing. We reached the summit around 9:30 am. It was very warm and the visibility was exceptional. Tahoma looked at Capital with anticipation, as I locked in on the Bells with my own anticipation; since these belong on our own remaining list of peaks.

Notch is left of Snowmass Peak (center)

The Notch

Final approach

Kullpeak and Tahoma- Capital in background

We left the summit on the same route and upon entering the snow, were able to find several good glacades. Once we hit the wildflower we took our time, viewing a taking photos. We got back to camp around 1 pm and cooled some Guinness we had brought along. A good swim in the lake and a cold beer, a smidgen or two of tequila, and we were set for the night.

Tahoma with a Bell-ringing background

Guinness on the lake

It was a pretty festive night in the communal area near the stream exit from the lake. We celebrated with a group from Ft Collins, Salt Lake City and Boston as well as our friends from Greeley.

The Epilog:

After a nice slow rise we left the Lake at 7:30 and arrived at the Trailhead at 11:30 - the down climb made Tahoma and his blister very unhappy. By hikes end the blister was very painful looking and uncomfortable for Tahoma. (the doctor the next day said it would take at least two weeks to heal.) We manged to make it all work and despite his pain Tahoma was pleased.


Columbine on lake

Paintbrush on trail

The hike out was very beautiful and the wildflowers, diversity and variety of the trail foliage and the nice views throughout make this hike a true Rocky Mountain classic. If you your are planning this peak or have not been to Snowmass Lake - make this trip your number one priority for next July

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

08/15/2011 00:09
Heading through that notch is a fun variation. I did it on continuous snow a few weeks ago kind of on a whim; glad that easy notch was there to pop through! Nice work. Oh, and that blister looks like an a-hole.


08/15/2011 17:13
Looks like a great hike (other than the blister ). I'm looking at Snowmass as one of this year's hikes yet. How would you compare the class 3 you did on this to others? I have done the Sawtooth and a couple other small areas of C-3. Thanks

Dr. Dave


Class 3 on Snowmass.
08/16/2011 01:39
Dr Dave,
From the notch, the class 3 is pretty tame. Some lose rock, but little exposure. Approaching the notch is some sloppy class 2, or some moderate snow. Each peak is unique, but I'd say it is pretty easy - say Sneffels level. Not as tough as Crestone, Eolus, or Wetterhorn. Sawtooth has more exposure.

It is a steady, but long approach. A good 7 hour roundtrip from the lake. I'd suggest an early July climb to the notch!@

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