Peak(s):  Mt. Sneffels  -  14,150 feet
Date Posted:  07/15/2012
Modified:  10/04/2015
Date Climbed:   07/08/2012
Author:  SnowAlien
 Mt. Sneffels via SW Ridge from Blue Lakes TH  

Mountains: Mt. of the Holy Cross (Day 1), Wilson Peak (Day 2), Mt. Wilson and El Diente (Day 3), Sneffels (Day 5) with a detour to the base of Lizard Head (Day 4)
Party: solo
Dates: 7/4/12 - 7/8/12
Trip Totals: ~56 miles, 20,600' vertical

Day 4 - Lizard Head (hike)

July 7th, 2012
Route: Cross Mountain TH (10,060 feet)
Distance: ~4 miles RT, 1,600 elevation gain, 3 hours

After being "done" with the Wilsons sooner than expected, I decided to stay & explore the area. I woke up on Saturday in Rico to the sound of rain (glad I did not wait an extra day for the traverse) and headed for a nice big breakfast on the main street. Wimbledon was on (one can find tennis matches live in strangest locales) and I watched Serena Williams cruise to victory (yay). It turned out Rico also has a public library, which is open on Saturday (but closed on both Friday and Sunday), so I buried myself there for a few hours. As I was typing away, I noticed that the daylight was getting brighter and brighter - there was no mistake - the rain had stopped and the sun came out. Sure it was time to head out to the Cross Mountain TH! But first, another meal (lunch) was in order, and as it is often the case with small towns, it took awhile. By the time I arrived at the trailhead, it was already after 3pm and the sun was just about to disappear again.

My goal for the day was very simple - as per Robert Ormes "Guide to the Colorado Mountains" via Gerry Roach: "Climb... to the base of peak. Take a photograph and go away". So I started from the TH (just off highway 145) around 3.30pm.

About 0.7 miles into the hike, it started hailing, so I hunkered down under a large tree to wait for it to pass. It did & I pressed on. My hamstrings were screaming, but it was a gentle trail, so it was a matter of putting one foot in front of another (and slowly).

After about 2 hours of hiking, I was finally breaking through the tree line and was greeted by an amazing view:


I probably let out the scream "Noooo!", however decided to wait a few minutes to see if things improve. This is what you get for a view if you are foolish enough to miss a 4-hour window during the monsoon season when it is not raining.

As good as it gets in the rain, I guess

I did not go past the tree line, as I heard thunder in the area, but I lingered for a bit trying to get another glimpse if this amazing peak. Some day, I hope to develop enough skills to climb this peak (and in good weather, too!).

It is not raining. Somewhere.

Lizard Head from a highway

Day 5 - Sneffels via Southwest Ridge

July 8th, 2012
Route: Blue Lakes basin ascent, Blaine Basin descent
Distance: ~12 miles RT, ~4,800 elevation gain, 8.5 hours

Telluride is a long drive from Denver, so I decided to use my last day of vacation in the area to the fullest. Tony1 and I did Sneffels about a month ago via the standard (South Slopes) route, on a perfect weather day and I really, really enjoyed the scenery. There was another route on Sneffels that I was interested in - Southwest ridge, and another approach - Blue Lakes basin, and it was on the way home (near Ridgway), so it was no surprise that I found myself pulling into the East Dallas Creek TH on Saturday night, just as another bout of rain was intensifying. There were a number of cars at the TH. The East Dallas Creek TH is about 8 miles from the highway, and is an easy 2WD road.

Unfortunately, I had trouble falling asleep that night, so when the 4am alarm went off, I just laughed and went back to sleep. The next time I woke up, it was 5.45am. I got ready & hit the Blue Lakes trail at 6.40am. There were half as many cars at the TH compared to the night before (maybe people got spooked by heavy rain and left) and no other hiker to be seen. At 9,340 feet, the East Dallas Creek TH is quite a bit lower than the standard trail on the other side, so it took awhile to get to the first (lower) Blue Lake, but the views certainly did not disappoint.

Soaked register case from the overnight pour

Blue Lakes TH sign

Blaine Basin TH sign

Blue Lakes trail (when it is not steep)

Multiple river crossings awaited

Looks like an avy area on the route

Sign near the lower Blue Lake

Multiple gorgeous waterfalls in the area

First/lower Blue Lake

Second (upper) Blue Lake

At the 2nd Blue Lake near 11k, I finally saw some people who backpacked in the previous day and camped at the lower lake overnight. The weather still looked ok, but I knew that due to the late start, I did not have much time, and was pushing forward as fast as I could. The ascent to the Blue Lakes pass is quite steep, as the trail climbs about 1,000 feet in less than a half a mile.

It is not all doom & gloom!

Views of the lakes from Blue Lakes Pass

SW ridge begins

Upon gaining the Blue Lakes pass ~13K feet, I was definitely feeling it, just as the weather started to deteriorate after 10am. I put my poles on the pack, donned the helmet and started the climb. Two people from the large group I met before, decided to take on the ridge as well, but they were much faster than me in my tired state, and we soon separated.

View of Yankee Boy Basin from the ridge

Looking back at the ridge

Knife-edgy section (can be avoided on the right side if desired

High ridge stops clouds from rolling into the next basin

The climb is very enjoyable and is an easy Class 3. Vews would have been stunning, were it not for the clouds, obstructing most of the horizon (save for the Yankee Boy quadrangle). I joined five other people on the summit at about 11.30am (three came from the Yankee Boy basin side), and was very happy to be done with vertical for a while.

5th summit in 5 days

My descent route was down to the Lavender couloir (completely melted out by now) and then through the Blaine Basin. My camera's battery died on the summit (that's what happens when somebody doesn't expect to be gone for 5 days and does not take a recharger), but visibility was pretty poor after the Lavender couloir anyway.

Roach describes East Slopes/ Blaine Basin as "reasonable passage later in the summer", so I decided to check it out as a descent route, since it goes back to the Blue Lakes TH, making for a nice loop. After descending the Lavender couloir, turn left (vs right for the standard route). The first 1,000 feet is an easy scree, which makes for a quick descent (think Mt. Bross scree vs. El Diente scree). The next 1,500 feet are far less pleasant - there is about a mile of boulder hopping on an unmarked trail. There is also a rock band to be navigated around, lower in the basin. Being a north-facing basin, Blaine basin still has a few narrow snowfields, which I was able to milk for as long as possible, by glissading on foot when I was tired of seemingly endless talus fields. I can see how this route is more of a snow route that provides access to the couloirs on Sneffels' north face.

The rain that started ~1.30pm was complicating things, making boulder hopping even less pleasant than usual (but that's what one gets for starting at 6.40am on a monsoon weather day). Still, after I reached the Class 1 mining trail ~11.5K and then the Blaine Basin approach trail, it was an easy coasting back to the TH, and rain can be damned. By the time I reached the car shortly after 3pm, I was completely soaked. After hiking a total of 56 miles and over 20K feet in elevation over 5 day span, I was finally ready for a long drive back home to Denver.

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

 Comments or Questions

07/16/2012 20:25
i plan on the same route late august... i tried bymyself last early may but to much snow....


07/16/2012 22:05
I closed my eyes for Day 5 because I don't want to spoil it.


Are you thinking the Blue Lakes approach?
04/02/2015 19:45
Jeff - got to say you picked a darn nice peak for a finisher. You are going to have a blast.


Nice TR, thanks!
07/17/2012 03:31
Nice TR! Been thinking about this route. Very helpful!


06/13/2013 04:12
That's just a lovely loop!

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