Peak(s):  Snowmass Mountain  -  14,092 feet
Date Posted:  07/17/2014
Modified:  07/19/2014
Date Climbed:   07/12/2014
Author:  mspalding
 Glissading Trumps Moving Boulders  

At 22 miles Snowmass is one of the longest 14ers. But it's not the miles, it's the moving boulders and scree downclimbing that makes it a long day. Read ahead to see how you can mitigate some of the problems I encountered and you may even find a cool shortcut you can use.

The road to the trailhead is an easy drive, even in the lowest clearance 2wd (I used a Honda Fit). But keep your directions for your return. And be sure to backwards calculate the mileage. It is easy to take the wrong turn on the way back; especially in the dark.

Confusingly, 1/10 of a mile before the trailhead there is the East Snowmass Trailhead. It's at 11.2 miles. Go to 11.3 miles for the actual trailhead.

I started hiking in to the lake at 2p. At mid Summer that's plenty early to get there before dark. The trail is like a sidewalk through a rainforest. You can follow it with your eyes closed. And there's been lots of work on the trail; even this season's downed timber has been cut and moved. Hats off to CFI or whoever is doing all the work. There are a few mosquitos but if you keep moving they won't bother you. This will change when you get close to the lake.


There are raspberries and strawberries. The raspberries should have fruit in a month. My hike took longer as I took nearly 200 photos on the way up. It's beautiful! There are so many flowers and the roaring stream is a constant companion.

Everybody wants free necter.


This stream is loud. I can't imagine how much water is pouring through.

By 2:50 I made it to the 3rd and last gate. I met a 15 person group from the local deaf camp. They, like most of the folks I met on the trail and at the lake, were on the Four Pass Hike. Of all the folks I met only 9 climbed Snowmass on Saturday.
After 2 hours I reached the 4 mile point with the first views of Snowmass. Then a mile later, as I came around a corner, a bear cub dashed past into the brush! It was a large cub, 2 feet at the shoulder with a deep, light brown color. I talked out loud for the next half hour to avoid surprising moma. Shortly after I saw a gigantic rabbit (Snowshoe Hare). It was more than twice as big as the rabbits around Denver. Again, the wildlife moved too fast for me to get a picture. But after the logjam I got pictures of a similar one.

He had huge rear feet; like a jackrabbit.

Put your electronics in ziplocks before crossing.

The logjam was 3hrs in and a lot easier than earlier in the season. The water has lowered a bit so the logjam is stable. It's a puzzle, which logs will be stable and lead to other stable logs. You may backtrack sometimes.

At 6:25 I arrived at Snowmass Lake. The whole hike was super scenic. And then the lake, and the snow and mountains... wow. You can choose from over a dozen campsites located on both sides of the stream crossing. You are now in the mosquito feeding grounds. I violated the law and fed the wildlife. The mosquitoes were happy and when I got home I counted over 100 bites. Bring bug stuff. There was deer hanging around camp. It looked like she had survived a predator encounter. Currently it gets dark at 8:45.

I did not feed this wildlife. How do deer survive mosquitoes?

It's light at 5:30 and I left at 5:45. Little did I suspect that it would be 10 hours later when I returned. The willows are soaked and they will share their water. I could see deer tracks along the entire lake part of the trail and rainbow trout and a similar black fish were spaced evenly along the bank.


Some parts of the trail are ambiguous. At the end of the lake there is easy boulder hopping until you reach the scree. And this is the first of the critical trail finding moments. I and the guy I was hiking with initially (a shout out to awesome climber Andrew from Utah), took the wrong route. We did not cross the stream early enough. We were looking for the described easing of the slope for the crossing point and just kept going up. This was bad. We ended up on a loose boulder field. Huge boulders moved. A stack of 3 chair sized boulders slid beneath me when I stepped on the top one. I tried to pull up on a boulder the size of me (probably weighed 10x my weight) and the whole thing rolled towards me. I jumped out of the way before my legs were crushed. It just tapped my ankle and I still have the bruise 5 days later. Don't do this.

Don't go here. They are loose and waiting to crush you.

If the boulders don't get you, you may be ensnared in a web. The spiders are large.

Cross at the orange arrow to avoid the loose boulder field above.

After correcting my course I arrived at the begining of the basin at 8a. Ok. It looks like a basin in the route photos. But it is actually a series of 3 steep snow slopes. The snow in the basin made for easy kick stepping at 7am. But by noon it was sugar snow and too loose to plunge step down. Of course this made for easy-to-control glissading. Bring an ice axe. You'll need it if you slip on the way up and it is helpful but not necessary on the way down. Crampons are not needed. To minimize post holing on the way up or down, avoid getting too close to rocks.


The climber in the background (in shadow) is on the second slope, the third slope is the steepest and leads to the bump.

It was difficult to find path through the bump to gain the ridge. I found that if you go further to the left than you would think then up toward the ridge before the tall rocks. The route on the backside of the ridge has some cairns. In general stay high but below the ridge. I did get up on the ridge once.

And now for another save-your-life warning. Currently there is a large snowfield blocking the route to the lower part of the rib (see route description). It seems obvious to kick your feet in and cross it. At 10a it was kickable and I made my way halfway across it. At that point I looked down and realized that not only was it it 1000 feet down to the rocks, but it was too steep to stop a slip with an ice axe. After a few more steps I ran into an area that had a hard layer of ice 1 inch below the snow. I couldn't kick steps. I couldn't even penetrate it with my axe. I ended up climbing up till I was able to reach some rocks and pulled myself up out of the snow. Climb above this snow. It will double the distance and the rocks aren't great. But it's worth it.

Taken above the snowfield. You can see it in the center of this picture.

On the summit at 11:15 I ended my solitude. I was joined by 4 skilled climbers who were also unenthused about going back down the ridge route. But unlike me, they were brave enough and skilled enough to consider a different route. They went over the edge and down the front face of Snowmass. They encouraged me to join them and guided my steps and handholds. This is doable. It was mostly class 3 with a couple of 3+ bits. And it saved picking my way back over the ridge and at least a half hour.

Carefully climbing down the face.

A look back at the face. It's a serious down climb.

Scary weather threatened several times. But fortunately it blew over everytime.

And now the fun bits. By coming down the face we were immediately able to glissade. Total we may have glissaded over a mile! In the photo below, the 3 climbers mark the end of the first glissade. From there we walked to the left quite a ways to join up with the original trail up. Even though it was near noon, there was no post holing. After that we did sitting and standing glissades down the two remaining slopes.

You'll have a numb butt and boots full of cold water. But you'll enjoy it.

Now that I was with the 4 climbers (a shout out to Vela, Sheila, Meredith and Amy) it was obvious that we should take the trail on left side of stream and descend through vegetation. The stream crossing is minor and cairned.

You have to go upstream from the trail to cross a the cairn.

And then the last icky bit. The scree wasn't much fun to climb up. But we were on our butts and crab walking down it. It was too steep to walk. You had to find handholds to slow you as you slid through the dirt and loose rock. I've climbed 46 peaks and that's the worst scree so far.


We returned to the camping area at 3:30, nearly 10 hours after starting. I did not think that a 5.5 mile round trip climb would take so long. I took an hour to purify more water, rest, and pack up all my gear. By this time it was 4:40 and I was going to be racing dark the whole way down. The great trail made it easier. And I did it. 8.25 miles in 4 hours. I was down at 8:40, just as it was getting dark.

This was a lot more adventure that I had anticipated from reading the route descriptions. Hopefully there are a few bits of information that will help you on your adventure. If it sounded a bit scary, remember that the beauty of the area makes it all worth it.

Marmot declaring his territory.

Made it by dark!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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 Comments or Questions
Doctor No

Well done!
07/17/2014 18:46
I really like your way of storytelling - made for a great read.


ridge vs. direct approach
07/17/2014 20:11
do you think it would have been easier to take the direct approach on the way up instead of the ridge? I'm most likely heading up there this weekend!

Brian Thomas

nice wildlife pics
07/17/2014 20:30
Looks like a fun time up there, I enjoyed reading this. Thanks for posting!


What Dr. No said...
07/17/2014 21:54
I also like your way with prose. And great pics, too.


Great TR
07/18/2014 19:53
We took a long time to do the 5.5 miles too. Also went too high on the initial gully and missed the crossing. For the glissade, wearing a hardshell pant with gaiters kept everything dry.

Thanks for all the compliments
07/19/2014 17:22
It's great to know folks enjoyed it. As to climbing the face, I wouldn't recommend it. It is much easier to see a path on the way down. On the other hand, I think anyone okay with some small class 4 climbing bits, would be able to do it.

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