Peak(s):  Snowmass Mountain  -  14,092 feet
"North Snowmass" - 14,020 feet
Date Posted:  09/29/2018
Modified:  10/18/2018
Date Climbed:   09/27/2018
Author:  Wentzl
 Snowmass Circuit   

The purpose of this report is to answer the question, can you climb Snowmass Mt. from Lead King Basin, descend the east slopes toward Snowmass Lake and then access the Trail Rider Pass trail without dropping all the way down to Snowmass lake. The short answer is YES. You can stay as high as 12,000' and access Trail Rider Pass trail 0.6 miles from the pass and then drop back down to Geneva Lake and Lead King Basin. This was a fun exploration. The circuit up the West Face and down the East Slopes was a total of 15 miles and took me 11 hours. There were a couple setbacks along the way, which I will describe. This time and distance includes a detour to tag North Snowmass.

First a word about the trailhead description here on the site. It is chaotic. It says turn left at mile 7 then describes what happens if you turn right. Left is the HIGH road. 6 miles. Narrow and not too difficult. Left is the LOW road. Goes past Crystal Mill and town of Crystal. Last 1.5 miles up to Lead King Basin VERY ROUGH. Both roads named 315, basically a 12 mile loop through Lead King. The junction is about 8 miles from the 2wd road. If you go left, as directed on you will be on the HIGH road. If you go right will take you on the rough road past the Crystal Mill and hits the other sections described in the description. Each was is about 6 miles. Each takes about an hour. The upper road is narrow but much gentler than the lower road. The lower road is pretty mellow for the first 4.5 miles after the split. When you hit the intersection where the road splits to Crested Butte to the right and Lead King Basin to the left, this will be THE WORST 1.5 miles of any road to any 14er trailhead. OK. Got it? Good.

I have been back here 4 times now. I like taking the upper road in and the lower road out.

Enough about trailhead access. On this trip I intended to climb the S Ridge and then drop down the East Slopes, leave the East Slopes trail and try to merge with the Trail Rider Pass trail as high as possible for the return home.

Dropping down into Lead King from the High Road is amazing and offer spectacular views of Snowmass and Hagerman.

Snowmass "S" Ridge and connecting ridge to Hagerman

There is one real nice campsite right at the parking lot for the trailhead. Several other decent spots not too from from there.

Trailhead Campsite
Sunset on the "S' Ridge as seen from camp

OK, now the goods.

Started hiking at 7:20. Just about 30 minutes I am greeted by the sun.

Sun up in Lead King Basin

From the trail head it is 2.25 miles to Geneva Lake.

Geneva Lake below Snowmass

When you hike around the lake you will come to a split in the trail and the left fork is marked for camp site 4. Take the left fork and hike past camp 4. If you do this loop, you come back on the right fork, which is the trail up to Trail Rider Pass.

Continue past Camp 4

From here you climb up to Little Gem lake. I intended to climb the S Ridge, but forgot to find the climbers trail that branches off at the lake. Instead I followed the obvious trail and ended up at the base of the West Face route. If you want to climb the S Ridge, which I recommend as the much more fun alternative, don't make this mistake. If you see the obvious talus pile in the next photo, you have gone too far for the S Ridge. Go back to Little Gem Lake and find the turn to the "S" ridge.

NOT the trail to the S Ridge

Base of West Face. 3.9 miles (2 hours) from trailhead.

I tried to work my was back down to the proper start of the S ridge for a little while, but ultimately decided to give the West Face route a go. The trail through the talus is at times vague, but generally head up and to the left. There are several ways through the lower cliff bands. There was actually ice on the most obvious way through, but easily avoided in other places.

The next two photos are looking up, and then down, after clearing the lower cliff on the West Face. It was about 11:15 when I got here, but I had spent about an hour wandering around looking to regain, then abandoning the S Ridge route. Mileage on the GPS said 5.4 miles, but this reflects about an extra 1/2 mile for the dalliance.

West Face above the Cliff band

Little Gem Lake at the base of the West Face

The West Face tops out somewhere between Snowmass and N. Snowmass. I opted to stash my pack and jaunt over to tag N Snowmass.

Snowmass Summit from where West Face route tops out

N. Snowmass from near where the West Face tops out

Snowmass from N. Snowmass summit.

I hit the summit of N. Snowmass at 12:50 p.m. GPS said 6.43 miles from trailhead

Snowmass, Hagerman and Maroon Bells in the background. A good look at the East Slopes

It took 30 minutes to get from N. Snowmass to Snowmass summit. 1:20 p.m. at mile 6.76

The ridge to Hagerman is described in a couple trip reports as difficult 4th class or lower 5th. I had ideas about giving it a go, but the circuit route turned out to be a good choice this day.

Connecting ridge to Hagerman, another day perhaps

The East Slopes route off the summit is well cairned. I started off the summit at 1:40 p.m. and exited the ridge about 30 minutes later at mile 7.14.

Geneva Lake and Lead King Basin from half way between Snowmass and Hagerman. Upper Rte. 315 can be seen dropping in from the right

So now the fun really begins. I had not been on the East Slopes route before and I intended to find a way around Hagerman Pk and get back to Trail Rider Pass giving up as little elevation as possible. Worst case, I would drop all the way down to Snowmass lake. The next photo illustrates the objective. Find a route between the lake and the cliff.

If you take this hike, the gray rock past the moraine is VERY unstable. Everything moves under foot.

I wish I took more time to frame this. The large flat rock is perched on just 3 points.

It was a pretty enjoyable hike toward the cliff. There was no snow underfoot, but there was a trace of the permanent snow that gives this mountain it's name.


Getting close. Still not clear if it will go

Looking back up at Snowmass summit

This is about as close as I came to the lake

ESCAPE! The turn around the corner was easy and straight forward.

It was 3:50 p.m. and at mile 9.1 when I intersected with the Trial Rider pass trail at about 12,000'.

Trail in sight

I got on the trail and from there it was 0.6 miles to the pass, which I reached at 4:15 p.m.

Looking back at Snowmass lake from trail

Looking down into Lead King Basin from Trail Rider Pass

A nice campsite on west side of Trail Rider Pass

I got back down to Geneva Lake at 5:40 p.m. at mile 13.

6:45 p.m. and mile 15.2 back at the start.

I liked this hike. Gotta stress again how unstable the rocks are once you get off the route on the East Slopes of Snowmass. Not difficult, you just have to pay attention to every step. I would strongly recommend doing this with the "S" Ridge for the start. I have done that climb several times and it is way more fun than the West Face.

On the way out, the next day, there are some nice sights to see.

Crystal Mill

Beaver Lake, near town of Marble

Marble Quarry

Marble Blocks

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
09/29/2018 12:30
Thank you for posting.


Challenging Route
10/02/2018 14:02
Great trip, thanks for the info.
(Love your Tacoma too)

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