Peak(s):  Snowmass Mountain  -  14,092 feet
Date Posted:  07/28/2020
Modified:  07/29/2020
Date Climbed:   07/10/2020
Author:  Dignus
 A Moderately Interesting Adventure on Snowmass   

This is not the harrowing experience or the epic adventure that you may find elsewhere on this site, but I suppose it’s just interesting enough and contains some lessons that some may find useful. If you’re not an inattentive idiot like me or you don’t want to read an overlong poorly written post, click the back button now before I waste any more of your time.

My alarm unceremoniously summons me from my sleep at 1:00 AM. I crawl out of bed and scarf down some oatmeal before dragging my tired butt to the car for the two hour drive to the Snowmass Creek trailhead. I arrive at about 3:30 and within a few minutes I'm on the trail.

The first few miles are nothing noteworthy. I know I had a long day ahead of me, but I’m feeling good. As dawn approaches I begin to exit the woods and get views of the surrounding peaks. After 6 miles I reach the first of the day’s trials, the log jam. I follow the path to where it abruptly ends at the river. I figure this is as good a place as any to cross. I’m wrong. Partway across the logs become smaller and more spaced out. I realize I’ll have to get my feet wet. I’m not too concerned, since I have extra socks and boots, and my trailrunners should dry out easily anyway. I aim for a log that will bring me ankle deep in water. Unfortunately, before I get to that one, the log I’m standing on sinks and brings me knee deep into the drink. I leap onto the next log, shrug it off as a minor mishap, and continue poking my way through. At this point I probably should have turned back, but the thing about me is that I’m stubborn. So, as I find myself at another tricky section with more narrow logs, rather than resign myself to returning to shore, I go out on a limb (haha) that’s much too narrow for a clumsy guy like me, and once again find myself up to my knees. I leap back up, trying to get back to something more solid, succeed for about half a second, then slip in again, this time up to my waist. Muttering and swearing I tiptoe across the muddy bottom (with my camera in the waist strap of my backpack) to some more rotten, unstable logs and defeatedly make my way back to shore. I return to the trail and find where it turns 50 yards before the end to a much easier crossing. As the evaporating liquid slowly sucks away my body heat I am grateful I did not hike in last night and will be warming up soon, rather than sleeping in wet clothing (one benefit of my daylong excursion, prompted by the lack of the requisite bear canister).


Finally, 8 miles in, I reach the lake and get my first up close view of Snowmass. Even more striking in real life, I start to forget about my brief hiccup. I don’t even mind the squishing sounds my shoes are still making. As I begin my trek beside the lake I vaguely recall a trip reporting mentioning that there is a better trail that goes above the lake, rather than the one that is a muddy bushwhack through willows. I see a trail that goes above the lake, so I take it. It keeps rising above the lake, providing me with even better views of the surrounding areas. Then it keeps rising. Hmm, I think to myself, I didn’t think it would go this high? I have a great idea, let’s keep going higher! Definitely don’t need to check the map, oh no! (remember, I’m stubborn). Finally about halfway across and 500 feet above the lake I pull out my map to find that I am indeed on the wrong trail, heading up towards Trail Rider Pass. Once again I turn around after a much drier but much longer detour. I finally find the real trail beside the lake. I can tell it’s the real trail because there is hardly a trail, and my shoes which were just starting to dry out are once again soaked, with unavoidable runoff spilling over the mud and exposed roots that pass as a trail. Also, mosquitos. I forgot these existed in Colorado. When I finally reach the end of the lake, there is even less of a trail, even more of a bushwhack, and even more of a stream where I am supposed to walk. At this point I just accept my fate, take a few more false paths, and eventually end up at the infamous gulley.

I take a moment to put on my helmet and inhale a few granola bars. I begin picking my way up the loose scree, following a few cairns placed by some beautiful soul in an otherwise inscrutable mess of a slope. Unfortunately, the cairns soon disappear, probably destroyed by winter runoff or careless climbers. Either way I find myself on increasingly unstable ground. I notice a cairn far up to the left, with a rather steep section between it and myself. I cling on dearly to the only stable rock in sight, just poking a few inches above the dirt, and step gingerly onto another that looks like it may just hold my weight. It doesn’t. The rock, about the size of my torso, slips slowly at first, then begins to tumble down to the bottom of the slope. I watch it, thankful no one is below me, and that the rock is not me. I use my spidey powers to stay glued to the slope somehow and eventually make my way to relatively solid ground. I climb up to the top of the slope to where it flattens to a meadow, and stop again to stuff my face with food and slather on sunscreen.

I stare upward, with 2000 vertical feet and a steep snowfield still between me and the summit. As I assess the snowfield, for the first time that day I wonder whether I will even make it to the top. I’ve done 20 mile days. I’ve been soaked to my waist. I’ve climbed steep snow. I’ve ascended miserable scree fields. I’ve hiked at high altitude. But not all at once, and I’m already exhausted. But pride is a strong motivator so I trudge on.


At the snowfield I stop to put on my boots and crampons and take out my axe. The glare from the east facing slope in the early morning sun is intense so I put on some more sunscreen. I pick my way through the suncupped mess trying to decide on whether to take the more direct route or the standard route. Seeing the corniced overhang on the direct route and being a little sissy I pick my way over to the standard route, leaning in as the slope steepens. Just above the snowfield I ditch my pack (ignoring Gerry Roach’s first commandment of mountaineering) and climb up to the ridge, where just 300 vertical feet and some fun scrambling separate me from the top. Finally on more comfortable terrain for this New Hampshire boy I make my way quickly across the ridge, meeting other climbers for the first time that day who are on their way down. As I gain the last few feet to the summit and it’s distinct white upright boulder I gaze in awe at one of the most beautiful vistas I've seen yet. I stand atop the rock to get an even better view (and a sweet new profile pic). I see the northern subpeak I had originally intended to climb, but decide I've had enough adventure for today, especially with 11 miles still separating me from my car. After just a few minutes atop the summit I head back down. I reach my pack, chug some Gatorade, then begin my descent in earnest.


I’m obviously not going to maintain my balance anyway, so I pick a good line and do my best to buttsled (or glissade for you pedantic nerds) through the bumpy, suncupped, crusty snow. I get a couple of good runs in, start to get a little chilly down where the sun don’t shine, and slide a little more until it flattens out and I'm forced to walk the rest of the way. The remainder of the route goes surprisingly well; I find a more solid route down the rubble strewn gulley (keep north/left, then cross to the south/right), take a slightly less watery path around the lake (the one I was looking for originally) and cross back over the log jam without a hitch or a halt.

Someone pooped next to the trail and didn't even bother to bury it.

I continue down the trail, spacing out as I cross the 20 mile mark for the day (probably a couple more with that detour above the lake). Suddenly I find myself walking into tall grass and a sign that reads PRIVATE PROPERTY--NO TRESPASSING. I don’t remember this on the way in...though it was dark...perhaps I missed a turn off. I go back a ways and there is indeed a turn off...across a fast moving river. I don’t remember this either..perhaps it wasn’t this high this morning? After a few minutes of deliberating I decide to cross the river. I take off my shoes and begin making my way gingerly across. I have to slowly put my foot down, let the current take it a little, and wait for it to settle against a rock with each step. Damn, this better be the right path. (spoiler: it’s not). I get to the other side and continue through a field that is definitely not the way I came in that morning but I’m tired, cranky, and a little paranoid that it could be. After about half a mile, as the trail continues upward and westward I realize that this is definitely the wrong path. I turn around and repeat the sideshow of crossing the river, up to my thighs, cold, tired, and pretty done with it all. I continue back the way I had come, not even bothering to put my shoes back on, and find where I should have turned a few hundred yards back. (a later assessment of my mistake showed I was on my way up to Capitol Peak. Now that would have been an interesting story).

I keep walking, put my shoes back on as the horse crap becomes unavoidable, and eventually find myself back at the parking lot, 14 hours after starting my adventure. I drive home, blasting music to keep myself awake and stopping only to scarf down some fast food. I get home, shower only because I absolutely reek, and tend a few wounds on my feet. I don’t even have the energy to enjoy a beer before collapsing into bed.

The next day I don’t leave my apartment, with only enough energy to eat half the food and my fridge and finally enjoy that beer.

TL;DR- Pay attention to the trail so you have time for a beer when you get home.


Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions

too high?
07/28/2020 18:39
Had to comment on your report because I just today posted a comment about the trail around Snowmass Lake. And, I could not help but notice the similarity between your photo #4 and my avatar.

You could have just kept going on trail rider pass trail and done this!

Congrats on making the summit!

I see this is your first trip report. I am no expert, but the photo of shit does not add anything worthwhile to your report. Everyone shits, everyone has seen it, no one wants to see it again.


reply to Wentzl
07/29/2020 15:48
Thanks for the input! Figures that there is a way from Trail Rider Pass to the west slopes. Also, the point of the shit photo was to discourage others from practicing poor hygiene/leave no trace. Perhaps it is better off to exclude it here though.

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