Peak(s):  Snowmass Mountain  -  14,092 feet
Date Posted:  10/21/2006
Modified:  10/22/2006
Date Climbed:   09/05/2006
Author:  aiu3709
 Snowmass Mountain from Snowmass Lake  

Labor Day we left Frisco and drove to the Snowmass-Maroon trailhead. The weather was great and my wife (AJ) and I were both in very good hiking condition. This was the second week of our 2-week vacation from Michigan. We had spent the first week in the Frisco area getting our lungs acclimated to the elevation and our legs adjusted to hiking.

At 9:30AM we arrived at the trailhead and started packing up to Snowmass Lake. This pack is 8 miles of good trail with moderate elevation gain. We passed 5 or 6 parties that were descending after spending Labor Day weekend in the backcountry. A good portion of the first part of the trail passes through a ranch and so we heard the serenade from the cows mooing. In the afternoon we came to the logjam to cross the stream that is described in Roche's write-up. Even in the dry season at the end of summer I did not want to try crossing the jam carrying a 45 lb pack. It looked like a guaranteed way to at least get wet or worse sprain an ankle. After searching around for 10 minutes there was a smaller logjam about 100 feet down stream that was much better and we crossed there. The trail steepens after the logjam and we arrived at Snowmass Lake at 3:30 in the afternoon. The total pack in took 6 hours less a 30-minute lunch, better time than I expected. We camped on the west side of Snowmass creek in the woods. To be sure on the start of the Snowmass trail in the morning we walked around the east side of Snowmass Lake that evening. The climbing trail begins here and skirts the lake. There were only 2 other tents setup around the lake so it made for a quiet evening. The evening was clear but from Snowmass Lake it was difficult to see Snowmass Mountain. Even after looking at the map I could not be sure but we knew it was "up there somewhere"!

Tuesday morning we were up at 4:30. It was clear and cold, about 40 degrees on my pack thermometer. I put on every piece of clothing that I had and tried to keep warm while eating oatmeal and raisins for breakfast. After cleaning up from eating we got started walking around Snowmass Lake by 6:30. The Snowmass trail starts gaining elevation at the SW corner of the lake and there is a lot of loose gravel and stones on the first part of the ascent until the trail cuts over into some grass and brush where conditions improved. We ascended until gaining the bench where the terrain levels out and the traditional snowfield would be found, but not on this trip!

This photo is from the bench looking east. Snowmass Lake is seen below.

After gaining the bench above the lake AJ and I were a bit concerned about which mountain actually was Snowmass and had a hard time figuring this out. However we headed NW towards a rounded hump on the ridge as Roche described. As we drew closer to the ridge and started to ascend I thought that this was a lot harder than the class 2 Roche rated the gain to the ridge. But we finally made the ridge and headed towards what looked like the summit. AJ was leading at this point and we were trying to be very careful since the exposure on the north side of the ridge was substantial. We finally got to the top and couldn't find a summit log. Then we started looking around and saw that there were at least 3 other higher peaks further west on the ridge that for some reason we hadn't noticed. It was still early, about 10:30, and after a careful review of the map we decided that the highest peak we could see must be Snowmass.

After scrambling down from this rocky point we traversed across the mix of smooth rocks and boulders over to the base of the correct rounded point. It soon was obvious that now we were on the right route when we found some cairns. There was absolutely no snowfield left, except at the base of Hagerman Peak further south on the ridge.

This photo is looking south along the ridge to Hagerman Peak.

We followed these cairns up to the ridge and could clearly see the Snowmass summit. At a point just below the ridge there was a very steep loose dirt route up through the center of the "rounded hump". This looked dangerous and a good way to slide a long ways onto the rocks below. I managed to spot another cairn further south and we followed that and other cairns up the ridge to the south side of the hump. The rock here is good and this last 100 feet or so up to the ridge is steep enough to be class 3. I used 6 feet of orange surveyor tape to mark this spot where we gained the ridge and at about 11:30 we started the traverse north along the ridge towards the top.

We had just started the traverse when we met 2 other climbers descending who told us we had about 45 minutes to go. The weather still looked good and AJ and I both felt great (our Michigan conditioning programs were paying off!). The climbing along this ridge is class 3 on very solid rock. The well cairned route actually traverses along the west side of the ridge at this point. After about 500 feet of traverse the "diving board" is visible up on the ridgeline that is now above the route. At this point the route ascends steeply towards the ridge and then to the summit. At 12:30 we made the smallish (about 20' X 30') summit of Snowmass. It was a great day for views and the scenery was spectacular. Temperature was in the 60s with a light breeze blowing the prayer flag that was tied to the summit block.

East from the summit. We mistakenly climbed the ridge on the left side on the way up.

Looking down to Snowmass Lake from the ridge.

We spent 30 minutes on top and started descending at 1:00. Going back down the ridge until I arrived at my surveyor tape that marked our spot to descend. I stuffed the tape back in my pack and we continued the descent. The last portion of the descent to the lake crosses over the loose dirt we encountered on the way in and called for some skidding and sliding but we made it safely and arrived back at the campsite at 5:30. We both felt great in spite of the fatigue from the long day.

Wednesday morning we packed up the campsite and started walking down at 6:45. Part way down we accidentally took the West Snowmass trail instead of the Snowmass Maroon trail and this took an extra 30 minutes to get straightened out. (We obviously were having some map reading problems on this hike. ). but ended up back at the trailhead at 2:30.

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