Peak(s):  Snowmass Mountain  -  14,092 feet
Date Posted:  07/16/2007
Date Climbed:   07/15/2007
Author:  Aubrey
 Snowmass - west slope  

To pass the time on the long drive from north Denver to Marble, Jen and I started counting license plates from other states. By the time we rolled into the quaint little town of Marble we were up to 16.

After seeing huge chunks of white rock (discarded marble remnants, we presumed) strewn about on the sides of the road, we knew we were in Marble. We didn't really need to read the instructions to get through town; we just followed the freshly paved coating of asphalt to Beaver Lake, where the pavement ended.

From there, the road got rougher than I expected, but it wasn't too bad. And it didn't have that "roughness" where you have to stop and get out to survey and plan your route. There was really only one 50-yard section of rocks to contend with, but it only caused me to take a short pause before plowing up it (that, and I had to wait for a couple trucks to go down it first). And then there was one wide creek crossing, but the water was less than a foot deep and the gravel/rocks across it seemed to be somewhat maintained.

However, while the road didn't have any real rough sections (it mostly just had a lot of ruts and undulating dirt mounds), it was rather narrow for long stretches (i.e., only enough room for one truck to go at a time). Before tackling this road, make sure you're comfortable backing up on narrow and steep shelf roads. I had to back up more than 50 yards on multiple occasions.

At any rate, we made it to the trailhead without too much trouble, and Bill's helpful instructions were right on.

Late in the afternoon we started up the trail from Lead King Basin. The trail first passed through a dense aspen grove.


The single-track path was easy to follow, but plants were definitely trying to reclaim the land. At times, the trail was so overgrown that it felt like we were trekking through a jungle. I was pissed that I left my handy machete at home.

For you flower lovers, I've never seen such abundant wildflower growth in all my years of hiking in Colorado - every color and variety imaginable was present, including large patches of Columbines.

A long stretch of waterfalls loomed above. It reminded me of Alaska. This photo only shows the upper half:


The area was incredibly beautiful.


One of our first big sightings of Snowmass Mountain:


Once we made it to Geneva Lake, we were hoping to find one of the seven designated campsites available. We chose spot #6 because it was on the north side of the lake - closer to where we needed to be the following day and close to the water (so that we could purify and fill our bladders).

I swear I set my watch alarm to go off at 4:45 a.m. Luckily, some birds woke me up shortly after 5 a.m. I hate my stupid watch.

After eating a cold breakfast consisting of Fruit Leathers, bagels, Pop Tarts and peanut butter (not all together, though), we headed up the slope and toward where we thought the trail should be. It was just before 6 a.m.

As we bushwhacked toward Snowmass and up the slope to our left, we were hoping to intersect with the trail. Unfortunately, things didn't work out that easily (typical, when in the mountains). Rather than getting too far into the basin before us, we decided to cut our losses and head back toward the campgrounds, and then try to gain the trail from there. Halfway back to camp, and after rereading the route description, we knew the trail had to be just up the slope from us. So we started up and eventually found it. It was actually kind of lucky because there was so much ground foliage and wildflowers that you could be standing just a few feet away from the trail and not see it.

TIP: To find the correct trail from the Geneva Lake campsites, take the turnoff to campsite #4. There's a sign for campsite #4 right off the main trail that contours Geneva Lake.

Once on the trail (around 6:15), it was easy-going all the way to the base of Snowmass' scree slope. The beauty of the area was striking. Luscious meadows, white ribbons of flowing water, craggy ridges, blood-red dirt, Gem Lake ... you get the idea. Fricken spectacular eye candy.

Standing at the base of Snowmass Mountain's west slope was humbling. It was more or less just a big slab of scree, and a myriad of gullies make up that entire side of the mountain. Once again, Bill's route description and photos came in extremely handy. Comparing the photos with reality before us, we knew exactly which gully to go up.

We started up the talus field, which looks kind of like a delta from above, and we aimed toward a patch of greenery high up on the slope. As we neared it, we realized why it's so green: water trickles down that section, making all the rocks kind of slippery.

After climbing up those large, step-like blocks of rock, we basically just continued straight up. In hindsight, this wasn't such a good idea. The terrain was very steep and very loose. It got so sketchy that we were both ready to call it quits and turn around, and we were both really OK with that decision.

But we didn't give up so quick, and descending that section was not a very feasible option. We both agreed that we'd aim for the spine of rock above us and see what things looked like from there. We decided that if the terrain above that spine was the same or worse, we were going to bag the climb. Based on the conditions of that slope, I was totally fine with that decision. Would've had no regrets.


As it turned out, the terrain improved drastically above that spine of rock. This isn't to say it was an easy gully. Quite the contrary. It just wasn't a slippery death slope from hell.

Just how bad was the loose dirt, scree, gravel, etc. in the gully, you ask? Well, it was probably as bad as any other 14er I've climbed. Not the worst; far from the best. And some sections were better than others. It wasn't so loose and steep that I felt it was dangerous, but it wasn't a walk in the park, either.


The higher we got, the more solid the rock became. There were some "tippers" in the mix, and some holds were rotten and they crumbled under weight, but in general it continued to get better. This was about the time that we met a couple on their way down. They were the first people we had run into that day.

Near the top, the rock became even more solid. As we approached the top of the gully (where it runs into the summit ridge), we hooked a right and climbed just below the spires on the summit ridge. Then we gained the ridge and that's where the heart started pumpin'! Big air on both sides. Massively steep drop-offs were to our left (yeah, yeah, "death to the left" applies, once again).

There was one particularly interesting move up to the ridge's high point. Jen had no problem on this section. I took my sweet time. The mental climbing was much harder than the physical climbing. I think I focused more and concentrated deeper during the next few minutes than I did on my entire SAT test in high school.

The views of Snowmass' spiky ridge and Capitol Peak to the north were breathtaking:



I couldn't tell if time was slowing down or speeding up, but let's just say some time passed and I found myself on the summit (just before 10 a.m.). Two other climbers were already up there (they came up from the other side).


Needless to say, but I will, the views from Snowmass Mountain's summit were amazing. The spires, the steep drop-offs, Capitol Peak, the Bells ... man, that whole area was pretty mindblowingly beautiful. Photos struggle in a feckless attempt to do it justice.

Touching the very tip top:


After soaking in the summit for a short while, we carefully began our descent. Going down wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. Above the green patch, we were careful to hug the gully closer (avoiding the loose/steep section we came up). At one point we were just about 10 feet from the base of the gully (where the water flowed over the edge). This is where we found some nice ledges to traverse around, and back down to the top of the green patch. Beyond the slippery, mossy rocks of the green patch, it was smooth sailing all the way back to camp. Then, after breaking down camp, it was about an hour back to the truck through the "jungle."

Some pics I took on the way back down:




The Maroon Bells from their less-photographed side:


Here's the route we roughly took up the west slope. The yellow line is the "bad" section we went up; the orange line is the route we took down and the route we should've taken up:


We hit some horrible traffic driving home - much worse than any ski traffic I've experienced. At times, between the Eisenhower Tunnel and Idaho Springs, we were at a dead stop for many minutes. This was when we continued counting license plates. By the time we got home we were up to 29. That's more than half the states represented in Colorado!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

02/05/2011 00:22
The Elks were popular this weekend.


07/17/2007 03:52
Ha! Perhaps. But from camp to summit and back to camp, we only came across 4 people total


Sheer beauty!
11/30/2010 17:28
Wow! Some of the best wildflower shots I've seen in a TR. Lovely guys!


Holy Logjams!
08/28/2008 00:37
I agree with FlyGirl, awesome photos! Looks like the snow is melting fast...I miss winter Great TR!


Lead King Basin
07/17/2007 14:27
Sweet TR! Lead King Basin is my favorite entry point into the Maroon Bells - Snowmass Wilderness. Thanks so much Aubery for the resent pictures, they will help for my trip up there Wednesday. I do have a question I hope you can answer, did you notice if there was any snow in the gullies at the foot of the S Ridge? Thanks again!

Chicago Transplant

Nice Pics
07/17/2007 17:35
Great pics Aubrey! Everything looks so lush and green, goes to show just how much snow they had this winter!


muy popular
01/19/2011 03:38
Nice job. Me gusta the photo of the other side of the Bells.
I hope it's as pretty on Capitol...

Flatland Biker

11/30/2010 17:28
Hey Bro, Great, Great Pictures. I enjoyed reading all about your trip and especially loved the photos. I can't wait to get back up in the mtns. We are hooked!..Flatland Biker

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