Peak(s):  Snowmass Mountain  -  14,092 feet
Date Posted:  07/20/2008
Modified:  07/21/2008
Date Climbed:   07/18/2008
Author:  gegustafson
 Snowmass - West Slope  

My hiking/climbing partner Terry and I are both approaching 50 14er's so we knew it was time to tackle some tougher mountains this summer. We decided to take a crack at Snowmass Mountain since we love the Elks and we thought maybe the snow was finally clearing. We briefly looked at the standard route but since we are both a little more averse to backpacking and sleeping on the ground, we thought we would take a crack at the harder West Slope approach. We drove up from the front range on Thursday afternoon and got to the trailhead right at dusk. We got our first look at Snowmass when we came around the corner on the road and it almost made the 4WD road worth it.


After spending the night in the car we got up and got an early start at Friday at about 5am. After munching some oatmeal and gearing up we got started at first light.


The first half-mile from the trailhead felt like we were bushwhacking through the jungle and it was very wet with nighttime dew. However, we soon began to traverse up and were rewarded with the beautiful view of the falls coming down from Lake Geneva. These pictures were shot on the way down since it was still a little dark on the way up.


The trail switchbacks above the falls on a nice gentle grade and the views of the Elks are spectacular! Once past Lake Geneva you keep climbing fairly gently toward the base of Snowmass Mountain. At the last ridge we followed Bill Middlebrooke's advice and tried to pick our path based on the snow in the gullies.


We were hoping to pick up the slighter harder class 4 gully for the upclimb but after hitting the target grassy area we decided the more standard gully might be a better fit based on the snow. We had our winter gear with crampons, helmet and ice axes but still felt the wider gully would give more options up the gully. Being from Colorado Springs I had been training on the Manitou Incline and I kept telling myself that the 2,300 elevation gain in about a mile was just like the incline but I have to admit the higher elevation and looser footing definitely took a toll on me. As you can see from my pictures I'm a little on the chubby side and I could feel the pitch of that gully taxing my lungs. Here are pictures from the gully.


The gully took longer than I thought but I was quite relieved when we hit the top and were so close to the summit. Some gentle class 3 scrambling at the top led us to the narrow summit and although I'm not afraid of heights the look over the side on the East shook me a little! What was most amazing was the amount of snow in the Elks this year! The East bowl of Snowmass is still pretty full of snow and everywhere you looked you could see white. Thank God for that, given the dry conditions on the front range. In the end we summited in a little over 6 hours which is a tad slow but the view from the top was definitely worth the trip! Unfortunately, the weather was brewing so we had a quick snack and headed down the South side of the same gully. It started raining/hailing about halfway down the gully so we decided to do a little glissading since the snow had softened. The pitch is steep and I was a little nervous but it was great self-arrest practice and sure saved our legs on the loose downclimb. Coincidentally, we saw our friends from Little Bear (Clint & Sherri) coming up the gully and we gave them some intel/beta before continuing down. Here are pictures from the summit.


Once you get out of the gully it is a beautiful hike back to the trailhead and the weather cleared up and allowed for a really delightful trip back to the trailhead and car. After a quick pizza in Glenwood Springs we headed back to the front range and our nice cozy homes. This route is a challenge but the elimination of the backpacking trip combined with the amazing scenery sure made us feel we made the right decision!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Well done
07/21/2008 04:16
Great to see you and Terry again!


To Sherri & Clint
07/21/2008 12:19
Sherri - Did you guys make it? I was worried about that weather but it seemed to clear up quickly! I saw where you started from, OMG that was brutal. I hope your ride picked you up at the trailhead! Where to next?


Nice work
07/22/2008 00:32
Way to go! Did you need to use your crampons or ice axes other than on the glissade? were the helmets really necessary? i‘ll be up there this weekend i think any tips you have would be great.


Helo Guys
07/23/2008 14:34
Yes we did summitt! The storm was wild and too close for comfort!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I think next weekend is Pyramid.
Where are you guys off too?


07/22/2008 00:53
I am not self centered I did not Congratulate you guys,,,,,,,,,,,,
GREAT JOB!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
We are always happy to see you all!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Great Job again Keep on Bagging!


07/22/2008 01:35
Did you need your axe and crampons for the ascent?


Axe and crampons
07/22/2008 15:36
Ditto for ursidae‘s question. Did you need these items?



07/23/2008 04:32
We did make it. We were extremly lucky with the sky opening up for a moment so we could summit. Then with lots of prayer we came down super fast glissading to avoid the lightning that was quickly surrounding us.


Ice Axe and Crampons
07/23/2008 02:32
Crampons were not required at all. The only snow field that couldn‘t be avoided is pretty flat. Ice Axe is always handy but was really only needed for glisading down. As to the helmet, I wouldn‘t climb in the Elks without it. The rock is so loose that anybody could kick a rock down on you!


08/02/2008 13:43
Congrats Glen on a great climb and day. I hope your day on Longs goes as well.


To Rich
08/03/2008 12:57
Thanks Rich! I‘ll e-mail you later!

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