Peak(s):  Snowmass Mountain  -  14,092 feet
Date Posted:  08/29/2008
Modified:  08/30/2008
Date Climbed:   08/28/2008
Author:  ursidae
 West Slope on Snowmass  

The road past Marble is 4wd, the creek crossing is pretty gnarly with a few deep holes and even a high clearance 2wd would risk getting stuck there. It took about an hour to get to the th. Even mid week there was a lot of traffic and if you meet someone you need a pulloff. Plenty of atv‘s, crossbikes, built and stock 4wd‘s. We borrowed an old stock Explorer with really bad tires that did just fine. The initial plan was to take our mountain bikes and my guess is that we would have been at the th faster then by driving (I bike quite a bit though so that may not be a recommendable alternative, 2/3 of the road is hill climb even though the last part is downhill. If biking, the first part to the junction where you head left up the road would be the rockiest, after that the biking conditions mostly stay good.).

When approaching Snowmass West Slope and crossing the campsites look for the first sign to Campsite 4 (you pass the 2nd one), the same trail takes you up to Gem Lake.

Climbing Snowmass can be compared to climbing The Great Sand Dunes. Just make it more vertical and throw in plenty of large sharp tippy rocks that are stacked like a game of pick-up sticks. Bill's route is excellent and we stayed on it for most of the climb. We moved quite a bit back and forth across the gully working hard to leave the slope in it's original condition and without any additions...

In retrospect taking the S-Ridge would have provided for a much more amusing day however due to a series of unfortunate events we opted for West Slope. (It's all Mikey's fault btw.)

Warmup conditions at the bottom of the slope, photo taken from the small upper grasspatch. Climber in the center.


Photo from the descent showing the upper grass patch, there is a large cairn on top of this section. Water runs across the rock but there are dry spots available. Care can be taken not to destroy the vegetation.


A brief section above the the small upper grass patch provided big slabs of stable rock.


Brief is the key word though since you then enter an area to where I've seen no comparison on any other Colorado 14er. Everything moves as you ascend thanks to the sand, gravel and loosely stacked rocks. There are plenty of cairns all over the gully in combination with many disconnected trail sections.

A couple of photos taken during descent showing the conditions that prevailed for most of the climb. (Fortunately the view of the basin and the lakes from the slope is magnificent and boosts your joy and happiness metric.)



Similar to climbing the Sand Dunes you keep looking at the summit ridge wondering why it does not get closer.


We tried to keep our weight spread out as much as possible, tested and double tested every step. Stuff that appeared solid would just sink or inch away when we got close. We tried to primarily stay on the sides of the gulllies when relatively firmer footing was available. It still moved around quite a bit. Helmet highly recommended.

The short section of summit ridge air and the views provides fine payment for the effort. Views are just stunning and we enjoyed a bluebird day. When I come back to Snowmass it will be either via S-Ridge or Snowmass Lake though!

Summit ridge air potential, most of it one can bypass on the West Slope side.


Climbing down from the summit we opted for a more direct solution instead of climbing back over the ridge. There is a spur with a discernible trail just below the summit block pointing to Gem Lake with a brief downclimb that shortens your descent somewhat.

I took this picture looking up at the summit while standing right at the start of the downclimb in to the gully.


Climber where we left the summit, photo taken from the same spot as the previous one, he would after this shot angle right and down on some loose ledges.


Looking back.


Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

08/31/2008 04:38
I will come next time and make sure to keep you on the right trail, especially on the way back!!! Looking forward to Capitol!


Re: Sorry
08/31/2008 16:04
Now, now, the occasional trail exploring experience on the way home is just good for you and may work to build both strength and endurance while providing less common vantage points for photography... Thanks for letting me borrow the tent. Nice avatar pic btw.

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