Peak(s):  Snowmass Mountain  -  14,092 feet
Date Posted:  10/24/2008
Date Climbed:   10/19/2008
Author:  Pappy
 Snowmass Mountain via Geneva Lake/ West Ridge  

Peak: Snowmass Mountain (14,092 ft)
Trailhead: Lead King Basin
Route: West Ridge
Elevation Gain: 4,500 ft
Total Mileage: 11 miles
Difficulty: Class 3

10-23-08: Walt and arrived at Lead King Basin at about 3:00pm after spending the morning touring the marble quarry and historic stuff in Marble. The direct route to the trailhead from Marble was not passable due to icy conditions on northern exposures of the road. It just wasn't worth the risk of dropping a tire or two of the edge of the non-forgiving narrow roadway. We decided to drive around via Crystal (an old historic town). This access is very rough and time consuming (1.5 hours from Marble) to get to Lead King Basin. The road is very scenic along the way with a few historic surprises. Upon arriving at the trailhead we packed for a bivouac above tree-line. From the trailhead Snowmass looks like a long haul up. At about 4:30pm we headed off with the intent to casually make it as far as we could before dark.

At the first junction take a left and the trail switchbacks up to Geneva Lake

Once reaching Gevena Lake there was an abundance of social trails, and with none of the trails receiving obvious wear it was hard to tell which trail was the main thoroughfare. Needless to say we missed the trail that led from Geneva Lake to Gem Lake. After hiking to the north end of Geneva Lake we headed off cross country towards Gem Lake. This was easy traveling until we reached the ridge below Gem Lake. The trail is not visible from the bottom of the valley.

As you go around Geneva Lake on the NW side the trail splits. The left fork takes you to campsite #4 and also leads to Gem Lake. The following picture represents this part of the trail. It is easy to miss because the campsite marker is missing and the trail is grown over and not very obvious.

The red line is the trail leading to Gem Lake, the blue represents the way we went.

Upon reaching Gem Lake there was about a half-hour of light left so we decided it was a good place to bivouac (good view, water, and a little bit of flat ground).

Sunset at Gem Lake.

During the evening and night we heard several rock falls coming from Snowmass. Having now seen Snowmass and studied it on the way in, it did not appear to be an easy task getting to the top. All the drainages looked steep, holding an abundance of loose rock. From the trailhead it did not look like much snow remained on the south slopes, but upon closer examination, the route we were considering still held snow and ice from melt-off. I had a bad feeling we had made a mistake of not bringing crampons and mt. axe.

10-19-08: We wanted to get another good look in daylight before heading up, so we slept in until about 7:00am. With different lighting in the morning the mountain looked a bit tamer, but not easy by any means. At about 7:30am we were on our way across the drainage and up to the base of the mountain.

Our camp and a superb sunrise!

Once reaching the bottom of the route as described in Dawson's guide, basically in the middle of the mountain as viewed on the way in, we discovered that were unable to get up and over the first step without crampons. Snowmelt had created a formidable obstacle.

Ice flow at the bottom of the first attempted shoot.

After milling around the base for awhile trying to find a safe route up, and that we could safely come back down, we decided this way was not going to work.

I had also been scoped out and alternative route 2 drainages to the north. This would be the western most ridge & gully. This proved to be much easier to gain access and a much safer route.

Blue lines represent our milling around trying to make Dawson's route a go. The red line represents our final route.

Once in this gully you can go straight up the gully or gain access to the ridge on the left side, which makes for a great view as your ascending. The rocks and boulders were also fairly stable, and there was minimal danger of rock fall.

A couple pics of the ascent through this stretch.

We ascended this ridge and gully until reaching an obvious much steeper and narrow outcropping or point. From here we crossed over into the next drainage to the south and continued up. After going up about another 100-150fr. or so the boulders become much bigger. Once gaining access to the drainage you're not far from the summit ridge (a couple hundred feet).

A couple pics of this stretch.

Walt approaching the summit ridge.

Once reaching the summit ridge you can almost see the summit, but not quite. From the summit ridge I picked my way through very large slabs of rock towards the summit. Access to the true summit is the hardest point on this route. It takes a couple of class 3 moves to gain access to the next step. From here you can see the true summit. With the snow and slick rock, combined with a little exposure, this made for an interesting finish. I was wishing for my crampons. Sometimes I could stand on the partially set up snow, other times I would brake through.

Pappy heading along the summit ridge to the summit.

On the way back from the summit.

As usual climbing up is easy, coming back down, is always a bit more precarious.

Walt on the summit ridge with North Snowmass in the background.

We descended the same way we came up.

Looking down on Gem Lake.

The descent with Siberia Lake below.

Our route.


After doing Halo Ridge and Snowmass in a row it was time to head home and heal. Snowmass was definitley the easiest 14er in the Elk Range for me, but I wouldn't call it easy. Having later run into a USFS ranger later, he mentioned that it is unusual to be able to access Lead King Basin this late in October, normal by now he said snow is too deep and dangerous to get in.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Nice photos!
10/26/2008 04:39
Especially that sunset photo of gem lake.
Sounds like a great trip.


Well Done
10/30/2008 22:35
You win the enjoyable way up contest


Great Report
02/08/2009 16:07
Great description of your climb. Nice sunset and sunrise photos. Looking to do Snowmass and the rest of the Elks this summer.

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