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Peak(s):  Snowmass Mountain  -  14,105 feet
Date Posted:  09/09/2009
Date Climbed:   09/06/2009
Author:  bergsteigen
 Snowmass S-Ridge   

Snowmass Mountain
Scramble Team: Darrin (kansas) & me
Trailhead: Lead King Basin 4WD
Ascent Route: S-Ridge
Descent Route: West face
Overall Mileage: 9.1
Elevation Gain: 4,970'

Day 1: Pack in to Geneva Lake
Mileage: 2 (to campsite #4)
Elevation gain: 1,280'

The 4WD approach to the trailhead was pleasant, and had plenty of spectacular views. Only a few sections of the road were minimally tricky, requiring 4WD-low for my truck. The trailhead isn't very well marked, so if there are no cars, you have to rely on map reading. When we arrived, there were 2 trucks, so we figured we had the right place.

The trail up to Geneva lake is a very nice walk in the changing aspens and colorful meadows. A nice waterfall is off to the right of a long gradual basin ascent to the lake. It was too bad that we arrived a bit too late for good photos, the light was dying as we hiked up. Surprising to us, there were only 2 tents set up near the lake when we arrived. Maybe the bad weather forecast had scared everyone off.

Day 2: Snowmass S-Ridge
Start: 5:30am
Summit: 10am
Mileage: 7.1
Elevation Gain: 3,690'

We didn't need to get up too early, as we didn't want to get to the start of the S-Ridge before we had enough daylight to see. The moon was bright enough behind the clouds to assist our hike up into the basin near Gem Lake.

Since we followed this detailed TR route pretty exclusively ( & ), I will be focusing on the views and the awesome climbing opportunities the S-Ridge provides. That and once we got to the upper basin, clouds dominated and hid the summits surrounding us.

The gullies we are aiming for:

Once we hit the base of the 2nd gully, our pace increased, as we knew we were approaching the fun part of the climb. We went up the 2nd gully almost to the ridge, but decided to traverse a bit over to the north and stay below the blocky ridge proper.

View down from 2nd gully:

A nice colorful lake reflection:

The next gully over, we ascended to near the ridge, having some fun climbing. The 3rd gully started off fairly blocky, but proceeded to become a giant slab playground with nice cracks for class 4 climbing. We found quite a few fun areas below the ridge to the west that were a lot of fun to play on, and looked nicer than staying on the ridge proper the entire way.

View up the 3rd gully:

Some awesome slab-crack climbing:

I wasn't feeling the need to go around the exposed notch section in the misty clouds. But the way we went, also involved some exposure and some class 4 climbing (if you so desired)

The slightly exposed traverse to the west:


Looking up gully # 4 or so:

Some fun slab climbing on the other side of PKR's photo:


Above this middle section, you can see the area of fun climbing to the right of the exposed notch traverse:


For the last third of the S-Ridge we stuck either on the ridge proper, or just below to the west. The clouds played tricks on the eyes as to where the next section of ridge was and were the summit was hiding. Route finding didn't feel too difficult, as we could pick and choose the route we wanted.

Last section of ridge, looking up:

Me straddling some of the typical large blocks on the ridge:

In a few areas, care needs to be taken what handholds you use. Being able to see some of the blocks from a distance helps, as you can tell which are barely holding on to the ridge. The way the rock is fractured, sometimes allows for the blocks to be plucked out by the unsuspecting individual. One could easily cling to the rock of their mutual destruction, rather like Wile E. Coyote....

Nearing the summit, we entered into the thicker part of the clouds. It was a very eerie feeling to be surrounded by mist and crumbling, flaky cliffs. Glad that I avoided some of the highly exposed ridge tops that Darrin was skirting. Apparently there were some really loose blocks, in some very bad exposed places...

We could see the summit block from a little ways below, so we knew we were getting close. Not surprisingly, there was no one there. We stayed up top for a while, hoping for some clearing weather.

First view from the summit, north:

Summit block shots:


Another climber from the east route showed up, but only very briefly. He said no one else was on the way up.

Misty S-Ridge:

Ridge over to Capitol:

Hagerman Peak teasing us in the clouds:

After awhile the clouds started to break up, but only a little. Soon after we could hear some minor rumblings, so we decided to start the nasty west face decent. From the viewpoint of the summit area, there is no ideal way down this horrible slope. There is just down the best way you can find. Everything moves from small rocks to giant blocks. The steepness is unrelenting.

View down from near the summit ridge of loose descent:

Some lifting clouds:

A few areas in the middle section along a more solid rock rib were decent for down climbing, but the top third and bottom third are horrendous.

The middle rib allowed from some more solid descending:

View up first part of descent:

This is the worst decent I have ever done. If you have the time and weather, seriously consider down climbing the S-Ridge... it will be more fun and less steep!

We had made it to just above the cliff section when the skies started to let loose a barrage of graupel to make the rocks wet. The last 10 feet of the cliffs were slippery and muddy, and took a bit to get down. Then we only had the giant rock avalanche slope to contend with before we got down to the stream valley.

The sun starting to break through, and light up the valley. Darrin requires this photo in the TR, since I made him wait in the graupel storm to take it

Amusingly, the sun came out as soon as we got down to the valley, and the nasty descent was over. We took a break here to recover from the choss pile we had just survived. Photos do little to convey how bad this slope is. Time will heal these mental wounds, and the S-Ridge fun will replace the bad memories of the descent.

View down valley to south:

The descent down the choss pile:

View to the northwest:

Exhaustion from the descent:

Once on nice stable trail, where the rocks you step on, stay put, the hike back to our campsite goes quickly. The clouds have lifted and we can see all of what we did that day.

Snowmass & Hagerman

Our campsite #4:


The descent to the trailhead is pleasant and filled with beautiful views of aspens partially turned yellow and the Maroon Bells and the Sleeping Sextons in the distant valley.

Maroon Bells and Sleeping Sextons:


A last view of Snowmass Mountain, while driving away:

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
9/9/2009 9:43pm
Wow, great TR, that was fantastic! Congrats!

9/9/2009 10:42pm
Looks awesome -- heading there this weekend. Hope the weather is a little more cooperative. ‘Eerie‘ seems an understatement up there...!

9/10/2009 2:50pm
That looks, dare I say, fun? The real question is, is a descent of the S-ridge at all realistic? Because that west face looks thoroughly unappetizing. Great shots, and great job! 8)

9/10/2009 7:39pm
Considering it took me the same amount of time to go down the west face as it did on the way up. I‘d say a descent down the S-Ridge may be better/faster. The west face is much steeper, and with the loose rocks, I went really slowly...

9/11/2009 3:27am
I‘m glad to see you two recovered from your harrowing experience of climbing Mount Sunflower, and were able to climb this route!
Nice job.
But I question the caption for the picture of Darrin (cool name by the way, except for that extra ”r”;-), because that doesn‘t look like exhaustion, it looks like he‘s pouting!

9/11/2009 4:00am
lol. If you only knew...I gave that slope the finger more than once on the descent. I suppose you are correct, it sure felt more like pouting than exhaustion. That was by far the most frustrating descent I have done. Honestly I think downclimbing the S ridge would be much better, the whole thing is class 3 if you want it to be.

BTW the extra ”r” makes it better, more is better...right?

Otina, Nice Report Again
9/11/2009 1:38pm
You always have the best TRs!!! Glad you guys were able to get Darrin‘s favorite peak. Is it still his favorite?

Down climbing the S Ridge
10/2/2009 3:05pm
KeithK asked ”The real question is, is a descent of the S-ridge at all realistic?”. The answer is yes, I have done the S Ridge twice now and the second time I descended the S Ridge. For me it was faster than descending the west face (and felt far safer). The S Ridge remains one of my favorite climbs in the Elks, I would highly recommend it to all whom feel comfortable on 3rd class terrain. Thanks for the great TR bergsteigen.
Be well,

Delayed comment...
12/23/2009 5:32pm
I know this has been up for some time, but fantastic TR! I am glad you finally tried Snowmass and that you enjoyed it. Good job on the summit block, Darrin. I never thought to get up on it myself, but will have to try it, as well as the S Ridge, next time. And, as always, beautiful pics.

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