Peak(s):  Snowmass Mountain  -  14,092 feet
Date Posted:  09/07/2010
Date Climbed:   09/05/2010
Author:  fleetmack
 "Rockmass" Mountain - 1 day on 2 hours sleep  

Snowmass Mountain ... aka Rockmass Mountain
Route: East Slope
Summit Elevation - 14,092
Elevation Gain: 5800
Trip Distance: 21.50 miles
Total Round-Trip Climb Time (including all breaks): 15:41 (yeah, you read that right. we're slow)
4WD Required: nope, '95 accord was fine
Exhaustion Factor (on scale of 1-10): 9.9
Scenery Factor (on scale of 1-10): 9.9 (hey, gotta hope there's something better, else what's the point?!)

Samantha and I decided that only wussies backpack in, camp the night, and do this hike over the course of a couple days. Our decision was to complete this beast as a day hike from the main trailhead. We went to bed around 11:15 or so in Snowmass and woke up around 1:15, 2 hours is plenty of sleep for a climb like this, no? As my alarm went off for about 3 minutes without me hearing it, I got nudged and Samantha said, "Turn it off, that thing is annoying me!" We looked at each other and debated whether we should just spend the day in Snowmass vs. going up the mountain. Samantha said, "I want to stay in bed." I replied, "I'm fine with not hiking this today, but we will regret it tomorrow if we don't." Samantha immediately jumped out of bed and said, "Ok! Let's go!" About 15 minutes later, I followed her lead. We are less than 3 weeks from going to Tanzania, so a long day like this is something we need to do in preparation for Kilimanjaro. After a slow morning, we got out the door, drove to the trailhead (I will skip my usual listing of specific directions for the fact that I have no idea what they were, as I was driving like a zombie, and you can just find them on, geared up, and started hiking at 3:35am

Per usual, I felt awesome out of the gate (literally). We got past the initial TH, through the squeakiest gate in the Milky Way galaxy, and onto "Horseshit Trail". Horseshit trail is pretty well maintained and well defined. You go 1.4 miles and you come to a junction... just keep going straight here, don't switch back...

Then about .3 miles later, you come to another wood gate letting you know you are now out of private property. Don't let this get you too terribly excited, you are, after all, still on horseshit trail. We, well, at least I, was shooting for a goal of matching James Scott's time (13:14) for this 1-day venture, but had a more realistic expectations of matching RNpeakseeker's time of 16:00 hours. We were trying to track our time, at the 1.4 junction, we were pacing at 23 minute miles. We maintained this for awhile, but lost track soon. We then began marking mental landmarks so that on the return, we'd have some idea how far we were from the car... as it always turns into a whining game of "are we there yet?!". We passed this massive rock and I made an audible note, "Wall at 1 hour in!". At our first stream crossing, "Wall at 1 hour in, Stream at 2 hours in". This will come into play later.

We hiked, uneventfully, along the trail for the first 6ish miles and finally came across our first people at 6:30am. Nice couple who were backpacking back to the lot, we asked, "Where is the log jam?" They pointed about 13 centimeters to our right. Oh, right, there. Seriously, we're not stupid, I swear.

After crossing the log jam, it took us an hour to get to Snowmass Lake. Samantha posed by the nifty waterfall that looks like a manmade dam spillway, and we accidentally woke some campers as we didn't realize they were there until we heard the "zipppppp" noise of a zipper as an irritated camper veered out at us. Sorry, our bad (seriously, didn't mean to do that! our bad!).

We ventured through the lovely willows for 25 minutes or so and made it to the other side of the lake, and at the bottom of the absurd rock mass right at 8:00, so basically car to the start of the day = 4:30 for us. A little slower than our pace, but whatever.

Clouds were everywhere ...

I got into "I'm f'n tired" mode. I seriously didn't think the clouds would let us go, but we pushed on. We started up the scree and met a nice guy who was already coming down. We were unaware of how this climb was with regards to difficulty as I had hardly researched it at all. This guy told us it was loose with razor sharp rock. He told us a tale of in the 70's, when he was here his first time, a lady on the mountain slipped and tore her femoral artery and died in a matter of minutes. His point: don't slip, the rocks are sharp! We estimated 3-4 hours to the summit from this point. We asked this guy his thoughts about the clouds, he said "I've noticed when they move in this fast, they move away this fast." He was right, 30 minutes later we had a bluebird day.

We headed to climber's right of all the scree and went up the "dirt steps" as we called them. This stuff is some serious steepidity. (Note: Steepidity is an adjective, it is in Mack's book of words that are awesome. It can only be used to describe slopes that are steeper than shit). We stayed on this until you get over this little hump, then you get to ponder this little thought .... Why in God's good name is this mountain called Snowmass?!!??!!! Whoever named it Snowmass was obviously not here in early September. I hereby declare this mountain Rockmass. I have never in my life seen so many rocks on a trail.

The rest of this climb is basically set to the tune of "check every step, no matter what size the rock is, and try not to break your ankle." Also, there are cairns every which direction, we quickly learned to ignore them and just go up, up, up. The cairns really don't make sense and follow no real pattern whatsoever, I think people just build them to play tricks on one another.

About this time we realized Samantha's camel had been been leaking, luckily I had brought almost 6 liters of water with me, and I was drinking slowly. Samantha strongly pulled ahead of me and went up, up, up. I lagged behind but maintained a steady, albeit much slower, pace. We were aiming for the notch just to the left of the summit, as opposed to going far to the left the way those doing the snow climb do. About 3 groups were coming down and we talked to all of them asking where the notch was, and we saw exactly where to go through.

Once we reached the notch, we switched into jackets, as there was a 40ish MPH wind on the other side. We climbed through the notch and Samantha stated, "Oh, we still have some work to do!" The cairns on the back side are well marked for the first half of the Class 3 scramble up the mountain, but the second half was rather a "try and find a way". The rocks, even the big and stable-looking ones, are VERY loose. I cannot emphasize this enough: do NOT trust anything, no matter how it looks, without testing it first. We actually did a pretty good job of route finding, and my terrifying fear of heights eluded me for the climb up.

We reached the summit right at noon, had it to ourselves. Took us 8:30 from the TH, and 4 hours from the lake.

It was windy as hell, we were cold, and clouds were rolling in, so we took pictures and left the summit no more than 5 minutes after we got there. NOW my fear of heights kicked in. I was not pleased. Not sure why I was fine going up, but here comes the panic attack symptoms. Now let me state this, while I am terrified of exposure and drop offs, I trust my skills, just not the symptoms that accompany my fear. Sweaty hands, not good. Lack of nerves, not good. Heart rate jumping up to 180-200, not good. Again: skills there, mindset gone. Samantha stayed patient with me and we made it down without any problems at all. Man do I hate heights!

We climbed through the notch and got out of the wind, Samantha wasn't feeling well so we got to a good stopping spot, stripped our jackets, and ate about 1 bite of the most disgusting peanut butter sandwich ever created. Even being an Iowa State University alumnus, I was despising George Washington Carver, the alum we have the most pride in, for inventing such a product at this moment. I took out my spare water supply and gave Samantha and I each another liter for the descent.

So we've now summitted Rockmass and looking down, all we can see is rock. I mean seriously, rock rock rock. I smelled what the rock was cookin', and it smelled like shit (horseshit, actually). We pounded our feet on rock after rock after rock. We both complained nonstop about how many damn rocks there were and how this was nevereneding. We could have cared less about the 8 miles back to the car after the lake, we were just ready to give up our savings accounts in exchange for being at the bottom of these stupid rocks. Around 3:15, we were finally down by the lake where we were THRILLED (seriously) to enter the willows. "I strongly welcome the willows!", says Samantha.

Since I haven't mentioned it yet, I must state that Snowmass Lake is one of the most beautiful things I've seen with my eyes, either pre-LASIK or post-LASIK. In fact, this entire hike was the most beautiful hike I've completed. Better than the Crestones, better than Uncompaghre from Matterhorn Creek, and even better than Sherman (oh, wait...). We decided to refresh our heads in the water and pretend like we were in a hair commercial, flinging our hair and tossing water. I'm pretty sure Pantene Pro-V or Herbal Essences will be calling as soon as they see this, so marketing reps - just send me a PM and we'll be happy to star in a commercial for you.

We winded around the lake, past all the campers, across the bridge by the spillway waterfall, and tried to estimate when we'd get to the car. It was now right at 4:00.

I estimated we'd get there no later than 6:40. Samantha didn't really guess, but we were doing all kinds of math, and we decided if we'd jog back, we could get there quickly. We both had tons of energy, so why not? We started jogging, and about 5 minutes later realized that wasn't going to happen, so we reduced it to a slow hike. 40 minutes later we were to the log jam, not bad - 2 miles in 40 minutes!

We crossed the log jam and stared hiking back, now realizing just how far we had to go. Words started becoming few, blisters started to form, and I started to get irate at the amount of rocks. I mean, seriously, I'll never eat Rocky Road ice cream again in my life. I don't ever want to see a rock again. By the way, there are very strange bugs everywhere on this trail. This is the second of two we came across in 20 yards, the other was similar to this, only black.

Now, remember when we said "wall at 1 hour, 1st stream crossing at 2 hours"? Well, that's a rather moot point when there are several stream crossings and you don't remember which was the first. The stream landmark was quickly thrown out.

We were now by the stream, and I heard something in the distance to my left. I stopped, looked, and saw a big black animal. I looked forward and whisper-screamed "Samantha!! Come here! Check it out!! A bear!" No more than 2 seconds later, I realized I had been foiled in the same way I was last year when James and I were on Capital. Oops, just a cow. My bad.
We soon remembered that there were 2 gates, and the trail split should be 24 minutes after the wall (took us 34 minutes to get to the 1.4 mile trail split this morning, and 1 hour to get to "the wall", so 24 minutes between all and split off. We finally passed "the wall" (a big f'n rock that looked like a wall), but then 7-8 minutes later we passed another "wall", then another a few minutes later. Shoot. We just gave up on trying to track our time. Several complaints about the rocks that were killing my blister (seriously, a wicked blister), and we got to the squeakiest gate on Earth. Music to my ears at this point in time!!

We got back to the car around 7:15 or so. Total round trip time: 15:40. 21.5 miles. 2 hours of sleep. 5800 vertical. 1 Class 3 summit. Rock on wait, I hate that word now .... Dirt On!

The next day, we decided to skip Castle/Conundrum as my feet felt like the bear's at the registration desk of the condo where we were staying.

Instead we went to Aspen (mmmm, California! Why you goin' to the airport? Flyin' somewhere?) to do some statue imitations....

...and shop for 1-piece snowboard suits at thrift stores....

Then I saw something that both reminded me of Presto and reminded me why we do this ... Happy Trails!!!

 Comments or Questions

Entertaining TR
07/29/2013 18:29
Really like this report. Doesn't seem like many climb the standard route when there is no snow. Nice job! Very amusing read as well.


Just say no
09/07/2010 17:15
to backpacking in! 100% support. Well, maybe 99.9%. Saw a similar beetle-grasshopper mutant bug on Capitol. Weird seeing Snowmass devoid of snow. Nice work on a long day!
Good luck on Kilimajaro.


From one 'Clone to another...
09/07/2010 22:35
Great job! I always like your trip reports because I too, am not the speediest out there. Good luck on your Kili trip! (PS... hope you're stoked for the game on Saturday! )


Mormon cricket
09/07/2010 23:41
That's what that big green bug is.
These guys can be cannibalistic to each other - they supplement a plant-based diet with other insects for protein —caterpillars, ants, whatever they come across. If those become rare, then there's more cannibalistic behavior and migration (they are trying to stay alive and not get eaten!)

Congrats on the summit and I am with you 110% re: avoiding backpacking when possible!


Thanks for the report and photos!
09/08/2010 02:34
Nice job. I'm envious and hope to do Snowmass someday soon ... maybe wait till the snow is back.


21 miles in 15 hours...
09/08/2010 03:20
doesn't seem too slow to me. If anything I think some congratulations are in order. Nice work on getting to the summit and back in one day! That's quite a feat.


James Scott

09/08/2010 19:43
Wildly entertaining report- I laughed out loud and disturbed my students who are working quietly. It is a super long day, but carrying the whole ”pack in” pack that far just seems awful. I'll get up early, if it means my pack is lighter by 25 pounds or so.
If you ever do think you see a black cow, you might want to take off running, because that time it will be a bear.
Let's try to hook up and climb something again next summer.

Jim Davies

09/09/2010 16:30
Yeah, now I remember you guys. We crossed right below the notch, right?

My opinion of the boulder field was completely different than yours. I guess after a hell-fest like Maroon you really appreciate big (if slightly wobbly) rocks.

But really, you think we're wussies? I'm hurt.

It took us 8 hours camp-to-camp that day. Adding 16 miles in another 7:30 sounds pretty steady to me.


Happy trails indeedy!
09/13/2010 16:44
What an entertaining trip report! So many funny references ... ”horseshit trail” (boy, do I have a story to go along with that one) , mimicking the shampoo commercials , the ”Cow/Bear” sighting 8) , hear no evil . Just wonderful! Really enjoy seeing smiling faces throughout the report (Samantha sounds like a real trooper). Thanks for posting! (And, I think I'll have to invest in one of those ”Happy Trails” signs for my backpack.)


I think you saved my life.
08/02/2012 02:29
Really. This TR saved my life. Because we read it on the car ride and were laughing our asses off, and I think the only thing that kept me from doing myself in on the evil and horrendous rockmass gully of dirt and hatred going back to the lake was thinking about all the funny things you wrote about this mountain. And we DID see bears!


I LOVE this!
04/12/2016 14:30
And I don't know how I missed it all these years. Now I gotta go read all your reports!

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