Climbing Mount Sneffels, Ouray, Colorado
Elevation:  14,150'    Rank: 27th   Class 3+   Elevation Gain: 3350'   RT Distance: 7.5M
July 17, 2015 - This climb was a most pleasant surprise.  Arriving early in the evening
I drove the adventurous road up Yankee Boy Basin to find a place to park for the night,
so as to begin the climb early from the trailhead.  Running into a couple looking to
do the same thing, from Oklahoma, we both attempted the final mile to the lower
parking lot on a road that should have been passable for regular cars, but proved not.
Driving most of the way to the lower trailhead we were turned around by impassable
terrain for anything less than a 4X4, so we back-tracked and parked in a pull-off
about eight-tenths of a mile below the lower trailhead.  It would be an additional mile
and a half hike the next morning, which was better than doing damage to the cars.

After a good night of sleep I set off at about 0530 on my trek up the mountain.  The
other folks headed out first, but I caught them after awhile once I found my sweet
spot and got into my climbing stride.  I felt much better on my day two in the Rockies.
The first day always seems necessary to work out the travel doldrums.  The initial
1.6 miles tilted uphill past the lower parking lot to the upper parking lot to the TH
proper.  It was typical 4X4 road, switching back and forth, climbing about 2000 feet.
It was quite a workout before reaching the TH; from there it was a mere 1.2 miles to
the summit of Mount Sneffels, climbing another steep 1700 feet.

The trail crossed a talus field to begin before turning steeply toward Kismet col at the
bottom of the Lavender Couloir.  The trudge up through the scree was laborious, so
as much as possible I hiked up the rockier margins for better traction.  Before I
reached the col I had soldiered past everyone who had started before me.  Generally
I like to have people in sight above me so that I can gauge the best line to climb.
Being the first of the day to summit is meaningless to me, but having someone else
show the way and make mistakes is invaluable.  On this day I would be the one
everyone else was keying on, which is alright too - that's the reason I generally
wear a bright red fleece and red helmet - so that others can easily find me and mark
my progress.


A couple from Edinboro, Pennsylvania, weren't too far behind as I headed up the
couloir to quickly find it was filled with ice from late May snows.  I had not brought
an axe or yak traks - dah - so had only one recourse - to climb the rocks along the
margin of the icy swath that spelled nothing but trouble.  My PA friends - Don and
Beth - were better prepared except they had no helmets to fend off the rocks I 
loosened to tumble in their direction.  


I proceeded up the right wall of the couloir, obliged to get creative as the climb went
from a class three scramble to class five movements.  As I paralleled the ice below I 
avoided disaster time after time just by keeping a cool head and making sure my 
hand and foot holds were firm.  Just basic mountaineering.  While it was dangerous, 
and I would certainly not encourage anyone else to follow me, I was rather enjoying 
myself and the predicament I found myself in.

As the other two stepped their way up the frozen slope with their traction support and
ice axes, I moved even further ahead of them on dry, but often crumbly rock.  When
I would encounter some crux move, I'd take time to think about my options before 
commiting to a movement.  Finally reaching the head of the icy beast I crossed the 
couloir to climb "the notch" which separated the couloir from the final hundred-foot
push to the summit.  I sat down and waited after negotiating the notch, enjoying
the spectacular views of the San Juans while the other two caught up.  Don had
brought along a thirty-foot rope so I volunteered to give top rope support to each of
them as they shinnied up the notch. Together, then, we summited Sneffels in bright
sunshine and an effervescent mood.  This was Don's fourth fourteener and Beth's
second; thirty-some for me.


After some pictures and a brief lunch I initiated my down climb.  It was hard to leave.
I actually hung around probably twenty minutes just enjoying perhaps the most
spectacular views of the San Juans to be seen from any other summit in the range.
A perfect day, but, even though it was only 0915, it was time to come down.  The
weather always changes in Colorado after the noon hour.  We were the first folks to
reach the top with no one else in sight.  Not too many would follow.

               Telluride Ski Resort in background                           Blue Lakes far below

I decided I was not going to experience the treachery of the couloir on the downclimb.
Instead, I took a direct line straight back to the col on dry talus without snow.  Don
and Beth followed when they saw I was making good progress.  Deciding to cut back
to the couloir near the bottom, past the snow, I saw a couple dozen climbers stuck
at the bottom of the icy climb, now melting in the sun, in the couloir.  Spotting an
alternate route, for both me to descend and they to ascend, I encouraged others to
take the alternate line to the summit and avoid the icy couloir.  As I climbed down
and out of sight, several people were gratefully doing as I had suggested.


On my way down I saw something shining in the rocks, so diverted to investigate four
cans of beer discarded by some other climber who likely got tired of carrying it after
drinking the other two beers.  Only one of the cans was intact, so I grabbed it and
shared it with the guy from Oklahoma who agreed that it tasted mighty good.  Was
it the altitude or the effort or was it really that tasty???  The brand was called
Forever Young, brewed in Loveland, Colorado by the Grimm Brothers Brewing Company -
a fine lager with good body and lots of flavor worthy of a second chance.  A nice treat 
to celebrate the day with climbing friends... and appropriately named for someone like
me who still thinks he will live forever.

The climb down through the scree and talus went quickly, even with stopping to chat
with a variety of people coming up.  It is always the people I remember most fondly
after any outdoor adventure.  While scree skiing I rocketed past any others who had
turned around and were on their way down.  Storm clouds were brewing and I wanted
to miss the weather change in my long hike back to the car below.  I stopped to take 
quite a few photographs of flowers along the way.  Summer is in full bloom and I 
wasn't going to miss these photo ops.


I felt good at the conclusion.  No one, still, outclimbs or outdescends me on 14'ers.
Everything was solid.  No injuries.  No falls.  Back by noon.  It was a great day with
eighty pictures to bring home and remember my adventure.  Will take a day off from
climbing and run up Imogene Pass, reachable from Yankee Boy Basin, while I am here
before heading over to Silverton for Saturday's race up Kendall Mountain.  Summer is
going just as I had hoped for.

Driving to Yankee Boy Basin


Climbing Lavender Couloir

Climbing to the col

the Notch at 14,000'

    long look up the couloir
with Beth on top