Mt. Sneffels via the Southwest Ridge

Posted by on July 12, 2012

The final activity of our fabulous stay-cation in Colorado was climbing the 14,150 foot Mt. Sneffels via its class 3 Southwest Ridge.  I had only climbed Sneffels once before via the loose, tedious Lavendar Col route so the Southwest Ridge was an enticing option for a return visit.  Next to the Maroon Bells I would argue that Mt. Sneffels from Dallas Divide is the 2nd most photographed mountain in Colorado.

Since the monsoon seemed to arrive over 4th of July weekend we decided that we would have a very short weather window on Sunday and we should drive as far up in Yankee Boy Basin as my 4runner and Greg’s Jeep Cherokee could get.  The final mile or so beyond the 4wd trailhead isn’t too bad for a high-clearance vehicle and it was actually fun to do some 4′wheelin again.  Greg and I both had no problems getting to the end of the road near 12,500 feet and there were some nice views along the way.

We began hiking around 6:45 a.m. under some cloudy, overcast skies and cool temps. To gain the Southwest Ridge we passed the turn for the standard route and headed towards Blue Lake Pass, the lowpoint in the ridge between Mt. Sneffels and Gilpin Peak. Once at Blue Lakes Pass we hung a right and began heading up the ridge, initially aiming for a notch on the left side of the ridge crest to bypass some spires.

Heading towards Blue Lakes Pass, SW ridge shown

Route heads to the nortch left of center

Lower part of ridge was talus/mank

For a complete route description see this page

Initially the ridge is more talus and boulder-hopping than any real scrambling but fortunately gets better the higher you climb.  We were making good time and keeping a close eye on the clouds and weather, we already got caught in a thunderstorm biking down Red Mountain Pass the day before and didn’t want to make it 2 for 2.  After a couple hundred vertical feet we crossed over to the right (east) side of the ridge and descended about 50 vertical feet into a loose, annoying gully.

Lower portion of ridge

Crossing over to the east side of the ridge

Descending into a gully

From here we had to be very careful not to send rocks down on each other while we ascending towards a large chimney at the top of the rubble-filled garbage chute.  The first section of class 3 climbing involved getting up this chimney section but wasn’t much of an issue.  From here Carolyn and I stayed on the left side of the ridge for another hundred vertical feet or so before we got back on the ridge crest.  The ridge crest makes from some dramatic photos, I knew this because of a poster I’ve seen in Colorado gear shops.

Garbage Chute

Climbing out of the chimney

Dramatic views along the ridge crest

Once back on the crest we pretty much stayed on the crest or just slightly on the east side of the ridge.  The weather seemed to be holding steady, no major darks clouds building up anywhere.  Near 13,900 feet there was one final section of class 3 climbing depending on your chosen line on some solid, pretty good rock. 

Along the ridge crest

Mighty Dallas Peak in the background

Final steps to the summit

Around 8:30 a.m. we topped out on Mt. Sneffels and had a stunning panorama of San Juan giants spreading out in all directions.  Teakettle, Potosi Peak, and Cirque Mountain would dramatically emerge from the clouds momentarily just to be swallowed back up.  Kismet always looks impressive from this vantage point and of course to the south Gilpin Peak and the mighty Dallas Peak stand proud.  Dallas Peak often ranks as one of the most difficult Highest 100 peaks in Colorado.

The crew on the summit

We took some photos, had a quick snack, and began our descent since we didn’t want to press our luck with the weather.  It was a quick scramble down to "the notch" which is the crux of the standard (Lavendar Col) route.  From here we descended down towards the Sneffels/Kismet saddle, taking a few photos along the way.

The notch

Descending to Kismet-Sneffels saddle

San Juan majesty

The spires on the lower portion of the Southwest Ridge should look impressive from this vantage point and we took a moment to admire them.  Lavendar Col back into Yankee Boy Basin was a quick plunge-step affair and before too long we were back to the vehicle around 10:30 a.m. making for a pretty quick 4 hour roundtrip.    

Spires alongs the SW ridge


The drive back down Yankee Boy Basin was entertaining and many photo opportunities presented themselves along the way.  I had forgotten how amazing this little corner of Colorado is and realized it had been way too long since we have visited the San Juans.  Hopefully we will be making many more trips to this spectacular part of the Centennial State.

Giants in the mist

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