Member Trip Report



Mt. Sneffels (14,150'), San Juan Range, Colorado

July 2-6, 2008

Author, Trip Leader, and Slide Show: Francesco Grilli

Participants: Jackie Little, Ron Morgan, Bill Priedhorsky, Melissa Bartlett, Tianshu Li, Francesco Grilli, and Molly (the dog)

We left Los Alamos on Wednesday after work and drove to Pagosa Springs, where we spent the night at a lovely B&B, 'Inn at the Springs'.  The next morning after a very good breakfast at the B&B, we drove through Durango and then to Telluride.  Due to the holiday weekend, Telluride was very busy.  We had a picnic in Telluride and then drove to Ouray by passing Ridgeway.  This is not the fastest way to get to Ouray from Los Alamos, but we wanted to make a loop to see more mountains and to experience the whole San Juan Skyway.  From Ouray we headed up CR 361, and drove on  a 'shelf' road cut in the rock.  We arrived at the Yankee Boy Basin around 3 pm and set up camp at around 10,700', which is the limit for 2WD vehicles and also the highest camping site in Yankee Boy Basin.  The place is called Atlas Campground; there is ample parking, toilets, but only five camping spots.  A couple of them were occupied, the others were not particularly good (because of fallen trees, probably due to a recent avalanche), so we decided to camp in another (nicer) spot by the creek.  We went out for an exploratory hike of the upper basin for a couple of hours and, at our return, we found a ticket from the ranger asking us to relocate since we didn't camp in a designated spot.  After enjoying Jackie's delicious couscous, we decided to move our tents out of the free spots.  If you plan to go there on a week-end, be aware of the problems of the limited campsites.  In addition, most of the terrain around is private property and camping is forbidden.  The campsite is right by the dirt road that climbs in to the Yankee Boy Basin up to about 11,400' (and above) and sees a lot of traffic of Jeep tourists from early morning until late night.  So, overall this is not the best camping spot in the world.  At 7 pm Bill and Melissa, who had left Los Alamos on Thursday, reached us.


On Friday, we got up at 4 am, had breakfast, drove to the higher parking place at 11,700' and started our hike to Mt. Sneffels at 6 am.  Due to their late arrival, Bill and Melissa opted for a later start and an easier hike.  It was a perfect day for climbing a 14er, blue sky, no cloud and no wind.  The upper part of the Yankee Boy Basin presented numerous and large snow patches, whereas the way up to the Lavender Col was basically snow-free, except for the very top of the Col.  We reached the top of Col at around 8:30.  The most challenging part was reaching the top of the Col on steep snow and climbing the couloir toward the summit.  The couloir was still full of snow, which was quite hard and slippery in the early morning: crampons would have helped us a lot.  We were feeling uncomfortable and we tried to stick close to the rocks to prevent slipping.  Then we saw three hikers descending the couloir from the summit; this was helpful, because we asked them information on the route and we could follow their steps in the snow.  Following their suggestion, we almost immediately exited the couloir on the left to climb the rocks to the summit.  Since the rocks seemed a little too steep, I suggested going back to the couloir through a crack that in reality is the usual crux passage to get out from it!  (We discovered this afterwards.)  We arrived at the top of the couloir to discover that there was just the north face of Mt. Sneffels below us.  We retraced back a few steps to the crack, exited the couloir and followed the rocks to the summit.

In summary, from the Col there are three options to get to the top:

1) Follow the rocks on the left of the couloir directly from the Col,

2) exit the couloir on the left at about one third of its length, or

3) exit the couloir on the left at about two thirds of it length, following a crack just before an evident notch.  The exit through the crack at two thirds is what is usually referred to as the normal route on guidebooks and websites.

We reached the summit at 9:45 am and spent 15 minutes on the top to enjoy the incomparable view of Blue Lakes, Teakettle, and tens of other mountains.  The mountains in the San Juan Range are so beautiful and unique!  On our way down we noticed Ron slightly above the Col staying on the rocks on the left of the couloir.  Jackie and Ron were waiting for us at the base of the Col; they saw some people on the top at around 8 am, believed that they were us, and became worried when they didn't see us coming down in a reasonable time.  So Ron decided to climb up to see if we were in trouble.  The meeting with Ron allowed us to discover the completely snow-free route between the Col and the summit (option 1) mentioned above).  We would have reached the summit an hour earlier if we had known and followed this path.  Anyway, the snow had become softer after having been exposed to the sunshine for a few hours.  It was fun to descend the slope by glissading or walking on deep snow.  We met Jackie at the base of the Col and had lunch all together.  Shortly after, we descended towards Wright Lake and met Bill and Melissa.  We returned to our camp around 3 pm for a relaxing afternoon followed by Melissa's tasty pasta dinner.

Based on the snow conditions, we gave up the original plan of summiting Teakettle on Saturday and did a short relaxing hike in the Governor Basin instead.  Molly was the one enjoying the hike the most.  She played in the snow and water, and ran up and down all the time.  Thunder and rain started around noon, right after we finished the hike.  Then we went to Ouray for lunch and checked it's hot springs.  We drove to Durango and stayed for the night and had a pretty good Italian dinner.  On Sunday we drove back to Pagosa Springs, did another short hike above the West Fork Campground, and arrived in Los Alamos at 6 pm.

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