- Plan A Travels: Spain→Andorra→France
- Duration: 3 weeks
- Status: ruined
- Cause: coronavirus
- Plan B Travels: Colorado→Utah→Colorado
- Duration: 3 weeks
- Status: completed
As you may remember from reading An Unexpected Adventure in Ouray, Colorado, we hadn’t planned on hiking any 14ers until we reached the central part of Colorado, but a friend with trail cred and an impressive climbing resume nudged us to give Mt. Sneffels a try once she discovered where we were camping. “It’s right there,” she prodded. A quick map search proved her right. It was right there—the trailhead was only nine miles from Ouray.
This friend—backed by 14ers.com—labels Sneffels “an easy Class 3,” saying the only exposed spot is a V-notch near the summit. (Exposed in this case doesn’t mean lack of tree cover, folks. It means sheer drop-offs.) Not a danger junkie, I initially balked. We’d only ever climbed Class 1s and 2s. But then I recalled our harrowing and very exposed ascent of Wales’ Mount Snowden via the Crib Goch route. We survived that, I reasoned, so what the hell! The husband was up for the adventure, so we committed.
Up at 5:30, we made our way toward the trailhead. Having spoken to experienced locals and read as much as we could online, we decided we would attempt to drive to the lower—but not the upper—4WD parking area. Even getting that far in our pickup truck was adventurous: the uneven, steep, and slanted dirt roads were scattered with ruts, holes, and huge rocks. We put our suspension through its paces as our bodies, straining against our seatbelts, pitched back and forth and side to side with the whiplash-inducing, wave-like motion of the vehicle.
Not risking the drive to the farthest parking area, of course, meant our hike began with a 1½-mile-long walk up a rough backcountry track until we reached the Yankee Boy Trailhead, but three extra miles added to our hike was not as off-putting as the idea of our truck getting stuck or damaged 12,000 feet (3800 m) above sea level and a thousand miles from home.
We walked a flat and reasonably well-marked trail for a while. I say “reasonably well-marked” because there was some confusion resulting in this:
The error easily corrected, we made our way to the bottom of the huge scree and talus slope. Scree and talus, by the way, are just two versions of the same thing: rocks. Both are smaller than boulders, and scree is the smallest of all. The size at which scree becomes talus is not something I can state with certainty. If not knowing is keeping you up at night, consult your local geologist.
I should mention that we were traveling up a route known as the Lavender Couloir (couloir = steep gorge or gully on the side of a mountain), but we could have opted for the Southwest Ridge Route. See the spiky ridge in the picture below? Taking the Southwest Ridge Route means walking atop that entire ridge. That’s basically what we had to do on Mount Snowden. No thank you.
Anyway, finding ourselves at the base of the couloir, there was nothing left to do but start climbing. Up and up and up.
It was very slow-going and seriously exhausting. I can’t imagine doing this (or any 14er, really) without hiking poles.
Once the first obstacle was hiked into submission, we retracted and stowed our poles, hung a left, and started bouldering, but not before getting some meaty sustenance . . .
. . . and watching other adventurers struggle with the downclimb.
Eventually we found ourselves just below the dreaded V-notch.
You can’t see it in the video, and I didn’t have the nerve to take a picture, but just off to the left of the V-notch was a sheer drop-off. We abandoned our packs, as many hikers do at this point, to negotiate the notch more easily. Two hikers were standing there and one of them offered to help me up.
He stood on my right and wrapped his arm around my back so that his hand was touching the rock on my left. A little “safety hug,” it was probably more of a psychological comfort than an actual barrier to a deadly fall, but it helped. I didn’t care about COVID distancing. I didn’t care that a total stranger was touching me. I didn’t care if he shoved me up with one hand on each butt cheek (which he didn’t). I just needed a little safety net, and I got it. (Thank you anonymous hiker/gentleman, wherever you are.)
The husband had tackled the notch before me (on his own, he would like it known) and was waiting for me, hand outstretched, above it. We then spent several minutes engaged in routeless, meandering boulder-scrambling until there it was—we were on the summit!
The mountain maven who first suggested this hike eats gummy bears on her ascents, but always saves a few for the summit, where she takes a picture of them with the hashtag #summitbears. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have some fun with that:
Because I’m a little shortie, getting back through the V-notch required the husband to go first and help guide my feet. You have to back down the notch blind, the hand-holds are few and insubstantial, and the drop-off is inches—inches!— from where you land! It’s damn scary. As I’m sure you’ve surmised, though, we didn’t tumble to our deaths.
We made our way to the base of the boulder field, my knees complaining the whole way, and it was there that we noticed dark clouds forming in the distance. Mother Nature wasn’t following the time-honored Rule of the Mountains in which she is allowed to get nasty, but only after 12 noon. She’d arrived early, and we could tell by her thunderous cries that she was in a foul mood.
Descending the steep dirt slope littered with a ka-jillion (halfway between a ba-jillion and infinity) loose rocks was challenging and precarious, but we quickly discovered that we could tilt up our feet, lean back a bit, and do an inelegant version of glissading down the mountain on our heels (thank you once again, hiking poles). This technique is something we had tried the year before when we climbed Mount Belford, but that was on snow, as intended, not on stony rubble. Still, it worked, and we were able to descend relatively fast because of it.
Luckily, we were down from the scree field before the rain started, and at the upper 4WD parking area before the hail started. (It was small hail, but that’s the kind that stings the most!)
A mile and a half later—six miles and almost six hours after we’d set out that morning—we arrived back at our car. Here’s what I looked like:
And here’s what I did when we got back to the campsite:
Once I could form proper sentences and sit upright unassisted (meaning the next day), I could finally feel the thrill of having knocked off Sneffels. But please, if there are any other “easy class 3s” out there, keep it to yourself. I don’t want to know.
- Plan B Travels: Cycling the Colorado National Monument
- Plan B Travels: Hiking & Cycling in Southern Utah
- Plan B Travels: An Unexpected Adventure in Ouray, Colorado
- Scree & Talus & Boulders, Oh My! Climbing Colorado’s Mount Sneffels
- Plan B Travels: In the Dumps in Fairplay, Colorado
- Three Summits for the Price of Four: Hiking Colorado’s DeCaLiBroN
- Plan B Travels: Wrapping It Up in Estes Park, Colorado
Other hiking/mountain posts: