Snowmass Mountain - Chapter 6 Section 3

(See Chapter Introduction for trailhead information.)

Snowmass Mountain - The Big Bowl from Snowmass Lake

[lou, 06-13-05, use existing data block, ski rating D7 from summit ridge, D13 from summit down north face]

[lou, 06-13-05]Snowmass Mountain is in the middle of the Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness. As such, access to the peak is up eight miles of wilderness trail to Snowmass Lake (10,980’.) All but climbing "gods" will need a high camp at the lake. It's 2 1/2 miles and 3,112 vertical feet from a lake camp to the summit. That should leave time for fishing! This is a good "first teener" for backpackers looking to expand their horizons.

[lou, 06-13-05]Summer after snow melt-off: Park at the Snowmass Creek Trailhead (section introduction), and hike the long Snowmass Creek pack trail 8 miles to Snowmass Lake. At the lake, take time and identify the summit of Snowmass Mountain, which is the less majestic summit up at the head of the bowl containing the "snowmass" permanent snowfield. (At least one climber has mistaken other, more majestic peaks for the mundane summit at the head of the bowl). Hike a fisherman's trail around the south side of the lake, then climb the bowl's lower talus slopes via a stable area to the right (N.) Once you're in the bowl proper (with summer snow, boulders and scree) head for a point on the ridge midway between the summit and the Snowmass/Hagerman Saddle. Take a short jaunt N along the ridge to the summit and descend your ascent route.

[lou, 06-13-05]Spring snow season: For mellow terrain in a spectacular setting, this is one of the best fourteener ski descents. As a snow climb it is easy and safe enough to make a good "first ‘teener". Yet the short, optional northeast face can add a thrill if you are so inclined. For good, safe snow work you'll need a high camp at Snowmass Lake or camp at about 10,000’ elevation in the main Snowmass Creek valley.

[lou, 06-13-05]To begin, park at the Snowmass Creek Trailhead (section introduction.) Follow the route of the pack trail (an obvious cut) to the small oxbow lake (10,100’) at six miles. If you deem it necessary because of slide danger, just before the oxbow lake switch to the east side of the valley to avoid the runouts of several huge avalanche slopes coming down from the west. About 1/4 mile past the oxbow lake, a dense spruce forest fills the valley. Skirt the trim line of this forest back to the west side of the valley. Here the summer trail switchbacks up a the huge avalanche path that threatens the oxbow lake area. Again, with any avalanche danger, stick to the forest trim line. Without snow, stick to the trail. It is an obvious highway.

[lou, 06-13-05]If you used the forest trim-line to avoid the avalanche slope, you now have a critical juncture. At approximately 10,400’, find the summer trail where it enters into the forest from the avalanche path. If you have trouble with this you must persevere; any other route involves impossible bushwhacking. Once you find it, stay on the summer trailcut the remainder of the way to Snowmass Lake.

[lou, 06-13-05]From Snowmass Lake the route is fairly obvious. Travel to the W end of the lake then climb up the snow bowl to the obvious shoulder south of the summit. Be careful to identify the correct peak as the summit -- it does not look high enough when you're in the bowl! From the shoulder follow a rocky ridge to the summit. Most parties ski the bowl from the shoulder. For a summit ski descent you can ski the short NE face (steep) into the bowl, or ski a short way down the N ridge, then drop into the bowl. Both these summit routes have inconsistent snow cover, so if you want a summit descent be there in early spring.

[lou, 06-13-05]Winter: Snowmass Mountain is a major expedition in winter. Use the approach tips in the spring description above. Take care with the avalanche prone headwall leading up from the west end of Snowmass Lake. An astute evaluation of snow stability is necessary to make a decision about your ascent, as the headwall has no safe lines. Because of this, and the expedition style of any attempt, Snowmass Mountain has been climbed only a handful of times in winter.

[lou, 06-13-05]Safety notes: Though Snowmass Mountain is considered an easy summer fourteener, summer hike/climbers should still have a reasonable level of skill in mountain craft. You may encounter patches of steep icy snow at any time of the year, so you should carry and know how to use an ice axe. Those with ice axe and crampons might enjoy exploring the permanent snowfield at the base of Hagerman Peak. A deep bergschrund here is similar to crevasses in true glaciers. Spring snow climbers should note that this is another east facing route its typical early sunhit and poor snow conditions. Be there early and do not tarry. Use standard sunrise for sunhit.

Snowmass Mountain from Geneva Lake

[lou, 06-13-05, use existing data block, ski rating Advanced D11]

[lou, 06-13-05]Geneva Lake is a popular goal for backpackers, but above the lake you'll see few people. The route is not a technical climb. You'll need patience and skill, however, to find a line that avoids dangerous steep rock that's too loose to be climbable.

[lou, 06-13-05]Summer after melt-off: Follow the directions (see section introduction) for Lead King Basin Trailhead. From the trailhead (9,700’), climb a well-used pack trail 1 3/4 miles to Geneva Lake, then continue up the trail a short distance to 11,000’, where the trail loops back to the southeast. Leave the trail at this point, and climb N up the drainage to 11,300’. Continue climbing, and shift right to avoid a small gorge. Continue on a climbing traverse abut 1/2 mile to the huge talus and cliff studded west face of Snowmass Mountain. Take care not to start up the face too soon, stay on your climbing traverse until you're at about 12,200’ and directly below the summit. Start climbing towards the summit, then trend slightly to the right as you climb. If you're stymied by cliffs, traverse with care and look for a safe line. At least one climber on this face has been injured by falling rock. A steep section near the summit is the crux. The correct route takes you to a point on the south summit ridge just a few from the summit. Descend your ascent route.

[lou, 06-13-05]Spring snow season: With good snowcover the west face of Snowmass presents several obvious and beautiful couloirs leading to near the summit. Follow the summer directions above (perhaps climbing a bit higher in the drain below the face before you start the actual ascent), and climb the larger system to looker’s left. This will intersect the summit ridge a short distance north of the summit. During times of heavy snow cover, a number of routes and couloirs are available. Descend your ascent route. In this author’s opinion, the Snowmass west face makes much more sense as a snow climb or ski descent than it does as a summer bowling ally.

[lou, 06-13-05]Winter: While any winter climb of Snowmass Mountain is a major endeavor, this route might be slightly safer than doing the Big Bowl, though it would be much harder technically. Wind strips the snow on this side, and the approach is about the same. You'll need at least one night out considering the long approach from road closure in Marble. The closed road is lightly used in winter, and not popular with snowmobilers because of rocky sections and side-hills.

Safety notes: Due to loose rock, not recommended as a summer route after snow melt-off. Problematic as a snow climbing route due to difficulty of safe descent.