Monday, July 1, 2013

Snowmass Mountain

Snowmass Mountain- 14,092'

Via Snowmass Lake, 21.5 Miles and 5,800' elevation Gain

Some 14ers require a greater level of effort than others. For one reason or another, just making it can be a test of endurance. This is what we discovered on Snowmass Mountain. One of our friends needed 3 tries to finally make the summit. Photos provided by Scott Lowery are denoted with (SZL).

The approach hike gains 2,600' in 8.5 miles. It's never steep, which is nice in some ways, but it's also very long. The terrain is absolutely beautiful, so that is always a bonus. On the way up, we were excited and enthusiastic to be in such a great place.

Almost immediately you are treated to sublime views

Scott hiking up the easy trail

Aspen forests and red mountains

After about 5 miles on the trail (SZL)
Nice trail section about 4 miles up

Panorama with Snowmass Mountain distant right center
 In the late afternoon the trail is well shaded, not so much in the early afternoon, a lesson we would learn on Sunday. Pushing on, we reached our first major obstacle after nearly 3 hours of hiking- the "log jam". I was nervous about getting my feet wet but my fear proved unwarranted. We crossed the log jam absent of drama.
Nice view from the log jam
The infamous "log jam" you need to cross to gain the trail on the other side. This is about 6 miles up.
A strong waterfall at the base of Snowmass Lake
Relaxing, Colorado Style

The route we ended up taking the next day. Notice the "crossover" just above the waterfall.

The upper route, as see from the lake

We made it to the lake in well under 4 hours, driven by the idea that we would have Subway waiting for us and a nice view of the lake. The Subway always seems to taste better after some decent hiking. We also were able to set up the tent before the sun went down, and after getting everything ready for the next day we crashed around 9PM.

Until I awoke around 2AM to the sound of 2 large branches snapping. I eventually settled down again but never fully went to sleep. I never sleep well in the mountains. At 4:45 we awoke and set out for the trail at 5:15 AM. This proved to be a little bit of a "late start".

Looking at the route ahead from the side of the large Snowmass Lake
Getting around the lake took more time than I anticipated, and I lost my headlamp in the boulderfield. Oh well.
The scree slope of doom- we crossed the stream and headed up on the right

Once we gain the initial slope, the snowmass is revealed. It's larger than we though.

Looking back

Getting ready to cross the snow

Pyramid Peak, N Maroon, Maroon Peak

Look up at the snow climb ahead
Scott Climbing up the snow slope, climbers seen behind him

A look at the upper section. We went up to the right of the rock band on the left upper side of the photo

Climbing up near the top. It was getting steep (SZL)
The snow got really steep near the top, and it was softening up as well. The microspikes were only somewhat effective in the steep snow. Luckily, we found some kicked-in steps that we were able to hook up with and take to the ridge. Otherwise, it would have been more difficult.

Getting ready for the final pitch on the rocks (SZL)

Panorama looking West

Panorama Looking Southeast

Scott on the summit of Snowmass Mountain
Looking at Capital Peak from the summit of Snowmass (SZL)

Snowmass lake from the summit. Our tent is down there!
 After summitting we took ample time to more slowly and carefully over the rocks. We went further down the ridge this time before we crossed over into the snow. We had several long glissades which saved quite a bit of time. We were cold and wet by the time we finished glissading but being down was a fine reward.

We came up just to the climbers left of the "thumb" rock jutting out in the middle of the pic. Steep snow.
Upper glissade path (SZL)
Scott glissading the upper portion
We were able to descend the same way we came up and avoid the terrible talus slope. The last obstacle was traversing past the lake, which was a little annoying by this point, muddy and overgrown with willows.

1.5 miles from the lake, heading back to the car. At this point there are 7 miles to go!

A last look at Snowmass up the Bear Creek drainage. We were just up there!

The 8.5 miles from our hastily broken camp to the car seemed to take forever. We were tired, hungry, thirsty, hot, etc. It's amazing how nice weather and beautiful scenery are lost on someone not in the proper mood. What was an amazing hike in seemed like a slog on the way out. Still, we did those 8.5 miles in under 3 hours, fueled by the expectation of hot food.

Snowmass Mountain was a neat hike in a beautiful area - arguably one of the prettiest 14er hikes we have done so far. It loses a little bit for having such a long approach, and the mixed climbing required more equipment and footwear, but it was a great experience.


  1. Dan -
    Thanks for running this great website. It inspires some of us to get out there and take on the 14ers, and gives others a chance to experience them without having to actually climb/hike them.
    Awesome pics and always!
    cheers - mike

  2. Mike, thanks for checking out the blog and for taking the time to reply. I appreciate the kind words.

  3. Hey Dan - I'm thinking about trying this trail with my dad and brother. We have hiking experience but none with climbing. What are you referring to when you say "the mixed climbing required more equipment?" Thanks!

  4. Josh, thanks for reading! Mixed climbing means that we were climbing on Rock and on Snow. (Mixed climbing often refers to rock and ice). On snow we were using microspikes and ice axes to increase our traction. On rocks we just used our hands and feet. Currently, the snow is all gone for the summer but will be back by the winter. The bare rock presents it's own challenges, however.

    If you don't have any "climbing" experience, I would be a little hesitant to recommend Snowmass Mountain. You could most definately hike to the lake, but I think you'd want some 14er experience including class 3 routes before you attempt to summit Snowmass Mountain. Regrettably, at least 2 people have died on Snowmass Mountain in the last 4 years, near the summit, and a 3rd suffered serious injuries. The rock is steep and loose near the summit and there is no clearly defined trail for a lot of the summit push as well.

    Other class 3 routes you might consider before this is the Bierstadt/Sawtooth/Evans combo. You might also look at Wetterhorn Peak in the San Juan Mountains, or any of the Chicago basin peaks (Windom, Sunlight, Eulos) would be decent training. You can head over to and sort the peaks by difficulty and you'll see this peak is in the 2nd highest difficulty catagory.

  5. Extremely helpful commentary and photos Josh! I am contemplating doing it next weekend with a buddy and was wondering how you would rate Snowmass without snow compared to your experience? This will potentially be my 35th 14er but only the 5th for my buddy. Also, I'm wondering how long it took for you to get back to the TH after you departed from Snowmass Lake in the morning? 21.5 miles is a long haul, but it sounds like it might be the best alternative considering the challenges on the back side of Snowmass, especially for my less experienced friend?

    Thanks in advance for your response and good luck with future climbs!

  6. Brent,
    Sorry my reply is probably too late. The problem with doing Snowmass without snow is you have a long path on scattered small rocks that are not completely stable. It becomes a little more time-consuming at that point. It's still doable. If your buddy is in good shape, you should be fine, but it can be a dangerous mountain. Bill Middlebrook has detailed some different lines you can take without snow present on

    Once you gain the ridge proceed slowly and cautiously. There are some big rocks up there that will move when pressure is applied. Test every hold and try to keep out of the fall line of your buddy. With all the rain we've been getting, it should be quite beautiful up there even late in the season. Good luck!