Peak(s):  Mt. Sneffels  -  14,155 feet
Date Posted:  02/24/2016
Modified:  03/16/2017
Date Climbed:   02/21/2016
Author:  SnowAlien
Additional Members:   jbchalk
 Sneffels Winter Bliss   

Sneffels Winter Bliss

Peak: Mt. Sneffels (14,150')
Route: Lavender couloir from Yankee Boy Basin
Date: February 21, 2016
Trailhead: Winter road closure on Camp Bird road (9,150')
Distance: ~14 miles
Elevation Gain: ~5,000 ft
Party: Brandon "No Switchbacks to the Top" Chalk and Natalie "SnowAlien" Moran
Time: just over 9 hours

Ever since my previous attempt at Sneffels in February of 2013 I've been wanting to go back. As I find more and more with winter peaks, patience is a virtue. You wait for partners and for conditions to align. Brandon was coming to ski Silverton Mountain, but given lack of snow in a while, he was interested to hike a 13er in the area. Luckily it didn't take long for us to agree on Sneffels. We left the ski house in Silverton a quarter past 4am and drove over Red Mountain pass, arriving at the winter trailhead in about an hour. After gearing up and putting the skis on the packs for the first time this year, we set off by 5.30 am. The road is plowed and dry for the first 3.5 miles, so we were making great time, reaching the Revenue mine in just an hour. At the Governor/Yankee Boy Basin juncture we left the road and stopped to put our skis on. With several warm days and cold nights, conditions were very much springlike. We were able to glide on top of the frozen snow all the way to the upper summer trailhead.

I've been eagerly anticipating what Telluride Helitrax have been up to this winter season, and was not disappointed. The southern slopes of Cirque Mountain were telling the recent story. Dismal conditions from the skiing perspective put a temporarily halt to the heli skiing.

Skinning is such a peaceful and meditative process

Nearing the upper summer trailhead around 12k, the snow quality was changing to become more uneven, wind affected and winter-like.

Starting up the standard route

Standard route looked acceptable, snow appeared to be much more consolidated than last time, with still icy surface. Brandon's pace seems to accelerate the higher you go, and he is not a fan of switchbacks. Around 13.2k the slope reached the point when it was too icy and steep to continue without ski crampons. We had a brief discussion about carrying skis to the top or leaving them. Given the high variability of the snow, chilly wind intent on keeping the surface cold for a while, we decided to leave the skis and boot up from here. The higher we went, the more content with our decision I became. While the coverage was great, snow quality is something to consider as well, to make the ski descent actually enjoyable.

Brandon quickly accelerates without his heavy setup, while I am bringing up the rear

After a short break at the saddle, we were ready to start up the Lavender couloir (in the same pecking order).

Somewhat concerned with the condition and difficulty of the V notch, we decided to leave the Lavender couloir early and take the left side spur to the summit ridge. Brandon went through the rocky section (one or two class 3 moves), which I dubbed the "Hillary (foot) step". Because it's funny, no?

Another look at the gnarly footstep

Up to this point, snow conditions were mostly supportive, and postholing was minimal. But this was about to change.

Upper section of the mountain was filled with more postholing than we'd like, but thankfully, that section was reasonably short

Topping out

We reached the summit sometime around 11.30 am, for about 6 hour ascent time. I wanted to spend more time on the summit despite the cold wind, but Brandon, who has negative body fat, wanted to head down and take a break in a less windy place.

Summit views are really, really hard to beat in Colorado - it is an endless sea of peaks.

Looking Southeast towards Uncompahgre

Looking South towards Weminuche

Dallas and Wilsons group

Gilpin and Telluride

Starting to head back down - steeper section near the ridge

We took a look at the V-notch and decided it was a good idea not to take it - it looked vertical. So we descended the same way we came up.

Birthday chutes look exciting

More views

In about an hour after leaving the summit we reached our skis.

Since the snow surface was still frozen, we carefully (safety) skied down to the summer trailhead, where we were met by a sea of sastrugi. We also ran into a couple of friendly people from CMC HAMS group.

Other humans in the basin!

Potosi on the ski out

Saint Sophia Ridge is looking lovely with snow - it was another fun day with a different crew this fall.

At the Yankee Boy/Governor basin juncture we threw the skis on our packs again and hiked the road back down, which went pretty quickly, despite a couple of "almost" spills by someone hiking in clogs on the still icy road.

Approximate splits:
Start from winter closure: 5.30 am
Revenue mine: 6.30 am
Lower summer 4x4 TH: 7.45 am
Upper 4x4 TH: 9 am
Saddle with Kismet: 10 am
Summit: 11.30 am
Ski stash @13.2k: 1 pm
Governor basin/YBB juncture: 1.45 pm
Car: 2.45 pm

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Comments or Questions
Excellent job, you two!
02/24/2016 14:37
I climbed Sneffels in 2014 and was so impressed with the beauty in that area. The winter views are just as outstanding! Thanks for sharing!

02/24/2016 14:42
It's really hard to beat the views from Sneffels, isn't it... Very nice report, Natalia. Love the "negative body fat" comment about Brandon. That explains a lot!

I just love it!
02/24/2016 16:49
Beautiful place, beautiful photos! Nice work. It was great to get to catch up while you were in Ouray too!

02/25/2016 09:09
Looks like you guys had great conditions. Nice seeing you and Buddy Chalk last Fri!

Nice one, Natalie!
02/25/2016 09:36
Great to spend the day with you and thanks for letting me join ya! Glad you nabbed Sneffels in winter! Fun times. Thanks for also putting up with my rowdy raucous Silverton crew Saturday night. A bunch of neanderthals, I tell ya. For the record, having very little body fat is advantageous in many ways - just hanging out on a cold, windy summit is not one of them However, I could have just put on my big down jacket. Momentary lapse of reason on my part. Another lapse of any mountaineering smarts is, yes, like you say, my wonderful snow clogs for the 7 miles of icy road hiking. To my credit, however, I never fell. Always saved. Very entertaining to say the least. Glad you enjoyed my "slippage"!

Thank you all
02/25/2016 22:08
Had conditions been any better, it would be hard to justify the winter ascent! But hey, it's hard to complain, and skis certainly make things easier, to a point, of course. Having a much lighter AT set-up vs 3 years ago made a huge difference - I barely even noticed the road miles, but it was a big demoralizing factor last time for me. Of course, Brandon is such a locomotive that it's no surprise things went pretty smoothly this time. Kylie and Ryan, great to see you guys as well, and hope the rest of the birthday weekend was great. Weather was certainly very nice.
Brandon - so glad this trip worked out with your busy bee schedule, and your rowdy crew is a lot of fun. Besides, they died down quite quickly on Saturday night, which worked great for us, early risers. A day earlier, and our trip probably won't be possible. Timing is everything, huh?

Timing is everything...
02/28/2016 09:21 with most things in life. Thanks again for the great day and report, Natalie!

Hillary (foot) step...
02/29/2016 20:25
That got a laugh out of me!

Thanks for sharing; I got my mountain fix for the day.

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