Mount Sneffels has long been a peak I've wanted to climb. On Memorial Day weekend, my friend Rob and I headed down to southwest Colorado to do just that. We arrived in Ouray not knowing just how far we'd be able to get up the Yankee Boy Basin road, given the tremendous snowfall the state had received this year. I left Ouray at about 4:15AM and picked my friend Rob up at a campsite along the road just after 4:30AM. The road had been plowed to a spot about a quarter mile below the restroom parking area. We put on our snowshoes and started up the Yankee Boy Basin shortly after 5:30AM, ascending primarily along the standard route. Apart from a good wind in certain spots the weather was clear and not too cold. The snow was still quite deep but solid enough that we had no trouble staying on top of it.
Yankee Boy Basin at first light
Looking down Yankee Boy Basin
Rather than follow the jeep road up to the upper parking area, we went up the right (east) side of the basin which seemed to be the shorter and better route given the conditions. I was amazed by the scenery and stopped many times to take pictures.
Gilpin Peak from approach to upper trailhead
An hour or so after starting out, we finally reached the upper trailhead, which was still quite buried. The upper trailhead granted us our first view of Mt. Sneffels summit and the route we would follow to the base of the first gully.
The recent abrupt warm-up made us a bit concerned about the snow conditions. We could see dozens of wet surface slides throughout the basin, but no slab avalanches. When we finally reached the broad gully leading to the saddle, we were delighted to find that the snow conditions were ideal (though we suspected it would soften considerably by the afternoon).
Ascending broad gully to saddle
We cached our snowshoes and poles by a large flat rock at the base of the gully, broke out the crampons and ice axes, and headed straight up the gully, reaching the saddle just before 8am. Upon reaching the saddle, we turned north and began climbing the steeper, narrower gully leading toward the summit.
Narrow gully toward the summit from saddle
Seeing a set of tracks exiting the gully less than a quarter of the way up, we contemplated following, but instead elected to continue upward. It was easy climbing on good snow all the way to the notch at the top of the gully, but it was here that we encountered our first challenge.
View down narrow gully from notch
As we neared the notch, there was no obvious exit given the heavy snow along the western edge of the gully. The only option seemed to be a 10-15 foot rock and snow climb directly up from the top of the notch. This proved to be somewhat challenging in crampons and I moved very cautiously due to the fair amount of exposure. After reaching the top of this section, we could then see the summit only about 100-150 feet away.
Final approach to summit
We made our way along the ridge leading to the summit and reached it at about 8:40AM. The views of the the San Juans were spectacular, as was the view of the Western Slope to the north.
View north from summit
Reaching the summit was very satisfying and I was glad to have been able to do it as a snow climb.
On the summit
We did not descend the same way we had come up, for down-climbing the section at the top of the notch was not very appealing. We instead descended the southern face parallel to the upper gully and then traversed into the gully at the same point we had thought about exiting it earlier. Once back to the saddle, we chose to glissade most of the lower gully and we soon got back to where we had cached our gear. By this time (9:45AM), the snow was getting quite soft. We headed back down the increasingly warm basin the same way we had come up, reaching the car at 11AM.
Apart from a few windy areas, the day could not have been better. We were not the only ones who got to enjoy the day on the great mountain. We saw at least 12 other climbers on the mountain, most of whom were planning a ski/board descent. It maybe a few weeks before the restroom parking area is plowed and perhaps more than a month before the upper trailhead road is plowed, but the mountain is definitely accessible.
Here's a rough rendering of the route:
Rough rendering of route
Potosi and Stoney
Gilpin Peak and Telluride
Yankee Boy Basin
Lower south face of Sneffels
SW ridge of Sneffels and slide