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Snowmass - Advice Needed

FAQ and threads for those just starting to hike the Colorado 14ers.
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Snowmass - Advice Needed

Postby Wish I lived in CO » Fri Jan 04, 2013 2:32 pm

This summer, I'm considering inviting my 18 year old nephew along on my annual climbing trip (likely 5 day trip this year). I'd like to make it as interesting as possible for him. My two modes are to either climb day trips every single day, driving to the next ones in the evenings, or to go on a multi-day trip where you pack in, hit some 14ers and stay a night or 3, and then pack out. I think he'd enjoy the latter much more.

Snowmass (std. route) would fit the bill perfectly, nice back-pack in, nice lake to camp at - looks very picturesque. Plus that I haven't done it yet helps. I have no doubt he could handle the effort it would take with the hike in and the climb. The problem is that my gut feel is that this is too technical a climb for someone with no climbing experience. I realize that the snow conditions could vary for a late July trip. I have an axe and crampons, and can rent for him if conditions warrant. More than that though I worry about rockfall (yes, we'd wear helmuts) or loose rocks to tumble over. I think he'd enjoy the class 3 climbing challenge, but I could never forgive myself if something happened to him.

For those that have done Snowmass (std. route) what are your thoughts. Too technical? Too loose? Rockfall? Or really no big deal?

Other alternates for a camp / climb trip would be Holy Cross and maybe Bel/Ox. There's some day trips we could do, but the running around between climbs it would take I don't think he'd enjoy.
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Re: Snowmass - Advice Needed

Postby ameristrat » Fri Jan 04, 2013 2:44 pm

A lot of it depends on timing. I climbed Snowmass via the std route several years ago with my family (negligible climbing experience) in late July. Snow extended to the ridge and from there it was an easy scramble to the summit. The exposure, as I recall, wasn't too bad. It's one of my favorites mountains - especially if you have enough snow to glissade down the entire snowfield.

If you go earlier in the summer, that snowfield should be pretty full. If that's the case and you're comfortable with an axe / teaching him how to use one, I think you're probably in good shape. If it's later in summer or the snowpack is awful, I can't give you the info you'll need. I'm not sure what the rock is like under all of that snow. As I recall, it's a simple but long hike up the snow field (only steep enough to kick steps within a few hundred feet of the ridge), and then a basic class 2+ and class 3 scramble to the summit. The rock is more loose (elks) but not too bad. This mountain and trip is a gem.

Does anyone who has climbed it more recently have some better info than I do? I could be remembering things incorrectly, and I certainly don't want to steer you the wrong way.
You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know. - Rene Daumal

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Re: Snowmass - Advice Needed

Postby Rainier_Wolfcastle » Fri Jan 04, 2013 3:13 pm

You've been using 14ers.com long enough to know that no matter what time of year you choose to climb Snowmass, there is going to be some risk. It is a beautiful and fun hike in and camp at the lake (something people should do once, even if they don't want to climb a mountain). It does get a little crowded in the nicer camping areas on a summer weekend. From my research, you don't want to climb it late summer. If you don't choose an easier alternative and you have some time flexibility, I would:
1) wait until the the trip reports start coming in (probably mid June), you want it to be reasonable to cross the log-jam (water level not too high), there not to be too much snow around the lake, but pretty much continuous snow to the last pitch from just past the lake.
2) take your nephew on a couple pre-trip acclimation hikes on gentle and then moderate snow slopes to practice climbing in crampons, holding the axe properly, planned and somewhat unplanned (what if I fall this way, or this way, etc.) self-arrests, and obviously some glissade practice (I know some are against glissading, particularly by newbies, but glissading the gentler slopes of Snowmass is a near must in the right conditions). The Snowmass snow slope is mostly very gentle, but does pick up in angle towards the end.
3) prepare him and yourself for scrambling on moderately exposed giant blocks that can move at any time (the last ~15-20 feet of the climb). Maybe even prepare your nephew to accept just getting to the end of the snow slope (if you really want to mitigate any risk).

I hope that helps.
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Re: Snowmass - Advice Needed

Postby ameristrat » Fri Jan 04, 2013 4:35 pm

To add to that, im planning on climbing it again early this summer so I can probably provide some real-time beta then.

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Re: Snowmass - Advice Needed

Postby Jim Davies » Fri Jan 04, 2013 4:41 pm

If the logjam is a worry, you could hike in from Maroon Lake over Buckskin Pass instead. It's a bit longer, but you get some nice views of the Bells along the way.

We climbed Snowmass when it was completely dry, and it was fine if you don't mind boulder-hopping. There is a few hundred feet going up from the lake that was loose, but no worse than a lot of scree fields really, not dangerous really but annoying. TR is here, day 5.

If he hasn't done any scrambling before, I'd probably stick to something simpler, but maybe that's just Mr Conservative talking. You could do the 25-mile Lost Creek/Goose Creek loop and climb some 11ers and 12ers as side trips, for example - no snow problems, low exposure, light crowds, terrific scenery, no Aspen-related headaches, etc.
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Re: Snowmass - Advice Needed

Postby jdorje » Fri Jan 04, 2013 4:45 pm

I doubt any of the Elks is a suitable first peak for a teenager, and Snowmass in particular is known as one of the most strenuous climbs.

If I were to take an inexperienced relative on a first 14er, it'd be Huron, Handies, San Luis, or Humboldt.
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Re: Snowmass - Advice Needed

Postby Tornadoman » Fri Jan 04, 2013 6:12 pm

Another option for a backpack would be Blanca/Ellingwood. It would be a good moderate climb in terms of difficulty. It is quite the grunt up the Lake Como road, but just make the 18-year old carry most of the gear. :-D Blanca is a lot of fun, and seemed pretty solid to me, Ellingwood was looser and crappier but still probably reasonable.

As for Snowmass there have been a few bad accidents/deaths there recently where people didn't make mistakes, but just seemed to be caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. I've been thinking about that mountain and the S-ridge might be the option to avoid the majority of the falling rock.

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Re: Snowmass - Advice Needed

Postby sunny1 » Fri Jan 04, 2013 7:08 pm

Snowmass is a very underrated mountain, IMHO.
It's fantasticly beautiful and I think the backpack/camping sounds great.
I think it might be good to start your nephew on something a little less intense.
Checked your peak list - how about the San Juans?
Handies, Red Cloud/Sunshine and/or Wetterhorn (a mellow and fun C3) look like good possibilities.
If he likes the SJ's, then maybe progress to Snowmass?
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Re: Snowmass - Advice Needed

Postby cheeseburglar » Fri Jan 04, 2013 9:14 pm

In the summer Snowmass, in my opinion, is probably the easiest and least dangerous class 3. Unless you count the hike in as difficult.
There is about 100 vertical feet of class 3, if it is class 3, which I question. I think there is very little rockfall danger on the standard route, unless someone jumps above you on the 30 vertical feet to the saddle.
If there is snow, it is usually easy and fun. Ice axe is a good idea, but you can always avoid the snow.
Great first climb.
Unless the kid has done nothing but play video games for the last 4 years, he should be fine.
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Re: Snowmass - Advice Needed

Postby scottfarish » Fri Jan 04, 2013 10:09 pm

Tornadoman wrote:Another option for a backpack would be Blanca/Ellingwood. It would be a good moderate climb in terms of difficulty. It is quite the grunt up the Lake Como road, but just make the 18-year old carry most of the gear. :-D Blanca is a lot of fun, and seemed pretty solid to me, Ellingwood was looser and crappier but still probably reasonable.

As for Snowmass there have been a few bad accidents/deaths there recently where people didn't make mistakes, but just seemed to be caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. I've been thinking about that mountain and the S-ridge might be the option to avoid the majority of the falling rock.


Blanca/Ellingwood=yes... S-Ridge=BIG NO (not for a first-timer anyway). The S-Ridge is fun, but it is still very loose, dangerous, and requires your full attention the entire time. There is no less amount of falling rock on that route than there is on any other part of the mountain. Rewind to the experiences of slimshady and MountainMedic this past summer to gauge just how brutal that route is. I'm not trying to deter anyone from doing the S-ridge, just not recommending it for those with little or no experience.

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Re: Snowmass - Advice Needed

Postby Gene913 » Fri Jan 04, 2013 10:20 pm

sunny1 wrote:Snowmass is a very underrated mountain, IMHO.
It's fantasticly beautiful and I think the backpack/camping sounds great.
I think it might be good to start your nephew on something a little less intense.
Checked your peak list - how about the San Juans?
Handies, Red Cloud/Sunshine and/or Wetterhorn (a mellow and fun C3) look like good possibilities.
If he likes the SJ's, then maybe progress to Snowmass?


some sound observations and suggestions here, i think.
we climbed Snowmass last summer when it was barren of snow and more aptly described as No Mas Snow Mass.
the first few hundred feet going up from the lake was very loose and not a place I would want to take an inexperienced climber.
no doubt Snowmass is a beautiful area. it has an allure that is hard to resist. but no matter whether the conditions this summer are like what we experienced last year, or the more typical upper basin snow field, I'm not inclined to see Snowmass as an ideal choice for a first time 14er experience.

In 2008 I took my then 20 year old son on his first 14er trip. We did Redcloud, Uncompahgre and Handies. He got all the camping and climbing he desired. If we had been able to spend a few more days, we would have included Wetterhorn.
With these peaks, you would get the camping/climbing and new peaks that you desire, and avoid the day trip driving that you fear your nephew would find uninteresting/annoying.
"If you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, and you say to this mountain, 'move from here to there,' it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you." Matthew 17:21

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Re: Snowmass - Advice Needed

Postby pseudoghost » Fri Jan 04, 2013 11:57 pm

Snowmass is a pretty good trip. I wouldn't worry about the difficulty: I did it snowfree in the summer and it wasn't bad. I'm not sure why it's considered class 3. There's almost no real exposure, but the rockfall can be dangerous at times. Just play it smart, make sure no one's above you, and you'll be fine. In the snow it would be more interesting, but probably not that bad either. You likely will not need crampons, but an axe would be prudent.

If you wanted, you could consider doing the 4-pass loop. Apparently it's one of the best backpacks in CO. Snowmass would probably be the easiest peak on the loop that you could do.

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