(WINTER) HOLD ON! If you don't have much high-elevation, winter climbing experience, be careful in your planning and take a partner. Even the "easy" 14ers (Quandary, Sherman, Grays & Torreys) can be deadly in winter.
Take US 550 to Ouray. 1/4 mile south of town, turn west onto Country Road (CR) 361 (2WD, Dirt) toward Yankee Boy Basin. Start measuring mileage from the start of this road. Your mileage may vary slightly, but the following list describes the turns and milestones:
- At 3 miles: The road has some shelf sections with exposure to the left.
- 4.7 miles: Stay right on CR 26.
- 5.3 miles: The road is cut into the cliffs like a "C" so there is rock hanging over the road.
- 6.1 miles: Stay right on CR 26 at the junction for Imogene Pass.
- 6.3 miles: Pass through the empty Sneffels townsite.
- 6.8 miles: Stay right and pass a Yankee Boy Basin info sign.
- 6.9 miles: Stay right onto the "853 1B" road. The remaining drive is 4WD and 2WD cars should park below this junction.
- 7.7 miles: Reach the lower "trailhead" where many people park. There is a restroom here.
Driving beyond this point requires 4WD
- 100 yards after the restroom parking area, pass a large rock and stay right at a junction.
- 8.2 miles: Stay right.
- 8.5 miles: The road gets much worse after this point and there's a sign that recommends only 4WD, high-clearance, short-wheelbase.
- 4WD vehicles (short wheelbase, good clearance, 4WD low) can continue another mile to the signed, upper trailhead at 12,460'.
The following description assumes a start at the lower trailhead at 11,350', but it's also possible to start at the upper (4WD) trailhead at 12,460'.
From the lower trailhead parking area (the one with the outhouse/restroom), continue west on the road that leads to the upper basin - Photo #1. After 100 yards, pass a large rock that is close to the road and then stay right at a junction - Photo #2. Follow the road 0.75 mile along the side of a hill to 11,700' where the road gets worse - Photo #3. It's another mile to the upper trailhead, but the remaining road is rough and should only be attempted by 4WD vehicles with good clearance and a short wheelbase. Continue up the road. Photo #4 shows one of several rough portions of the road. On a flat spot near 12,300', stay right at a road junction. Hike the last 0.25 mile to reach the upper trailhead (Photo #5) at 12,460'.
From the upper trailhead (Photo #6), hike northwest across talus on a good trail - Photo #7 and Photo #8. After over 0.25 mile, there is a trail junction near 12,600' - Photo #9. Stay right toward Mt. Sneffels. You are below the south side of "Kismet" Mountain (13,694') at this point. Hike a short distance and turn right to ascend a few switchbacks before the trail angles toward a broad gully southeast of the summit - Photo #10, Photo #11, Photo #12, and Photo #13. The good trail runs out low in the gully and you must ascend loose rock and eroded trail sections. Climb north toward a col (often called "Lavender Col") at the top of the gully - Photo #14, Photo #15. Reach the col near 13,560'. Photo #16 looks back down on the climb to this point.
From the col, look left (northwest) to see a steeper gully that climbs toward the summit - Photo #17 and Photo #18. The gully ascends to 14,050' and it's steep enough that falling rocks may gain momentum in some sections, especially if snow is present. With firm snow, crampons may be helpful. Begin climbing - Photo #19 and Photo #20. There is no single route up the gully and you may find yourself crossing from side-to-side as you ascend. Photo #21 looks down the gully. About 1/2 way up, angle right toward the center of the gully (Photo #22) and continue toward the top - Photo #23 and Photo #24. Taken during a spring snow climb, Photo #25 looks down the gully. Near the top (approx. 30 feet from the end), turn left to find a small "V" notch - Photo #26 and Photo #27. Carefully climb up through the notch where you'll notice a bit of exposure on your left as you pass through.
Past the notch (Photo #28), the climbing becomes easier and the summit is not far off - Photo #29. Scramble up to the summit on easy, stable rock - Photo #30. Photo #31 looks down on the final pitch. Photo #32, Photo #33, Photo #34, and Photo #35 were taken on the summit.
The last couple of miles of the road are rough and require 4WD and high-clearance. Low-clearance vehicles (including many SUV's) should not continue past the restrooms at 11,350'. IMPORTANT: This route enters the Mt. Sneffels Wilderness area. Wilderness areas have special regulations and restrictions for party size, dispersed camping, campfires, etc. Also, dog owners should read the wilderness information carefully because some wilderness areas prohibit dogs to be off-leash and/or limit how close dogs can be to lakes and streams. If you have questions about the Wilderness area, please contact a U.S. Forest Service office for the National Forest(s) listed above.