(Summer/Fall 2015) Due to recent problems with black bears, the US Forest Service requires bear canisters when camping in the Maroon Bells Wilderness. This order is in effect from July to December, 2015. More info...
From Glenwood Springs, drive approx. 27 miles south on CO 82 to the small town of Snowmass. Turn right on the Snowmass Creek road and begin measuring mileage. Drive 1.7 miles and turn left to continue on Snowmass Creek road. The road turns to dirt at 7 miles. At 10.7 miles, turn left and cross a bridge over Snowmass Creek. At 10.9 miles, turn right at another junction and continue to the trailhead at the end of the road (11.3 miles).
From the trailhead (Photo #1), hike south up the Snowmass Creek trail. In the first mile, pass through one or more fence gates (Photo #2) and reach a small trail junction after about 1.5 miles where the West Snowmass trail drops down to the right. Stay left on the main, Maroon-Snowmass trail. Near 4 miles, there's a great view of Snowmass Mountain up Bear Creek - Photo #3. After 6+ miles and above 10,000', you'll reach the infamous log jam (Photo #4) at the north end of one of the large ponds. When the area is thawed out and the water is not raging, the log jam provides a relatively easy way to reach the remaining trail on the other side of the creek. Carefully cross the log jam - Photo #5.
On the west side of the ponds, follow the serpentine trail (Photo #6) south for 1/2 mile before it turns right and switchbacks up a slope. After gaining a couple of hundred feet, reenter the forest and hike 1 mile to reach another trail junction - Photo #7 and Photo #8. Continue straight toward Snowmass Lake. Hike another 1/4 mile to reach the stream outlet just below the east end of the lake - Photo #9. Finally, after over 8 miles of hiking, you've reached Snowmass Lake near 11,000'. If you're staying the night, you'll find tent sites on each side of the stream outlet. Turn left, cross the stream (Photo #10) and pass through a short section of forest to reach a clearing near the lake's shore where you can view the route above the lake - Photo #11, Photo #12 and Photo #13.
In the clearing, locate a small trail near the shore and follow it southwest - Photo #14. Weave through the willows and cross a few open areas to reach the west end of the lake - Photo #15. Swing west to reach a boulder field west of the lake - Photo #16. Carefully follow small cairns up through the boulder field as you climb towards the gully which drains the snowmass above. Near 11,300', the rocks get smaller and you'll reach the base of a scree slope, left of the gully - Photo #17. Climb several hundred feet along the gully on dirt and scree. If there isn't much water flowing in the gully, you may find it easier to hike up the smooth, larger rocks in the gully. Photo #18 looks down from approximately 11,700'. Near 11,900', the pitch eases but before climbing much higher, find a spot to cross to the right (north) side of the drainage/gully - Photo #19. Reach easier terrain above 12,000' (Photo #20) and continue to the snowmass - Photo #21. The remainder of this route is easiest with firm, stable snow and many people climb it before too much snow melts out of the snowmass.
Once on the snowmass, locate the summit and a large bump to the left of the summit - Photo #21. The bump provides the easiest way to gain Snowmass' southeast ridge. From 12,000', hike approximately 1/2 mile toward the summit (Photo #22) to gain another flat area just above 13,000' - Photo #23. If you're looking for a more direct line to the summit, check out the variation (below). Otherwise, continue west toward the bump on the ridge - Photo #24. Aim for the break in terrain on the left side of some cliffs (Photo #25) and climb moderate snow or large rocks - Photo #26. Continue up (Photo #27) to reach the ridge crest at 13,700' - Photo #28.
The summit is 1/3 mile away and there's plenty of Class 3 scrambling along the southeast ridge. Pass over to the west side, turn right and continue just below the ridge crest - Photo #28 and Photo #29. About half way between the bump and the summit, you may find it easiest to scramble right along the ridge crest for a short distance - Photo #30. Drop back below the ridge (Photo #31) and continue toward a large point on the ridge - Photo #32. Stretching down to the left of this point is a small rib of rock that will force you to stay well below the ridge crest - Photo #33. Locate a break in the rib (Photo #34) and scramble over the rocks to see the remaining route. Continue under large rocks to reach a loose, scree section which climbs back to the ridge - Photo #35. Reach the final pitch (Photo #36 and Photo #37) and scramble up to the top. Be careful on this final pitch because some of the large rocks are loose. If you're comfortable with more-difficult scrambling, you might find better rock to the right, on the ridge crest. Enjoy this beautiful summit - Photo #38, and Photo #39.
More-Direct Variation (Moderate-to-Steep Snow):
If you'd prefer a more direct line to the summit ridge, a possible variation is to gain the ridge in a notch, left of the rock face below the summit - Photo #40. Instead of going to large bump on the left end of the ridge, continue directly toward the left side of the summit area and location the notch, left of some cliffs. It may have a small cornice. Pick your line and climb steepening snow toward the notch - Photo #41 and Photo #42. Before reaching the ridge, the snow angle may reach 50 degrees. Reach the notch (Photo #43), pass to the south side of the ridge and turn right to continue along the standard route - Photo #44 and Photo #45.
This route is best done with snow in the snowmass but can certainly be done once the snow is gone. IMPORTANT: This route enters the Maroon Bells - Snowmass 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.