(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.
(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 Carbondale, drive 21.5 miles south on CO 133. Turn left on Gunnison County Road 3 toward the town of Marble (this road may be labeled as FR 314 on some maps). Measure the mileage from here:
- Drive 5.5 miles to the center of Marble and continue through the town.
- Pass a church at 5.8 mi. and Beaver Lake at 6.2 mi.
- At 7.0 miles, the road becomes rough.
- At 7.7 miles, there is a junction. Turn left on FR 315 for Lead King Basin.
- The remaining 6 miles is rough and narrow. 4wd vehicles only.
- At 9.7 miles, there is another junction. Stay left on FR 315.
- After a long drive with many switchbacks, reach the trailhead at 13.8 miles. It's on a corner, near a meadow, just after you cross a small stream.
- The trail starts just below the small parking area. A short distance up the trail there is a set of signs.
Caution: This is not the standard route on Snowmass and it holds a lot of large, loose rock on the 2,000' leading up to the summit.
Photo #1, Photo #2 and Photo #3 are views of Snowmass and the approach from northwest of the trailhead. From the trailhead, take the excellent trail north. Hike about 0.4 miles to a trail junction. Stay left on the trail to Geneva Lake. Continue through bushes as the trail swings left and climbs the hillside. Some waterfalls are to your right - Photo #4. Follow the trail to 10,700' where it crosses the slope above the final waterfall - Photo #5 looks back on the route. Hike briefly through the forest and pass a small pond along the drainage from Geneva Lake - Photo #6. Reach Geneva Lake at 11,000'. From the edge of the lake, Snowmass can be seen to the north - Photo #7 and Photo #8.
There are numbered campsites and some social trails near the lake. Turn left towards campsite #4 and continue past site #4. The lake is down to the right - Photo #9. Hike through an open area on the north end of the lake and up onto a small hill. Again, there are trails that lead off to the right. When in doubt, stay left. Hike through some trees and drop down from the hill into a large meadow. Cross a small stream and follow the trail north across the meadow and up another slope - Photo #10 and Photo #11. Photo #12 looks back on the route from this area. Hike over the top of this hill to reach Little Gem Lake at 11,700' - Photo #13. Cross the outlet from the lake and continue on the small trail past some talus and rock outcroppings. Not long after passing Little Gem Lake the trial shrinks even further, turns right, and descends east down to the stream that leads to Geneva Lake. Before hiking down to the water, this is a good time to study the route ahead. The West Slope has a lot of ribs and gullies and nothing on this slope looks "easy" from this point.
Photo #14 was taken from the hill after Little Gem. The easiest route is a large gully in the middle of the face. On the topo map, it is drawn in blue. On Photo #15 and Photo #16, it's the route on the right. If care is taken throughout the climb, this route has only a few Class 3 sections. To find the main gully, locate a small patch of grass near the cliffs on the West Slope. This patch is above the white talus that has accumulated above the stream. Cross the stream and begin the ascent on grass and talus. Near 12,400', reach the base of the slope - Photo #17. Hike up to the grassy patch in Photo #15. Photo #16 shows the West Slope from a different angle. Climb past the grass and onto more difficult terrain. The remainder of the climb is loose and requires some Class 3 scrambling. Above the grass, you are to the left of the gully. Keep climbing until you bypass the more difficult terrain at the base of this gully. Near 12,800', traverse right into or onto the left side of the large gully and follow it toward the summit.
By now, you have probably figured out that not much of the rock here is stable. Even large rocks can be quite "tippy." Near 13,600' you can see the summit ridge directly above. Climb straight up (east) toward the ridge. Photo #18 was taken from 100 yards to the left of the main gully. At 13,800' the large rock is a bit more stable. Photo #19 and Photo #20 show the last 200' to the summit ridge. Photo #21 and Photo #22 look down on the route. Pass 14,000' and gain the narrow summit ridge - Photo #23. Turn right and carefully climb toward the summit - Photo #24. There is significant exposure on your left (east) side. Bypass several large rocks by dropping slightly to the right and then regaining the ridge. Photo #25 and Photo #26 look back along the ridge. You will reach the summit (Photo #27) after a couple of these easy moves. The rock on this ridge is very stable compared to the West Slope. From the top, Photo #28 is the view of Snowmass Lake and Photo #29 looks back on the route and Geneva Lake.
Variation: On the topo map and several photos, I have shown another option in orange. It climbs a Class 4 gully that starts to the left of the main gully described above. The entrance of this gully is obvious because the steep section is right at the beginning. Photo #30 shows part of the difficult section. After the first 200' of steep, stable rock, the gully eases. Continue directly up the slope on loose rock. Near 13,600', angle right (southeast) and climb over to the upper portion of the main gully. When approaching the main gully, the summit is visible up to the east - Photo #18.
Loose rock is the biggest concern on this route. The 4wd road to Lead King is rough and has a lot of sharp corners - not recommended for a long 4wd vehicle. 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.