Peak(s):  Snowmass Mountain  -  14,092 feet
Date Posted:  08/03/2015
Modified:  08/12/2016
Date Climbed:   08/01/2015
Author:  SkiColorado93
Additional Members:   LivingOnTheEdge
 S-Ridge Ascent, West Slopes Descent  

Trip Specs:

Day One

Trailhead to Camp at Geneva Lake: 1 hr 36 min
Mileage: 2.35 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,414 feet

Day Two

Camp to Summit to Camp: 9 hrs 15 min
RT Mileage: 5.80 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,530 feet

Camp to Trailhead: 1 hr 34 min
Mileage: 2.40 miles
Elevation Gain: 70 feet


It is close to impossible to find a weekend where both my brother, Cody (LivingOnTheEdge) and I have 3 days off. Luckily, we found a weekend, and we were going to make the best use of our time. Snowmass is an Elk Mountain we had both been eyeing and we decided to shoot for it. In order to avoid the 22 mile RT East Slopes or an ascent up the loose and steep West Slopes, we opted for the more technical S-Ridge. This route is seldom climbed and underrated. We had no need to rush, so we left our house in Littleton around 9:00AM on Friday morning en route to Lead King Basin. Our plan was to hike in to Geneva Lake on Friday afternoon, ready for an early ascent up Snowmass Mountain the next morning.

Day One

~~~~~~The Drive~~~~~~

The drive to Marble was relatively uneventful. We stopped in Carbondale for some lunch before heading to the Lead King Basin Trailhead. After Marble, the decent dirt road weaves around Beaver Lake and then begins climbing. We chose the Lost Trail road on the west side of Sheep Mountain over the road that goes through Crystal, CO as we heard you need very good clearance to tackle that road.

Here are links to that have more information on both Lost Trail Road and Crystal Mill Road (CR3). We heard from other drivers that the road beyond Crystal Mill gets considerably worse and great clearance is needed to prevent damage to the undercarriage. The link below only features the road to Crystal Mill, but not beyond:

Lost Trail Road Information
Crystal Mill Road (CR3) Information

Early on, there are a few stream crossings, some steep sections with sharp rocks, and a section containing large loose rocks and tree roots that all take careful navigating- keep your tires high or you will scrape your running board. We had a Lexus GX470 and going up the loose rock/root section was pretty rough. On the way down, Cody directed my tires around the obstacles and we had no issues.

After this section, the road becomes nicer and weaves through the forest before a set of switchbacks. The switchbacks are not awful, though they are banked and require a relatively good turning radius since they are tight. The views were stunning as you climb higher along the hill. There were also many whoopdeedoos and stream run outs in the road where high clearance is something to have on your side.

At the high point on the road, the terrain was very nice with almost no rock, and there were so many colorful flowers. The road then makes its way back down with switchbacks at the end, similar to those coming up. Unfortunately, by the time we made it to the high point on the road, it started storming and raining. Rather than waiting for the rain to stop, we kept moving, albeit very slowly. We had no problems despite the wet road.

Lost Trail Road in the rain

NOTE: The trailhead sits at the last switchback. There's only about 4 spaces to park, though you can easily find greenery to park on nearby. The trail starts right down the road/behind the parking area. If you continue down the road further, you will see another smaller parking area that has a National Forest Parking Area sign. If you made it here, you went too far.

We accidentally missed the true trailhead, AND decided the Parking Area was not the true trailhead, so we continued down over a bridge. After the bridge we turned left headed back up the basin and the road was SO slippery after our tires were coated in mud. The slightest movements would send us sliding around, so luckily there were ruts in the road and it was not too exposed/steep. Don't make our mistake!!

Location of trailhead and parking

~~~~~~The Approach~~~~~~

By the time we got to the true trailhead, the rain had more or less stopped, and after waiting around 30 minutes, we headed up the trail. The trail initially meandered through Aspens and VERY dense willows and vegetation. Due to the recent rain, the trail was muddy and slippery, and the water on all the vegetation wetted our clothes instantly. It was not idea, but not awful either.

Dense and wet vegetation early on the trail

The trail made it's way to a junction, where we turned left toward Geneva Lake. Going right would lead into Fravert Basin in the direction of the Maroon Bells and Belleview Mountain.

Turn left at the junction toward Geneva Lake

We weaved through the greenery up a steepening trail toward the waterfall. We were awarded with great views of the Maroon Bells to our east which was a pleasant surprise.

Weaving through flowers and willows

View of the Maroon Bells to the east, up Fravert Basin

The waterfall

Above the waterfall, the terrain eased and we wandered through some wetlands and entered the forest again briefly before being spit out at the mouth of Geneva Lake. Somewhere around the waterfall is when you begin to see Snowmass's summit above the trees.

Wetlands below Geneva Lake, with Snowmass peaking above the trees

The views of Snowmass from Lake Geneva are stunning and the S-Ridge is very apparent... and intimidating!

View of Snowmass Mountain and Hagerman Peak from Geneva Lake

Camping is only permitted in one of the 8 designated sites. We found people camping in Sites 2, 3, and 4, so we chose site 5 which overlooked the lake. On the lake's north side, there is a split in the trail; going left will take you to site 4 and on to Little Gem Lake and going right will take you to site 5.

Location of campsite 5

It was nice and flat, and positioned right off the trail to Snowmass. We took some photos, ate dinner, and filtered some water before heading to bed early. Be aware that bear canisters are currently required to store food in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness!

Campsite 5

Filtering water in the stream at the mouth (south side) of Geneva Lake

Storing food in the bear canister for the night

Day Two

~~~~~~The Climb~~~~~~

We woke up, ate breakfast, and were hiking by 4:30AM. At the junction on the north side of the lake, we went left and passed site 4. The trail wandered up and down through more willows and vegetation with a few stream crossings. We soon found ourselves hiking up a steep trail that tops out at a rock pile, just below Little Gem Lake at around 11,600'.

At Little Gem Lake, we crossed a small stream and then after around 100 feet, we departed the trail on the right side. From the trail, we walked along side the stream that runs down to the creek that feeds Geneva Lake. After crossing the creek we saw a large rock face in front of us. We walked around the base of the rock face, to the right, before climbing up a steep grassy gully on our left. At the top of the short gully, we put helmets on and put our poles away.

Here is a photo from on the ridge of our route after leaving the trail near Little Gem Lake:

Route from 11,600' to the bottom of the S-Ridge gullies

The two gullies at the start of the S-Ridge are very apparent and it was a quick talus hop to get to the base. It was a 2 mile hike from Geneva Lake to the base of the S-Ridge gullies and it took us 2 hours.

Two gullies at the beginning of the S-Ridge

From the base of the S-Ridge, we opted for the Class 3/4 route up the rock rib instead of the Class 2/2+ loose gully. We followed the rock rib and climbed straight up till we reached the ridge. This section can be kept at Class 3 all the way to the ridge.

Routes from the base of the gully

After gaining the ridge, we climbed on pretty solid Class 3 rock to Point 13,240'. We found some Class 4 variations that were lots of fun on the way.

Route to Point 13,240'

Make sure to stay on or near the ridge. The rock is looser if you climb below to the left (west) of the ridge. We stayed high and climbed right below the rock that looks like a blade, and then skirted Point 13,240' to the right.

Some of the Class 3/4 terrain on the ridge before the blade rock and Point 13,240'

Nearing the top of Point 13,240'

On Point 13,240', we could see there was a flat section, then the crux wall, then the remainder of the ridge to the summit. The ridge mainly consisted of smearing and bridging large boulders/slabs of rock.

Remaining route

Looking up to the crux wall, we were given the choice of a Class 4 climb to the right, or a Class 3 bypass to the left, which went around the point, and climbed a gully to regain the ridge again. We opted for the Class 4 climb. It was very exposed, but the rock was very solid. Just take it slowly!

Class 4 crux wall

Climbing the crux wall

Route from 13,240' over/around the crux wall

The route to the summit after the crux wall was very clear. Near the summit, the terrain even eased which was nice. It was all solid Class 3 climbing. Still be aware as some of the larger rock slabs were loose at times. We stayed near the top, or slightly to the left (west) of the ridge.

The remaining route to the summit

Easier terrain close to the summit

Finally we made it to the summit! It was so rewarding and the views were fantastic. The ridge was around 1 mile long, and we summited at 10:00AM.


Looking north to Capitol Peak (14,131') and "North Snowmass" (14,020')

Looking east from the Summit at Snowmass Lake

Thunder heads were building, so we quickly headed down. We chose to descend the West Slopes to avoid a technical down climb of the S-Ridge. We headed west off of the summit down to a small shelf, and then down to the right (north) into a steep and very loose gully. After deliberating, we believe the West Slopes route actually goes down the next gully over (to the north).

We slowly worked our way down the loose, steep slope before making our way onto a rock rib. The rock here was much more solid and provided an easier and faster descent. At the base of the rock rib, we stayed around 100 feet to the right (north) of the center of the gully because it had easier terrain (still awful). The West Slopes were awful. The loose steep rock was no fun and you always had to be alert for falling rock. I would choose the more solid, yet technical, S-Ridge route 10:1 over the West Slopes. I was glad we only had to down climb it.

Looking down the West Slopes route

Looking up at the descent from the summit

At the base of the gully, the route cliffs out at a waterfall. Descend along the right side of the small stream and then cut to the right to find lush green vegetation. Climb down through here but be careful as the wet slabs and shelves are slick.

Overview of the route from the summit via the West Slopes route

We walked through the talus on a faint trail down through grass/rocks, crossed the stream, and met up with the trail that heads back down to Little Gem Lake and Geneva Lake. From the summit to the stream, it was around 1.30 miles and it took us around 2 hrs 30 minutes to downclimb the West Slopes. The rock is loose and it took a long time with careful attention.

It started to rain just as we got to Little Gem Lake. We hauled back to our tent at Geneva Lake, taking 45 minutes to hike from the base of the West Slopes to our campsite, but ended up getting soaked. We waited about 30 minutes before getting out of the tent, packing up, and attempting to dry our clothes before heading down to the trailhead.

The hike from Geneva Lake to the trailhead took 1 hr 30 min and was 2.4 miles, but the scenery is great and the hike is very pleasant. It seemed like 1 mile to me.

We made good time back up and over Lost Trail Road and found ourselves on the road to Glenwood Springs quickly. In Glenwood, we ate at Smoke Modern Barbeque which was delicious! We headed home around 9 PM and made it back to Littleton Around 12:30AM. A long, but rewarding day!


The route up the S-Ridge was amazing. If you camp at Geneva Lake, the day trip is very doable and not very long. The views were absolutely fantastic all the way up the ridge, and at the summit. The West Slopes were awful to down climb and I would not want to ascend them, however it was a good alternative to a technical down climb of the S-Ridge. I would recommend this route to anyone who is ready for a challenge and doesn't mind a little exposure. A classic ridge climb!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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 Comments or Questions

Excellent Report
08/03/2015 15:26
Very detailed. Congratulations and thank you for sharing.

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