I work through climbing all 54 (or 58 depending on your definition) 14ers
in Colorado, I find myself climbing mountains I have seen but never knew they
were 14ers. Mt. Sneffels falls in this category. Resting just a short hawk
flight outside of the famous ice climbing mecca of Ouray Colorado, it is
really just highpoint on a high ridgeline. But it is very accessible and people
from all over are climbing it all the time.
I climbed Sneffels in mid July 2009 as part of a San Juan road trip to climb several 14ers in southwest Colorado. I had summitted San Luis the previous day and driven from near Gunnison to Ouray later that same day. It was late afternoon when I arrived so I took my Jeep up the 4WD rough road as high as I could which was around 12,000'.
My plan was to camp there and get an early start the next day. But as I drove higher, I saw several signs saying "no camping" so in the interest of following the rules I returned to Ouray to search for a cheap hotel for the next 11 hours. Unfortunately, there was a Toyota F-J Cruiser convention in Ouray - apparently they only come in the color yellow so my blue Jeep Wrangler garnered stares as I drove by. Why can't we just all get along? :)
Not only had they taken over the roads, all the rooms were gone except for one in a hot springs spa hotel for an outrageous price. Short of sleeping in the Jeep, I shelled out the cash and moved into my well appointed room complete with aroma therapy. I skipped hot tubbing with the blue hair ladies and went straight to bed.
I snuck out of the hotel around 5:00 AM hoping not be seen by any of the guest for fear of being sprayed with mosquito attracting scents and returned to my more comfortable surroundings of the high alpine meadows. The 4WD road just beyond the Ice Park was rough, as advertised on other websites and several books, but my Jeep did well and I trudged ever higher - take that Toyota - into Yankee Boy Basin.
The trail was well marked to the bottom of a 1000' scree gully this warm July morning. I was the first on the trail in spite of passing a few tents perched high along the road - so much for no camping. As with most scree climbs there was a semblance of a trail as the rocks went from plate size to pebble size - all slippery underfoot. I made steady progress towards Lavender Col which is the saddle between Sneffels and the adjacent ridge line.
The route takes the highest couloir from the gully to the summit but I took the next lower one somewhat by mistake. I realized it fairly early but choose to continue my climb. There was a large snow patch near the top of the couloir but a clear rock field on the north side. I picked my way higher and higher primarily on the rocks since I left my ice axe in the Jeep given the searing days this July.
All went well as I reached near the top of the couloir but soon found myself looking at some high class 4 rock with a steep slide across rocks and snow upon a slip. I continued my scrambling and was thoroughly enjoying it in spite of the knowledge that I was far off route. Hey, this was fun and it was early morning and I had a lot of time.
I went as high as I could before needing to retreat a bit to regain the couloir proper then made my way towards the summit ridge. About this time the campers emerged from the correct couloir talking about how steep and icy it was. I felt good about my decision but begin to think about the return.
Standing on the summit took a few more minutes of easy ridge walking. I enjoyed the views with my new found friends and looked for my next climbs of the Wilson group deep into the San Juans near Telluride.
I left the summit down the same route but noticed a few carins heading towards the "correct" couloir. I followed the breadcrumbs and was pleasantly surprised to easily exit just below the somewhat steep snowfield and onto my beloved scree gully. I reached the Jeep shortly thereafter.
Sneffels is not in my top favorite climbs. While I thoroughly enjoyed the rock climbing it was not by design. The true summit is a bit of a rock bump and not amongst the more attractive pointy peaks many other 14ers offer.
All that said, it was a lot of fun to climb and the summit views were rewarding.