July 12, 2000 - Snowmass Lake Approach
After aborting an earlier Snowmass attempt at the trailhead ("too many mile ennui" - attitude problem) I decided to give the peak another try and packed the heavy bag for the long walk into the lake at the base of the peak. The trail is about 8 miles and is truly a pleasure from start to finish. The route begins just outside of the Snowmass ski area and wanders up Snowmass Creek, past the cut off leading to the backside of Capitol Peak, and onto Oxbow Lake at about the 6-mile mark. I crossed the lake on the logjam and kept heading uphill to Snowmass Lake. I would love to describe the trail in detail but instead let me just say that it is one of the finest hikes I have done in Colorado. Fortunately, I was a mid week climber and I found a responsible camp spot without a problem. However, I would not want to do this climb and camp on a weekend as there would undoubtedly be a herd of people, many taking the opportunity to screw up the back country.
Sermon over. . . The first challenge of the climb comes at the moraine on the far side of the peak. I hiked around the peak and took the braided trail up the left and right sides of the drainage trough to the top. Once over the crest, I chose to veer off on a bouldering route to valley center where the remaining snow came to the lowest elevation. I got onto the snow and kept climbing up toward a notch on the ridge of the peak where I figured to cross to the backside trail leading to the summit. The whole time I climbed, two other climbers where ascending as well, except on the left side of the snowfield, remaining on the rocks in lieu of snow. They were finally forced onto the snow toward the top and we joined up just before topping the ridge. The climb to the summit beyond was a relatively short scramble upward over a discernable route.
We lunched on the top and then scrambled on back to the ridge crossing at the top of the snowfield. The runout to the snow covered flat below was probably the better part of 800 vertical feet and I was thinking that this would be the last place I wanted to lose my footing. Axe in hand, I started down slope and within about 15 seconds my feet went out from under me and I was on my way toward . . . a well-executed ice axe arrest. Like a good kayak roll, you are supposed to hit it on the first try for best results and I scored as trained. I got back onto my feet and after the snow angle decreased a bit, took the glissade option to the flat snow below. We hiked off the snow and across the tundra on a rough path to the top of the moraine above the lake. A knee jarring descent then led us to the lake and the trail around it to our camps on the far side, Snowmass Mountain was in hand.
The skies were darkening and the sound of distant thunder made me reconsider if I wanted to spend the night in the hills in a solo tent. It did not look like a big storm was going to hit but more likely rain would set in with wetness and misery soon to follow. I still had lots of light left so I opted to start out and I broke camp quickly to haul out dry gear rather than wet. The hike out was more than a bit on the long side as the miles were steadily taking a toll on my aching feet and the sight of may apples amongst the aspens near the trailhead could not have been more welcome.
Snowmass Mountain makes for one hell of a long hike and has the potential for being a crowded affair. Pick an off weekend day, take some good company, and enjoy what has to be one of the best 14’ers of the bunch.
Hagerman . . . the Centennial next door