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Colorado's fourteeners: Mount Sneffels

By: Josh Friesema Special to The Gazette
July 17, 2017 Updated: July 17, 2017 at 4:30 am
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Mount Sneffels

Elevation: 14,155 feet

Range: San Juan

The name Mount Sneffels comes from the Jules Verne novel "Journey to the Center of the Earth." In this book, the character Arne Saknussemm claims to have found a passage to the center of the Earth through a lava tube in a mountain called Snaefell. Some members of the U.S. Geological Survey team who first studied Sneffels thought the mountain's jagged appearance and the deep Blue Lakes Valley matched Verne's description, and so bestowed the name upon it.

Sneffels is an exciting climb for a class 2 mountain. The difficulty only remains this low by following the route carefully as it leads to surprising passages through the rugged cliffs that surround the summit.

The four-wheel-drive road that leads to the trailhead can be a white-knuckled journey for those with a fear of heights. The road was built by miners trying to gain easier access to their claims. They were masters with dynamite, carving the road into the cliff faces. When driving this stretch, remember that uphill traffic has the right-of-way. On your way out, you might find yourself backing up in some narrow sections. The road will take you as high as 12,420 feet, but only if you have a decent vehicle. Most begin from the parking lot by Yankee Boy Basin Falls at 11,300 feet.

The trail is easy hiking until 13,000 feet, where it reaches the base of a nasty scree gully leading to the Lavendar Col. The maintained portion of the trail ends with two large cairns on either side. At this point, it is time to put on a helmet. This gully is the toughest obstacle between you and the summit, and it will test your physical and mental endurance. Climbing the middle is the worst option as the dirt is loose and the smaller rocks easily are sent tumbling down the slope. It's best to stay to climbers left and hike on the larger boulders.

Once you reach the Lavendar Col, the route turns to the northwest and ascends a rocky couloir that is steep, narrow and relatively stable. The steep walls of this couloir block your view except for straight behind. Finding the correct exit from this couloir is key to keeping this route class 2. Exit too early and you'll wind up climbing a narrow, class 3 crack; exit too late and you'll find yourself staring over the edge of Sneffels' sheer north face. The correct exit is a notch in the climbers left wall of the couloir that usually has a cairn in it. The short, remaining scramble to the summit is on fantastically solid rock.

If you've only climbed class 2 mountains, Sneffels feels like a big step up over the rest. It's an excellent preparatory hike before venturing into the realm of class 3 mountains.

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