Published: October 17, 2013
Snowmass Mountain is named for its broad eastern slope that tends to hold snow late into the summer. The slope is protected from much of the afternoon sun by a surrounding ridge and the twin summits.
The standard route parallels Snowmass Creek on its approach to the upper slopes. A crossing of this large creek is required at the famous logjam. When significant avalanches occur in the area, large trees wind up in a small, unnamed lake on the creek. The water flow and winter ice then force the logs into a dam along the outlet. In high water, this crossing can be tricky as the logs will be submerged partially. A good pair of trekking poles will make the crossing much easier. The trail becomes steeper after the logjam as it heads to Snowmass Lake at the base of the snowfield.
The view from Snowmass Lake is worth a hike by itself. For those taking two days to ascend Snowmass, this is the most popular camp site. A healthy population of trout thrive in these waters if you wish to try your luck. Even if you don't spend the night, take a few moments at the lake to rejuvenate before crossing the giant snowfield.
Beneath the mass of snow lies an enormous talus field. This talus field eventually is exposed late in the summer and is an arduous challenge to cross. Snowmass is an easier hike before the snow disappears as the snowfield provides the properly equipped hiker with a smooth walking surface on which to travel to the summit. Hiked early in the morning when the snow is solid, the trek is a pleasure. I highly recommend a pair of glacier glasses and some high SPF sunscreen for crossing this snowfield as both the sun and the reflection off the snow can burn you.
The ridge presents the final challenge. In a high-precipitation year, you can stay on the snow until fairly close to the summit. In low-precipitation years, you must leave the snow - and take on the rotten rock - much earlier. Either way, a helmet and safe travel practices are required among your team to prevent showering each other with rock.
The true summit is a finger of rock sticking 3 feet into the air with a sloped foot-by-foot spot to stand, making for an impressive photo opportunity.
Friesema is a Colorado native who has scaled each of the state's 14,000-foot peaks. He has been a member of Teller County Search and Rescue since 2003. Read about his high-country adventures at hikingintherockies.com.