photo- Mike Bannister making his way up the Lavender Col on Mt. Sneffels. photo by Zach Taylor, 2009.
Mt. Sneffels is one of the great mountains of Colorado. Its powerful north face towers 6000 vertical feet above Ridgeway. This is one of the largest vertical drops in Colorado.
I first visited the slopes of Mt. Sneffels as a kid on vacation with my family. We took a jeep tour up Yankee Boy Basin during mid-summer. The basin was full of wildflowers and sunshine. I remember a couple that hiked past us heading up to Sneffels summit. This was the first time I think that mountain climbing first entered my head. It would be quite a few years before I moved to Colorado for college and actually climbed my first mountain. The image of this area was stuck with me and was a part of what motivated me to move to Colorado as quickly as possible years later when I graduated high school.
This would be my second time to return to this area. In May of 2008 Mike and I were on a San Juan road trip climbing and riding peaks. We stopped by Ouray to find the road completely snow covered almost all the way from town. We decided to climb something else then.
photo- Zach Taylor at 13,500' in the Lavender Col of Mt. Sneffels. photo by Mike Bannister, 2009.
photo- Mike Bannister making his way up into the base of the Lavender Col above Wright Lake. photo by Zach Taylor, 2009.
It was May of 2009 and I was ready to return to climb and ride the mountain. I saw a couple days of what looked to be clear weather and called Mike up to see if he wanted to come. It took a little convincing to get Mike motivated to ski again. By this time of the year the kayak season is in prime condition and Mike starts paddling. I talked about the different ski descent options we had off the peak. He came around to the idea pretty quickly afterwords.
We departed Avon on May 29th and drove to Ouray. We got to town right at dark and had to drive up the sketchy Camp Bird Mine 4 wheel drive road in the dark up to Yankee Boy Basin. We drove as far as we could before the road was too snow covered to continue.
We got up early and hiked up the road as the sun began to rise around us. The road had intermitent snow until we got to about 12,000', and then we had almost total snow coverage.
There was a loud clatter as rocks tumbled down the oppisite side of the Basin. The warm sun was already warming the frozen rocks on this east facing hillside.
photo- A view of the upper Yankee Boy Basin from the Lavender Col. photo by Zach Taylor, 2009.
photo- Mike Bannister in the Lavender Col at about 13,500'. photo by Mike Bannister, 2009.
We continued up into the basin. We cut right and contoured around Wright Lake as Blue Lakes pass came into view in front of us. We were finally able to glimpse Sneffels as we got above the lake. We were hoping to ride the Birthday Chutes that descended directly off Sneffels south face. It quickly became apparant that this area was melted off. We could see a continuous snow line climbing up the Lavender Col next to the chutes so we decided to head up the Col instead. The lower part of the Col was a bit bony but had continous snow. I hiked along the edge of the snow on rocks and Mike skinned up.
As the pitch steepened at about 13,300' we put on axe and crampons and climbed over a small cornice and the couloir curved to the left.
The Col climbed up above us with great snow coverage. We headed up excited for some nice snow climbing late in the season. We topped out on the couloir. There was a 10' high cliff that gave access to the final summit ridge. We partially buried two trecking poles in the snow to use as an anchor and attached my board and Mike's skis to them so they would not tumble down the col. We made a couple easy 3rd class moves up and over the cliff band and onto the summit ridge. We quickly scrambled the last hundred feet along the ridge to the summit.
photo- Zach Taylor on the summit of Mt. Sneffels. photo by Mike Bannister, 2009.
The snow had just began to thaw in the Col beneath us so we decided to have lunch and hang out on the summit for a bit and let the snow soften up. We noticed the upper part of the Lavander Col recieved its first sunhit at 8:30am.
We found several slings wrapped around a rock on the summit. Someone had rappelled directly off the summit to the north. Looking down the cliff ended about 75' beneath us in the top of a steep north facing couloir. We later found out that this was the Snake couloir, a very long and steep couloir that divides the north face of Mt. Sneffels.
I will be back to ride this line soon. We waited a bit longer and then headed back down the ridge. We downclimbed the small cliff and got back to the top of the couloir at a bit over 14,000'. We strapped in and enjoyed some great jump turns down the upper col in decent snow conditions.
As the line curved to the right and descended back into Yankee Boy Basin the snow became hard and mellowed in pitch. We continued riding out the basin till snow disappeared and hiked out the last bit. We got back to my car and enjoyed a couple PBR's before heading back down and out to Ouray.
photo- Zach Taylor getting ready to drop into the top of the Lavender Col. The 3rd class cliff that allows passage onto the summit ridge is pictured behind. photo by Mike Bannister, 2009.
photo- Mike Bannister skiing the Lavender Col. photo by Zach Taylor, 2009
photo- A view of 13,694' Gilpin Peak from Mt. Sneffels. photo by Zach Taylor, 2009.