There's little that 14er Mt. Sneffels doesn't offer. Close to beautiful Ouray, it has phenomenal views of the San Juan Range, more specifically the Wilson Group
. Hikers have two options: a fun scramble up solid rock on Sneffels' southwest ridge, or a slog up a less technical but still steep and rocky gully.
Once back to the car or bike, it's not too far back into town. Ouray, with a rich mining history, classic Colorado style, and popular hot springs, is an awesome attraction in its own right. While it bills itself as "the Switzerland of America," its breweries provide much better beer than does the Confederation Helvetica.
While the scrambling on the Southwest Ridge is class 3 on solid rock, a helmet is still advised. The standard class 2+ route down Lavender Couloir and the South Slopes is more unpleasant than it is difficult, but if bad weather hits near the summit it's a long way back either way.
As always, be careful and bring plenty of food, water, and sun/rain protection. Fast hikers can expect a 3.5-4 hr hike; most will take closer to 6-8 hrs.
A quarter mile south of Ouray on US 550, turn west onto CR361 (2WD, dirt) toward Yankee Boy Basin. Drive carefully, as there are some small shelf sections along the road.
At 4.7 miles, stay right on CR26. In 1.4 miles, stay right again at the junction for Imogene Pass. Pass through the deserted Sneffels townsite. In 0.5 miles stay right and pass a Yankee Boy Basin info sign. Stay right at the 853 1B road. Driving further requires 4WD. Subarus and similar cars can make it about 0.9 miles to a lower trailhead with restroom. There are numerous pull-offs in this area. After this, a true off-road vehicle (Jeep, Xterra, FJ, etc.) is required. The upper trailhead is around 12,400 ft and is just under a mile from here (see map).
From the lower trailhead, hike up the 4WD road. While there are a few switchbacks here and there, the grade is low and rocks on the trail are easily avoided. Come to a flat area at 12,300 ft, angling to the right to reach the upper trailhead. Hike by Texans and their Jeeps, and continue northwest from the parking lot on Blue Lakes Trail
After a quarter mile of walking along a small talus trail, come to a junction. Turn left to stay on Blue Lakes Trail
and climb up the southwest ridge (turning right on Mt. Sneffels Trail
brings you up the gully, which you'll descend). Follow the clear trail from here to reach Blue Lakes
Pass at 13,000 ft.
Turn right on the pass up the Southwest Ride (see this route on Mountain Project
) In about 100 meters come to a set of rock pinnacles. Hike on some talus to the left of these rock formations. From here, angle to the left up a short gully. Climb about 150' on loose talus. Just before the top of the gully, hang a right and enter another gully, scrambling on some more large talus. Come to the top of this gully at 13,400 ft.
At this point, you're still to the left of ridge proper. Pass through a notch at 13,500 ft and drop a small amount along a narrow and exposed trail onto the right side of the ridge. Hug the ridge and angle up a gully to the left, coming to another notch to your right. Finally, reach ridge proper at 13,700 ft. Up to this point, route finding can be difficult. Simply put, hike up talus gullies and never get more than 50-100 ft from ridge proper. If the going gets truly difficult, you're off route.
From ridge proper at 13,700 ft, the summit is visible. Scramble along some loose rocks for 100-200 ft or so before reaching grippy, conglomerate rock. This is the best part of the climb, and the remainder of scrambling to the summit is a pleasure. Reach the top at 14,150 ft, and enjoy. The way down is less awesome.
From the summit, head SE down some excellent rock. Your goal is to descend a gully and reach a saddle at 13,500 ft. Walk off of the summit block and into a narrow gully, reaching a V-notch in the rock around 14,000 ft. Pop through this and angle to the right down a rocky gully. The gully gets progressively wider as you descend, and route finding from here is easy - it's basically a funnel. This area is well-shaded and often holds snow into July. Come to the saddle at 13,500 ft. Be careful on the way down: rocks are loose and snow is slippery.
From the saddle, hike down a comically steep gully of loose gravel and dirt. You'll probably be wondering why there aren't switchbacks here...it's a true ankle buster. After about 600 ft of descent, come to the bottom of the gully. Follow the Mt. Sneffels Trail
under 0.5 miles back to the junction where you turned left earlier to reach Blue Lakes
Pass. From here, it's just over a mile back to the lower trailhead, all on familiar ground.
If time permits, an exploration of Ouray is worth it.
This hike starts in the beautiful Yankee Boy Basin among beautiful wildflowers. As you get higher, you're likely to encounter marmots and pika.
Due perhaps to its striking appearance and proximity to Ouray, Mt. Sneffels boasts a rich mountaineering history. First summited in 1874, its couloirs have become popular for mountaineers of varied prowess. Its name comes from the Iceland volcano Snaefell, which figured prominently in Jules Verne's classic novel "Journey to the Center of the Earth."