Greenback Mountain
Mt. Emma P500

Jul 23, 2016
Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile


It was our last full day in Telluride together and one might think I'd like to spend it hanging out with Eric and Steve before they head back to New Mexico the next day. No, I had other things on my mind, including the last five days which were pretty much half day efforts that left my legs itching for more. I had also failed miserably on my first effort to reach Greenback and Emma a few days earlier when I couldn't even find the correct trailhead. I wanted to fix both of these wrongs on the same outing, now that I had the trailed dialed into my GPS. The only unknown was the scant information available on whether Mt. Emma could be climbed from the Telluride side, generally much easier from the northeast out of Yankee Boy Basin. I figured I'd go up and take a look, hoping to at least reach Greenback Mtn in way of consolation. Eric and Steve could manage without me until the afternoon.

I was up early, sneaking about our hotel room in town so as not to wake Steve who was still enjoying his Ambien-enduced slumber. I got out the door and walked through town in the early morning hour, reaching the start of the Jud Wiebe Trail shortly after 7a. I followed this up for about a mile to the junction with the Deep Creek Trail, then switching to the Sneffels Highline Trail only minutes later. This trail climbs more than 2,500ft to top out at over 12,000ft on a ridgeline between Pack Basin and Mill Creek Basin. The first part is forested with some views, but after about three miles it climbs above treeline as it enters Pack Basin. A thick carpet of green meadow greets visitors plying the narrow trail cutting through the middle. Marmots and other rodents have no shortage of material off which to make their living here. Mt. Emma can be seen rising to the northeast, apparently surrounded by a cliff band that offers no obvious way through. The Highline trail can be seen zigzagging above the Pack Basin before making a sharp left turn to go over a ridgeline above, to the north. I followed the trail until near where it makes this last turn, leaving it to follow a cross-country route up and right towards the saddle between Greenback and Emma. This is an easy class 2 route, mostly over green grass and consolidated talus. I topped out at the saddle at 9:30a, pausing to take in the fine views and figure out a route up to Greenback, now to the southwest.

I was a little surprised to find that Greenback wasn't the walk-up I had expected. The initial slope from the saddle is easy enough, but there is a small cliff band to negotiate higher up and then there is more class 3 scrambling on the way to the rocky summit. I spent about 15min on the effort, reaching the top by 9:45a. There is a great view of the rampart that forms the northern side of the deep box canyon that Telluride sits in, from Campbell to the west, across to Dallas, Emma, and then the castellated St. Sophia Ridge to the east. The Telluride ski area and a host of 13ers lie in a broad panorama to the south. After a brief stay I returned to the saddle and started up the other side that would become Mt. Emma's South Ridge.

Though it appears to be daunting at first, the South Ridge proved to be a good route to the summit. From the saddle, I bypassed an initial cliff section by traversing right until I could scramble up and onto the ridge. A few scattered cairns began to appear which at first I ignored but later realized were someone's attempt to mark the route. It wasn't hard to figure out where to go - follow the ridge and if obstacles are encountered, move left or right - pretty much the standard routine for most ridge traverses. A second obstruction was bypassed on the west side where loose talus is encountered, requiring some class 3 scrambling to get back up to the ridge again. A final cliff section is encountered near the top. I first explored a potential tunneling effort under a chockstone directly on the ridge, but this proved more than I was capable of. I found later that if one could manage to overcome this obstacle, the rest of the route is almost trivial. Instead, I moved right again, passed a lingering snowfield, and discovered a steep, hardpack chute that was somewhat unpleasant, but worked to get me to the summit crest. The highpoint is located only about 50yds to the east. Better than the hardpack chute was a rocky class 3 scramble adjacent to it (climbers' left) that proved easier and more secure.

With more than 500ft of prominence, Mt. Emma has a commanding view overlooking two major drainages, dividing Telluride from Ouray. The highest summit in the area, Mt. Sneffels, lies to the north with Gilpin and a host of other high 13ers. In other directions, too, the San Juan Mountains spread out like a tantalizing smorgasbord of more peaks than can be reasonably fit on one plate. With a fine feeling of success, I retreated back down, exploring other options before settling on the aforementioned rocky scramble that bypassed the hardpack chute. Back down to the saddle with Greenback half an hour later, my initial plan was to return to Pack Basin and take the trail I had ascended, undoubtedly the easiest way back. But since it wasn't yet noon, I changed plans on the fly, heading instead off the southeast side of the saddle and into the Cornel Creek drainage. This is the site of the Liberty Bell Mine and I knew that I could find the Liberty Bell Trail here after about a mile or so of cross-country. The initial descent was quite pleasant down green slopes into a bowl with a verdant, high meadow. A cliff area below this made for modest difficulties which I managed by traversing northeast until I found a steep talus slope bypassing the cliff to the east. Some animal trails below the talus helped me to traverse the base of St. Sophia Ridge and Mt. Mendota until I came upon the Liberty Bell Trail about where expected. It would take another hour to descend the trail back to its start on Tomboy Rd and back down to Telluride. I found myself walking back along Colorado Ave, the main drag through downtown with the myriad of cars, Jeeps and people that this entails, quite the contrast to the hours of solitude I'd just had on my little tour...


Skip in Carson City comments on 07/26/16:
Wow that is a spectacular range... once again your pictures allow me to follow in your footsteps even tho I'm stuck here in my "cube"....
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