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Our second day in Colorado had us climbing our first 14er, Snowmass Mtn. It was one of several we would do before Eric was to join us. Eric had already done Snowmass and Capitol some years ago, and would join us in Aspen in a few days for others than none of us had done. Snowmass Mtn lies in the middle of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, some 10mi from the ski area that goes by the same name. By it's easiest route, it requires about 10mi roundtrip with 5,000ft of gain. The route starts from the south in Lead King Basin, the only catch being that 4WD/high-clearance is required to reach the TH. Because of this, the more popular route is from the north via Snowmass Creek, a 21mi roundtrip effort, usually done as a backpacking trip. Luckily, we had a pair of jeeps that were capable of reaching Lead King Basin.
After dinner in Marble the previous evening, we tried to drive the Lost Trail Rd, the easier of two 4WD routes leading to Lead King Basin. A sign at the junction indicated it was closed 5mi from the TH due to a landslide. This left us with the harder alternate route from the south via the small community of Crystal, a popular OHV destination. We drove the rough County Rd 3 along the river east of Marble for a few miles to find a place to sleep for the night. In the early morning, we left my jeep and carpooled in Tom's for the more arduous drive to Lead King from Crystal. We would spend about 45min driving this road to the TH, most of it in the dark, much of it challenging. We passed a few folks hiking up the road, though we later learned they were shuttled to the TH by their Dad on an ATV - he would manage to get three teenage kids up to the TH for a climb of Snowmass and then shuttle them down the road again later that day. The road was quite rough and I was happy to let Tom do the driving on this one. As became a familiar pattern, I would do most of the easy drives over the next few weeks, leaving the tougher ones to Tom.
It was 6a by the time we got started on the trail. It's a well-worn route used by thousands of visitors over the years. The Wilderness boundary starts a few minutes after leaving the trail. We hiked through Lead King Basin heading north towards a cascade that tumbles down from Geneva Lake above. The area is very green and overnight showers had left much of the vegetation damp. Some aspens had been knocked down over the trail in a winter avalanche, but for the most part the trail was in good condition. We followed it for nearly two hours, passing by Geneva Lake and on to the upper basin where Little Gem Lake is found. Soon after passing this second lake, the trail ends at the base of the talus slopes that comprise Snowmass's SW Slopes. Though rated as class 3 in the guidebooks, most of the route is standard class 2, a steep talus climb rising more than 2,000ft with nary a break. It is not very memorable, saved only by the fine views. I got ahead of Tom here as he slowed some, and decided to pay a visit to North Snowmass before meeting Tom atop the higher Snowmass Mtn. Our route was climbing up towards the indistinct West Ridge, so I was already heading a bit towards North Snowmass. I had some class 3 to get me to the connecting ridge proper, from where it becomes class 2 most of the way to the minor summit. There are dramatic views dropping sharply down to Bear Creek Basin to the northeast with Capitol Peak not too many miles along the crest to the north. I left a register here before returning back south along the ridgeline. Tom was already atop Snowmass by the time I got done with my 30min diversion, arriving there soon after 10a. So far it had been just a standard CO 14er climb, nothing out of the ordinary.
Then things got more interesting. I wanted to continue south along the crest to Hagerman Peak though I had failed to find any helpful beta regarding the route from Snowmass. I had a GPX track for the descent off Hagerman's south side, but the ridgeline from the north was an unknown. Looking at it from Snowmass, it looked like we could probably find a way. Tom asked a number of questions to which I had only vague answers. We'd done other stuff that looked similar, including the Ruby-Mills traverse in the Sierra, so I figured the two of us could probably figure this one out as well. After starting the traverse, we first came across about a dozen folks, all told, coming up the standard route to Snowmass from the saddle between the two peaks. After passing the access point, we would see no one for a number of hours. We stopped at a snow patch on the east side of the crest so that Tom could refill his depleted water supply, then spent an hour on the remaining part of the traverse to Hagerman. The route-finding was straightforward for the most part as we followed along the top of the ridge as best we could, encountering a few knife-edge sections, slabs and similar fun. We had to drop off the ridge at one point to get around a difficulty, helped by a key duck that got us over an arete on the west side of the crest. Most of the route from the snow patch was class 3 with a few CO class 4 moves at the more difficult sections. It was really great fun, this part.
It was noon by the time we reached Hagerman's summit, finding a register placed less a month earlier. The previous party had been up only six days earlier - not as popular as a 14er, but still popular. Snowmass lake could be seen in the cirque immediately below us to the east, the Maroon Bells about six miles to the southeast, the higher Snowmass Mtn dominating the view to the north. After a short rest we headed east across the slightly lower east summit before beginning the long talus descent off the South Slopes. It drops steeply for about 1,400ft before relenting, the talus giving way to more pleasant grass slopes. We had the Wilderness seemingly to ourselves as we followed a minor drainage, a small stream down the center of grassy slopes with an abundance of wildflowers on display. We eventually met up with the trail coming down from Trail Rider Pass and here we started to find a number of backpacking parties traveling the ever-so-popular Four Pass Loop out of the Maroon Bells TH to the east. Once we were heading west on the trail fork for Geneva Lake we had more solitude which would last until we reached the lake around 2:20p. We reconnected with the main trail on the west side of the lake which took us down through aspen forest and open meadows back to Lead King Basin and our starting point.
It was after 3p by the time we got back to the jeep and would take almost another two hours to retrieve my jeep and drive back to Marble. Much of this was due to heavy traffic between Crystal and Marble - it was Saturday, after all - which we took in stride with the rest of the OHV users. We ended up at the same BBQ place in Marble where we'd dined the previous evening. Once properly refueled, we would head off for the Capitol Creek TH a few hours to the north...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Snowmass Mountain - Hagerman Peak
This page last updated: Fri Oct 9 17:15:00 2020
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