Wanting a long hike, I bailed out of Petroleus Rex near timberline in lower Yankee Boy Basin; 10,800 feet. The air was fresh and cool. Wildflowers blossomed in all shades beautiful, animated by the breeze as if waving a welcome. My disposition was nothing short of excited-bordering-on-ecstatic. A day on top of the world.
A couple of steep miles had me wading Marsh Marigolds along the shore of Wrights Lake. It had an iceberg centerpiece, adrift in glacial green water. From the lake, I barely made out the saddle of Blue Lakes Pass, my destination de jour after scrubbing Mount Hayden's snowy north face.
You can see the "pass" in the lead photo, where rust-colored ridge line meets dark formidable spires. Directly behind the needled ridge, a faint trail leads to a heady alternate route to the summit of 14,150 foot summit of Mount Sneffels. Bobbie and I attempted to find it a couple of years ago and got cliff-ed out on an airy ledge.
|A closer look at Blue Lakes Pass and Mount Sneffels from the upper basin.|
With no real threat of thunderstorms, I had the entire day to roam as I pleased. I tossed around the possibilities, things like going over the pass and down to the uppermost of three Blue Lakes. Should have brought the fly rod! Or maybe I could find the "heady" route to Sneffels summit this time. Hmmm, better not. I've heard it has some class 3 shit and I'm flying "solo" today. I followed my undecided nose to the pass.
Blue Lakes Pass never disappoints. I wandered about like a kid, playing on its rocky ridge, shooting photos, day dreaming. 13,000 feet. Wow. Such a breathtaking see-forever vantage point... 360 degrees of orgasmic visual bliss.
|"Sky Pilot," how high can you fly...|
|Looking up at Sneffels summit from Blue Lakes Pass. Note the inviting "alternate" trail to the top... That's the one that petered out and left us lost in a maze of spires and ledges.|
|A couple of hikers coming up the trail from the Blue Lakes side. Telluride is tucked behind the mountain in the background.|
|A crowd gathers on the pass... everyone wants to summit Sneffels, but which route? I'm certainly not the guy to ask so I head back down, leaving them to their crisis of indecision.|
At the bottom of the switchbacks two trails intersect: Straight ahead takes me back the way I came, a left loops me long-way-around, past the popular approach to Mount Sneffels, then on down a Jeep road where it rejoins my route up. That would add some miles. Go left :)
I found considerable amounts of snow in the upper basin, more than at this time in previous years. As the trail swung toward the mountain, I was teased by the idea of adventuring up the tumble of scree that is the traditional approach to Sneffels. There would be far too much snow in the couloir to safely summit, at least without an ice ax and crampons. But I could climb up to the saddle... maybe have a look at the couloir just to be sure.
|Do I really want to pick my way up through that jumble of teetering rock to the saddle? Why yes... yes I do!|
Still... Sniffels is right there, and only four or five people struggling up that I could see, plus a few coming down. Next thing I know I'm climbing... just to the saddle, though... you know, just to have a look around.
|Somewhere on the other side of that needled ridge is the "alternate" route.|
Thirty minutes later and about half way up the "active" slide of rocky scree (active meaning rockfall triggered by careless climbers above) I paused to catch my breath and look around. It appeared that I was already above Blue Lakes Pass.
Looking down I saw more climbers, just starting up the scree. They looked like ants. Looking up I saw climbers reaching the saddle. They also looked like ants.
|Ants above... Note the guy just to the right of the slit of snow in the middle of the photo.|
All second guessing went out the window as soon as I reached the saddle. It took nearly an hour of continuous struggle, but mission accomplished. Climbing over and around boulders the size of VW's, I made my way up the steep couloir to have a look at both the view and remaining snow. Down-climbers had warned me that it was "too dangerous." Some had turned back, but most said they were able to summit by climbing up out of the couloir to the left on the ridge, some "class 3 shit in places, but doable without ropes." Ok...
|Looking east from the saddle at the Kismets. Maybe I should just go over there and call it good, instead of tiptoeing up this ladder of boulders...|
|Millions of boulders mark the route to the couloir full of snow|
|Progress is slow, gravity is the enemy. Go gently on rocks that want to roll...|
I ran into Wayne, a fellow climber retreating from the couloir approach in search of a "safer" route. Wayne hails from Portland, Oregon, and was visiting Colorado on a peak-bagging "vacation," nine 14'ers in seven days, to be exact. He was living out of the back of his 4X4 Tundra pickup.
We found the "couloir bypass" route pretty much straight up, somewhat exposed, and a tad airy. It was no place to be fumbling with a fucking camera so I have no photos. Beyond that it got better, with a couple of exceptions.
Once I had to leave Wayne, a younger, more experience climber, in order to down climb from what I thought was turning into a "sketchy" route. A fall there could land one on a near vertical stretch of snow that would rocket them off the uncaring mountain in short order. A lovely way to go, all disease considered, but not today, thank you.
|Ahhh, this looks better... NOT!|
|Nearing the "top of the world."Oh My God...|
|ON TOP!!!! Just Wayne and me... all to ourselves.|
It was hard to get comfortable on top, no place to hide from the wind. I called Bobbie at work to let her know where I ended up and that I was about to start down. She was surprised, wondering, no doubt, what the hell I was doing up there when the note I left on the counter said I would either be climbing Hayden or hiking Blue Lakes Pass. "How was it?" she asked.
"Well, let's just say I feel extremely alive at the moment. It doesn't get better than this. I only wish you were here."
Wayne started down. I took a few minutes to savor the rare experience of having a 14'er summit all to myself. In the end, Wayne and I took separate routes off the top, but met up again running the ridge down to the saddle. It's always more difficult going down... reaching with "blind" feet in search of purchase, especially with no one to hold the other end of my rope.
In the end? Yeah, what a marvelous day... so spontaneous and free. I felt like an "accidental tourist," who stood on the corner of Happenstance and Serendipity and caught the bus to nowhere-in-particular. That's one "bus" that never disappoints.
Taking stock, I had made a kindred-spirited friendship with Wayne, a genuine good guy in a world fast filling up with jerks and assholes. It's like he said on the way down, "You meet the nicest people on mountains."
Indeed, pal. Godspeed on the rest of your summits. May they all be as fair as today's.
Time to find another mountain to climb.
mark and bobbie