"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct (to Hell)." Charles Dickens
We're so deep into August it's almost September. Snow has been vanquished by sun and warmth from all but the deepest, darkest north-face recesses of mountains. Kids are all but back at school, while parents slave over cluttered desks with one eye on the clock. Hell, you can even find a parking spot on Main Street, Ouray.
|If you don't enjoy climbing a landslide of loose angular boulders, Mount Sneffels is not a summit for you.|
It was sudden, as if sensing urgency, Bobbie, a veteran of fifty 14er summits, blurts off the cuff, I think I want to attempt Mount Sneffels...you know, just to see if I still do it.
The ensuing discussion reveals that its been 20 years sense she last summited Sneffels—though 10 years ago she reached the upper couloir while guiding nephew Brent and niece Anita. Unfortunately, they were turned back deep snow and ice.
So Monday rolled around bright and pretty as a new copper penny. Not a single excuse can be found; the forecast is good, snow's gone from the approach couloir, and we're not getting any younger. Yikes! Butterflies suddenly decide to go for a swim in my morning coffee. I take a couple Rolaids to settle the ruckus, and pull on my boots.
|Headed up to that saddle, then take a left. A la Paul Simon, there must be 50 ways to break your ankle...|
|"Landslide of boulders" understates the verticality. Perhaps "waterfall" is more accurate...|
|Damn butterflies again...|
|The incline is an arc that steepens as you go...thus we are forced to use "four wheel drive."|
|Almost to the saddle, exertion begins to show.|
|Once above the waterfall of boulders, poor traction on hard-pack/marbles makes for two steps up, one step back.|
|But isn't the view pretty from the saddle...|
|Headed up the approach couloir: we are back into waterfalls of boulders...only now, they are extra, extra large.|
|Once above the boulders, there's this to deal with..."Foot Loose" on loose footing|
Thanks to gravity, the eroding effects of winter snow, plus wear and tear from a gazillion climbers every summer, most of the boulders in the upper couloir have moved downward. What's left is loose, traction-less footing in the steepest section. Erosion is worse than either of us remember. Then again, it's been 20 years. What would one expect...
In early summer last year I solo-ed Sneffels. The approach couloir was still filled with hard-packed snow and ice. I popped out onto the south ridge, which had less snow, and was able to summit. Though a little "airy," it was easier than fighting the standard approach's erosion and poor footing.
|Once out of the sloppy couloir, climbing is easier... better footing and reliable handholds that actually "hold."|
|Still, Sneffels is not a climb for the faint of heart|
A few last, arduous steps brings victory. Below, Bobbie holds ammo box containing the sign-in registers for proof of summit, and finally smiles.
I left a little "skin" on the mountain shimmying up through the "keyhole." It had eroded away similar to the rest of the route, leaving a much bigger step, and, worse, a considerably smaller landing zone on the way back down. Could use a rope there, for old Geezers on Eliquis :) Sorry, no photos...we both had our hands and legs full...
One would think we had it licked after summiting Sneffels. But, as often happens, going down steep, loose, scree/bouldered crap proves more problematic than going up. There were a few other hikers in the couloir by then, thus a danger of us being hit by, or hitting someone else with, rockfall triggered by careless foot placement. Fortunately, everyone was considerate, moved slowly and cautiously and tried to avoid the fall-lines of ascenders and descenders below.
|Bobbie carefully threads her way through the boulder field above the saddle. You don't dare even tug on rocks this size once below them. Note the "ridge route behind Bobbie. Trust me...it's easier, and safer.|
Dickens summed Sneffels better than I can. "It was the best of times and the worst of times," full of "hope and despair," maybe even "foolish." Kinda like "life."