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On Top of the World

On top of the world…

Or so it seemed to me as I stood on the summit of my first “14er”.

Spectacular…Awe-inspiring…Breath-taking… A truly beautiful scene spread out in every direction…

Getting to the top of Mt Sneffels was grueling but once there all that was forgotten – now pure exhilaration was pumping through me! Despite being told by a few folks that “you don’t start climbing 14ers with Mt Sneffels”, I was so thrilled to be on the summit with incredible 360 degree views of these wonderful San Juans.

Surrounding views of the nearby 13ers were incredible, as were the views on the horizon of other 14ers – Uncompahgre and Wetterhorn sticking up out to the east – and the Wilsons, Eolus, and other southwest San Juan 14ers – rolling out on the horizon – all names I had learned in the days leading up to this moment.

“14ers” – aptly named as they soar above 14,000 feet – are spread out throughout Colorado. In fact, Colorado has 54 “fourteeners” – , they range from 14,001-foot Sunshine Peak to the boulder-strewn summit of 14,433-foot Mount Elbert high on the Continental Divide in the Sawatch Range.

The Fourteeners form a serious challenge for even the true mountaineer and even more so for this hack of an intrepid hiker 🙂

I had a 14er on my life bucket list so why not get ‘er done 🙂

And, wasn’t I thrilled to not only learn that nearly 25% of all the 14,000 foot peaks in North America are located in the San Juan Mountains – very cool indeed – but to also learn that Mt Sneffels was right in my backyard!

I had read that Sneffels is often said to be Colorado’s best and most beautiful mountain. Viewed from nearby Dallas Divide on the way to Telluride, Mount Sneffels “really looks like a mountain” and “has all the good features of one including symmetry, spires, pinnacles, rugged ridges and beautiful slopes of aspens and flowers”

You will find photos of Mount Sneffels in stores, calendars, and postcards.

And, remember, I keep finding myself in “movie landscapes” – Sneffels has also made appearances in a number of westerns, notably “How the West was Won,” and more notably, in “True Grit,” where it is seen in flattering vistas from Dallas Divide.

Next to the Maroon Bells (remember from a previous post I got married beneath the Bells) , Sneffels is Colorado’s most recognizable mountain. I read in the guide reports that Mount Sneffels brings together all types of climbers – from the beginner hiker to the expert mountaineer.

And, yet, I also read:

NOTE: Mount Sneffels is a CLIMB–not a hike!

Mt. Sneffels is not a Colorado “fourteener” that can be summited by following a hiking trail. The upper part of the mountain, in the best circumstances, requires scrambling on steep slopes with loose rock, and much of the year requires ascending a steep couloir where an ice axe is essential

Seems Sneffels (meaning “snow” in Norwegian) is a few steps up in difficulty from the typical walk-up 14ers.

It turns out to be number 27 on the list of 54 and is rated as a Class 2 – moderately difficult due to some scrambling near the summit

Well, I decided anyway – bring it on!!!

I also reached the decision after I met J & J who I talked to when I first arrived in Yankee Basin sitting beneath Mt Sneffels. After confirming that I was on the right road, they asked if I could get them a bit higher and at the “true” trailhead – in fact, I discovered I had saved them 2 miles of steep ascent up the road to the start of the “talus” trailhead (They call that a trail???)

J had seen Mt Sneffels from a Telluride ski run and decided he had to climb it – the other J came along to join in the fun. Listening to them talk about the climb gave me the extra motivation I needed – now I needed my own climbing partner

Enter P – my Rv’er friend who had initially put me on to Ouray and 4J RV Campground. Of course, his wife L wasn’t initially keen on the idea – less so when the 4J team (regular 14ers) told them the story of a climber suffering a heart attack while climbing Sneffels recently. But she agreed, that if we took it slow and steady and used good judgment, we should make the attempt (some of you are thinking where is the good judgment in the first place 🙂 )

Let’s “do it” as the Nike commercial says…

The trailhead is at 12,460 feet and we’ll be climbing to 14,150 and ascending 1,700 in only 1.2 miles (or, as S said when I told her of my plans – “only a 1 mile hike?” – thankfully she wasn’t in on the Ouray discussions)

Now, P assured me that Friday the 13th was a “lucky day” for him – he and L were married on a Friday the 13th – and, as I noted in a previous post – I wasn’t ready for this year’s running on the 13th of the Hardrock 100 🙂 – so the 13th was going to be the day!

The talus ( A sloping mass of rock fragments at the foot of a cliff.) trail headed up and then seriously turned up again below “Kismet” mountain at 13,694 feet into a “broad gully” – as opposed to the narrow one still to come – and hardly a trail existed – it was a matter of picking a way through the extremely loose rock and eroded trail.

At 13,560 feet it was time to enter the “narrow gully” or so-called “Lavender Col” – a narrow, even steeper, gully up to 14,050 feet.

Now some of you are doing the math – thinking it’s only about 500 feet Steve – yup – only 500 feet – where the guide book said “so steep that falling rocks may gain momentum…be alert…climbers above may dislodge rocks…” Wow!

Then, while climbing – alertly ! – I learn from a climber descending that this Class 2 climb (remember from above: moderately difficult due to some scrambling near the summit ) was difficult. P had already had to call it quits due to leg/hip cramps and now I was getting ready to do likewise not certain how I was going to get through the challenging “notch” that was still to come.

Well, like so often as happened on this journey – enter stage left – Evan – climbing up like a mountain goat – and, he tells me not to worry – he knows the route – and, he’ll wait for me at the notch and spot for me –

Evan – you ‘da man!!!

Up through the notch…”climb up through the notch where you’ll notice a bit of exposure on your left” (mountaineer speak for where you can fall and kill yourself) …

and a final scramble to the top…


Shortly after we arrived on the summit we were quickly joined by Pastor D (his 22nd 14er) along with others making their first summit – actually started to get a little crowded up on the small, rock strewn summit – time to head back. And, once again Evan was the star to the climb – assisting 6 of us down as well as assisting another couple heading up.

Now, it being Friday the 13th , you knew something bad simply had to happen – right you are – even before we started our climb, my eyeglasses got stomped on while adding a layer and getting geared up – but P and I did a MacGyver – yup – the resourceful hero of the TV show of the same name – and using Velcro put my glasses back together for the climb

So, no, those aren’t blinders nor a new fashion eyewear, simply a DIY fix on a Friday the 13th – a handsome looking guy on the summit, eh!

Take care…see you down the road…

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Great job on this summit! We are green with envy. What camera gear did you bring up the mountain? Great pics!

    July 16, 2012
    • Stephen #

      you two simply need to head this way – 54 14era waiting for you ! as for the camera gear – I weighed myself down with “the good stuff” 🙂 probably not sound judgement for a climb to 14,000 feet but wanted to see if I could capture images along the way and at the summit – gave me an excuse to rest frequently!!! hauled up my Canon 5D2 and Canon 24 – 70 mm lens. a very heavy combo but I am glad I brought the set -up. glad you liked the pics and post – thanks for following along and taking a minute to comment

      July 17, 2012
  2. John #

    Great write – up, Steve!

    As I read your great narrative, I think that your generous deed (Jeeping us up to the true trailhead) in fact got three people up that fabulous mountain.

    You say that our talk (and probably our follow up texts) gave you the extra motivation you needed (our pleasure!).

    Well, we would have not summited without the ride. Weather came in on us, and came in hard (thunder, lightening, hail)…luckily about 30 minutes from our rental SUV on the way down. Had you not saved us an hour or so, this weather would have hit us on the way up the gully, and although not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, I would have enough mountain experience to insist (and Jon would have also insisted with me) that we must put safety ahead of summit and retreat.

    Glad to see your photos! We only thought that there was a 90 degree view from Sneffels…as the two perpendicular ridges held off the approaching clouds (it was an awesome site for an hour seeing them continually repel the approaching clouds and forcing them to retreat…only to finally lose the battle….luckily on our way down) for our time on the summit…but only those 90 degrees of view were given to us (still…those 90 degrees of view were breathless!).

    Congrats to you, Steve! Congrats to us!


    July 18, 2012
    • Stephen #

      glad you enjoyed the story and the pics – you’re right about the jeep ride up – definitely sealed my thinking about making the attempt – so, yes, 3 of got there – congrats all the way around

      the views were indeed fantastic – I was very glad I had clear weather and my good camera along – stayed on the summit for a long time taking it all in – Pastor Dave who was there ( and his 22nd) said he too hates to leave the summit – the grandeur of it all is awe-inspiring

      it was great meeting you both and I wish you the best in all your adventures

      July 18, 2012
  3. suzanne #

    Fabulous I am so jealous! Great pictures looks incredible!

    July 18, 2012
  4. Linda Cooper #


    Was so excited to see the views from your trip up Sneffels. Even though I was a nervous wreck all day, I was so proud of both of you guys for making the trip. Now I feel I actually got to share the trip with you cause of the beautiful pics you took along the way.


    July 21, 2012
    • Stephen #

      glad you had a chance to read the story of the climb – Pat and I had a great time – although my pack would have been a lot lighter if I had not carried the big rig up there I am glad I brought it along – glad you liked the pics – gave me an excuse to slow down and rest more often 🙂 missing Ouray already – you two have a very special summer place there – enjoy the rest of the season – take care – see you down the road

      July 21, 2012

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