The conditions in the San Juan Mountains and southwest CO are ripe right now! From skiing big lines to climbing fun and warm sandstone, there is something for everybody.
This past week I had the chance to ski the Snake Couloir, a classic line on Mt. Sneffels 14,150 ft. There is still PLENTY of snow up high for weeks of great skiing.
The approach to Mt. Sneffels and the Snake Couloir via Yankee Boy Basin. The approach in proved easy skiing on a supportable crust.
While we brought ski crampons they were never needed. Conditions allowed us to skin the entire way to the col and part way up the to the summit.
Do NOT climb all the way up the couloir to the col/ top of the couloir. About 1/3 -1/2 way up the couloir you can exit on the climbers left side of the couloir on a snow ramp. This puts you on a very mellow ridge the rest of the way to the summit. By doing this you avoid the rock step at the top of the couloir. It also gets you out quick, which lessons the chance of getting hit by rock fall from above.
Skis were put on the packs for the final push to the summit. At high elevations and north aspects, the snow provided a great boot pen and easy step kicking.
There are two rappel options to get into the Snake. The common one is directly on the summit. There is a buried picket and a bunch of tat. If you rappel off the summit, you will require a 60 M rope (for most skiers). If you are comfortable doing some legit scrambling it is doable with a 40 M. You can also rappel in off a rock feature just prior/ east of the summit. You will need some nuts to leave in the rock. This rappel spot is great! You can rap from here with just a 20M rope! It also provides an easier egress back out of you get into the snake and decide it’s no good. This makes the line substantially less committing (IMO). This also means you can do the rappel into the ski the Snake Couloir with only a 20 M rope! (I have done this and it will take you from the ridge all the way to snow with now scary scrambling). IMO, a 30 M Rad line or something similar would be ideal.
Sven Brunso making it look good on the top 1/3 of the Snake Couloir. Picture by Grady James
The downside of something like the Snake is that after the ski you have to skin an other couple thousand feet back up to Lavender Col to ski out. Here Camp athlete and AMGA Certified Alpine Guide skinning towards Lavender Col one last time. Picture by Sven Brunso.
Down low though, summer is in full swing! It’s prime rock season back in Durango with temperatures in the 70’s. The quad style anchor with all Camp gear is my go to anchor setup for Durango guiding. The Camp 240 CM quad length dyneema runner, two photon non locking carabiners, two HMS Nitro carabiners, two HMS Compacts, and a Ovo belay device. From in town two pitch guiding to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, this is a great system and always on my harness.
It’s also Black Canyon season! We’ve ran three trips in the past three weeks! The temperatures there have been perfect this week! So far this year KMG has ran trips on Maiden Voyage (5.9 6 pitches) King Me (5.10, 3 pitches), and the Russian Arete (5.9, 1800 ft).
The north rim and the SOB gully pictured on the left. The north rim campground would be visible on the left if it were more zoomed in.
The Russian Arete (5.9 1800 ft grade IV) in the middle of the picture.
It’s a little early to get into the remote San Juan high country for peaks such as Jagged and Wham Ridge on Vestal however.
Overall it’s been a great spring though! Never hesitate to get in touch with the the AMGA Certified Guides of KMG for up to date conditions and route beta.
AMGA Certified Alpine & Rock Guide
LEKI Ski Team Ambassador