Backpacker Magazine –
The Other Way In
Hermit Trail (photo by Laurence Parent)
Cottonwood Lakes Trail (Chris Werner)
Angels Landing Trail (Scott Mansfield)
John Muir Trail (Londie G. Padelsky)
Mt. Sneffels (Glenn Randall)
Half Dome (Dmitri Alexander)
West Face Gully (Timothy Piya Trepetch)
Rainbow Falls Trail (Kurdistan/Shutterstock)
Huntington Ravine (Paul Rezendes)
Mt. Katahdin (Michael Kormos)
X Trade peak
→ Sneak peak
4.8 miles, 3,000 feet of elevation gain, trailhead bivy
A day’s drive keeps Denver’s summit-hungry population away.
There’s no other state in the country with as dense a concentration of peaks that rise to 14,000 feet or higher. Problem is, almost every hiker chooses the same one: Longs Peak, the tallest in Rocky Mountain National Park
. And if not Longs, it’s another easy-access peak like Bierstadt, Grays, Torreys, or Quandary. Thousands of Denver peakbaggers swarm these five summits on summer weekends. But you can have your Fourteener and solitude, too. Just head to the jagged San Juan Mountains (six hours southwest of Denver), where this postcard peak lies way outside the crowd zone.
Get an alpine start (sleep at a parking area bivy—at 11,350 feet—to help with altitude acclimatization), and hike .8 mile up a 4WD road to the trail. Here, you’ll climb above treeline and enter alpine tundra shortly thereafter. At the junction of the Blue Lakes Pass and Mt. Sneffels Trails, stay on Mt. Sneffels and head up and right toward the southwest-facing gully on the mountain’s east side. Work your way up talus toward Lavender Col (13,520 feet) and pop onto the saddle to a view of the craggy peaks of the San Juans—Teakettle Mountain, Coffeepot, and Potosi Peak. From the col, it’s 700 feet of boulder-hopping up the final gully. There is no defined path and conditions vary, so keep eyes peeled to find the safest route to the top, and wear a helmet to protect from rockfall. Don’t forget to look back down; the view south rivals any on a Longs Peak ascent. Top out at 14,150 feet—high above the sawtooth ridgelines and shimmering alpine lakes of one of the most rugged regions in the state. Late summer and early fall have minimal snow and ice; in spring and early summer, you’ll need crampons and an ice axe for the final snow-choked couloir.
The hike begins 7.4 miles from Ouray. Head south on US 550, turning right onto Camp Bird Rd. and staying right as it turns to CR 26 and then Yankee Boy Basin Rd. Park after the junction of FR 853 1C and 853 1B. Walk the road .8 mile to the trailhead.
Map Buy the BACKPACKER PRO MAP
(970) 874-6600; fs.usda.gov/gmug
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