This post is primarily a beta post for those interested in climbing Mt. Sneffels via the Southwest Ridge and descending the standard route (South Slopes). The approach is relatively straight forward and will not be discussed. The post is broken down into 7 sections; each section is numbered from the GPS image below.
Turning right onto the ridge you see the Pinnacles; we also encountered a large snowfield with steep snow. Traction and an ice-axe are recommended. Crampons are overkill, but some people used them. This year (2019) was particularly snowy, and the mountains are holding lots of snow. In previous years, this area would not have required more than a helmet, but this year the snow posed some risk. A few images below give an idea of what it looked like.
Section 2 – 3
Once up the talus above the snowfield there is a path that appears to go left, however, this route does not go. Instead, veer right and downclimb an obvious trail that becomes loose and steep. Once down veer left and aim for the large gully ahead of you. This year, as mentioned earlier, left a lot of snow, and the gully was filled with snow. It was very steep and climbing on the snow felt risky; luckily, climbing up the left side of the gully allowed us to avoid the snow completely. After climbing up the gully cross to the notch seen in the pictures below.
This felt like the crux to us. There is a notch you climb up with some vertical climbing which require some climbing moves. The rock was wet in areas and slick, which made it more difficult; however, it was very doable. I wouldn’t rate the moves as harder than VB or maybe an easy V1. Once up the two “bouldering” sections the climb becomes much easier. It is possible that there was an easier way up and we missed it, possibly to climbers left — we ended up climbing climbers right.
Right after you see the “kissing camels” rock formation veer right. It is easy to miss this ramp out of the gully, see below.
Once to the summit the way down is relatively obvious (although no true trail exists). Follow the ridge down the south slope veering left until you find the cairned v-notch. Downclimb the class 3 v-notch into a steep gully. Again, snow filled a large portion of the gully and traction and protection (ice-axe) were good to have. Allyson kick-stepped part of the steeper and slicker part of the gully. This is the last nasty snow section.
Lastly, once to the saddle there is a trail that leads over a very small rock outcropping. If you follow this it leads to a cliff wall on the other side and goes down. However! The trail runs out and you are left on steep, very loose rock and dirt. The better option is to not even cross the saddle and stay down-climbers right. This gully is insanely slick in the middle and very steep; it was incredibly difficult to traverse over to the right side of the gully. Once on the correct path, it was steep and loose, but very doable. It was our least favorite part of the hike.
Mt. Sneffels was one of the most beautiful climbs and basins we have been in to date. But it does pose a few dangers. Even if the snow hadn’t been crazy this year, rockfall is still an issue. Helmets are a must, especially for the south slopes where there were far more climbers. We heard a large rockfall and climbers screaming rock from a distance on the south slopes. I would encourage climbers to wear a good helmet on these routes.
The southwest ridge was fun, but it was a true class 3 climb with some good exposure. It would not be a great first class 3 due to the creativity needed to navigate some of the terrain (such as around snow, etc.). The hike itself, though, is not long, and it is very fun.