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San Juan Mountains
Hut Trip – Day 3

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Day three of the hut trip had us waking up early. We had been interested in summiting Mt. Sneffels, a 14er that was accessible from the trail system we were on. The only problem was that in order to reach it we would have to head in the opposite direction of the next hut. It seemed like we wouldn’t be able to do it at that point, but some previous occupiers of the hut had left some printed directions in the firewood kindling pile that laid out a different route that branched off the trail to the next hut. We decided to give it a try. After a tortuous few hours of trying to sleep in a hut that got a bit too warm from the fireplace, we made it out the door and into the dark around 4:30AM.

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On the trail!

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Navigating was a bit confusing in the dark, especially some stream crossings where the original trail had been washed out.

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By 5:45AM we had reached the start of the Blaine Basin trailhead. The basin is at the base of Mt. Sneffels’ north face.

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The sunrise was just starting to cast its glow around 6:45AM as we worked our way up the trail to the basin.

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The trees started to open up a bit as we got closer to the basin, offering us a better view of the sunrise.

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We made our way back amongst the trees as the trail leveled off into the basin.

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Our first view of Sneffels!

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The lower part of the basin.

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The upper part of the basin. On the left is the start of a moraine (‘a glacially formed accumulation of debris [soil and rock]’) that runs all the way up to Sneffels on the right.

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At this point around 8AM we had made our way across all of the basin to the base of Sneffels’ slopes. This is the view looking back from whence we had come.

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There were a lot of these prickly pricks all over the place. Not a very pleasant experience when you trip and you break your fall by giving one of these a high-five.

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The edge of the afore mentioned moraine. Look for the people for a better sense of scale!

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The sun just starting to shine its light on the basin below.

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The path up to Sneffels avoids the moraine for as long as possible through a series of ever steepening switchbacks on a flanking slope.

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We took quite a few breaks from the switchbacks to catch our breath and admire the view.

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Did I mention switchbacks?

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Almost through the switchbacks at this point. Adam stopped about halfway through them and is the small speck at the bottom left of the image. From this point you head straight toward Sneffels, make a left across the last of the grassy slopes and head up again on into the moraine.

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I had to wait a few minutes for this little guy to pop his head out from behind the rocks. Didn’t catch very many glimpses of wildlife on this trip otherwise.

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A columbine growing amongst the rocks.

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Contemplating what we have gotten ourselves into!

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Taking a break before starting into the moraine. Allison turned around at this point around 10AM, leaving three of us to navigate the rocks.

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On the rocks!

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By 11 AM we had made it across the moraine. This is the view looking up at the couloir (“a narrow gully with a steep gradient in mountainous terrain’) that you need to go up in order to reach the peak.

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Taking a moment. View looking back over the moraine we had just crossed.

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Managed to see some wildflowers even in this rocky terrain.

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Starting on our way up the couloir.

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Signs of life on the ridge! The Blaine Basin route we took is an alternate route. Most people summit from the opposite side on a more established trail.

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Made it up onto Sneffels’ lower ridge right before noon. Ian was still working his way up in this image, while Bryan had decided to turn around about 3/4 of the way up.

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Once you reach the lower ridge there is one more couloir you have to go up in order to reach the peaks.

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8 hours and 4760 feet later and we made it to the top…almost. After climbing the last couloir it wasn’t very clear on which way to go to reach the peak. We decided to climb to the right, which put us on a peak that was about 60 feet lower than the highest one. We decided to call it quits there, though, given the approaching thunderstorm we could see from this spectacular vantage point.

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Looking down on Blaine Basin and the route we had come up. The switchbacks of the trail can be faintly seen in the grass.

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There wasn’t much real estate to move around on up there. I am taking this picture about 10 feet away from Ian, and we are on either end of the peak. To his right is Blaine Basin and the route we went up; to his left are the Blue Lakes and the more conventional route up (along with a fast developing thunderstorm).

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4:30PM and happy to be alive at this point. Mt Sneffels is the tallest peak on the right side of the image, with almost all of Blaine Basin and the route we took up visible. After reaching the summit at 12:30PM, Ian and I moved as fast we could down the mountain to try and escape as much of the approaching thunderstorm. Ian was slowed down bandaging up a scrapped leg, while I managed to ski down a lot of the couloir on patches of dirt and snow. I caught up with Bryan at the edge of the moraine right as the rain started, where we tucked ourselves under a rock outcropping to keep dry. Ian’s pace was reduced dramatically as he had to be a bit more surefooted on the wet rocks. Fortunately the storm was little more than a rain shower as it passed over us, and Ian had caught up to us as the last of rain drops started to fall. From there we made it out of the basin and heading in the direction of the next hut.

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Back on the trail to the next hut.

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Full day of hiking from sunrise to sunset! Adam and Allison were heading out to search for us right as we reached the next hut!

 

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