The San Juans are an American gem, and sitting at 14,150 feet in the middle of it is the iconic Mt Sneffels. Considered one of the most beautiful mountains in Colorado, Mt Sneffels rises above Yankee Boy Basin and the Blue Lakes.
To summit Mt Sneffels, one has two options: Come in via Yankee Boy Basin, which more or less requires a 4×4 car with good clearance, or start the hike at Blue Lake Trailhead.
I went in via Blue Lakes Trailhead and backpacked to Upper Blue Lakes before hiking briefly through Yankee Boy Basin and then up Mt. Sneffels.
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An Adventure Hiking Mt Sneffels in Colorado
Key Details for Summiting Mt Sneffels
- Starting Point: Blue Lakes Trailhead
- Starting Elevation: 9,342
- Highest Point: 14,150 feet – Mt Sneffels summit
- Distance RT: 16 miles from the trailhead, about 4.5 miles from upper Blue Lake
- Route: Standard and up the chute and Crux
- Considered Class 3. I had no prior experience and didn’t find it dangerous
Where to stay before and after you Summit Mt Sneffels
Depending on what side you come in from will determine where your hotel is.
Gear you’ll want for the Mt Sneffels hike
If you’re backpacking, you’ll need your traditional gear. But if you’re doing Mt Sneffels as a day hike, here’s what I recommend bringing.
Hiking Mt Sneffels from Blue Lakes
Early morning miles
I awoke at 4:30 am, doing mental gymnastics to get myself out of bed, considering the early time and how my body sort of hurt. Once I escaped the warmth of my tent, I boiled some water for coffee, prepped my freeze-dried mountain house breakfast, and finished prepping my pack to hike Mt. Sneffels.
The previous night’s sleep was the “shrug emoji” in real life. I was down a tent stake, so one of my side flaps was making a raucous all night. And I, somewhat paranoid, thought marmots were also getting into my bag. Thankfully, that didn’t happen.
After the coffee hit my bloodstream, I was pumped for the summit push ahead.
Reaching Blue Lakes Pass
I met up with two comrades who were also hiking up that morning. We had one mile to Blue Lakes Pass, which is at around 13,000 feet, and our arrival coincided with sunrise. Talk about a magical setup. To hike Mt Sneffels and see the sunrise over the three lakes below blew my mind.
We began the trek to Blue Lake Pass at around 4:45, with a bit of light making its way into the sky. The route up is a series of long switchbacks, snaking up the mountainside. Looking at it the previous evening, it was a striking sight. We made really, really good time to the pass. We hit Blue Lake Pass in about an hour with only a few breaks. At that elevation, I was pretty pleased with how we all did.
This was where I broke off from Rob and Libby. They were taking the Class 3 southwest approach, and I wanted to do the traditional approach – the south trek. (Link to the routes.) Both are class 3’s, but the direction they went was not one I had researched and didn’t feel like it was meant to be.
The only downside of how I went was I had to give up hundreds of feet of elevation to go down into Yankee Boy Basin. Then I began the uphill climb to the top of Mt. Sneffels. This was not something I was excited about.
Towards the Summit of Mt Sneffels
Think about some of the worst terrain you’ve ever hiked on, then multiply that by four. On top of that, add the fact you’re hiking towards 14,000 feet. Yeah, that’s getting up, Mt. Sneffels.
Each step was calculated, meticulous, and exhausting.
The slope has one more dirt-like side, while the other has boulders and rocks. I opted for the rock side as it provided better traction and stability. The only downside was the potential to create a rockslide or turn yourself into a human boulder.
I estimated it took me about one hour to get up the first slope which was probably only half a mile. Yeah, it’s a slog. But, once I hit the saddle, it was break time. I 100% deserved it!
After getting my heart rate and anxiety down, I began the next phase. The chute. (This isn’t the official name, but it seems appropriate.)
The Chute to the Summit and the Summit Mt Sneffels
The chute is simply a boulder field. There’s nothing special to it or daunting other than it is slow-moving. At the top is the only class 3 move you’ll encounter. The Crux (or V) is on the left near the top of the chute. You’ve gone too far if you reach the top and look over towards Blue Lake. (The V you see in the photo below isn’t the Crux, it’s on the left, out of view.)
This doesn’t require special climbing knowledge, but you will want to plot how to tackle it visually. I probably looked at it for a few minutes before getting through it.
After getting through the Crux, your summit destination is only moments away. Make your way up the final 100 feet or so, and you’ll have all of Yankee Boy Basin and the Blue Lakes to stare down at. The views are absolutely stunning. Whatever breath hadn’t been taken from me while hiking up was quickly confiscated, thanks to the view. The many peaks and lakes made me so happy.
This was also when I met up with Rob and Libby. They summited just a few moments after me. It was great to have the gang all together!
Related: Epic San Juan hikes and backpacking opportunities here!
Making our way down from Mt. Sneffels
After 20 minutes, the trio began our way down. I could have stayed up there a bit longer, but I was okay with this action plan. Again, the only tricky part was going back down the Crux. It was somewhat daunting, with a 50-foot fall awaiting you if you weren’t careful, but we all quickly got through it.
We continued, slowly descending the chute and to the saddle.
Here we took another break and regrouped, plotting our way down the steep gravel which awaited us. This is arguably the worst part about when you hike Mt Sneffels.
If you’ve ever been too hopped up on caffeine, you know how I felt going down. My adrenaline was soaring, every movement extremely calculated and cautious. My biggest fear wasn’t falling but creating a rockslide that would wipe out anyone below me. Thankfully, neither happened, and I prayed no one above me would cause one above me.
I’m unsure how long it took us to reach the “real trail,” but once we did, my body relaxed, and my breathing slowed.
The worst was behind us.
Home Stretch back to Blue Lakes
With a short break behind us, we began to head back to Blue Lake Pass. Once there, the stunning views overtook us, and camera in hand began capturing the magic. We had only a mile to go, and compared to what we had just encountered, this was like walking on sunshine and clouds!
Considering we walked up this in the dark, seeing the landscape in the light was gnarly. Plus, once we got down to the wildflowers, I was nearly convinced I had died on the hike; this was somehow heaven. So many colors. So much to see. Nature at her finest. I looked up and saw the route we took to hike Mt Sneffels, and it reinforced how amazing it was
Mt Sneffels – Wrapping up
Once I bode Libby and Rob goodbye, I dumped my backpack and crawled into my tent. I was exhausted. I couldn’t believe I had just completed a summit of Mt Sneffels. After a quick power nap, I exited my tent and packed up.
Twenty minutes later, I waved goodbye to Mt Sneffels, one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen, knowing I’d return for another epic trip into the mountains.
(You can read about my hike to and from Blue Lakes here. There’s a beary nice surprise at the end!)
Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.
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