Type: Trad, Alpine, 600 ft, 6 pitches, Grade II
FA: John Byrd, Dakers Gowans, Larry Hamilton
Page Views: 1,620 total · 8/month
Shared By: L. Hamilton on Mar 14, 2003
Admins: Leo Paik, John McNamee, Frances Fierst, Monty, Monomaniac

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Access Issue: Seasonal Closures Details


For its modest grade, this route has a surprisingly exposed "big wall" atmosphere. Snark ascends the left center of the main NE face in a direct line, ending near the summit cairn. Approach is made on a huge diagonal ledge, most easily attained at its lower right side. The route itself can be located with reference to a great left-leaning pillar or finger of rock, at least half the height of the face. The climb reaches the U-shaped ledge area at the lower right corner of this formation, and continues up in a vertical line to its right to the top of the face.

P1) Climb cracks toward the U for a ropelength, belaying below a smooth section.

P2) Follow a curving flake/crack system up the slab to the right. When it ends, move back up and left to ledges at the base of the broken, black-washed U.

P3) Ascend obvious chimneys to a large, comfortable ledge.

P4) The climb's best pitch. Ignoring less interesting alternatives to the right and left, go straight up a fantastic hand-sized crack on the face above the ledge. When it ends walk right to attain a system of steep flakes angling back up and left. Follow the flakes to a belay.

P5) Steep face climbing leads out right and up for a pitch to a broken area below the summit.

P6) An easy short lead to the top.


The FA party found good protection with a light rack of stoppers, hexes and runners. No fixed anchors were placed.


Legs Magillicutty   Durango
Don't be fooled by the grade. Compare the North Ridge of Spearhead to this climb, and this feels more like 5.9. The route is in an obscure location, and the hike in sucks. The rock quality was HORRIBLE. My partner and I bailed at the top of P3 (which was dirty, wet and loose). It was getting too late in the day, and we were spent. My guestimation for the breakdown of ratings on the pitches we did are as follows: P1-5.7, p2-5.8, p5-5.9. Gillett's book gives this a grade III as well. This route is not for beginners. If you only lead 5.7/5.8 trad, pick another route. Aug 2, 2004
L. Hamilton
L. Hamilton  
Now, that's a mystery. We didn't intend to sandbag regarding the grade -- it felt pretty easy to us, and 5.6 seemed right compared with other routes we climbed on McHenry's, Flattop, Notchtop and Long's that season The rock was mostly solid, as seen in my photos showing (left to righ) pitches 4, 5, 1 and 2 below, and also in the long views of the wall Note John's cheerful expression starting up his pitches -- there was nothing scary about our ascent. We'd never seen the wall before, but cruised the FA car-to-car in a day. The hike didn't seem a big deal. Tracy's description sounds like a different route. Perhaps the wall has been changed by rockfall, or she followed a different line? Photos could help clear up the mystery. Aug 2, 2004
Legs Magillicutty   Durango
Sorry Larry. I know it wasn't an intentional sandbag. Sorry to sound so crass. It was a rough day. We were on Snark for sure though. The differences that I can immediately point out are as follows: 1. In the picture above, the snowline rises well into what was our P1. 2. P2, as opposed to traversing left of the crack, I traversed right, which had little to no pro, had lots of vegetation and was slick. 3. P3, the gully/chimney pitch was brutal. My partner lead it but when I came up, I found nothing but almost an entire pitch of loose rock, awkwardness and moisture. I could not have lead this pitch. We were inside of the gully. Was this where we were supposed to be? 4. Also, Gillett's book gives the route a grade III, you give it a grade II. Just out of curiosity, what is the difference?

With those 2 exceptions (1 & 2 above), we were on the route. The hike was confusing. We bushwacked our way up and around Arrowhead. On the descent, we did find the real trail down, then we lost it, then we found it again. The entire day was an adventure for sure. We had the entire valley to ourselves. My partner and I were talking about your FA on the way to the climb. We were both in awe that you were able to do that car to car. Impressive. Aug 2, 2004
Legs Magillicutty   Durango
Just noticed pic 3 below. You are about midway into what was our 2d pitch. The 1st pitch was almost a full rope length, which appears to be covered with snow in the main pic of the formation. The start of our 3rd pitch was right at the base of the gully. The top of our 3rd pitch was the top of the gully, where there is an angling crack on a left facing wall. Looking up from this point, we could see the face and I believe the summit. The rock above P3 did look very solid but we were fighting time and clouds were gathering. So, we descended, perhaps missing the best pitches of the route. Aug 3, 2004
L. Hamilton
L. Hamilton  
Did you find any fixed anchors or gear? We left none that I recall. It would be interesting to find out whether this route has still had no 2nd ascent, 30 years later -- anyone out there know of one?

It sounds like your first pitch was longer than ours due to snow melting, and your 2nd (unprotected 5.8) pitch might have chosen a different line, although it ended back on the same ledge that we used. Regarding the 3rd chimney pitch, your experience sounds most different from ours. I'll check to see whether I have a slide of that pitch; it seemed the least memorable of the route when we did it. Dakers led it quickly, and John and I followed carrying packs.

Pitches 4 and 5, above your high point, did indeed have some of the best climbing (see first two pictures below). Pitch 4 is the clean crack, and pitch 5 contained some wildly exposed face climbing for that "big alpine wall" feeling.

As for whether it's grade II or III, we originally called it a III, but I second-guessed that downwards when posting this description. Judging from the photos, it must have been somewhere around 8am when we started up (3rd photo below), and looks no later than 11 as John starts the 5th pitch in full sun (2nd picture). Our summit shot (not shown) looks noonish, so I'd guess the climb took us 4 hours or less. With a 3-man party on unknown ground, that sounded more like a grade II than a III, but that's certainly not the last word. Aug 3, 2004
Legs Magillicutty   Durango

There was no fixed gear or any gear for that matter left on the route. There is now because we had to sling blocks to descend the route. So, if anyone goes back up, you'll find cord and webbing around blocks on the 1st 3 pitches. That would be great if you could find some slides from your P2 (my P3). Tracy Aug 3, 2004
Legs Magillicutty   Durango
And with regard to my unprotected 8 pitch, I think I did choose a different line. I had to traverse left about 20 feet then climbed straight up, then did another traverse, about 15 feet, before I reached the base of the chimney. Aug 3, 2004
L. Hamilton
L. Hamilton  
So, is Snark an excellent 5.6, as claimed by the first ascent party? Or a terrible 5.9, as reported above? Sounds like we could use a third opinion, but that might be a long time coming. In the meantime, if anyone is interested in this route, I've posted a slide show with more photos from the FA. Send me an e-mail, and I'll send you the link. Aug 4, 2004
Legs Magillicutty   Durango
Since I didn't summit and I know more about the route, I may give it another shot sometime this month. I know where I/we were off line. If I make it up, I'll post my unbiased opinion here. I'm having a hard time getting this climb out of my head for so many reasons so I think the only way to do so is to just go back and climb it right. Aug 5, 2004
Hamish Gowans
Golden, CO
Hamish Gowans   Golden, CO
The description for this route is quite simple. The approach leaves the trail at a clearing about .5 miles past Mills Lake. Turn 90 deg. R and cross Glacier Brook on two large, flat boulders. Follow a faint climber's trail up some steep and very well-irrigated hillside, generally sticking right when faced with a choice (especially if a log handrail is present -see FOTH for explanation re: handrails as navigation devices). Eventually, you'll pick up the cairns. Follow the valley to the head and use a gully-to-ledge combo to access the face from the R. The face has an obvious tower/buttress on the L side of the face, the R side of which is a black, shingled wall. Straight below this is a double crack/gully system. It's best to work into the double cracks from the L, along a R-rising ramp, instead of ascending the Clamato (vegetated and clammy) directly. Continue up towards the gully/chimney above (the one with the L wall formed by the black, shingled RFD mentioned before). I remember taking one small jog R and then back L to avoid a steeper, direct route. Follow the Hobbesian chimney (nasty, brutish, and short) to a large grassy ledge in a bowl that is obvious. Take 3 steps R and climb the straight up hand crack (painful) seen in Larry's picture of pitch 4. From atop this, follow the path of least difficulty/lowest rope drag to the top. Either descend to Stone Man Pass over McHenry's or go towards Thatchtop (some Class 4 scrambling) to a steep scree gully that returns one to the base of the face. With the overall difficulty on the climb low, I would agree with the grade II rating and even considered 6 pitches optimistic. They seemed like old-guy pitches, but then again I was climbing solo. Maybe if one carried a potato in their pocket? Tat I found included a shredded REI sewn sling, two double-length Mammut slings and various cordage/biners, all below the chimney. Is this yours Tracy? With all respect to Larry, John, and Dakers (sorry Dad), I can't recommend this route. While it is in a beautiful location and the obvious line on a unique face, the climbing overall was vegetated, wet, and generally awkward. This would explain the perception that it is harder (to Tracy at least) than 5.6, but awkward climbing often does when compared to straightforward routes like Spearhead. I meant to climb both that day, but the fog was so thick in Glacier Gorge that I couldn't find the Spearhead. Honest. I almost fell into Black Lake. I have climbed the N Ridge on S-head before tho and found it much more cruiser. If anything, I'd give Snark a 6+. There's the 3rd party opinion y'all. Aug 30, 2006
L. Hamilton
L. Hamilton  
Hamish, thanks for contributing a 3rd opinion. I was baffled when Tracy and her partner reported an impression so different from those of the FA party, and felt responsible for having recommended the route. Your account helps to reconcile the differences.

Your description and grades match what John and I recall, except for the vegetation. I wonder now whether this could be a climate-change effect, due to warmer, wetter weather over the past 30 years? Apart from the short chimney pitch and some flakey business near the top, most of the rock we climbed was reasonably clean (see photos). There were a few wet streaks, but vegetation was nowhere a problem. At the time, we thought that the route could become popular someday. Maybe if it was gardened and climbed frequently, like the high-traffic routes on Spearhead, the whole climb would feel different.

Regarding the approach, I think we probably took the Spearhead trail, then contoured all the way across the high bench to reach Solitude Lake. That's the long way 'round but there's nothing to slow you down, so we were rolling at speed. We went Boulder-to-Boulder in a day, which didn't seem an exceptional effort compared with some other routes that year.

One cool aspect of our FA experience is that it was truly "on sight" -- until we hiked into the cirque that morning we had never seen the face, not even a photograph, or talked to anyone who had. All we knew from the topo map was that it appeared big, steep and probably granite. So the experience felt more adventurous than its 5.6 grade reflects.

I like your description
"Follow the Hobbesian chimney (nasty, brutish, and short) to a large grassy ledge in a bowl that is obvious."
That's a pitch your old man led in mountain boots, with no fussing. Still, it's bold for you to jog up there and solo! Jan 6, 2007