ReportUp Victory and Down Independence Couloirs American Peak
Trailhead: Grouse Gulch
Rob Schichtel and Tom Willis
Distance: 8 miles
Tom picked me up at my house in Cortez at 4a.m.. He volunteered to drive so my family could meet me in Durango after climbing. We arrived at the Grouse Gulch TH at about 6:40. We were underway slightly before 7:00. The skies were mostly clear, which surprised me. I basically gave up on checking the weather months ago.
We made it to the saddle (2 miles) with American Basin in about 1:45. It was still clear and we could see climbers on top of Handies Peak. We started traversing the head of American Basin, which is still mostly snow covered. As we came up below American Peak, weather started rolling in. About halfway up, it started to snow. We climbed in crampons using ski poles for the whole couloir (had axes but never used them). We cleared the snow at the top of the climb and as I went to flip off my crampons, I fell causing a tense moment. I was able to arrest in about 10 feet with my hands and feet, didn’t even drop the crampon.
As we stood on American Peaks ridge discussing a action plan it really started snowing. We agreed on foregoing Americans true summit, as it was diametrically opposed to the direction we needed to travel. Originally the plan was to come back across Jones and Niagara. We did summit the highest sub-peak of American. This is where visibility became a problem. We new we could find our way back if we dropped back into American Basin. We chose Independence as an escape route and were soon back on familiar ground. I really hated to give up on Jones and Niagara, but also didn’t want to hunker down in a storm in unfamiliar territory.
It continued to snow radically for the entire return trip to the car. So much for the first day of summer. I got Tom to drop me of at Trimble Hot Springs, were I met my family. Nothing like a good soak after climbing.