Independence Couloir

Page Type Page Type: Route
Location Lat/Lon: 37.90012°N / 107.51473°W
Additional Information Route Type: Mountaineering, Skiing
Seasons Season: Spring, Winter
Additional Information Time Required: Half a day
Additional Information Difficulty: Moderate Snow (up to 42°)
Additional Information Grade: I
Sign the Climber's Log


Looking up!
Great snow climbing!
Leave the trailhead and walk directly south heading up into American Basin. There is also a Jeep road that meanders up this drainage (#3314) until it reaches Sloan Lake. An established hiking trail bisects the upper basin running from Handies Peak to a saddle just east of Point 13,535. Stay to the left (east) of the creek while on your approach and progress up towards a very prominent embankment. Once this easy embankment is crested, a shallow ravine will immediately present itself. To avoid dropping down in elevation, stay on the left and traverse keeping your elevation constant. American Peak’s true summit and its’ false summit (13,744ft.) are now quite apparent. Angle your route up towards the prominent apron near the bottom of the false summit.
The false summit will loom and seem larger than the true summit. Independence Couloir starts just east of this false point. The run-out, in case of a fall/slip is quite good.

Sloan Lake (12,900ft) will now makes its entrance, situated a bit off to the left. Cross Sloan Lake (37º 54’ 14” N, -107º 30’ 58” W) and head due south directly up the north face.
With the exception of Traitor Couloir, all the couloirs on American Peak are moderate in difficulty and in my opinion, make great climbing routes for novices or for more advanced intermediates. The run-out's on all the couloirs is excellent and practicing self-arrest techniques is quite safe before the actual snow climb.

Getting There

From Lake City, drive 2 miles south on Colorado 149 and turn right (an abrupt turn) onto County Road 3 (Lake San Cristobal). This is the southern entrance to the "Alpine Loop" scenic byway.  
Room with a view!
What a view!

Follow the signs to Cinnamon Pass driving through gorgeous valley, shelf road and up into Burrows Park. Drive about ~20 miles to a signed fork in the road. Left is to American Basin and right is to Cinnamon Pass. Turn left. If you do not have a 4WD vehicle with good clearance, park in the pull-offs near the start of this road.

It’s 0.9 mile to the trailhead from the start of the American Basin road. After 0.2 mile, cross a stream which can be fairly deep in spring. If you don’t feel comfortable driving through the water, there are some parking spots in the area. Continue to the end of the road where you’ll find a large parking area and marked trail. There is also a mine here called the "Old Gnome Mine." In spring, because of the piled snow from the plows, you'll probably have to park at the sign. There is a small turn-out here.

Route Description

Spring in American Basin
American Basin
Of the four couloirs on this peak, Independence Couloir is probably the easiest to surmount. This snow climb is only about ~580'-600' vertical. It is the widest and least steep of the four choices. However, once one tops out, there is still a bit of a summit walk due east along the ridge to the true summit.
Leave Sloan Lake heading due south up into the wide couloir. The apron averages about 32º at the bottom (13,150') and steepens quickly but consistently. The steepest pitch comes about half-way. Expect the pitch to increase to about 42º at the absolute most.

Past the center, the inclination will drop slightly to 40º and for the most part, will stay at that angle.
This couloir contains no 'hidden surprises', gendarmes, spires or rock pitches. Continue climbing up either the center or veer slightly climber's left. This is only for safety in case of rock fall of the false summit climber's right.
About 3/4 the way up, the pitch will drop even more to around ~37º before finishing gently on the summit ridge (13,716'). The exit does not cornice.
Turn left and walk to the summit still .15 mile away.
Both the actual summit and the false summit cornice heavily. So proceed with caution.
The views of Jones Peak & Niagra Peak to the south and the 14ers, Uncompaghre/Wetterhorn to the north are amazing! Either retrace your steps or descend a different couloir!

Essential Gear

A mountaineering axe and crampons are absolutely mandatory.
  • gaiters
  • shovel
  • sunscreen/hat
  • probe & beacon
  • poles
  • regular winter clothing/gear

External Links



Parents refers to a larger category under which an object falls. For example, theAconcagua mountain page has the 'Aconcagua Group' and the 'Seven Summits' asparents and is a parent itself to many routes, photos, and Trip Reports.