Patriot Couloir

Page Type Page Type: Route
Location Lat/Lon: 37.90110°N / 107.51702°W
Additional Information Route Type: Mountaineering, Skiing
Seasons Season: Spring, Winter
Additional Information Time Required: Less than two hours
Additional Information Difficulty: Moderate Snow
Sign the Climber's Log


American Peak
American Peak

Of the four north-facing couloirs on American Peak, Patriot is one of the two easiest. The entire length flucuates between low and moderate. As one is looking at American Peak from the lower basin, it is the second snow line west of the summit OR the first line east of Point 13,744. The features that make Patriot a great beginner snow climb are the same that it shares with Independence, that is, both are low to moderate climbs not exceeding 40° and both rarely if ever, cornice. 

Park at a small, dirt clearing located on a spur off Cinnamon Pass Road (CR. #30-Alpine Loop) at 11,300'. This spur is signed, off the main 4x4 road and easy to notice. There is a Jeep road (#3314-12) that continues up into the basin that you can take that will chew off an additional 250' if it is melted out. From here, UN 13,535 is due west and the bulk of Handies Peak is located to the east. 

From the parking area, the approach to all four couloirs is very clear. Strike out heading south into the basin aiming for American Peak. There is a level bench/plateau of sorts at 12,900'. This is where Sloan Lake is. This is a great place to unwind in the summer. The aprons of Patriot & Independence empty out near this lake. From the lake, climb up as far as you deem before the pitch makes crampons necessary.   

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.  

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

Patriot 2
Patriot 2

Patriot Couloir is one of the shortest couloirs on American coming in at 480'. Of course, that also depends on where one starts measuring in relation to the apron. Having taken three readings, the average pitch in Patriot is 36°.

From Sloan Lake, angle slightly left. Patriot is the narrower of the two couloirs that are side-by-side. The left (east) couloir is Independence. 

Head up the apron into the start of Patriot. The inclination here is 34°, so fairly mellow. Patriot isn't known for rockfall like Traitor is, but with couloir climbing, always be aware that it can happen. This couloir is also fairly straightforward with no kinks or dog-legs. The exit stays in view the whole way. Also keep in mind, this couloir, perhaps not as soon as Independence, does get sunhit early. So the snowpack will start to heat up.

The center of Patriot measures 36°-37° and the exit, which comes quickly, is around 38°. Like the other three couloirs, Patriot typically does not cornice but snow-crests may be possible. The top of the couloir tops out on the ridge at 13,612'. From the top, the summit of American is only .3 mile away, truly an underappreciated San Juan peak.   

Essential Gear

A mountaineering axe and crampons are absolutely mandatory. Even though the pitch is low, always expect the possibility of encountering ice. 

  • gaiters
  • shovel
  • sunscreen/hat
  • probe & beacon
  • poles
  • regular winter clothing/gear

External Links

Handies Peak quadrangle list of peaks



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