Peak(s):  American Pk  -  13,806 feet
Date Posted:  06/08/2008
Modified:  01/20/2010
Date Climbed:   06/07/2008
Author:  scotthsu
 American Basin ski/snowclimb extravaganza   

Sensing that prime backcountry ski season is nearing its glorious end, Amy (Nice Axe!) and I decided to head for American Basin (just west of the 14er Handies in the San Juans) this past weekend. Andy/Sarah (CincyBearcats) and Nina the husky joined us for days 2 and 3.

Here is a picture of the turnoff to American Basin from the Cinnamon Pass Rd, our home for 3 days (~11300'):

As you can see, the 4WD road to American Basin is still closed, and it will probably be some time before it's drivable to the 4WD TH (although snow is melting fast).

Here is a picture of American Basin (looking south, taken from the Cinnamon Pass Rd as we departed toward Silverton). Numbers 1-8 are what we snowclimbed and skied chronologically over the 3 days. Andy and Sarah joined us for 2-5 and 7-8. See below for details.

Day 1 (6/6): (~2500' climbed/skied)
1: NW-facing chute near PT 13444 (which is just out of view to the right); it was so good we skied it twice.

Day 2 (6/7): (~3600' climbed/skied)
2: Victory Couloir
3: Bi-centennial 13er American Peak (we summitted from the top of Victory and got a true summit ski descent down the E ridge, and then skied down Victory)
4: Patriot Couloir
5: Independence Couloir.

Day 3 (6/8 ): (~3200' climbed/skied)
6: SE-facing slope (not visible, located behind ridge in picture)
7: N-facing chute
8: Traitor Couloir.

(I will refer to these numbers in the rest of the TR.)

Day 1

Every morning, we could skin continuously starting about 150 yards away from the car, about from this location:

A picture of #1 (broad chute near center of photo):

Looking to the north (Coxcomb, Wetterhorn, Uncompahgre visible on skyline, left to right):

Amy getting June powder (#1):

It was so good we skied it again, then all the way down American Basin to the car for a mellow day 1. We decided on an excursion to Lake City to hang out for the afternoon and for dinner (try A&A Italian Restaurant for good, authentic, unpretentious Italian food).

Day 2
Andy & Sarah drove up late and joined us at the American Basin TH around 2am. We started skinning around 6:15am. Today, we knew we were going for the American Peak summit and as many of the north-facing couloirs as we could get before the snow got too soft.

Here is a picture of Victory Couloir (left side of photo) with American Peak to the right of center:

I measured the steepest parts of Victory to be fairly sustained ~40 degrees.

Scott in the lower part of Victory:

Amy approaching the summit of American Peak, with Andy/Sarah in the background:

Beta for Vestal group:

Happy crew on the summit of American:

Amy dropping off the summit:

Andy shredding in Victory (#2):

Amy in Patriot (#4):

Andy contemplating his lead up Independence Couloir (#5):

Sarah and Nina descending Independence (#5):

We had a nice lazy afternoon lounging at the TH, waving at tons of Jeeps driving by. Sarah and Andy introduced us to Skyline Chili from Cincinnati.
We survived (so far).

Day 3
We had a leisurely 7am start. Today we decided to explore the mini-basin at the SW corner of upper American Basin, and to finish off the fourth and hardest American Peak couloir, Traitor (at least of the ones in Roach's 13ers book).

Scott skiing the SE slope (#6):

Andy, Sarah, and Nina leading up Traitor (#8 ):

Looking down Traitor (#8 ):

Andy measured Traitor to be around 45 degrees; it felt pretty sustained at that steepness.

Spent after skiing Traitor (#8 ):

We almost felt like real ski bums after this weekend

Climbing notes: We used crampons and ice axe (Andy/Sarah) or whippet poles (Scott/Amy) in Victory and Traitor. A helmet is highly recommended for all the couloir climbs.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

 Comments or Questions

Nice Turns!
06/09/2008 13:51
Scott, Amy, Andy, and Sarah: Way to keep up the skiing! I‘m amazed that the good snow keeps holding out. Nice pics, and a nice report. Where to next?


06/09/2008 14:02
That looks like one fun weekend! Nice June turns were had by all!


Thanks for another great weekend!
06/09/2008 18:46
Nice photos and TR! We had a blast with you guys this weekend. Thanks for being patient and letting us mortal-types take a hack at (slowly) leading a couple of the snow climbs. I was haunted in my sleep last night by that entrance into Traitor. It was definitely more than we had bargained for. Glad to hear that Skyline is now your favorite meal in the whole wide world!


Great idea!
06/09/2008 21:01
I‘ve never heard of anyone doing all of those snow climbs in one trip, makes a lot of sense though! From a snow climbing (not skiing) standpoint, which one was your favorite and is the most worth doing?


06/09/2008 21:21
Great lines and it looks like you had good conditions. What a year for skiing!!


thanks everyone!
06/10/2008 01:31
d_baker, have a great time out there. be careful of rockfall in the couloirs and definitely wear a helmet!

firsttracks, yes the snow this spring has been amazing. where next? don‘t know, but maybe Yankee Boy Basin or Grizzly Peak N couloir...

SarahT, I think my favorite was Victory. You have a choice between different branches in both the lower and upper half, and it gets you closest to the summit. Traitor was definitely the most serious couloir, deeply inset, with a very forbidding feeling while inside. I was definitely more worried about rockfall in Traitor. In fact, a good sized rock did come flying down off the wall but made a crater in the snow and stopped near us. The steepness of Traitor was exciting, and being inset it stays in the shade longer, so it will probably retain a longer snowclimbing window. Independence and Patriot were both pleasurable, aesthetic snowclimbs and not as steep as Traitor or Victory.

Bill, yes we got great snow. Powder on day 1 and mostly sweet spring conditions the other days. It‘s been an amazing year!

Jason Halladay

Your spring has sucked
06/10/2008 03:40
OK, not hardly! Looks like another awesome outing you five. Thanks a lot for the photos--it‘s nice to see the current snow conditions up there. We climbed Traitor last year around this time and there was nowhere near as much snow. Keep up the great lines and serious NM representation!

Chicago Transplant

06/10/2008 18:03
I have really wanted to ski these for a while. I have been trying to conivince one of my buddies who is not much of a peak climber to head out for a ”two fer” ski descent of Independence and Patriot, I will have to send him the link to your report


Better late than never...
06/21/2010 16:39
Awesome report! I climbed Independence last year and I‘m planning on doing Traitor this Saturday to close out snow climbing season and your report has me excited about it.

Nice Axe

American Basin - Couloir City!
11/30/2010 17:28
Sarah, Andy, Nina, & Scott, thank you all for a fantastic trip. It was fun exploring the basin and sharing these spicy couloirs!

SarahT - (In American Basin) My favorite couloir is Traitor - it commanded a great deal of respect. My next fav is clearly Victory, although I couldn't choose between Patriot & Independence, which are both very sweet & aesthetic lines.


Great timing!
02/05/2011 00:22
Thanks for posting with pic‘s and beta!!
I plan to be there to climb one of the couloirs in a couple of weeks, and your report psyches me up!!

Nice job.

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