Peak(s):  American Pk  -  13,806 feet
Date Posted:  05/22/2009
Date Climbed:   05/17/2009
Author:  KevinK
 West face snow climb  

American Peak - 13806 ft.
West Face from American Basin TH
Approx. 7 miles & 2800 vertical gain

After a long hike up points 13832 and 13811 I really just wanted to relax but my friend Brian wanted to ski so we decided to try to get my Subaru up into American basin. Though the creek crossing was quite a bit deeper than I remembered the road in general seemed to be in better shape than it was last spring. I made it up to the basin pretty easily and stopped just below the trailhead. From here we were thrilled to see a great campsite down near the creek. We settled in to enjoy a fat steak dinner and the alpenglow on American peak above.

The next day we just hiked around in the basin and scouted out the routes up American and Handies. Though there was still a fair ammount of snow it was very supportive and there were plenty of dry patches to connect if you want to do Handies or American without skis/snowshoes. On the way back to camp Brian got some nice corn turns and I got a short glissade plus some nice pictures.



Though all the couloirs looked in and the Patriot didn't look too tough I just didn't feel comfortable trying it solo with my limited snow climbing experience. Instead I decided on the west face route as it would be a bit easier while still allowing me to practice some snow climbing skills. I left camp late at 7:30 and started up the well consolidated snow towards my goal. I had left the snowshoes behind again and hoped my late start wouldn't lead to an afternoon of miserable postholing.


The snow stayed firm and I quickly cruised up the route. Upon reaching the last pitch below the ridge I strapped on my crampons and climbed the nice mellow snow slope. As I am pretty new to snow climbing even this was exciting and I could hardly wait to glissade back down.




Reluctantly I ditched my crampons and headed around the south side of the peak towards the Jones/American saddle. From here it looked like the rest of the route would be easy going.

Upon reaching the ridge I could see that American wasn't going to go without a little fight and there were at least two steep snowfields intersecting my traverse route. I decided to pull out my axe and cross them as going up along the ridge would add a lot of climbing to my day. About halfway across the first field I had decided to take the whole ridge on the way back out. I've really got to do better at remembering how much I hate traversing scary snow and that a little extra up and down is well worth it. I made it carefully to the other side without incident and was soon looking up at the corniced summit.

From the peak I had a great view of Handies and the creative line that was still just barely skiable on the standard route. We met some folks from New Mexico back at camp who were probably the last to get this one in this spring.

As I worked my way back across the ridge I collected a couple extra
points and got a nice view back at American.


Soon I reached the top of the west face and geared up for a fast glissade back to the basin below. At the bottom I found Brian who had been ski touring but had just broken a skin. We headed back to the trailhead exhausted but satisfied by a beautiful weekend in the San Juans


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

 Comments or Questions

congrat‘s Kevin
05/22/2009 13:40 would have done fine in the Patriot, but at least you got in some snow climbing anyway!
And nice job getting your Points in the San Juans!

The San Juans are loosing their appeal to me this season with all that dirty snow. :-(
IMO...the dirty snow takes away from the aesthetics of a climb.
Oh well. Another year for the snow-white climbs!

Nice Work!
05/22/2009 14:55
Good thing about the dirty snow, it‘s real grippy, sandpaper like others have described. Free stone grind with every tour

Was surprised at how firm the snow was. The 10 Mile and Gore range have Way more snow than other parts of the state this year.


image #11
05/26/2009 03:51
looks like a tidal wave, was that the actual summit? Did you have to find your way to the top of that mass? Cool report in a cool region. The dust has done a number on my skis this year, but oh well, nothing is perfect.


Surface hoar
06/04/2009 22:26
...surrounded by snirt. I *think* - as hoarfrost is just the water that evaporates up through the snow, or water vapor that settles on top of the snow - and crystalizes overnight, in the colder air. So it seems that water that bubbles up to the surface and then crystalizes would also classify as hoar. And ”snirt,” well, that‘s just snow + dirt.


Thanks All
07/20/2010 14:06
Darin, I just didn‘t feel right about attempting the Patriot couloir by myself but after looking down it wish I had at least tried. I talked to a skier later who climbed it and topped out after I had already crossed back past so I guess it would have been safe.

M_Monkey, I was also very suprised by how supportive the snow was. Even after the hike of American and playing around in the basin for a while afterwards I barely postholed on the way out.

Brian, Definitely a cool tidal wave look to that cornice. That was the summit but luckily there was easier passage just left of the picture. You can see it from a distance in image #14.

PS - Does anyone know the name for the icy stuff in the first picture? There was a melt stream there that was pushing this foamy looking ice up over the other snow. The red dirt around made it really stand out which probably explains why I‘ve never noticed this effect before.

   Using your forum id/password. Not registered? Click Here

Caution: The information contained in this report may not be accurate and should not be the only resource used in preparation for your climb. Failure to have the necessary experience, physical conditioning, supplies or equipment can result in injury or death. and the author(s) of this report provide no warranties, either express or implied, that the information provided is accurate or reliable. By using the information provided, you agree to indemnify and hold harmless and the report author(s) with respect to any claims and demands against them, including any attorney fees and expenses. Please read the Safety and Disclaimer pages for more information.

© 2021®, 14ers Inc.