Peak(s):  American Peak  -  13,806 feet
Jones Mountain A  -  13,860 feet
Niagara Peak  -  13,807 feet
Date Posted:  09/27/2018
Modified:  09/30/2019
Date Climbed:   09/22/2018
Author:  yaktoleft13
 13er Trio from American Basin   

Miles: 7.3
Gain: 4200

This weekend my lovely wife Amanda was out of town, leaving me and the dog (Fawkes) to our own devices. I had never been to American Basin and figured this was a good opportunity to explore some 13ers that she wouldn't want to drive 6 hours for. Plus, it's a great time of year to hike!

It doesn't seem like American, Jones, and Niagara are done from American Basin in summer conditions frequently. Looking at the terrain, it seemed that the shortest and least steep couloir on the north side, known as Patriot, could be viable when dry. I decided to give it a shot, then link up Jones and Niagara for good measure.

After work on Friday, I drove home, swooped Fawkes, and started the long, mind-numbing drive at 5 PM out to Lake City. I got to the upper trailhead at about 11:45 PM Friday night, made some Mountain House, and tried to sleep (spoiler alert: it didn't work). Fawkes apparently found something very interesting out the window and spent the whole night huffing at it. Eventually, I got up, got dressed, and got on with it.

First light in American Basin

Fawkes headed up the trail

For this route, stay on the Handies trail until about 12.9 or 13k. Locate the couloir, find a good place to veer off (I found a use trail to Sloan lake that was convenient), and head toward the base.

Patriot Couloir is the low spot just right of center with a dusting of snow. Summit of American is the high point on the left

I mean, not a bad view

The rock hopping around the lake to the base of the couloir. Note dark gully leaving the lake. I went up that to reach Patriot

Once I left the trail, I angled around the east (left) side of the lake, stopping only so Fawkes could freeze himself romping through the shallows. From there, I ascended a shallow, dark gully that leads away from the lake to the base of the climb.

Ascending the route away from the lake

Looking back on Sloan Lake from the talus pile below Patriot

Looking up Patriot. My route was hugging the wall on the left side

From here, you have a daunting view. Steep, loose talus. Everyone's favorite! I initially tried ascending the middle of the couloir, but after 10 minutes of making next to no progress (not helped by the fact I was doing it one handed because I had Fawkes's leash in my hand), I realized straight up wasn't an option. However, the wall of the gully on the left side was nearby and appeared relatively solid, so I made my way toward it. Once there, I was able to ascend with relative ease, keeping one hand on the solid rocks, one on the leash, and utilizing the more solid holds of the couloir wall. In a situation in which I had two hands, the wall could be a fun little class 3 scramble. As it was, it was a little harrowing trying to keep from sliding down the loose talus, keeping my hold on the wall, and not getting pulled down the mountain by Fawkes every time he wanted to chase a butterfly.

More solid rock on the left side

What the middle of the couloir looked like....stay away! Steep and loose

Looking down from near the top of the couloir

Eventually, around 13.6k, you reach the top. From there, turn left and locate a followable trail (or just go up) toward the summit of American.

Fawkes headed toward the summit. Note the faint trail. His leash is in a permanent state of some sort of tangle.

From the Summit of American, looking toward Jones (prominent in the middle) and Niagara (left of center in the background)

Toward Handies from American

From there, I descended back to the top of the couloir and angled south toward the ridge toward Jones. Fortunately, you can avoid the summit of the large point on American's ridge and follow a faint trail to the saddle. For the most part, there is at least evidence of prior tracks in the area, so it's not difficult to stay on route. Though the ridge looks somewhat rough, it can be kept to class 2 fairly easily. It helps immensely to have a 45 pound Brittany pulling you up.

Looking toward Jones. Once on the ascent, stay ridge proper or just left

Looking back on the route from American (right of center). No need to summit the large point in the middle of the photo.

Summit of Jones, looking back at American (right) and Handies (background, left)


From Jones, looking west

Uncompahgre and Wetterhorn, forever prominent

Solid trail to the saddle

Niagara was the last objective. From Jones's summit, descend 150 feet of loose talus to reach a decent trail leading to the saddle with Niagara. From there, it's a pretty straightforward climb to the summit--just go up.

Ascending Niagara

Summit of Niagara, looking back on Jones

Weminuche in the back

"Wait, you want me to go back over Jones? I just got off that thing!"

Yes, sadly, you have to reascend Jones on the way back to American Basin. However, it went quicker than expected and found ourselves on the summit in no time.

Fawkes back to stalking butterflies on Jones

It's so damn hard to get a selfie with this stupid dog. Yes his ears are as soft as they look

Rather than go back down the Patriot couloir, there's another route (sometimes used as an ascent route) that drops into American Basin from the far west side of American's ridge and deposits you in the far west of American Basin. Descend to the Jones/American saddle, but instead of contouring east around the large point, head west. There's a faint use trail headed that direction all the way to American Basin

Ascend to the low point between those bumps, head left around the prominent point on the right

Faint use trail circumventing the large point.

One last look back at the north face of Jones

Yellow dirt is where you turn right to drop into American Basin

Once at the low point in American's ridge, turn right and descend 200 feet of the loosest sand/dirt mix you'll ever run into. I didn't try to ascend this slope, but can only imagine it's horrendous. My technique for descending was "take a sidehill step, slide 10 feet, catch myself with my other foot, then repeat." Not graceful, but it got me down quick!

Looking down the dirt/sand/rock mix

And once down, looking back up. You can see where I slid a few times in the light colored dirt

Sea of rocks, Handies looming

Once down the sand slope, you'll be deposited into a sea of rocks. There are scattered cairns in the area, but don't seem to lead anywhere productive. I followed the field to its low point, which ends in a gully. Fear not, the gully goes! it's not too bad. You can also veer out of the gully partway through and descend a grassy slope. Once down, it's just a short jaunt back to the Handies trail.

Top of the gully

Yes, it goes! You can also descend grassy slopes on the right of the photo

Back on the trail! Looking back at the basin. Descent route out of view on the right

Cars! Always a welcome site

His trail, my trail

"Wait, you want me to do this again tomorrow????"

Beautiful San Juan day

After finishing the route, it's clear why this isn't a frequent summer ascent route. However, without a dog and with two free hands, Patriot works just fine (as long as there's no one below you!). This trio made for a wonderful day in the San Juans!

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
09/29/2018 16:54
Sounds like a do-able approach for those of us with 2WD (and some tolerance for loose terrain).

Good photos that are informative. Maybe I missed it, but how long did this take?

I hope Fawkes got a day off.

Thanks for posting.

Re: timing
09/29/2018 17:08
Thanks for reading! It took about 6 1/2 hours, including about 45 minutes of breaks on the summit.

Great pics and question
08/15/2019 14:35
Any of this class 3 or higher? Class 2 is my limit.

08/15/2019 15:01
I'd say with snow, it's a pretty easy class 2 up the couloir. Without snow, it's a very loose class 2, maybe 2+. The rest of the route is all class 2, although loose

09/30/2019 09:08
yaktoleft13. Thanks for this the report. I tackled this route this past weekend based it. Patriot Couloir is as steep as it looks from below and was total suck all the way up. It also had a little more snow and the rocks were frosted over. I was grateful for having my microspikes with me and wish I had brought my helmet. I also used the spikes for the yellow dirt descending back into American Basin. I felt like Fawkes when having to re-gain Jones after Niagara. The trip took me a bit longer than you. Total of 8 hours, including summit time. I was in no rush though, as the weather was perfect the day I climbed. Thanks again, without your report I would never have tried this.


RE: this weekend
09/30/2019 09:22
Nice job Dan! Glad I could help in some way. American just looks so cool from the Basin; it's worth the loose rock just for the views! Congrats on the summits!

10/11/2020 09:14
used the yellow dirt gully on both ascent and descent. Very loose, but at least its short. This route is a nice alternative to doing them from silverton via burns gulch.

Thanks for posting
05/30/2021 11:07
This will be helpful.

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