Peak(s):  American Peak  -  13,806 feet
Jones Mountain A  -  13,860 feet
Niagara Peak  -  13,807 feet
Crown Mountain  -  13,569 feet
"North Crown Mountain"  -  13,599 feet
Date Posted:  03/31/2018
Date Climbed:   03/30/2018
Author:  bmcqueen
 American Pie with a Couple Crowns on Top   

American Pie with a Couple Crowns on Top


After a great winter season, it was time to shift my focus back to the Centennials in my #ChasingRichardson project to try to catch up so that I might be able to team up with Ryan for a joint finisher this year. Since I've gotten a bit more serious about the 13ers the past couple of years, I've been trying to be efficient and not orphan peaks when I'm nearby. I needed Jones Mountain as one of my last 13 Centennials, so I did some research on options. Since I doubted it would be accessible yet from the shorter Silverton side only 10 days into spring, I was drawn to Dad Mike's American and Jones TR from the Cataract Gulch TH.

Niagara, Jones, Handies and American from Crown.


Roach lists the "American Pie" Niagara, Jones, American combo as 17.8 miles and 5,353 vertical. I decided to also bolt on Crown Mountain and North Crown Mountain (a couple of unranked 13ers), so my stats are a bit higher per my InReach:

Miles - 18.69
Vertical - 5,700'
Start Time - 4:15 AM
Elapsed to American - 5:10
Elapsed to Jones - 6:49
Elapsed to Niagara - 8:06
Elapsed to Crown - 8:56
Elapsed to North Crown - 9:12
Car to car - 14:35

Approach and Climbs

I had done a chunk of the approach earlier this winter doing Handies via Boulder Gulch in early January. There was so little snow then that I was able to drive about a mile past the Cataract Gulch trailhead. I had no such luck yesterday. Some of the road was indeed dry, but there were enough snowy areas, including right after the trailhead, that I parked next to the outhouse and started gearing up just after 4:00 AM. I tried to be quiet since there was another car parked there. I feared I woke someone when I saw a headlamp, but after visiting with him later in the day, it was Money Mike getting ready to go ski Half Peak for 13er ski #98 and he was already awake.

I started up the road with snowshoes strapped to my pack with the full moon providing all the light I needed. My general rule is post-holing three times = stop fighting it and put the stupid things on. That happened somewhere between the trailhead and the Boulder Gulch turnoff. Once I had my snowshoes on, I actually cruised up the road pretty quickly on the firm snow fresh from the nightly freeze.

At the Cuba 4WD trailhead, I lost the road (it goes up and to the right) and ended up floundering around in some willows down too close to the creek. I eventually saw the road above me at the start of the Snare Stairs and made a bee line for it.

First light as I start the Snare Stairs.
There is something so cool about first tracks.

Crown in the background with the bisecting ridge between the two Snare Creek basins.
The cabin at the start of the basin.

Above the cabin, I left the road and angled up and right towards American's South Ridge. This was the longest I had been on my snowshoes in a LONG time - I wore those babies up to 13,000' on the ridge before I finally switched over to my crampons. Since I planned to do a big loop, I knew I had to carry my snowshoes the whole way - oh well.

American's South Ridge on the left.
Quarter and Half with a fire-breathing dragon just out of frame.

My tracks in the basin with Half in the background.
Looking up American's South Ridge.

When I got close to the summit and could see Handies (along with Uncompahgre and Wetterhorn) across the way, I seriously considered going to Handies first since I still need my spring grid slot on that one. I looked to my left though and saw Jones across the basin. Behind it, looking even further away was what I assumed must be Niagara. And off to the left of Niagara (still further out) were two little bumps that I figured must be Crown and North Crown. It's probably good that I didn't go for Handies, but rather, stuck with my original objectives.

Looking across (from right to left) at Jones, Niagara, North Crown and Crown.
Looking back down the South Ridge with Rio Grand Pyramid top center.

American's summit was corniced and I approached it with some care to be sure I didn't end up down in American Basin. I only stayed long enough to message Melissa and have a quick drink, then I set off for Jones.

American's final defenses.
The road ahead to Jones.

Jones, Niagara and the Crowns.
Wetterhorn, Uncompahgre and Handies.

Good to see some snow down in American Basin!

The ridge between American and Jones had a few bumps that would be painful to climb up and down, so I was thankful that I could see windblown snow and a faint trail cutting across the worst of it. I knew the avalanche forecast for the Northern San Juan zone was green, but I still gave a quick look at the few slopes I crossed before committing. I actually climbed up and over the top of one that I didn't like.

Looking back at American (and Half) en route to Jones.
Almost to the Jones saddle.

The traverse to the saddle below Jones actually went pretty quickly - time for more climbing. The first couple of sections were fairly steep. I knew I would have no trouble self-arresting in the nice snow if I were to tumble, but my preference was to avoid that. I plunged my axe in for purchase a couple of times, then the slope eased. A narrow section of fun rocky ridge separated me from Jones' final summit ridge. I was enjoying the climbing on this fine spring day and felt great topping out on Jones for my 88th Centennial.

Jones' summit.
Looking back across at American.

The ridge to Niagara was corniced on the east side, so I stayed safely to the right as I made my way down and over to the saddle with Niagara. Looking up at Niagara's summit ridge, I thought, "well this was a much better idea sitting in front of my computer at home!". Up I went, taking breaks a bit more frequently. The snowy ridge was a fashionable edge where windward meets leeward. Soon enough, I was on top of another Bi-Centennial.

Niagara from Jones. Looks far.
The descent from Jones.

Prinstine snow all the way to the top of Niagara.
Yes, yes, you're beautiful! Now where is the top!

Looking back down Niagara.
Crown and North Crown from Niagara.

Crown and North Crown didn't look all that far away, and frankly, I liked my descent options from Crown better than I liked my descent options from Niagara, so off I went. It took less than an hour to get to Crown. I dropped my pack, grabbed the InReach and kept right on going to North Crown, a worthy 16 minute detour. After returning to Crown, I scoped out the basin below me, looking for the road that would lead me back to the Snare Stairs.

North Crown from Crown.
Descent basin with my road visible and bottom of Snare Stairs. I half thought about trying to get Half too (get it?)

The Grenadier Range looking close enough to touch.

I could see the Stairs off in the distance and saw an old mining road that I assumed had to take me back over towards the cabin. With my bearings and a plan, I dropped down to the south on Crown's ridge, looking for a place to get back into the basin that was free of cornices. I thought I had a spot, but didn't love it when I got there, so I kept going a little farther down. It turned out the whole thing was corniced. I found a place where it was only about a 10' drop with a mild cornice. From a sitting position, I kicked a hole in the cornice, plunged my axe in and climbed the 10' down to easier ground.

My descent through the cornice.

From there, my goal was to traverse the wide open basin with as little up and down as I could in order to get back to the road. For a good bit, the snow was staying supportive and I continued in my crampons. Finally my luck ran out in a big open area. I probably pushed my normal 3x posthole = snowshoes rule because I really didn't want to put them back on....but finally I caved. That was better and soon I was back on the road that would lead me out. The problem was the road crossed three steep snow slopes as it wove its way around the corner back into the north Snare Creek basin. I could have stopped and switched back over to crampons, but that seemed like a lot of work. I decided to at least swap out my trekking pole for my ice axe. If I slipped in one of those spots, I was poised to go down a ways, but they were nice snowy runouts. I at least wanted to be able to stop myself quickly. Note - if there had been ANY avalanche danger of note, I would NOT have crossed these spots. In my opinion, with any avalanche danger, the prudent retreat would be drop down toward the creek and wallow in the deeper snow down there and meet back up with the Snare Stairs at the bottom rather than crossing those gullies.

Finally back around the corner into the North Snare Creek basin, I cruised down to the creek, crossed and met back up with the road just above the cabin. The rest of the descent to the car was a bit of a suffer fest. The snow that had so beautifully supported me in the morning was no longer supportive, even with my snowshoes. It took a while to tiptoe down the last four miles back to my car, reminding myself to be the Elf and not the Dwarf from Lord of the Rings. Occasionally, I got lucky and was an Elf for a while. More often though, I was a Dwarf. May your spring be more Elflike than Dwarflike. Thanks for reading.

Wallowing a bit when luck runs out.

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
03/31/2018 20:31
Great job, Brad! Congrats on getting those in a day. Did you happen to notice if the Mill Creek CG was open and dry? I may be down there soon with a camper.

Mill Creek
03/31/2018 20:36
Hi Bill - it is definitely dry, but I didnât notice if it was open.

Enjoyed the read
04/01/2018 00:05
Those are summer stats in spring snow! The Crowns are worthy unranked side trips - too bad there arenât three so you could get a triple crown to go with the other three!

04/02/2018 08:17
Glad to see that Moneymike is out of his summer-winter hibernation.ðŸŠ

Another good one...
04/02/2018 15:02
... as all your reports are, Brad!

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