Lower Independence Pass
One of Colorado's spring skiing ultimates...
Roads and Trailheads
USGS Maps: Aspen, New York Peak, Thimble Rock, Independence Pass USFS Map: White River National Forest
Weller Lake Trailhead
From Aspen, drive Highway 82 toward Independence Pass. At about 8 miles from Aspen, look for road and trailhead signs to your right. (Just past here, Weller Campground will be to your left on the north side of the road.) Parking is clear (9,320 feet). If you're coming from the east (Leadville, etc.) drive Highway 82 from Colorado Highway 24.
Grizzly Creek Trailhead on the Lincoln Creek Road
Lincoln Creek Road off Highway 82 is the best approach to Grizzly Peak and other routes, but there is a catch: The Forest Service lets maintenance people use the road in the spring, but they keep it closed to the public-ostensibly to prevent erosion. They usually open the gate (9,785 feet) around the middle of June. The routes described here may be skiable this late in the spring, but just barely, and you will have to do a lot of walking. With good snowcover, a snowmobile can be the key here. With a dry and gated road, a motorcycle or bicycle could be your ticket; seems anything goes but four wheels.
To reach the Lincoln Creek Road, drive E out of Aspen on Independence Pass Road (Colorado State Highway 82). At 9.5 miles turn right onto the well-signed Lincoln Creek Road. Drive 5 miles up the Lincoln Creek Road to a turnout (10,577 feet) on the left, a short distance past the Grizzly Reservoir dam and directly up the hill from a group of buildings. The trail starts at this turnout and is marked with a Forest Service sign that says: GRIZZLY LAKE TRAIL 1990. The Lincoln Creek Road to this point is improved dirt, suitable for two-wheel-drive passenger cars.
Independence Townsite Trailhead
For the Independence Townsite, drive E out of Aspen on Colorado State Highway 82 (Main Street). Continue on Highway 82 for 12??? miles to the Independence Townsite trailhead: an unmarked turnout (10,920 feet) on the S (right) side of the highway above some of the old derelict buildings of the former boom town of Independence. It is the only major turnout at this mileage.
Independence Pass Road (Highway 82), West Side of Continental Divide (Highway 82)
Climb rating: N.A. Ski rating: Novice, S1 Recommended seasons: All with snowcover Starting elevation: 8,600 feet Summit elevation: N.A. Elevation gain: N.A. Round trip distance: N.A. Day trip? Yes
Maps: Lower Independence, Independence North
While closed in winter, Independence Pass Road is packed by snowmobiles, snowshoers and just about every other over-snow conveyance in the universe. Try it for a novice tour. The road closure gate is located on Highway 82, about 6 miles from Aspen. See section introduction.
In this provisional version of website, please find other Independence Pass maps in other sections. More details later.
Map below is a Flash file and may not display on some devices. If not, perhaps you can use our PDF version.
Shimer (Sunshine) Peak from Weller Lake
Climb rating: Harder skins, easy boots Ski and snowboard rating: Advanced, S3+ Recommended seasons: Spring snow season Starting elevation: 9,320 feet Summit elevation: 12,340 feet Elevation gain: 3,020 feet Round trip distance: 4 miles Day trip? Yes Map: Lower Independence
Shimer Peak is usually called Sunshine Peak, so named because it's often painted with alpenglow in the morning (or as some say, named in the 1960s by tripping Aspen hippies). Sunshine is visible from the town of Aspen and tempts ski mountaineers with its glaring presence. This is a minor bump compared to other Elk Range and Sawatch Peaks, but it makes a quick and enjoyable trip.
Drive Independence Pass Road to Weller Lake Trailhead (see section introduction). From obvious parking take a foot path that starts from the trailhead sign board. Follow the path upvalley for about 100 feet, then be sure to take a right onto a downvalley path. Take this path several hundred yards downvalley and cross a footbridge over the Roaring Fork River. Climb a usually beaten trail a short distance to Weller Lake . With snowcover, try to stay on the trailcut to the lake, since the woods are hard to ski through.
From the lake, a good route (also taken by a faint summer trail) leads through boulders around the right side of the lake, then up an old fire break that separates the burned area from live trees to the NW. The best route eventually leads to timberline below the main bowl beneath the summit.
With avalanche potential, stay right (W) at timberline and take the northwest ridge to the summit. If you're on compacted spring snow simply climb the bowl, eventually catching the summit next to the rock outcrops to your left as you climbed. Descend your ascent route.
|New York and Sunshine Peaks as viewed from Richmond Ridge (behind Aspen Mountain ski area).|
New York Peak from Lincoln Gulch
Climb rating: Harder skins, moderate boots Ski rating: Advanced, S4- Recommended seasons: Spring snow season Starting elevation: 9,800 feet Summit elevation: 12,811 feet Elevation gain: about 2,000 feet, depends on exact start Round trip distance: 8 miles Day trip? Yes Map: Lower Independence
This interesting peak is accessible when Independence Pass Road opens in spring. Drive Independence Pass Road to Lincoln Creek Road (see section introduction). If you're fortunate, the Lincoln Creek Road will be open for car traffic. If not, it will be temptingly dry but gated by greater powers. In that case, use your feet, a bicycle or motorcycle. Whatever your transport option, travel Lincoln Creek Road about a mile. This should put you near the stream draining the northeast bowl of the peak. Bushwhack up the northeast side of the stream. When you break treeline, head in a southerly direction to the obvious saddle between the summit and Point 12,450. Take the ridge to the summit. Descend your ascent route, or drop the classic couloir on the peak's north face (S4+). These avalanche-prone routes should only be done during times of lowest slide hazard.
There is another useful route for New York Peak, which may have less bushwhacking. From Highway 82, travel Lincoln Creek Road about 3 miles to where the New York Creek drain meets the Lincoln Creek valley. A trail leads up New York Creek here (there may be a sign, and the trail starts as a short section of double track). Follow the trail up the southeast side of the creek for about 1 mile (10,500 feet). Leave the drainage here by climbing right (NW) to the aforementioned saddle on New York Peak's east ridge. Descend your ascent route (S4) if it looked good, or descend the bowl or couloir mentioned above.
|New York Peak is accessed from Lincoln Creek Road.|
Grizzly Peak-Grizzly Chute
Climb rating: Harder skins, Advanced snow climb Ski rating: S5- Recommended seasons: Spring or early summer snow Starting elevation: 10,577 feet Summit elevation: 13,988 feet Elevation gain: 3,411 feet Round trip distance: 9 miles Day trip? Yes Map: Independence South
For more Grizzly Peak skiing info and stories, please check WildSnow.com.
You don't need a hunting license to chute this griz-just a pair of lungs and one or two guns to ride. Grizzly Peak's north-facing "Grizzly Chute" holds snow well into the summer. Though it's rough for skiing after June, it can be a good ice or snow climb all through the summer; indeed, this is one of the classic lines in Colorado for both snow climbing and skiing.
Though Grizzly Peak is not an "official" fourteener, it gets "honorary teener" status by virtue of its close proximity to the 14,000 foot mark, and the fact that it is one of the best snow climbs and ski descents in the state. The mountain can also be climbed from the east via McNasser Gulch, though this side is a bit more rugged. Approach routes for Grizzly Peak follow roads that are closed in winter and early spring, with unpredictable and thus frustrating opening dates dictated by government 'crats. A winter ascent is possible but would require a long march up a well-used snowmobile route. Recently, climbers have used snowmobiles for this approach.
Follow Lincoln Creek Road to Grizzly Reservoir (see section introduction). Follow the trail as marked on the USGS Independence Pass map to Grizzly Lake (12,520 feet). The chute is distinct: It leads from the lake to what looks like the summit, but is actually a point on the summit ridge a few hundred yards north of the true summit. Maximum angle in the chute is 45 degrees at one bulge near the top; the remainder is about 40 degrees or less. Downclimb or ski the chute.
When Lincoln Creek Road is closed but Highway 82 is open, you can reach the Grizzly Chute from Independence Townsite (section introduction). To do so, cross the river south of the townsite, then follow the drainage leading south for 2 miles to a pass that drops you into the Grizzly Creek Drainage. The south side of this pass has a few cliff bands that can be turned to either the left or right. Using this route adds 4 miles and 2,000 feet elevation gain to your round trip.
Grizzly Chute is a major avalanche path, and as such should only be climbed and skied with very stable snow. It is usually done in the spring for this reason. Sunhit in the chute is late, but the sun hits the top of the chute at sunrise.
|Grizzly Peak viewed from north. Click image to enlarge.|
Grizzly Peak-Northeast Shoulder
Climb rating: Harder skins, Advanced snow climb Ski rating: Advanced, S4+ Recommended seasons: Spring snow season Starting elevation: 10,577 feet Summit elevation: 13,988 feet Elevation gain: 3,411 feet Round trip distance: 9 miles Day trip? Yes Map: Independence Upper South
This is a terrific snow climb or ski descent, but the snow on this eastern exposure melts quickly in the spring. Thus, your window of opportunity for this route may only be a few weeks. Depending on which roads are open, use one of the trailheadsroadheads in the section introduction to access the Grizzly Creek trail. Follow route 9.1.4 the trail as marked on the USGS Independence Pass map to Grizzly Lake. The route on the shoulder is obvious: From the east side end of Grizzly Lake, traverse E a few hundred feet to the east side of the rib that separates Grizzly Chute from the Northeast Shoulder, then begin your ascent. Descend your ascent route, Grizzly Chute (route 9.1.4) or East Ridge. Mind that this route is an avalanche path, and should only be climbed and skied with very stable snow. It is usually done in the spring for this reason.
Grizzly Peak-East Ridge
Climb rating: Harder skins, Advanced snow climb Ski rating: Advanced, S4 Recommended seasons: Starting elevation: 10,577 feet Summit elevation: 13,988 feet Elevation gain: 3,411 feet Round trip distance: 9 miles Day trip? Yes Map: Independence South
This is more of a snow climb than ski or snowboard descent, though you'll find plenty of optional couloirs if your desire to glisse gets the better of you. Use the Grizzly Peak routes above to reach 11,800 feet in Grizzly Creek Drainage. Instead of continuing to Grizzly Lake, leave the drainage here and climb one of several visible routes up the valley side to the obvious ridgeline. Take the long ridge to the summit, and return via your ascent route. While the ridge portion of this route is relatively avalanche safe, the approach covers avalanche terrain and should only be done at times of lowest hazard.
Grizzly Peak from Independence Pass
Climb rating: Harder skins, possible Intermediate snow climb Ski rating: Advanced, D Recommended seasons: Spring snow season Starting elevation: Independence Pass 12,098 feet, Summit elevation: 13,988 feet Elevation gain: ~5,000 feet including return climb out of Grizzly Creek, Round trip distance:~10 miles, Day trip? Yes
It is possible though challenging and technica (in the opinion of authors here at BackcountrySkiingCO.com) to access Grizzly Peak from the Independence Pass summit. To do so, ski up Mountain Boy Gulch or Snowfence Ridge to the summit of Mountain Boy Peak (13,198 feet) See our Independence Upper South chapter). Ski steep and possibly difficult terrain down the south side of Mountain Boy Peak to Grizzly Creek, and follow routes above to Grizzly Peak.
Photo below shows south side of Mountain Boy Peak where riders descend into Grizzly Creek. With good quality snow covers this is still nontrivial, during lower snow years or warming spells, much of the route may be burnt off or dangerously icy during the morning hours when you'll need to be there so your timing is correct on Grizzly peak.