Independence Pass

Upper Indy Southern -- Chap. 9 Section 3

One of Colorado's spring skiing ultimates...

Roads and Trailheads

USGS Maps: Independence Pass, New York Peak USFS Map: White River National Forest

Upper Green Mountain Trailhead

From central Aspen (Hotel Jerome), drive Highway 82 (Independence Pass Road) 15 miles. For parking you'll find a wide shoulder on the right side of the road, where Green Mountain's visible northerly faces rise to the southwest from across the flats of the Roaring Fork drainage. From the east, drive over Independence Pass and park about 5 miles down from the pass summit. Note that Green Mountain is actually a 4-mile-long summit-studded ridge, with many ski and snowboard routes; thus, this trailhead only functions for one part of the ridge. Trailhead variations are covered in the route descriptions. In our experience here at backcountryskiingco.com, finding these trailheads is quite simple so long as you pay attention to your odometer and look up to the south when you get close to your chosen routes.

Independence Townsite Trailhead

If you're coming from the Aspen direction (driving E), you'll find this trailhead 16 miles from central Aspen (Hotel Jerome). If you're driving W, head over Independence Pass 4 miles. Park in an obvious parking area (10,920 feet) on the south side of the road, above a group of old buildings (the historic Independence ghost town).

Map below is a Flash file and may not display on some devices. If not, perhaps you can use our backcountryskiingco.com PDF version.


Route 9.3.1 Green Mountain Summit Direct via Avalanche Path

Climb rating: Harder skins, Intermediate snow climbing Ski rating: Advanced, S4 Recommended seasons: Spring snow Starting elevation: 10,220 feet Summit elevation: 12,791 feet Elevation gain: 2,571 feet Round trip distance: 3 miles Day trip? Yes Map: Lower Independence Photo: [in collection]

Green Mountain is a huge ridge running 4 miles from the Lincoln Creek and Roaring Fork confluence (see sections above) all the way to Independence Mountain above the town of Independence (see routes below). This route takes the true summit, which is located some distance west of where most people ski. Note that the trailhead described here is not that described in the section introduction.

From central Aspen (Hotel Jerome), drive 12.4 miles up Independence Pass Road. If you're driving W, head over Independence Pass and park 8 miles down from the pass summit. To help find the trailhead, calibrate your altimeter to 7,900 feet in Aspen, or to 12,090 feet atop Independence Pass. Your exact parking and starting point is on the road shoulder (10,220 feet) next to a huge avalanche path which you can look up to a point near the summit of Green Mountain. Do not mistake this slide for a similar one .6 miles closer to Aspen. Climb the avalanche path, which becomes a shoulder leading S to Green Mountain's summit. Descend your ascent route with variations you eyed on the ascent. Interesting steep bowls drop from the ridge both east and west of the summit. An extension ladder can be used for the stream crossing.

Avalanche path leading from HWY 82 to Green Mountain Summit, good spring skiing if consolidated and safe, but stay off if any avalanche danger. Several close calls here over the years. Photo, BackcountrySkiingCO.com

 

 

Route 9.3.2 Green Mountain Glades to Green Mountain Summit

Climb rating: Moderate skins, easy boots. Ski rating: Intermediate, S3. Recommended seasons: Spring snow or early winter Starting elevation: 10,720 feet Summit elevation: 12,791 feet Elevation gain: 2,100 feet Round trip distance: 4 miles Day trip? Yes Maps: Lower Independence, Independence North

This is the easiest ski on Green Mountain and a good learner's tour, but due to trees and sun exposure, it may go out of condition quickly in spring. (With snowmobile access via the Independence Pass road, this might be a good place for winter powder.) Drive to Upper Green Mountain Trailhead (as described in the section introduction). When you end up on the road next to Green Mountain you'll notice that most of Green Mountain is a long ridge broken by a ribs, shoulders and avalanche paths, with one wooded shoulder dropping to the valley at the westerly end of the terrain you're studying. This is the first part of your destination.

But the crux of this route (and others on Green's north face) is crossing the Roaring Fork River. The authors here at backcountryskiingco.com have done everything from wading with tennis shoes to bringing an extension ladder and laying it across a narrower channel. Snow bridges may exist during heavy snow years, and long-legged people can sometimes find a jump route. Fishing waders are another option. Whatever your method, after you cross the creek, head up the glades and open areas. Use an old mining road when appropriate. Trend right (W) and continue to timberline. Once above timberline you can climb directly to the ridge above, or take a climbing traverse W at about 11,900 feet to reach a large saddle (12,000 feet). From here head up an attractive low-angled snow shoulder to one of Green Mountain's summits (12,690 feet). If you want the real top, take the ridge from here W and S to the highpoint (12,791 feet). Descend your ascent route.

 

Green Mountain, Independence Pass backcountry skiing.
Green Mountain routes, northeast side, from HWY 82. Click image to enlarge.

 

 

Route 9.3.3 Green Mountain Northeast Face

Climb rating: Harder skins, easy boots Ski rating: Advanced, S3 Recommended seasons: Spring snow Starting elevation: 10,780 feet Summit elevation: 12,395 feet Elevation gain: 1,615 feet Round trip distance: 2 miles Day trip? Yes Map: Independence North

The northerly side of Green Mountain ridge dropping to Independence Pass Road offers innumerable possibilities. If you're new to the area you can get oriented by first going to the Independence Townsite Trailhead (section introduction) and from there identifying Independence Mountain (12,703 feet , see routes below elevation?). As you drive a mile from there down the road to Upper Green Mountain Trailhead (see section introduction), refer to a map and identify each Green Mountain summit.

A common route takes the distinct avalanche path just east (climber's left) of the western glades mentioned above as route 9.3.2?. Drive to the Upper Green Mountain Trailhead as described in the section introduction. From parking beside the pavement, you'll look southwest up the route, which leads to a saddle between two summits. Climb to the saddle, then take the ridge to either summit (or for a quickie forget the summits and stop at the saddle). Drop your ascent route. Remember the terrain in this area is only safe during times of lowest avalanche hazard, most often during the morning with a compacted spring snowpack.

 

More Green Mountain options as viewed from HWY 82, these can be quick hits, but the stream crossing may be difficult. If neccesary, cross stream farther upvalley, possibly using an extension ladder. Click image to enlarge.

 

 

Route 9.3.4 Independence Mountain

Climb rating: Harder skins, Easy boots Ski rating: Advanced, S3 Recommended seasons: Spring snow Starting elevation: 10,840 feet Summit elevation: 12,703 feet Elevation gain: 1,863 feet Round trip distance: 4 miles Day trip? Yes Maps: Independence North, Independence South Photo: [several in collection show this]

This classic takes the fine-looking mountain rising south of the Independence ghost town. Drive to Independence Townsite Trailhead, look south, and you can't miss it. If you know what you're looking at, you also get a good view of Independence Mountain from the road near Independence Pass summit. Head down through the townsite cabins and cross the Roaring Fork River (may require wading). The simplest route starts in the small gulch containing Independence Creek, then climbs an avalanche path up the peak's north shoulder. This funnels you up to the north ridge, which you can take to the summit. You can glisse your ascent route or take the popular east bowl (might be slightly easier skiing). Both come highly recommended.

Route 9.3.5 Independence Mountain-North Face

Climb rating: Harder skins, Easy boots Ski rating: Extreme, S4+ Recommended seasons: Spring snow Starting elevation: 10,840 feet Summit elevation: 12,703 feet Elevation gain: 1,863 feet Round trip distance: 4 miles Day trip? Yes Maps: Independence North, Independence South Photo: [in collection]

For the extremist's line on Independence Mountain, the obvious north face is a good bet. Start from Independence Townsite Trailhead, and climb Independence Mountain via route 9.2.4 or by the north face. You know what comes next. The best line takes the center of the face; it's not as steep as it looks from the road, but it'll keep you honest. Other lines are available.

Route 9.3.6 Heart Attack Hill

Climb rating: Easy skins or boots Ski rating: S2 Recommended seasons: All with snowcover Starting elevation: 12,000 feet Summit elevation: 12,560 feet Elevation gain: 560 feet Round trip distance: 1 mile Day trip? Yes Map: Independence North Photo: [several in collection show this]

Finally, one of those legendary easy routes. But watch your heart. Nothing like being flabby and trying to climb at 12,000 feet -- you will feel it. This excellent little hill is located about ½ mile down the road west from the Independence Pass Summit (see section introduction). If the road shoulder is packed, park at the base the hill (keep tires well away from pavement or risk a ticket). If parking is limited, park at the pass summit and scoot E and SE up the broad slopes. The top of Heart Attack Hill is a nondescript flat area (12,560 feet) with a good view. Indeed, if you're new to the pass do this short jaunt as a familiarization tour. Repeat laps for more vertical. This is a good place for children, but watch the actual fall line which can suck the unwary (or immature) down W into dangerous steep terrain above the Roaring Fork River.

There is a large area of low-angled terrain (S1) between Heart Attack Hill and the pass summit: a good place for beginners or raging skate skiers.

 

Independence Pass summit area viewed from east. Click image to enlarge.

 

 

Route 9.3.7 Snow Fence Ridge and Mountain Boy Gulch

Climb rating: Easy skins, easy boots Ski rating: S4- Recommended seasons: Spring snow season Starting elevation: 12,000 feet Summit elevation: 12,812 feet Elevation gain: 812 feet Trip distance: 3 miles Day trip? Yes Maps: Independence North, Independence South Photo: [several in collection show this route]

You'll see a lot of tracks on this route, partly because it's one of those gifts that yields more downhill than uphill by using piston travel, but also because it's simply a great place to ski or snowboard. Follow route 9.3.6 to Heart Attack Hill. Continue across a flat area then up the prominent ridge about a mile to a bump on the ridge known as Snow Fence Peak (12,812 feet). A broad shoulder known as The Nose drops east from the summit and is usually accessed via a short cornice drop. The shoulder leads to a low-angled area. Head to skier's left here (N), and then pick your way E down through steeper terrain into Mountain Boy Gulch. This steeper section can present unexpected avalanche danger in spring if you're there after a warm night, since parts of the snowpack will be poorly bonded to rock slabs. If you're worried about the steeps, here at backcountryskiingco.com we recommend circling to skier's right for lower angled terrain. Once in the drain, take Mountain Boy Gulch down to a hairpin turn (11,500 feet) on Independence Pass Road. Catch a ride or use your stashed vehicle. It's traditional for anyone with a vehicle here to load as many skiers as possible for the shuttle back up the road. Remember the golden rule.

Snow Fence Ridge is named after the Rube Goldberg structures built on the ridge in the 1960s intended to change the patterns of snow deposition so that more snowmelt would flow to the Eastern Slope. Most of the fences have been removed, but dangerous metal stakes can catch the unwary glisser.

Looking southeast from Independence Pass, Mountain Boy area. Click image to enlarge.


Route 9.3.8 Mountain Boy Peak

Climb rating: Moderate skins, easy boots Ski rating: S4- Recommended seasons: Spring snow Starting elevation: 12,000 feet Summit elevation: 13,198 feet Elevation gain: about 1,500 feet, depends on exact route Round trip distance: about 5 miles, depends on exact route Day trip? Yes Maps: Independence North, Independence South Photo: [in collection]

It's only the 489th highest mountain in Colorado, but Mountain Boy Peak is worth your time. You can get to this peak via a simple southerly traverse from Heart Attack Hill for about 2 miles S on Snow Fence Ridge (route 9.3.7) . That choice is scenic, but you do a lot of walking for the downhill you finally get. If you want more glisse, go to the Snow Fence Ridge summit and ski into Mountain Boy Gulch. After enjoying turns down to about 12,200 feet, slap your skins back on and climb through Mountain Boy Park Basin S then SW to the obvious saddle at the head of the basin, to the right of Mountain Boy's summit. As you tour, you'll see an attractive couloir dropping from an intermediary point on the ridge. This is known as the Cosmic Couloir, which must be a joke because it's fun to glisse, not that steep, and equals about one percent of such awesome drops as Grizzly Peak. But, if you insist, make a cosmic bonus run.

At any rate, once you're back to the ridge, follow it to Mountain Boy Peak's summit. From the summit, for a shorty you can ski a couloir at skier's left on the north face (which you doubtless saw on the way up the basin). If you have the energy, descend the east face from the summit into a classic basin. Enjoy turns to about 11,800 feet. Put your skins on yet again, and climb N to a saddle, then W to the summit of what's fondly known as Mountain Boy Hill (at least you'll know it as that by now.) From Mountain Boy Hill, ski down low-angled slopes E, then swing N, continuing down into Mountain Boy Gulch. If you stick to it, you'll ski to within a few hundred yards of a hairpin switchback on Independence Pass Road (11,500 feet). Catch a ride back to the pass, or use the vehicle you stashed there because of your with worthy foresight.

 

 

Route 9.3.9 Fourth of July Bowls

Climb rating: Easy skins or boots Ski rating: S4- Recommended seasons: Spring snow Starting elevation: 12,000 feet Summit elevation: 12,480 feet Elevation gain: 480 feet Trip distance: 2 miles Day trip? Yes Map: Independence North Photo: [in collection]

This area gets skied and ridden so much it's practically a resort with no lifts. Moguls have even been spotted at some of the narrow egress points! Okay, you do get about 1,500 vertical of skiing for only 480 of climbing, so perhaps the moguls are worth it. Before you glisse, familiarize yourself with Fourth of July by driving past the base of the run via Independence Pass Road. If you're coming from Aspen, spot the Independence ghost town at about 16 miles from town. As you continue driving past the ghost town, Fourth of July is the series of attractive bowls and shoulders you'll see up to your right (south). There are scores of descents.

For your first trip down Fourth of July, the main bowl is a good bet. Start by climbing most of the way up Heart Attack Hill ( elevation or route 9.3.6 ?). Traverse SW around the top of the hill (just a few feet below the actual summit), and cross a broad saddle. You're now at the start of Snow Fence Ridge (9.3.7???). Instead of climbing the ridge, continue contouring SW from the saddle. After a few hundred yards you'll be at the rim of Fourth of July Bowl. Nail it.

Variations from this point take a broad shoulder to rider's left of the bowl. Or farther west, you can drop a beautiful avalanche path down to the river and road. Crossing the river can be problematic. Look for snow bridges in early spring. You can rock hop in a few places, but you'll have to wade if the river is fully spating. Over the years, skiers have built makeshift bridges with planks they hauled up the road and carried down to the stream. If you're fortunate you'll find one. Have a car stashed on the road, or beg a ride.

This area is called Fourth of July because the town of Independence was founded July 4, 1879, and because the bowl is sometimes skiable in July, or at least it is for fanatics such as those of us here at backcountryskiingco.com!