James Peak 13,294'
James Peak is the namesake mountain of the James Peak Wilderness. This peak is not the highest point in the wilderness area, but it does occupy the prominent end of the ridge of 13,000-foot peaks extending north from Berthoud Pass. The Continental Divide drops precipitously from James’ 13,294’ summit to the lower ridge running north to Rollins Pass.
The East Face of James Peak is an extremely popular location for all types forms of alpine mountaineering. The “Star” couloirs slice through the East Face, and the most prominent is the Shooting Star Couloir. This Front Range test piece is highly accessible, reaches a steepness of 60 degrees, and tops out right at the summit. The “Star” Couloirs are on the must do list of every aspiring Front Range ski and snowboard mountaineer.
The steep East Face is contrasted with the moderate Southeast Slope. This slope, combined with a high access point near St. Mary’s Glacier, make James Peak popular with winter snow climbers.
James Peak is named after Dr. Edwin James. James was the botanist on Major Stephen Harriman Long’s expedition to explore the Platte River. James led the first recorded ascent of Pikes Peak during this expedition.
Shared Approach to the Southeast Slopes and East Face via St. Mary’s Glacier
The most consistent approach into the basin below the East Face is via the St. Mary’s Trailhead. The Southeast Slopes and the East Face share a common approach to about 12,600’. Depart the St. Mary’s Glacier Trailhead and hike up the steep road about 0.6 miles to St. Mary’s Lake. Go around the north side of the lake and climb up the “glacier” to the large plain of Jamaica Flats (approximately 1.35 miles from trailhead). Hike or ski about 1.65 miles west on the rising Southeast Slopes towards James Peak to about 12,600’. At this point break north to the East Face via the top of the Bailout route, or continue up the Southeast Slopes to the summit.
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 – East Face
- Season: Spring
- Exposure: Various
- Vertical: 700’ – 1,500’
- Approach Elevations: 10,340’ – 12,800’
- Approach Distance: From St. Mary’s Glacier TH: 3 Miles
- Top of “Bailout” Waypoint: [39.8484, -105.6834]
From the St. Mary’s Glacier Trailhead, follow the shared approach described above to the top of the Bailout route at approximately 12,800’. [39.8484, -105.6834] Descend north following two steep snow slopes into the basin below the East Face. Be careful here as the snow is most likely frozen and therefore slick! Keep the cliffs north of Bailout to your right, and the cliffs surrounding the Star couloirs to your left. Summit Post has a good picture showing this entrance.
The exit from the East Face of James Peak is east of Bailout. Descend from the basin below the East Face to James Peak Lake. From the south point of the lake, climb up the bowl and shoulder that rises to the south. This is east (opposite) of Bailout. You may find a loose climber’s trail leading up the edge of the slope. This should put you at 11,900’ and near your initial approach via the Southeast Slopes. [39.8498, -105.6747]
1 – Bailout (II, D6 )
This is a bummer of a name for a really fun ski descent. Bailout drops east from the edge of the Southeast Slopes and then swoops north 1,500’ to the shores of James Peak Lake.
2 – Starlight (II, D6)
Starlight is the furthest couloir to the looker’s left on the East Face of James Peak. This north-facing chute is moderately steep, does not have a cornice at the top, and thus is a great couloir climb and descent for ski mountaineers who are looking for a fun first couloir experience.
3 - First Star (II, D10)
This curvy chute is directly to the looker’s right of Starlight, and actually connects to the lower half of Starlight Couloir. Climb up Starlight, and then take a right and continue on a climbing traverse to the right. After several hundred feet the couloir will turn left and climb through a narrowing chute to the Southeast Slopes. The upper limits of the couloir are much steeper than the majority of the chute.
4 - Sky Pilot (II, D15 R4)
This is a route for those who like to do jump turns on 50-degree slopes with a severe double fall line and large cliffs looming below. Sky Pilot ramps up and left across the East Face. The lower portion is an upward traverse across a ramp, and the upper forks are more of a standard vertical couloir. You will want to definitely climb this before you ski it!
5 – Shooting Star (II D17 R4)
This is one of the Front Range’s classic couloirs. Shooting Star continues to become steeper and narrower the higher you climb, and then it tops out right at the summit of James Peak. Depending on how the snow loads, the angle at the top is near 60 degrees, but there is no cornice. The upper turns are exposed to cliffs on the skier’s right. The chute itself sustains the angle of descent at 50 degrees and then the high 40 degrees lower down. The narrow and inset portion of the couloir may contain ice in the spring. Watch out for a small crevasse that forms at the bottom of this chute in the summer. This is a popular mountaineering route. Please be aware of climbers ascending the route and communicate with them regarding the timing of your descent. A fall in this couloir can take someone else out.
6 – Superstar (II D19 R3)
Superstar Couloir shares a start with Sky Pilot and Shooting Star. Sky Pilot goes hard left, Shooting Star in the middle left, and Superstar to the right. You get a good view of Superstar from the top of Bailout. Superstar is gets exposed to the sun earlier than Shooting Star. Superstar terminates at a massive overhanging cornice and requires 4th class to lower 5th class mixed climbing to the climber’s left or right to access the weakest points in the cornice. The steepness of this couloir is over 50 degrees and approaches 60 degrees. A bergschrund can form at the top of the route, as well as near the bottom. If you are going to climb to the ridge you will want bring a rope, harness, and a light rack with nuts and snow stakes for anchors.
7 – Starbright (II, D9)
Starbright is the “Star” couloir that is the farthest north on the East Face of James Peak. This couloir, along with its sister Starlight on the other side of the face, is one of the moderate alternatives to Shooting Star and Superstar. The very top of the couloir is steep, often thin and rocky, and may have a cornice. This upper section melts in late spring and you may have to do some Class 3 rock scrambling to reach the North Ridge. You may want to start your ski descent below the top of the chute.
9 - Southeast Slopes – II, D2
Vertical: 1,400’ +
Approach Elevations: 10,340’ –13,294’
Approach Distance: From St. Mary’s Glacier TH: 3.5 Miles
Top of Route Waypoint: [39.8522, -105.69]
The Southeast Slopes climb from St. Mary’s Glacier and Jamaica Flats directly to the summit of James Peak. This route is popular in all seasons and is the most common way to climb James Peak. The accessibility via the high elevation trailhead and the low angle of ascent make this a good summit to climb in early spring to check out the ski mountaineering conditions across the James Peak Wilderness. The view from the summit includes Mount Bancroft, Heartbeat Peak, and Sprint Peak.
For the ascent, follow the shared approach that is described above. At approximately 12,600’ continue up the low angle Southeast Slopes to the summit. The slopes are not steep and exceed 20 degrees in only a few spots.
St. Mary’s Glacier (10,340’)
The St. Mary’s Glacier Trailhead is just north of the small town of Alice located on the Fall River Road. From Exit 238 on Interstate 70 (west of Idaho Springs), drive north 8.5 miles on the Fall River Road to the first of two large parking lots. There are two parking lots for St. Mary’s Glacier. The lower lot is the largest, and the upper lot is smaller. There is a $5 fee to park here and you can obtain the permit from marked posts in the parking lot. There are restrooms at the parking lots. The trail is located between the two parking lots. [39.8255, -105.6446]
+ MAPS & PICTURES
Below we have included a link to a Google interactive map and a curated list of photos of the mountain.