This trip all originated after I gave my Mom a copy of “Halfway to Heaven” My White-knuckled-and Knuckleheaded- Quest for the Rocky Mountain High by Mark Obmascik also known as Oman on 14ers.com. She really enjoyed the book, and told me that she and my Aunt would like to climb Handies Peak with me this summer. Handies would be my Mom’s fourth fourteener and my Aunts first. We set a date in July and they started going for hikes along the Front Range to prepare for the climb. I decided that we would take the American Basin route so they could see the famous wildflowers in the alpine cirque and because of the relatively easy hike to the summit. As an added bonus I was able to go up a few days early to climb Redcloud and Sunshine peak, and watch some of the Hardrock 100 Endurance Race.
I drove up from Denver on Wednesday afternoon after finishing work for the week, and stopped by Poker Alice for a slice of pizza before driving up Cinnamon Pass to the Grizzly Gultch/Silver Creek Trailhead. The week prior the pass was closed for a day after having the largest rockslide in 40 years. Hinsdale County did an excellent job cleaning up, and the road is in good shape to drive up the pass in either direction. I was expecting to be alone at the trailhead that night, but to my surprise there were several large groups of campers. After setting up camp, I went to bed anticipating waking up at 0330.
The next morning I awoke to a clear sky with thousands of stars, which gave me the opportunity to test out my new camera. (I’ll keep on playing with the settings and hopefully will get some better night sky pictures in the future)
Playing with my new camera.. Better night shots to come
I set off into the dark woods imagining all the creepy things that could be lurking the dark along the trail, but fortunately all I ran into was a lone rabbit. The trail has been covered in spots by rockslides that occurred the previous week due to the rain; they all can be easily crossed. Once in the high basin I saw several headlamps ahead of me, from some hikers that had camped up high the night before. Glad to not be on the mountain alone I caught up with them and found they were from Pueblo and were in the San Juans that week camping and climbing the fourteeners in the area. We reached the saddle around dawn and she waited there for her kids to catch up while I continued up the ridge to the summit.
San Juan Sunrise
Redcloud has always intrigued me… Maybe it’s just how red the rocks and dirt is, it is truly a beautiful mountain.
First sighting of Redcloud
Redcloud and northeast ridge
Soon enough I was on the summit, and had a great view of the surrounding San Juan Range. I had hoped to have climbed “Sundog” on the descent back to Silver Creek but decided against it since I was solo. After spending a few minutes on the summit taking pictures I began hiking towards Sunlight. The ridge walk to Sunlight had some great views of “Sundog” and its connecting ridge, along with Half Peak in the distance. Half peak is definitely on my to-do list; it’s a really obscure looking peak with its plateau summit (Picture #20)
Final summit pitch
I made it over to Sunshine at 0720 took a few pictures from the top and started back towards Redcloud. There isn’t many places that would be good to bail from Sunshine if you needed too the whole slope back into the basin below is covered by loose talus so be sure to begin early and don’t go to Sunshine if the clouds are coming in.
Ridge to Sunshine
On my way down Redcloud there was a steady stream of people going up from the large group at the trailhead. I reached the saddle around 0900 and still had good weather and time to burn before going back to Lake City to meet my family. I hiked up the other side of the saddle to Point 13,561. The trail to Point 13,561 is painless but soon becomes loose talus underneath the peak. I climbed up within 40 yards of the summit but decided to turn around because it was becoming too loose for my comfort. The basin on the other side had a huge herd of elk in it.
I started back down to the trailhead, and the basin was full of wildflowers, which made for an enjoyable walk. I drove back into Lake City to meet my Mom and Aunt, and we spent the rest of the day driving around checking out Slumgullion Pass, Alfred Packers massacre sight, and Lake San Cristobal. We ate dinner at Poker Alice and discussed the plan for Handies Peak the next day. They were not trilled with having to wake up at 0330 the next day to drive up to American Basin, but it is a long slow drive from Lake City to the Trailhead.
We woke up the next morning at 0330 and packed everything in the truck for the drive to American Basin. After Grizzly gulch the dirt road becomes pretty rough and it took us two hours to get to American Basin. We ate a light breakfast and started up the trail around 0600.
Waterfall along the trail
The view of the basin from the trailhead is incredible with all the wildflowers and the mountain backdrop. We took it easy going up the trail with many stops to take pictures of the surrounding area. They had trail markers all along the trail for the Hardrock 100 race that begun that morning at 0600, I can’t imagine how tough that climb would be after already doing so many miles before that point.
Hardrock 100 marker
Once we arrived at Sloan Lake, my mom had doubts that she could do the rest of the trail because it looked really steep. I assured her that it looked worse than it really was and we continued across the face of Handies.
After a small talus field the trail becomes dirt again and switch backed up Handies to the southwest slope. We rested on the saddle and again had a good view of half peak, and the back basin. The rest of the trail up to the peak is steep, so we took stopped several times on the way up to the top. I made it to the top before them and soon after a kid from Texas hiking with his family joined me. We waited for my Mom and Aunt to arrive and celebrated the successful summit with some orange slices.
Saddle to Handies.. Almost there!
Final summit push
My aunts first 14er and my Moms forth
The clouds were starting to come in so we started down the mountain and back to the trailhead. I met a lot of runners on the mountain that were up there to watch the race; a few of them had run the part of the course from Grouse Gultch aid-station.
American Basin Flowers
American Basin flowers
For the flower lovers
The trailhead was packed with jeeps and four-wheelers by the time we got back to the trailhead. We made the bumpy ride back to Lake City and went to the Cannibal Grill for celebratory beers and food for my aunt’s first fourteener and our successful summit. Later that night I drove up to the Sherman Aid-Station and watched the front runners come though, congrats to all who participated in the race this year.
Hard Rock 100 Sherman Aid-station 71.8 miles
It was really good to get out hiking with my family. It had been a long time since we had gone on a hiking trip together, and it was really great to share this whole fourteener experience with them.
Hope you enjoyed the report and pictures. If you have any questions about the mountains please feel free to ask!
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
Caution: The information contained in this report may not be accurate and should not be the only resource used in preparation for your climb. Failure to have the necessary experience, physical conditioning, supplies or equipment can result in injury or death. 14ers.com and the author(s) of this report provide no warranties, either express or implied, that the information provided is accurate or reliable. By using the information provided, you agree to indemnify and hold harmless 14ers.com and the report author(s) with respect to any claims and demands against them, including any attorney fees and expenses. Please read the 14ers.com Safety and Disclaimer pages for more information.