Lost Creek Wilderness {November 2011}

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Handies Peak {14,048'}

The Basics ...

Handies Peak; San Juan Range

Date climbed: Saturday, August 13th
Elevation: 14,048'
Route: East slopes from Grizzly Gulch; elevation gain of 3,650'
RT distance & time: 8 miles; nearly 7 hours (including at least an hour spent on the summit and 30 minutes or so photographing meadow wildflowers ... we were blessed with a picture-perfect day and beautiful weather, so why rush?)

Handies from Grizzly Gulch (around 11,800')
Justin, Kona and I left the city on Friday morning en route to the lovely San Juans (a place neither of us had visited) with the intention of climbing Handies, Redcloud & Sunshine over two days. From Lake City, we drove 16 miles on County Road 30 towards Cinnamon Pass along a well-maintained dirt road that eventually hugs the south side of Sunshine Peak (with a bit of exposure) as it nears the Grizzly Gulch/Silver Creek trailhead. Comparatively, this road is quite smooth - 2WD vehicles shouldn't have much of an issue making it all the way to the TH given favorable weather. Since the area containing the parking lot is pretty open, we continued past the trailhead a half mile and chose a more secluded campsite with a stunning view of Redcloud and Sunshine. Since it was only 4:45 pm, we had plenty of time to play a game of bocce, prepare and eat chicken fajitas, enjoy a Moose Drool or two, and watch the full moon rise over Sunshine. The rain was supposed to stay away until the next evening, so we opted to forgo the rainfly.


We weren't on the Grizzly Gulch trail until 9 am the following morning ... luckily the forecast was promising and the hike relatively easy. Once we neared 11,500', we had a perfect view of our peak for the remainder of the ascent; we were also surrounded by the most incredible concentration and variety of wildflowers I have ever seen in one place! The final miles of our hike were unremarkable, but I should mention that the upper North Ridge is comprised of scree and loose rock which, because it is the steepest section of trail, makes it somewhat difficult to climb (although the descent is a bit more challenging). --- And by 'challenging', I mostly mean annoying --- The views from the summit of Handies are remarkable; despite being entirely unfamiliar with the San Juans, I could easily recognize Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre to the north as well as Mount Sneffels to the northwest.

Wetterhorn (left) and Uncompahgre
Kona on the summit of his third 14er

This was the most gorgeous hike I have ever been on .... Handies Peak was #18 for me, #15 for Justin and #3 for Kona. Grizzly Gulch is not a difficult route by any means, so we were able to enjoy ourselves while accomplishing a noteworthy feat! Unfortunately, due to stormy morning weather that persisted throughout the day, we were unable to attempt Redcloud and Sunshine on Sunday. Yet, if we had to return anywhere to check off a few peaks, it'd definitely be here! Someday :)

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