Saturday & Sunday, August 16-17, 2014
Diane has been hiking in the mountains with me all summer and was finally ready to try climbing her first 14er. She left the decision of which 14er we would climb up to me, so I decided we would hike up Handies Peak in the San Juan Mountains. Handies Peak was my first 14er back in 2010, so I knew it would be a good one to start out on. It’s also one of the easier hikes at 2.9 miles in length (one way) with 2,500 feet of elevation gain. She has hiked longer trails with more elevation gain with me before, so I was confident she would make it to the top. Since Handies was my first, I was also looking forward to climbing it again to see how much easier it would be for me the second time around. Plus I was looking forward to getting an earlier start this time so I could watch the sunrise with a better camera from near the top.
We left home on Saturday morning with plans to hike Handies Peak (14,048 feet) bright and early on Sunday morning, so we took our time by driving the Alpine Loop to the trailhead in American Basin. We left the highway just outside of Ouray and followed the rough road along the Uncompahgre River and Mineral Creek, past Mineral Point, and then up to Engineer Pass at 12,800 feet. While we were up at the pass we thought it would be a good warm up to hike the short distance to the top of Engineer Mountain (13,218 feet). It was an easy hike from the pass and offered great views all around, including 14ers Uncompahgre Peak (14,309 feet), Wetterhorn Peak (14,015 feet) and Mount Sneffels (14,150 feet). There was also a nice view down into the upper portion of Bear Creek, which we had hiked partway up a few weeks ago.
A nice view up Poughkeepsie Gulch as we drove up the Alpine Loop towards Engineer Pass.
I love the shadows from the clouds on the alpine tundra above tree-line.
Almost to Engineer Pass.
Darley Mountain (13,260 feet) comes into view.
A view towards the Sneffels Range from Oh! Point.
Looking down into the upper reaches of Bear Creek.
More shadows on the tundra towards the Sneffels Range.
A straightforward hike to the top of Engineer Mountain.
Nice view from the top of Wetterhorn Peak (left) and Uncompahgre Peak (right).
View from the top.
I liked the dark shadow of the cloud below.
Diane on the summit.
Coming back down from the top.
After spending some time on the summit and then hiking back to the Jeep, we continued over the pass and dropped down to Henson Creek, which we followed to Lake City. We made one stop along the way and hiked down to Whitmore Falls.
We stopped in Lake City for a late lunch before driving past Lake San Cristobal and following the Lake Fork of the Gunnison to Burrows Park. We found a nice campsite under Edith Mountain (12,620 feet) a few miles before the trailhead in American Basin that would work nicely for an early start the following morning. After setting up camp we took a quick drive up into American Basin to check it out for the morning and then went to bed early.
Our campsite for the night.
Handies Peak towers above the trailhead in American Basin. Our destination for the following morning.
Shadows and light in American Basin.
Two-track to our campsite.
On Sunday morning we woke up to my alarm at 3:30am and were on our way up the trail to Handies Peak by 4:00am. It was beautiful hiking below the peaks of American Basin under the stars and Milky Way with just enough moonlight that we didn’t need to use our headlamps. We saw quite a few meteorites shoot across the sky from the Perseid Meteor Shower that has been going on this month. We hiked slowly but at a steady pace and made it to the saddle below Handies Peak just before sunrise and were able to watch the early morning sunlight strike the surrounding mountains from near the top as the Earth’s shadow moved slowly across the sky to the west. It was a beautiful sight and a great way to start the day; definitely worth waking up at 3:30am for!
Looking back down the trail towards American Peak and Sloan Lake as I neared the saddle. There was finally enough light to start taking some photos.
View from the saddle.
The Earth’s shadow above American Peak and Sloan Lake.
Small wildflowers along the trail.
From this elevation the Earth Shadow seemed to last forever.
Finally, the first sunlight of the day begins to strike to tops of the surrounding mountains.
Then it breaks over the ridge I am hiking along to warm me up.
Diane coming up the trail behind me.
Beautiful views all around!
The last stretch of the trail to the summit.
Almost to the top!
My first view from the summit with Uncompahgre Peak in the upper left and Whitecross Mountain (13,542 feet) below.
Diane made it to the top of Handies a little before 7:00am, which was how long I figured it would take. I don’t think that just under three hours is bad for 2,500 feet of elevation gain on your first 14er. It was certainly much easier for me this time than the first time I did this peak back in 2010, too. We spent about half an hour on the summit and then slowly hiked back down enjoying the scenery along the trail in the daylight. We stopped by Sloan Lake for a snack and made it back to the Jeep in about 1.5 hours.
Diane on top of her first 14er!
A view of Handies Peak from the north with the three guys we shared the summit with this morning.
Looking down to the Cinnamon Pass Road which we would be taking back home in a few hours.
Boulder Gulch below as we start our descent.
Diane on the trail as we make our way back down.
Sloan Lake reflections.
Hiking back through American Basin in the daylight.
After the hike, we returned to our campsite to take down the tent and then drove over Cinnamon Pass to Animas Forks and followed the Animas River to Silverton for an early lunch at the Kendall Mountain Cafe. They definitely have my favorite burger in Silverton, it’s just too bad they are only open until 3:00pm. After lunch we drove over Red Mountain Pass to get back home.
View into the basin that the Cinnamon Pass Road climbs up through.
Looking down the Animas River Valley as we descend from Cinnamon Pass to Animas Forks.
Diane was happy to have hiked her first 14er, and while it was difficult for her, she said it wasn’t as tough as she thought it was going to be. Maybe because I’ve taken her on tougher hikes before, just not at quite that high of an elevation…