In the San Juans, near Lake City, Colorado
Gain/Round Trip Distance: 4880 feet, 11.4 miles (Redcloud and Sunshine); 3650 feet, 7.6 miles (Handies)
Three cars left the parking lot of Golden at 8 am - Steve drove Janet and Joan, Tom drove Christina and Michele, and Brad drove Mark and myself. We stopped in Gunnison for lunch (45 minute stop) and waited for the others for about 15 minutes at the Lake San Cristobal turnoff south of Lake City. We arrived at the Silver Creek - Grizzly Gulch Trailhead at 2 pm. A nice campsite exists across the bridge on the Grizzly Gulch trail, a couple of hundred feet upstream on the creek. Lots of flat ground and the noise from the creek helps to deaden the racket from the trailhead area. The afternoon was spent lounging around the camp on a fairly warm, sunny afternoon. As I turned out the light at about 10 pm, I gazed awhile at the stars, dimmed slightly by the full moon rising in the east.
The trailhead in the morning was bustling with activity, with maybe 20 cars. We started up from the 10,400 foot Silver Creek trail at 6:35 am, prepared for a long day of about 5000 feet of gain and an 11.4 mile roundtrip hike, which would include both Redcloud and Sunshine. The temperature had seemed slightly chilly (35 degrees?) upon awaking, and we started off somewhat bundled. After the beautiful (and steep) climb through the trees, we stopped a couple of times to shed clothes. There were fewer wild flowers than I had expected, but some wonderful Columbines, Purple Friends, etc. The long walk through the basin north of Redcloud is simply beautiful. Redcloud and Sunshine peer down at you as you walk by. Steve allowed us to go at our own pace, suggesting we meet at the 13,020 saddle preceding Redclouds NW Slopes. Sixty-four year old Brad, an avid bicyclist, proved his mettle by leaving us all in his dust, on more than one occasion.
We stop for about 20 minutes at the saddle to chat and have a snack and head up the switchbacking ridge. This last 1000 feet is STEEP. We arrive at the summit about 9:55 am, lounging around for about 1/2 hour. There are excellent views of Uncompahgre, Wetterhorn and Coxcomb to the north. Sunshine Peak is hidden from view, separated from Redcloud by about 1.4 miles horizontal, and 616 feet of vertical. I feel pretty good, so the fact that we are returning from Sunshine over Redcloud hasn't really struck me as a "bad" thing.
The wind is on again / off again. I have yet to shed down to my tee-shirt, leaving on a polypro pullover. Light gloves have yet to leave my hands. The day has been mostly sunny, and we sense no danger with the long ridge walk to Sunshine Peak. At the lowest point, there is a sign (laying on the ground) warning of the danger of taking off from here back to the main trail in the basin. Steve's experience with this trail is that it is best done with a helmet, as the steepness is ripe for rockfall. He is wholly confident the best route is to return over Redcloud. C'est la vie! I'm still having fun.
We arrive on Sunshine at about 11:10 am. Again, given the fine weather, we are able to lounge for about 1/2 hour. Everyone appears to be in fine spirits, as it is always a good feeling to achieve two lofty summits in one day. We head back down, stopping at the low point to rebuild the rockpile around the downed sign. I am still feeling really good, but definitely am feeling "it" by the time I gain Redcloud again. But, nonetheless, here we are again, enjoying another rest and a snack. I leave the summit a bit after most of the others have left, at about 12:45 pm, followed only by Steve and Janet. The plan is to simply meet back at camp. (This entire trail, from trailhead to both summits, is clearly defined throughout -- there is no getting lost.) I typically feel good descending quickly, and am back at the 13,020 saddle in about 15 minutes. After getting past the basin, I slow the pace a bit, arriving back at the trailhead at 2:30 pm (Joan catches up on the last 5 minutes), about 8 hours after departure.
I clean up a bit and a nap from 3 - 4 allows me to feel largely refreshed. The others have been returning during my nap, and Steve gives an excellent talk about the proposed wilderness areas associated with Redcloud and Handies. (He is obviously passionate and active in the political realm associated with wilderness issues.) We all have a bit of dinner and more conversation. A number of very brave deer have come to explore near our camp. I turn in about 8:30 pm, with lights out, again, about 10 pm. I awake once to venture outside for a "break", and am greeted by moderate temperatures (40 degrees?) and clear skies. Wonderful! Tomorrow morning begins our Handies Peak adventure.
Don't heed Roaches description of the trailhead location. The sign for Grizzly Creek trailhead is correct as it stands - there is need to go west of the abandoned cabin. Take the very nice bridge across the creek.
Seven of us started up the Grizzly Creek Trail at 7 am on this Independence Day 2004. Tom had a slight ankle injury and Michele was still recovering from a recent sickness bout. (How she completed yesterdays long affair in a weakened state is amazing.)
Today is a just as nice as yesterday, blue skies with some light clouds. The trail starts off steep and is fairly relentless until we reach the basin. WOW! What a beautiful trail and beautiful basin. (Again, this trail is clearly marked, and one cannot possibly get lost here.)
We pause for a bit in the basin and again at 13,000 feet, below the saddle. From here, it is again steep, and only gets steeper as one approaches the summit of Handies. (This trail sees about 1000 feet of gain per mile.) We arrive at the summit about 10 am, with a bunch of folks coming and going from both the Grizzly Gulch side and from the American Basin Trailhead. A few minutes after our arrival at the summit, we are treated to a flyover by four jets in formation (the Blue Angels?). Really neat. We take our time, as the day is pretty nice, and we are early. There are however, some clouds forming, and it is obviously raining far out beyond Sunshine Peak. We start down and, again, are treated to a flyover. (They fly directly over the summit!) Really neat.
Upon reaching the 13,000 foot point, we stop for a few minutes, and Steve again offers to simply meet us all at camp. I feel inclined to take my time today, and am largely in the rear. The views are simply wonderful, and I search for signs of wildlife. (All I get to see is squirrel. Wahhh!) I try to keep my head up and looking around, as opposed to on the trail, and feel wholly privileged to be out here. What a day!
I arrive back at camp at 1 pm, a minute in front of Steve and Janet, who bring up the rear. It is starting to look a lot like rain is in the offing, and I quickly pack up. We are off by about 2 pm, stopping for lunch in Lake City. Thanks Steve, for a memorable weekend.