This past weekend, in PERFECT weather conditions (not a single drop of rain or clap of thunder!), my husband, brother, sister-in-law, and a friend attempted and summited Handies Peak, 14,048 feet. We had newbs along (bro and sis-in-law) so we opted for the shorter, easier route via the American Basin and the southwest slope. You'll read trip reports on this website about crazy people doing this round trip hike in 2, 3 and 4 hours. With newbs along who were concerned about being able to make it, we were hiking at a decent pace most of the time but took lots of long breaks including about an hour's worth of stops combined (going and coming) at Sloan Lake. So this was a leisurely meander, done in about 7 hours. No worries. We were out to expose 14er virgins to the glory of the summit, not win any races.
Most of the Handies trip reports include info on the Grizzly Gulch route. I noticed that there have been a lot of questions in the forum regarding the road that leads to the American Basin and the trailhead, the access through which we were planning on using. So in hopes of clearing some things up a bit, I took some pics and even video of the road along the way.
As reported in the description of the trailhead access, County Road 30, two miles south of Lake City, is the road that will take you directly to the American Basin. It is 20ish miles long. The road is paved for more than half the way although, as we soon found out, this distance took is about 5% of the time we took making the complete drive. At around mile 12, it becomes packed dirt - no problem.
The road then becomes more gravel and rock, still not a problem in my low 1988 Toyota Corolla. She's seen worse
The views are getting better but the road is getting rougher. It is now dotted with large rocks in that take a little thought and observation to navigate. No longer moving along quickly at all.
More smart navigating. Speed has dropped to a crawl.
I lost track of time on this road. I want to say it took about 60-90 minutes but that's just an estimate. About a hundred yards before the fork in the road (left another mile or so to the TH and right to Cinnamon Pass and Silverton), we encountered some large rocks on a very steep incline. Here's some video of my brother's Pontiac Vibe making it over....barely:
Embarrassing truth here (hey, we're all friends here, right): when our Corolla went over and over this, the engine stopped running for no obvious reason. All we could figure was that the incline of the hill had sloshed all the fuel into the back of the tank and away from the intake. This seemed preposterous to me since the gas light hadn't come on (it usually comes on 25-30 miles before actually running out of gas). A few minutes after this, a life-saver in a jeep and some spare gas came by and gave us some fuel. The car started right up. THe nice gentleman wouldn't accept any money for the gas. If you are reading this, kind stranger, THANK YOU!
We parked and camped just beyond the fork in the road, about a mile below the TH and maybe a two-minute's walk from the famed stream crossing that keeps 2WD vehicles from going any further.
I had some beefs with the things I had read about this road leading up to the stream crossing. The website made it seem like it was no problem for a 2WD vehicle. This was not our experience and my husband, a 4WD nut with and rock crawling experience, especially begged to differ with the idea that this should be classified as a 2WD road. A more descriptive title, I think, would be to label it as "High Clearance Only". If you've got high clearance but still only 2WD, you will be fine. 4WD and high clearance, even better, and you'll move more quickly as well.
Now on to the actual hike....
It was a GORGEOUS day. The weather was outstanding and the famous American Basin flowers were in full bloom.
At about 12,800 is the aforementioned Sloan Lake, a clear and blue alpine lake that served us, and many others as a good resting place.
We saw some people trying to fish but with no bites after only about 20 minutes, they gave up.
Scree field between lake and saddle
From the saddle..the final approach is on gravel and can be tricky as far as footing goes
View back on Sloane Lake from summit
Looking over the other side of the summit into Grizzly Gulch
My husband, brother and sister-in-law at the summit
One final piece of advice. Whether it is when you are going or coming, you MUST stop in Lake City. It is a delightful little mountain community with a rich history rooted in the silver mining boom. Make sure you are hungry because you have to stop at the Smoque Shack.
Order up your favorite beer and the pulled pork nachos. To. Die For. I may have been heard claiming that I would trade an average to above-average friend for these.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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