Preceding Report: 1 of 6: Mt. Sneffels (now with Super Bonus Photos from Blue Lakes side)
August 9, 2012
Handies would be our 2nd peak on this tour. Handies is sometimes derided because it's not very long or difficult (at least not from the American Basin side), but it shouldn't be put down. This is one of the best-constructed trails I've seen and probably THE LUSHEST tundra I've seen anywhere in Colorado. It's uncommonly beautiful.
Getting to Handies from Ouray, is another story. Having climbed Sneffels the day before, we were coming from Ouray and indended to ascend Poughkeepsie Gulch by Will's Isuzu VehiCross to get over the ridge to the Eastern batch of San Juans. The roads are very poorly marked and different maps have differing degrees of detail -- many don't include all the roads you'll encounter. Surprisingly, the most accurate map was not our Atlas, our Trail Map or Google. It was a photo-copy one-pager on the back of a 4WD tourist brochure we grabbed in Ouray. That map was right on the money, if not exactly drawn to scale.
We spent a couple of hours trying to go East before finally encountering boulders which were too much for the stock Isuzu. We also learned a new word, "lockers" -- this is a device that prevents your wheels on a given axle from rotating freely from one another. I can see how this would be useful when one of your 4 wheels is often swinging in the air.
As we pondered our next move, a beautiful blonde woman in aviator glasses approached us in her jeep. This was Stephanie. She out driving around just 'cuz. Allright, then! She laughed at us for being wimps, but ultimately decided to join our foray over to Handies. We backtracked a bit and took the longer route up toward (but not over) Engineer Pass, which was easier to plot given that we were driving the ONLY switchback road on a hillside rather than mucking around in the valley crisscrossed with jeep trails.
"Mineral Point" ruins South of Engineer Pass
Ultimately we joined up with the road descending off Engineeer Pass and began the long drive down Animas Forks, another abanoned settlement which is right next to the turn-off to Cinnamon Pass.
Will and Stephanie stopped at the turnoff to Cinnamon Pass (left)
Cinnamon Pass traffic jam
Animas Forks ghost town
Stephanie pondering Animas Forks
Cinnamon Pass is pretty rough but not as frightening as Engineer Pass (which we drove a couple of days later). As we approached American Basin, it was clear that the weather had gotten there first.
toward American Basin
Would this be the first scrubbed ascent of the trip? Why, of course not. The weather had split into two systems pounding the mountains several miles south and also several miles north. After letting a pair of lightning-rods, I mean hikers, start off in front of us, we decided to give it a go and turn back if the weather got worse.
Handies Peak not visible at left
Will and me Below Sloan Lake
Above Sloan Lake - still good footing, but totally exposed to weather
Sloan Lake - "lightning rods" ascending
Will and I dropped gear at the ridge to run up to the summit (behind camera) and leave quickly
Handies Pk (14,048 ) summit, storms threatening
Run away! Run Away! We re-encountered the "lightning rods" (4:45) who were sucking wind this day after beating themselves up doing Unc and Wetterhorn the previous day. Will promised to hang just below the ridge to watch that they actually made it off the summit. (We end up seeing them again on Sunshine & Redcloud tomorrow)
As we got lower and the electrical activity still hadn't come into our basin, we grew less anxious. Tundra football!
We got lucky this day. It's against pretty much all the rules of Colorado climbing to begin a summer ascent at 2pm. In our favor was a short, magnificient, runnable trail and decent vantage of weather rolling in from the west, which it usually, but not always, does.
Beauty with a whole lot of ugly rolling in
Subsequent Report: Rpt 3 of 6: Shine & Clouds
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