Peak(s):  Uncompahgre Peak  -  14,309 feet
Redcloud Peak  -  14,034 feet
Handies Peak  -  14,048 feet
Date Posted:  08/13/2012
Date Climbed:   08/04/2012
Author:  richwill

 San Juan Beauty  

It's been almost 30 years since I've been down to the San Juans to do any climbing. Dont know why,maybe just getting too lazy in my old age to drive the 360 miles or so from my home in Aurora (near Denver) Colorado. It's about a 6 hour drive , maybe a little more if you're pulling a pop-up trailer with a Toyota like I was. But, It was worth the wait! The San Juans are among the most scenic, beautiful mountains in Colorado. We set up camp just about 9 miles outside of Lake City. This was a central location for the three 14ers we were hoping to climb (Uncompahgre, Redcloud, Handies). In hindsight, I would have camped closer to Redcloud Peak, maybe along Grizzly Gulch, then we would've been closer to 2 hikes, & driven a little farther to Uncompahgre, rather than the other way around. I had a friend along for this trip who has 4 previous 14er climbs under his belt, and these 3 seemed like a tough, but do-able goal. His 1st 14er came at 54 (he's now 56 & I'm gonna hit 50 soon) Living proof even old farts can will our way up a 14er! So, on wth the report....
DAY 1 - Uncompahgre 14309 ft. - Up at 4am we headed up the Nellie creek 4WD road to the trailhed for Uncompahgre Peak. A 7.25 mile round trip, this was the peak I really wanted to get done first. Even before sunrise,the well defined trail was easy to see. We left the headlamps in the truck & headed up. It's about a mile from the trailhead before you can see the Peak itself. But with the early morning light, & nearly full moon descending behind it, Uncompahgre was an incredible sight. The trail is a moderate slope and doesn't have much exposure till you near 13500 ft. But as soon as you're through the loose rock / steeper climb, you're almost at the summit. The last few hundred feet is a walk through the park, with the most amazing views to boot. A turkey sandwich for lunch on the summit & we headed down. Total time for this climb was about 6 1/2 hours, with a vertical gain of about 3000 ft. Wildlife seen on this climb included deer, crow, marmot & pika.

DAY 2 - Redcloud Peak 14034 ft. - Up at 4 & headed to the Redcloud trailhead, it took about 1 hour to get there from where we were camped on the other side of Lake City. The Silver Creek trailhead is shown on the map as 2WD access, but I sure wouldn't take MY car down that road. The truck required no 4WD, but I'd still recomend a high clearance vehicle. This was a longer climb & I was feeling a little stiff from the previous days efforts. But once on the trail, all doubt was gone, this was going to be a good day. Again, it's well over a mile before Redcloud comes into view. Sunshine Peak keeps you company on the way though, and the early part of this climb runs along a nice creek. The rock formations and colors here are a geologists dream, right out of a text book. After gaining the basin a false summit rises up. Once you gain the ridge, about 12800 ft. the true summit becomes obvious, a red & gold monolith looming above you, catching the Suns morning rays. Moderate exposure & switchbacks take you to the false summit, just uder 14000 ft. The remaining trail is a moderate slope, but little exposure. The summit doesn't dissapoint with awesome views of Handies, Sunshine, & Uncompahgre to name a few. We had thought of making the trek to Sunshine for a double-bagger, but clouds were building & we were both tired. Leaving that for another day we headed down. Total time for this climb was almost 8 hours, with a vertical gain of 3700 ft. Wildlife seen on this trip include deer, a bull moose (In Grizzly Creek) and, get this, a black bear!

DAY 3 - Handies Peak 14048 ft. -Up at 4 & on the road again, right past Redcloud & up to American Basin trailhead. The last mile of this road serious 4WD, do not attempt it in a 2WD, even with high clearance. Once again a little stiff in the morning, but with mother nature cooperating weather wise,we were on our way up. This was agian an incredibly scenic climb with views of pristine lakes & towering spires of rock. A steady slope brings you quickly to 13000 ft. You'll hike past Sloan lake here with it's green & blue hues. A slight downclimb. & it's a few switchbacks to the saddle at 13500. The true summit is visable, & seems closer than it is. The last 600 ft is steeper & really kicked my butt. (I tell myself it's 'cuz this is my 3rd 14er in 3 days, but I think I'm getting soft im my old age). Once on the summit, the San Juans spread in all directions with more colors than I can name. If you want to climb in the San Juans, but want a moderate hike, this would be a prime choice. We descended off the summit to eat lunch at Sloan Lake, Yes it was that nice at the lake. Total time for this climb was 6 hours. Wildlife seen included deer, blue grouse, ptarmigan, marmot, & best of all, a cow moose with her calf!
SUMMARY - Well worth the drive, if you have the chance I'd jump on it. I'll say again, these are the most beautiful mountains in Colorado. Thick, lush & green. Best of all no beetle kill. (which I see almost everywhere). We got our 3 peaks & drove back to Denver tired but happy. I really hope I never get too old to enjoy this kind of stuff. Thanks for taking a look, now go climb 'em

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

3 for 1
08/24/2012 07:55
Thanks for the write-up, I was thinking of heading that way in the next few weeks and needed some motivation to burn $100 worth of fuel Base camping there definitely seems like a good way to get some economy out of the long drive.

   Using your forum id/password. Not registered? Click Here

Caution: The information contained in this report may not be accurate and should not be the only resource used in preparation for your climb. Failure to have the necessary experience, physical conditioning, supplies or equipment can result in injury or death. and the author(s) of this report provide no warranties, either express or implied, that the information provided is accurate or reliable. By using the information provided, you agree to indemnify and hold harmless and the report author(s) with respect to any claims and demands against them, including any attorney fees and expenses. Please read the Safety and Disclaimer pages for more information.

© 2017®, 14ers Inc.