Peak(s):  Uncompahgre Peak  -  14,309 feet
Handies Peak  -  14,048 feet
Redcloud Peak  -  14,034 feet
Sunshine Peak  -  14,001 feet
Date Posted:  10/01/2012
Date Climbed:   09/06/2012
Author:  Summit Assassin
Additional Members:   bmorrill
 Sunrise on Redcloud + MOOSE!  

Noun: 1. Something done to get ready for an event or undertaking.

We prepared for this trip more than we ever have before (which is saying a great deal because we prepare like Eagle Scouts on Ritalin). Our plan was ambitious and hopes were high but no one expected the outcome to be as incredible as what took place over the course of our five days in the mountains. Graced with an overly hospitable Mother Nature and flanked by incredible weather this trip will not soon be forgotten.

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012
- Ben and Chris leave Kansas City at 4:00am, meet Tom and Justin in Salida by 2:30pm, pack up and head to Uncompahgre Nellie Creek 4WD trailhead, set camp.

We hit US50 in Salida and headed West. It was around 2:30pm and we had predicted four hours to the upper Nellie Creek campsites. I'm not a big fan of setting camp in the dark and thankfully no one else was either.

I have nothing to add to the descriptions posted on this site about the Nellie Creek 4WD road. It's as described. The upper Nellie Creek trailhead and campsites were hospitable. Of the three main campsites two were taken so we parked at the middle one, set up our tents, went through the plan for the next day, and had PB&J's and Gatorade for dinner.

Of the five nights in the mountains this was by far the coldest. With half of our team gaining 10,000' of elevation less than twelve hours prior we made for quite the chipper group in the morning.

The Milky Way with campfire accents:


Thursday, September 6th, 2012
Uncompahgre Peak from Nellie Creek

- Hike Uncompahgre, break camp, drive to Silver Creek/Grizzly Gulch. Meet father-in-law and set camp near Silver Creek/Grizzly Gulch trailhead.
5:53am - Nellie Creek 4WD TH
8:53am - Summit
9:40am - Depart Summit
11:40am - Return

I've hiked fourteen fourteeners. Yes, I realize how funny that sounds. I'm very much looking forward to fifteen so it's easier to explain.

Point being I'm not entirely a beginner. Uncompahgre has the been the first peak (with Princeton being a very distant potential) that I have said without a doubt, I'm hiking that again. This hike comfortably welcomes you like the smell of Grandma's cooking on Thanksgiving. Its gentle pace is accessible and inebriating.

Southeast view after reaching the upper basin:

She's a beautiful peak...

One of the many rewarding aspects of hiking Uncompahgre is that, as you ascend, you are greeted with incredible westward views. These views are revealed and concealed at perfect intervals making the hike even more rewarding.

Looking south at the ridge trail (right) and the lower trail below.

Of our planned hikes (Uncompahgre, Handies, Redcloud and Sunshine) this was to be the most difficult aspect. As long as you take your time and be careful not to kick rocks you should be fine. Also, for us it was not nearly as difficult to spot as some have noted.

Above the crux it's a gentle hike to the summit plateau.

If the hike up is akin to Grandma's cooking, the summit would be a giant happy birthday bear hug from Uncle Roger. It's big, so big that you cannot contain it. It picks you up and squashes your guts until you have to sit down to catch your breath.

We found a slab of rock at a perfect angle for laying face down on and peering over the ledge. Here's a short video of that:

The four of us on top of Uncompahgre. *sponsored by Icebreaker

If you walk a short ways south from the actual summit you will find this nice exposed rib.

View of the crux from the top.

Southern view with Redcloud and Sunshine in the background.

The proud postured Uncompahgre. Deservingly so in my opinion.

My father-in-law was meeting us near the Silver Creek - Grizzly Gulch trailhead so we quickly broke camp and headed back to Lake City. After a few calls to our family we pushed on to the Silver Creek - Grizzly Gulch trailhead.

The turning aspen's on the Nellie Creek 4WD road.

My father-in-law is known as a successful business executive. More importantly, and in a legacy building manner, he is a Mountain Man. He deeply and authentically cherishes the history of the mountains, its people, and experiencing nature at its finest. It's profoundly exciting for me to see him come alive in a tangible way rarely witnessed in the flatlands. Needless to say I was very excited to have him along.

Using our HAM radios we linked up a few miles before the joint trailheads. Interestingly enough the campsite he chose was the same one we stayed at five years earlier during my first trip to the mountains. It's slightly past mile marker nineteen, off the main road and comfortably tucked into a suite of pine trees. It would be our home for the next four evenings.

We recounted the Uncompahgre hike with my father-in-law and then made quick work of setting camp. A dining fly was erected, a fire started and water was filtered for all.

Eastern view from our campsite with Whitecross mountain on the right.

It's fun and lightweight to eat dehydrated meals. When backpacking it's essential. That being said there's nothing like steak and potatoes over an open fire after a summit.

Sleep came easier than the previous night. The rush of the river and bed of pine needles didn't hurt the cause.

Elevation profile from Uncompahgre:

Friday, September 7th, 2012
Handies Peak from Grizzly Gulch to American Basin

- Hike Handies from Grizzly Gulch to the American Basin, 4WD over Cinnamon Pass to Silverton and back.
6:03am - Grizzly Gulch TH
9:30am - Summit
10:20am - Depart Summit
12:25am - American Basin TH

The presence of my father-in-law and mobile HAM radios enabled us to plan a traverse of Handies. We set out encouraged by the fact that, more than likely, we wouldn't be coming back the same way.

View from just above treeline looking back at Silver Creek and tomorrow's early morning route.

Handies in the morning sun. Those clouds would cause some minor concern on the way up. They kept building and at one point dropped ten seconds of graupel on us.

Just before reaching the summit ridge, the view north. Redcloud (center) and the ridge walk to Sunshine are visible.

Until this point we were generally concerned at the mounting clouds. It was early and no weather was predicted, but the graupel and darkness of the clouds had us worried. Once we reached the ridge and looked west our fears subsided.

Looking south at the summit of Handies from the ridge. Notice how the clouds are breaking up.

After what seemed like a much longer hike than expected we reached the summit of Handies Peak. We were the first on top by thirty seconds, much to the chagrin of the friendly couple that joined us from the American Basin side.

Handies Summit panorama of the American Basin. Our next goal, Sloan Lake, is visible on the left.

Resting and cooling our feet in Sloan Lake. If you hike Handies make an effort to stop here. It's great for a short rest and skipping stones. We didn't see any fish but did determine that you can, with minimal effort, achieve five to six echoes. Acoustically speaking The Banana Boat Song resonated quite well.

Sloan Lake panorama.

American Basin.

We timed our arrival at the American Basin with that of my father-in-law and his nicely appointed Toyota Landcruiser. Once again the HAM radio would prove its value.

After taking off our packs and cramming into the LC we set off for Cinnamon Pass and Silverton for a big lunch. The apex of Cinnamon Pass.

We briefly stopped at Animas Forks. What I imagine it looked like in the 1800's is easily accessible in this incredible photograph.

More Animas Forks beauty.

After a hearty meal in Silverton and some time talking to our families we headed back over Cinnamon Pass to our campsite. Dinner was camp chili, and it did not disappoint. We sat around the campfire discussing the very important question of, "How early must we get up to reach the summit of Redcloud before sunrise?"

As the night trended later our alarm clock kept getting earlier and earlier. We agreed on 1:30am and made haste to our sleeping bags for the night.

Elevation profile from Handies:

Saturday, September 8th, 2012
Redcloud + Sunshine Peaks from Silver Creek

- Up by 1:30am for sunrise hike of Redcloud. Sunshine, back over Redcloud, crash in camp.
2:23am - Silver Creek TH
5:43am - Summit
6:46am - Sunrise
8:25am - Sunlight Peak
9:55am - Depart Redcloud
1:12pm - Silver Creek TH

We wasted no time in getting up and around. No one wanted to put this much effort into a sunrise attempt and come up short. A sense of urgency was obvious and present in the dark of the morning.

As we pulled into the Silver Creek parking lot we watched as a porcupine scurried down the road. We also noticed a truck had its bed lights on and seemed like the owner was preparing to set out. The convergence of these two situations didn't fully resonate until later in the day.

Hiking in the dark can be interesting. As I had hiked this route five years prior I volunteered to lead and took great joy in announcing our presence to the animal community. Hooting and hollering as we went up as well as clanging our poles together made for a rather uneventful ascent of Red Cloud by 5:43am.

We brought two cameras, a bunch of accessories and a tripod to the summit. One camera was locked into the tripod and set to take photos every ten seconds. The other would be in the hands of our deft photographer to capture the moment. This was all done as soon as we got to the summit for fear of missing the sunrise. Little did we know that we had over an hour until the sun would peak.

This was incredibly exciting. It took a lot of effort, especially on Chris's part as he was congested the entire trip. He actually vomited soon after setting out on this hike. He was extremely tough on this day.

Did you know that the coldest time of the day is right before the sun rises? I'm acutely aware of that fact now. It was C O L D. Here three of us watch as she peaks her head out from behind the clouds. It was fun predicting behind which peak she would rise.

Time lapse video of the sun rising. Taken from the summit of Redcloud Peak.

Sunrise panorama from Redcloud Peak. The ridge to Sunshine is far right.

Ahhh the warmth of the risen sun! It was welcomed and blanketed us equally as we warmed up on the summit. Not too long after the sun rose we set off on the ridge walk to Sunshine. I hastened the departure in an effort to continue warming up. The thick clouds to the south were also encouraging us to get moving.

The hike over to Sunshine can be misleading. As you look at it from Redcloud the final approach seems quite manageable. It actually drops off farther than you think.

Given the 500' loss and gain it really isn't that bad. We made the hike in just over one hour. View north of Wetterhorn, Uncompahgre and Redcloud from Sunshine Peak.

View south from Sunshine Peak.

Originally we debated dropping south off of Sunshine and hiking the ridge to Sundog and then rejoining Silver Creek. It seemed feasible until we did some research. Seeing the ridge walk and seemingly endless talus slope confirmed our earlier decision to return back over Redcloud.

Four friends on top of Redcloud.

We headed off the summit around 10:00am. The clouds were turning and we were fairly spent after being up since 1:30am. What was interesting was the number of people still going up as we went down. Even after reaching the saddle we still passed people going up with dark clouds and a couple hours of hiking left.

On the way down we stopped and talked to an older gentleman on his way up. Through a series of questions he determined that we were the "crazy" ones that set off at 2:30am. He mentioned getting woke up around that time by a deer rustling up against his truck.

That was about the time when I connected the truck with its lights on and the porcupine scurrying away. Porcupines have been known to chew into brake lines after the salty sweet nectar. I made mention of this to him as we parted ways.

The upper silver creek basin was full of marmots and pikas. One pika was so use to humans that he walked right up to us and sat down. This marmot was obviously not camera shy.

Western view from silver creek with Handies in the background.

Silver Creek.

Another view of Handies from Silver Creek.

The hike down to Silver Creek was long but colorful. Even though we had already hiked this some time earlier it was pitch black at that time. All the sights and colors were new to us so we took our time getting down.

Once we reached the trailhead we took our packs off, hit the restroom, and prepared to head back to camp. I made a point to stop by the truck of the gentleman we passed on the hike down. After getting underneath the truck it quickly became apparent that a porcupine had chewed into his brake lines. I called Tom over, who's much more mechanically inclined. Thankfully the porcupine had went after the parking brake lines with little success. The truck was still drivable.

At this time the forest ranger drove up and parked his Jeep. He was chatting with another couple when I went over to tell him about the porcupine. Shortly after delivering my message a woman fresh off the trail broke into our discussion with a wolf tale. She had been heading up Handies in the morning and, soon after breaking tree line, got run off the mountain by what she passionately claimed was a wolf.

After delivering the much familiar "Ma'am, there are no wolves in Colorado" line the ranger fessed up. Sightings of wolf in this area were increasing. The lady affirmed her sighting by elaborating further. The wolf paced, howled, and generally seemed to either be protecting its den or a recent kill.

Normally I would of passed this off as a fluke. Two things made me reconsider. This lady was a Colorado native and was very certain she saw a wolf. She was familiar with the difference between a wolf and a coyote, bobcat or lynx. Secondly we had seen a peculiar animal the day prior on the same route up Handies. It had popped its head over the ridge, inspected the four of us as we ascended, and then disappeared.

Communication was sparse on our drive back to the campsite. We were tired. Four peaks in three days with little sleep will do that to just about anyone not named Homie or Cave Dog. We got back to camp, did the usual water filtering and fire starting then crashed by the fire. We sat there for a few hours until deciding it was dinner time.

Brats were on the menu and no one was to be disappointed. I was freezing and could not get warm. I had all my layers on and was as close to the fire as I could be and still couldn't get warm. Apparently I was suffering from calorie deficiency because as soon as I started eating I warmed right up.

As we quietly sat by the fire processing the brats and the events of the day a bull moose walked directly through our camp unannounced. He was less than fifty feet from our campfire and could of cared less about our presence. Ben, who takes most of our photos, chucked his food plate and grabbed for his camera. I immediately pulled my Springfield Armory .45 camp cannon and loaded a round.

This was an event only Mother Nature could oversee. Murdoch Jr. (we named him after Murdoch the moose who adorns my in-laws Salida abode) was a top-notch entertainer. He calmly walked past our camp, looked over and snorted, then headed to the creek to cool off.

We loaded up into Tom's truck and followed Jr. for over an hour. It was surreal. He moved with little effort considering his size and cared for nothing. Birds, rabbits and deer were keenly aware of the pecking order and evacuated well ahead of his arrival. One bird did not seem to mind Jr.'s presence, a elder great blue heron was undeterred as Jr. marched by.

Sometimes we would lose him in the creek and the willows. That was until you would hear him whacking his antlers against the willows or splashing about in the creek. It was a scene straight out of Jurassic Park.

After an hour of following him down the valley we said goodbye and headed back to camp.

Going to sleep was much easier this night than the others. I'm sure it had something to do with being up since 1:30am and the extra-long hike. How else do you top a day like this?

Elevation profile from Redcloud and Sunshine:

Sunday, September 9th, 2012
Black Canyon Of The Gunnison
- Break camp, head over Cinnamon Pass through Silverton to the Ice Lake Basin.

Initially we planned on heading over to the Ice Lake Basin and backpacking in for a night. With the traffic on the pass and questionable switchbacks for Tom's trucks we changed plans. Of the ample opportunities in the area the Black Canyon Of The Gunnison was selected. We broke camp, said goodbye to my father-in-law, and headed north.

I visited the Black Canyon five years ago with my father-in-law. It's beautiful. You can easily lose track of time looking at it. Until this day I had not considered hiking down into it; it didn't seem feasible. To my surprise the friendly forest ranger showed us the many available options. After deciding on the south rim Warner route we reserved a campsite and headed out.

The hiking was steep, loose and at times exposed. It took us two hours and forty-seven minutes to descend. In comparison it took us two hours and thirty-six minutes to ascend. We took our time but we each met the dirt with our behinds more than once.

The sun setting on the canyon wall.

We found a flat sandy landing not too far from where the Warner route reaches the bottom of the canyon. With a clear forecast and little wind we stowed the tent stakes and rain covers in favor of PB&J's by the riverside.

Shortly after finishing our dinner the bats descended and began chirping and flying all around us. It was entertaining for us but if anyone in your group has a fear of bats I'd recommend making the canyon hike a daytrip.

The Gunnison river.

The sandy beach and open tent made for a comfortable evening of rest. We were expecting a cooler night and were surprised by how much heat the canyon retained.

Usually on the last night in the mountains my thoughts drift to my responsibilities back home. The abundance of shooting stars and cars rounding Lookout Point three-thousand feet above us persuaded me otherwise.

Our morning was casual. We explored the base of the canyon, skipped some stones and picked up some trash left behind by previous campers.

Ascending the Warner route was much more enjoyable than descending. The lower portion is mostly bouldering, with some Class 3 moves. Tree roots and occasional rocks make for acceptable purchase on the looser portions.

It's steep baby!

The sun bringing light and warmth to the canyon.

Elevation profile from Black Canyon of the Gunnison:

After checking in at the ranger station we headed east and back to Salida. Lunch was Mario's pizza in Gunnison and oh my, it was delicious. With plenty of time to spare we took Marshall Pass back to 285.

We cleaned up, packed for the morning drive to Kansas then had dinner at the Boathouse in downtown Salida. It was fun to be around friends and family again; to tell some of these stories with them so accessible and fresh.

Re-entry can be overwhelming. I wasn't prepared for the abundance of stimuli. Begrudgingly I submitted after remembering that this is precisely why I go into the mountains.

Thank you Ben, Chris, Tom and Michael for sharing your time, talents and energy with me. I will not soon forget this incredible adventure.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Awesome Pics!
10/01/2012 14:16
Nicely done


10/01/2012 16:03
Loved the pictures and the good info. Thanks for sharing.


Great Trip Report, Great Pictures
10/01/2012 16:32
I really enjoyed your trip report and the pictures are fantastic. Can you give me a little info on the camera used and how you got such vibrant colors in your photos?


Your Pictures...
12/14/2012 15:49
Are incredible!

Jeremy Bauman

10/01/2012 19:15
Spectacular pictures, plus the Moose was awesome. Congrats on the ascents!


Very cool pics!
10/01/2012 21:24
Thanks for sharing!

Summit Assassin

10/01/2012 22:04
Thanks for the kind words. My friend who took most of those photos (the good ones) will chime in soon. He's a great photographer!


10/01/2012 22:45
Good use of the dynamic range, even though the more linear and less processed pictures capture more accurately what my eye would see.


10/02/2012 03:07
I have unsuccesfully tried to read through your report for the third time! I simply cannot get over how brilliant your pics are! Just mind blowing!


10/03/2012 03:08
I'm glad you enjoy the photos, and appreciate the kind comments. Many thanks to Justin, Chris, and Tom for helping carry the gear.

I used a Canon T3i and a few different Canon zoom lenses (10-22, 18-135, 70-200). The colors and detail in several of the shots come from a process called HDR where several photos of the same scene (at different exposures) are combined into a single image that captures more detail in the bright and dark areas than possible with a single image.


Incredible in every way
10/03/2012 22:25
Excellent report, photos, charts, teamwork, food...... and MOOSE. Thanks for sharing


Truly Inspirational!
10/11/2012 02:35
The TR was one of the better ones I've read and the pics were outstanding! Topped off with a great Moose encounter!

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