Peak(s):  Handies Peak  -  14,048 feet
Redcloud Peak  -  14,034 feet
Sunshine Peak  -  14,001 feet
Date Posted:  09/17/2017
Date Climbed:   09/13/2017
Author:  litote312
 Handies Group Trifecta   

A beautiful late summer day hitting all 3 14ers in the Handies group!

RT Length: 20.3 miles
Elevation Gain: 8800' (maybe? GPS said 9700' but no way...)
Time: 12 hours 20 minutes, including an hour pit stop at the car.

A few days off from work drew me towards the distant San Juans, which have had yet to disappoint. Hiking solo, I ruled out the Wilson Group and Wetterhorn/Uncompahgre. That left the Handies group and San Luis! A long drive out Monday afternoon led me to getting up San Luis the day prior. I had a blast out there--that trail was meant to be run on. The drive to Stewart Creek was fine in a 2WD car, and going from that TH to Lake City was awesome. I can not recommend that drive highly enough-- 2WD accessible for sure and a lot of beautiful views. Wish I had driven this way there and back!

Aspens on the drive from Stewart Creek to Lake City.

Wednesday morning, I awoke 10 minutes before my 3AM alarm clock. Blowing a sunrise summit on San Luis the day prior motivated me to get out of bed on time this morning. No hitting snooze that morning, which was maybe a first for me. I pulled on my baselayers in my sleeping bag and expanded my pillow back into a down jacket before unzipping my tent. I heard rain sporadically through the night and the air still felt very humid, making it that much colder. Better get moving!

I groggily walked over to my car and began boiling water. To save time, the Mountain House dehydrated biscuits and eggs would have to be my morning cuisine. No time for oatmeal. While it boiled, I organized my day pack and brought a few random items from my tent to my car. When the water was boiling, I added it to the magic food pouch and set an 8 minute timer. I returned to my tent, deciding I'd be sleeping in my car that night if I stayed at the trailhead again, and packed up my bag and sleeping pad. The timer went off as I returned to the car.

That meal didn't taste half bad. I ate it eagerly in my car, a feeble attempt to stay warm. As I was shoveling food into my mouth, I heard a faint rustle coming from my food bag in the back seat. I froze; my heart sank.

"No way."

I had heard some horror stories of varmints at this trailhead, but how could something have gotten in my car?!?! I didn't remember leaving the door open while going to the tent, but maybe I did. $%@&.

I put the food down, opened the car door and got out. I tried not to think too much, I just needed to find this thing and get it out of my car. Quickly walking over to my passenger side rear door, I mentally prepared myself before opening the door.

3, 2, 1.

Nothing. I brought the food bag out of the car and shined my headlight in the bag. Lots of tasty grub lay before me, but I didn't see any rodents. I unpacked every item before convincing myself that it wasn't in there. Okay, time to check the car.

The headlight helped see just about every nook of my car, under the seats and in the door compartments, but still no rodent. Conflicted, I sat back in the drivers seat and finished my food. I thought I heard another movement from the back but I couldn't be sure. F--- this, I told myself, I need to find it or leave.

I looked again all over my car, and after not finding anything, decided to get on my way. There was nothing I could do, and maybe there wasn't even anything in there. I put all the items I didn't want to risk getting chewed in the trunk, took one last look under the passenger seat, and slung my pack on my back. Despite the distractions, I was able to hit the trail before 4AM. Before leaving, I took a picture of my back seat so that I could see if anything moved inside while I was gone. Paranoid? Maybe...

The back seat: BEFORE

Leaving the parking lot, the trail up the Silver Creek drainage is very pleasant. I signed the register a few hundred feet from the trailhead, scanning for familiar names while sipping from my Camelbak. The sounds of the creek assuaged my concerns of encountering wildlife on the trail while alone at night and I cruised at a decent pace, shooting for that sunrise summit. 3600' of elevation gain with a little less than 3 hours... with some quick mental math that seemed reasonable. Mental math had failed me before though, so I didn't take it easy on the lonely ascent.

While ascending into the bowl, I glanced to my right towards the moon. Out of the darkness, 5 floating pairs of glowing eyes stared back at me. My heart started racing, even though they were probably deer. Funny how wildlife tend to be the highlights of much of my hikes, but when I encounter them alone on the trail in the dark I nearly crap my pants. I picked up the pace a bit and began reciting some 2 Chainz lyrics to scare them off.

(she got a big booty, so I call her 'big booty'.)

I checked my GPS unit periodically on the climb to the ridge. 40 minutes to sunrise... 30 minutes... 25. Could he do it?! I pushed to the summit, keeping an eye to the east all the while.

Redcloud on the ridge to the summit.

Before 6:45AM I topped out on the windy Redcloud summit, 15 minutes to sunrise! I sought cover from the wind just east of the summit and waited for sunrise. It was nothing short of spectacular!

Sunrise hike! Didn't think I had the discipline to make one of these haha.

After basking in the light for a few minutes, I prepared for my traverse to Sunshine. I was planning on returning via Redcloud, so I'd see her summit again today. I fixed a wedgie that had formed on the ascent and made a mental note to wash that hand.

Sun shining on Sunshine at sunrise (say that 10x fast)
Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre in morning light

On the way from Redcloud to Sunshine, I looked for a potential descent route off of Sunshine. Maybe I'm wrong, but they all looked like unsustainable crap. I took pictures of the gullies on the way but must have deleted them because of how hideous they looked (without snow).

Sundog and it's ridge certainly looked like an option, and it looked more appealing as I topped out on Sunshine. Another spectacular summit, Handies and Half Peak stole my attention for most of my time on the summit, and I could almost see my camp.

Summit of Sunshine Peak

After 30 minutes on the summit soaking in the views, I made my way back to the trailhead. I opted for a descent that I was familiar with and returned over Redcloud. Maybe I'll take Sundog next time!

The hike back was enjoyable and I really have nothing negative to say about coming back over Redcloud. Sure, it's 500 feet of rain but the trail is stellar and Redcloud is a beautiful peak.

As I returned to its summit, I noticed I still had a lot of gas in the tank. The weather forecast called for a slight chance of rain this afternoon, but snow, lightning and rain as early as 9AM tomorrow. Eeeesh. Looking over at Handies, I thought it seemed like a possibility to get up if the weather held. I figured it would be better to do it with sore legs in good weather than fresh legs in snow. I texted my fiancee that I'd likely be shooting for Handies, she replied confirming that she'd seen my change in plans and I took off. I still had 5 or so miles back to the car so it wasn't a certainty, but I'd get to the car and reevaluate then.

Redcloud on the descent

On the descent, the thought of having a chipmunk in my car returned and gnawed at my brain. Would my car seats be chewed to shreds? Steering wheel decimated? Was it pregnant, and did it give birth in the back seat to 12 hungry chipmunks?!

Several hikers ascending offered some appreciated distractions. When I rounded the basin, a tantalizing view of Handies revealed itself and all of my thoughts redirected towards that hike.

Handies Peak from Silver Creek trail. Mmmmmm.

I returned to my car near 11AM and washed that hand. I then checked my car for signs of infestation, which it appears there were none! Figures I would freak out over nothing alone at 3 in the morning. Here's the two pictures side by side for your reference.

The back seat: BEFORE
The back seat: AFTER

Very thankful, I set to boiling water for a meal. An eagle flew overhead, cawing to congratulate me on a successful hike. I ate as much food as I could stomach (~1800 calories) before napping in the front seat of the Civic. I awoke 30 minutes later to some Jeeps pulling in to use the restroom, and got out to evaluate the weather.

It looked good, not great. No massive clouds were building and things seemed to be moving quickly. I still felt energetic and decided Handies would be worth the effort. If nothing else, I could get some good pics and get back to the car for some sleep. The eagle cawed in agreement, and I set off just before noon.

The climb up Grizzly Gulch felt very different than Silver Creek, not just because of my tired legs. It's steep! Certainly tolerable, but at 8 miles RT with a similar elevation gain to Redcloud it's no surprise that you gain some ground quickly here. A small hailstorm flew overhead that disheartened my attempt, but it passed within 5 minutes of me ducking in cover so I continued on. Stunning views of Handies Peak lined the back of the basin and made me feel that summit or not, this was worth it.

Handies Peak partway up the East Slopes.

Near treeline, I paused to monitor cloud movement. Nothing had built up over Handies since the start of the hike and it had mostly been smaller clouds moving overhead still. I decided to make a go, and followed the trail as it skirts north of the face that stares at you for much of the hike.

While ascending the slope towards the ridge, I noticed my heart rate increasing dramatically. I dialed back the pace accordingly and crested the ridge, pleased to find no clouds building up behind where I couldn't see before.

One of the nice hikers I met on Redcloud compared the final summit push up the ridge as climbing up a dog's back. You wind your way up the steep tail, meander along the dog's back, then a small bump brings you to the head (summit). The ascent up the tail was quite steep with loose rock that surprised me. This was the only nontrivial part of the hike. After winding up the ridge, the slope eases and I cruised along the back to the puppy's head.

What a beautiful summit! I could peer down American Basin and see cars parked at the lower and upper trailheads. Looking back towards Redcloud and Sunshine, I noticed that San Luis Peak was wedged right in between the two of them. Kinda cool to see the other 3 peaks I had hiked in the same direction. A pair of hikers on Whitecross must have begun their descent as I no longer saw them on the ridge.

Summit of Handies Peak with American Basin behind.

A storm cell in the direction of Sneffels was building and helped motivate me to begin my descent. It would have to move fast to reach me before long but again, better safe than sorry. I snapped some last few pictures and hurried off of the dog's back. Before long I reached my stashed trekking poles, relieved that marmots hadn't found them and chewed the handles. Relieved until I got a closer look...

Dirty Mike and the boys were using it as a shaggin wagon!

I rudely interrupted their lovefest by knocking them off the pole and continuing on, making a mental note to wash that pole. I don't know much about grasshoppers, but better safe than sorry. Come to think of it, I don't know anything about grasshoppers. How do they reproduce? How do they live through cold fall nights? What do they do for all of winter? Die? Hibernate? Diebernate?

The hike down was warm and uneventful. The sky overhead remained clear and I took my time, both to give my legs a break and to enjoy the scenery. The sun had passed over Handies so some of the splendor was lost on the view behind me. Definitely coming back here earlier in the season for pictures of the sunrise on the peak. It must be outstanding! I did see a dusky grouse on the way out which was pretty cool.

Dusky grouse in the trees.

At 4:24, my car came into sight and I let out an audible laugh of relief. At last! No eagle caw this time, but oh well. I got to the Civic and washed that hiking pole immediately. I then chugged a Gatorade and stretched before I got too comfortable. A few drivers heading up the pass sent some strange looks my way, which I fully understood when I looked in my car mirror. My rockin' wide brim sun hat looks great on me, don't get me wrong, but I had taken it off and it does a number to my hair. No pic of that for my self dignity.

After packing up the remaining things in my tent, I hightailed it out of there.  After hearing the rodent under my engine that morning, I figured I'd keep my mind at rest sleeping elsewhere. I drove until my body told me to stop, which came just before Gunnison.

I pulled into the first motel I could find and rented a room for the night. I managed to order some pizza and eat it after a hot shower. I then collapsed into bed and diebernated.

Thanks for reading!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions

09/20/2017 04:25
Quite a hike for one day


No kidding
09/23/2017 21:25
But didn't we do Missouri-Oxford-Belford together a few years ago? That wasn't easy!


Questions from Lowlanders
11/06/2017 08:17
Thanks for the report! My brother and 2 sisters and I are considering these 3 mountains next summer, late July/early August. We would likely split it into 2 days, 1 day for Handies and 1 day for Redcloud/Sunshine. We are from Missouri and have to take some time to adjust to altitude. We also are slow hikers, maybe 1 to 1.5 mph at our best. It sounds like our plan is doable if we camp somewhere near the trailhead? Thoughts?


You can do it!
11/08/2017 18:12
Especially if you bring a 4wd and can do the shorter SW slopes on Handies. I'd camp at the trailhead for grizzly gulch and drive up for that SW route on Handies, then do RC/SS the next day standard route. Beautiful area that you'll enjoy whether or not the summit works out!

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