Peak(s):  Handies Peak  -  14,048 feet
Uncompahgre Peak  -  14,309 feet
Wetterhorn Peak  -  14,015 feet
Sunshine Peak  -  14,001 feet
Redcloud Peak  -  14,034 feet
"Sundog"  -  13,432 feet
Whitecross Mtn  -  13,542 feet
Date Posted:  08/03/2020
Date Climbed:   07/31/2020
Author:  ellenmseb
 3x San Juans Combos: 1 practical, 1 shitty, 1 gorgeous   

This past weekend, I got an amazing intro to the San Jauns via 3 combos & 7 peaks!

I've collected the most important advice that's relevant to others, at the top of each section.

High-level info:

  • Wildflowers are just starting to die in this region. Go in the next week, or next year.
  • I didn't have cell service all weekend, including in Lake City (Google Fi)

Wetterhorn & Uncomphagre:

  • 16.9mi/6500ft from wett 4wd.
  • I recommend this combo if you want to bag more peaks and don't have 4wd for Nellie Creek road.
    • If you have lots of time and 4wd, separate day hikes would also be fine.
    • Combo doesn't have any great advantages other than saving a day.
    • Still, choose a day with great weather! Took me 8.5h from TH -> Wett -> Unc (but I'm slow).
  • As others have confirmed, Wett->Unc is the correct order.
  • The shortcut between Wett->unc does not save very much distance. it doesn't hurt to take it, won't make or break your day.
  • There is no significant summer shortcut from Uncomphagre back to Matterhorn Creek TH. Do not plan on taking roach's winter route to save 2 miles; it's a crazy steep scree field. See GPX for a minor shortcut.
  • As of now, many water sources available. Best is after departing the Wett trail toward Unc.
  • Wetterhorn's rock is stable. If you're on the fence, maybe leave your helmet behind to save weight on this long day. (don't blame me if you crack your skull.)

I've hiked 20 miles before, but Wett+Unc was the most strenuous hike day I've ever done, due to its elevation gain and class 3 scramble. In comparison to other combos like Sun/RC where you traverse a short ridge between peaks, this is actually more like 2 complete 14er hikes ordered one after the other. But it was a fun day due to beautiful weather and scenery, and a leisurely pace.

Wetterhorn sunrise.
Wetterhorn's shadow.
Wetterhorn summit scramble.

Wetterhorn's scramble is easy and fun. Everyone seemed to be getting off-route, but there was no very wrong way to go. Its classification as the easiest class 3 seems accurate to me. still, it's better to put this scramble first in the morning (instead of doing Unc first like Roach advised)

View across the basin between Wett+Unc, toward Unc. you don't get this view if you do separate day hikes.

The walk through the basin between Wett and Unc is mercifully easy in both directions; and the descent to Matterhorn Creek TH is a gentle decline. Therefore, once you summitted Unc, you have basically zero effort remaining. You also have a nice break between the exertion of summiting Wett and Unc. Because of this, the combo is as easy it could possibly be given its distance and elevation gain. Other combos with similar elevation & distance, such as Crestones without traverse, might be significantly harder.

Viewing Wetterhorn from Uncompahgre. Pictured after collapsing for 30mins and recovering from exhaustion.

Sundog + Sunshine + Redcloud

  • 10mi/4900ft
  • I do not recommend this combo
    • Unless you really care about bagging Sundog.
    • Don't do it to save elevation gain: it's more effort than re-summiting Redcloud. Sundog is surprisingly technical, while the sunshine/redcloud saddle is a super easy walk.
    • Don't do it for more scenery: it's not especially scenic.
  • If you do this combo, you must do it in the order Redcloud->Sunshine->Sundog. Learn from my mistake!!
    • Sunshine->saddle is loose scree, better for descending.
    • Saddle->Sundog is semi-technical 2+ scrambling, better for ascending.
    • Sundog->Silver Creek is loose dirt and light bushwhacking, better for descending.
    • If you decide to skip Sundog, you can escape down Sunshine's lower NW Face trail.

I had vague ambitions of finishing RC+Sun+Handies std route on Saturday, then San Luis on Sunday. But it became clear a few minutes into the hike that it was not happening. The day was slower, harder, and less enjoyable than it should have been because my quads were tired from Friday. Good thing RC/Sun is not really the most fun or scenic 14er hike regardless. San Luis can wait until 2021, it thaws early anyways. It turned out to be a great decision to split RC+Sun+Handies into 2 days, because Handies loop is amazing, and I would've had at most time to do Handies standard out-and-back on Saturday.

I made a huge mistake by climbing Sundog first. This made me ascend scree and descend a surprisingly technical scramble. My reasoning had been: 1) The 14ers would be less crowded later in the day, 2) I would encounter water sooner on the descent. I knew that the I was trading off the possibility of afternoon weather on 14ers. But I didn't realize that my choice would also make me ascend scree.

First, crossed the creek, some avalanche debris, and light bushwhacking up to Sundog's north ridge.

Caption Here

Walked up Sundog's north ridge.


Descended Sundog's southeast ridge, a scramble on loose rock. Not bad but wasn't expecting it, and would have been better to ascend that. Startled this lamb from 5ft away when coming over a small ridge.


Ascended some absolutely terrible scree up Sunshine's east face while hating myself. I considered quitting, and attempting Handies+RC+Sun all the next day. There were established switchbacks here. I could've alternatively taken the Northwest Face route up Sunshine, but I'd heard that... it was terrible scree! Can't have that!


"Fuck sundog and fuck this heavy rock"

The quick trot over from Sunshine to Redcloud, basically on a gravel sidewalk, was easy in comparison to Sundog.

Redcloud Raven warns of impending storm

After my customary panicked descent off of a ridge during the afternoon storm, I had all the time in the world because I didn't have Handies left in me for that day. I chilled in Silver Creek valley for a long time, admiring the dying wildflowers and endangered Uncompahgre Fritillary Butterflies.

Silver Creek

endangered Uncomhagre Fritillary Butterfly
Parnassius phoebus according to Google Lens

Handies SW Slopes -> East Slopes -> Whitecross -> World's Most Beautiful Unnamed Lake


  • 15.4mi/4900ft (assuming you walk the whole road)
  • I STRONGLY RECOMMEND this combo!
    • I would recommend it even if you have to walk the entire 5-mile road (although I hitched 3 miles of it).
    • An alternative loop is East Ridge -> East Slopes. With the caveat that I haven't done East Ridge, I'd recommend my loop over Ridge->Slopes because American Basin is must-see
    • An even more strenuous Tour De Handies, without road hiking, would be: East Ridge -> Handies -> descend to American Basin or at least Sloane Lake -> resummit Handies -> East Slopes
  • The unnamed lake is MUST-SEE.
    • It's located at 37.918293, -107.481798, along the East Ridge route.
    • It's not visible from East Slopes. You wouldn't know to go there unless you climbed Whitecross.
  • Whitecross is a worthwhile addition (+500ft, C2+) if you have time, maybe not "must-see"
  • However, do not follow my GPX exactly. I made 2 minor route mistakes that you can learn from.
    • My descent from handies to the Handies-Whitecross saddle involved terrible scree. You should either stay on the ridge, or stay on the East Slopes trail as long as possible until you see an easy route to the saddle.
    • I stayed too high to reach the lake. Crossed some OK scree. You'd do better to descent further and follow the East Ridge trail.

This loop is absolutely stunning.

I hiked 2 miles from Grizzly Gulch toward American Basin. Shockingly, since people usually start 14ers early, I saw zero cars between 4:20 and 5:20. thankfully, the very first jeep at 5:20 picked me up and drove me the remaining 3 miles. Then there were only ~10 cars at American Basin, few people ascending from Grizzly gulch, but somehow the summit was crowded with 30 people(????) 14er magic.

Although SW Slopes from American Basin is crowded and easy, it is gorgeous and should not be missed. Do not fall victim to the idea "harder trail must be better."


i got off the crowded summit quickly and started down East Slopes. i left East Slopes trail as soon as it started switchbacking, reached PT15,577 according to Roach's route. Then I saw there were more points to ascend on the ridge, and instead cut below them. This was a mistake which put me on more terrible scree. You should instead either stay on the ridge or stay on East Slopes trail for longer.

13er Whitecross is an easy 500' elevation detour. At the very top there is a short, fun scramble on interesting rock formations. I was skeptical of Roach's 2+ assessment at first, but agreed with it because of the final 50'.

Whitecross summit scramble

Whitecross provides great 360 view of Handies; and the World's Most Beautiful Unnamed Lake is finally visible! It is not visible from either of Handies' routes.

It started hailing right on time at noon, so I was grateful that I could descend Whitecross's slopes rather than its ridge. But I cut further back toward Handies in order to minimize elevation loss and reach the beautiful unnamed lake. The best route to this lake is obvious from Whitecross. But you can get there without summiting Whitecross as well. Just turn right from East Slopes.

Caption Here

The lake is, without exaggeration, one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. I could not stop admiring it, taking pictures, dipping my feet in, and generally marveling. Do not visit Handies without visiting this lake. It would make a great campsite also (although you might not want to drink the lake's water, not sure why it's so blue.)


My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27

Comments or Questions

Beautiful Lake
08/04/2020 07:47
Probably blue from glacial/rock flour. But regardless, so pretty! Looks like you had a fun trip.


Sundog to sunshine
08/04/2020 11:22
I've heard this is awful. I know that the sunshine + redcloud standard route is baby-stroller ready but there are hellish scree fields all around (& multiple signs saying not to bail off the RC/Sunshine saddle - I've heard from people who have done this in the 80s that it's incredibly bad - regardless of how bad weather is you probably should re-summit redcloud as far as I understand it).

Great pics though and sounds like you had a great and impressive set of climbs!

Handies was my 1st 14er - and was climbed several years before I did the rest of them so my memory of it is weakest but very fond memories regardless, so I'm certainly interested in your final route here. I also had to do both those from Wet TH b/c no 4wd. "Matterhorn" (in between) was very fun as well and the summit register consisted of basically all the 14er celebrities who would be boneheaded enough to climb matterhorn so I was happy to add my name to that one. I still feel like the Matterhorn to Wetterhorn traverse would be fun although I'm led to believe it might be contingent on ones definition of "fun"

Nice work!


08/04/2020 11:35
Nice report! I rather enjoyed Sundog. It made an otherwise easy day more challenging. I went the opposite direction as you though. I thought it would be better to climb the easy trail up Redcloud in the dark first.


Rubber Duck Lake
08/04/2020 18:25
I've seen that lake referred to as Rubber Duck Lake, but not sure where. A TR from maybe bergstein or Hoot. I'm not sure, but whoever coined it was right on! Seen from a hike up Grizzly Gulch en route to 13,795'....

Nice report, great job on your tours!
Cute picture of the lamb too. A friend of mine recorded a video of a baby goat on Grays recently, blatting for its momma.

Excellent report
08/04/2020 20:06
Congratulations on a lot of peaks. Thanks for the wonderful photographs.


08/04/2020 20:38
Haha cool it does look like a duck from the east ridge !!


Love the commitment
08/26/2020 21:59
Sometimes we learn the hard way but at least you can say you are one of the few who did it, there is another lake on the backside of handies where you can see a mineral blue hue as well I couldnât get over it!


Great Report and Hike
04/14/2021 14:45
Rubber duck lake and your highly recommended route look inviting. Thanks for the great hiking beta.


Great Report and Hike
04/14/2021 14:47
Rubber duck lake and your highly recommended route look inviting. Thanks for the great hiking beta. The photos of the wildlife are fantastic as well!

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