Peak(s):  Handies Peak  -  14,048 feet
Date Posted:  04/30/2007
Modified:  05/20/2007
Date Climbed:   04/29/2007
Author:  WillyGoat
 Handies Ski Descent Via Grouse Gulch   

Living in Southwest Colorado I try to ski Handies every year once the road out of Silverton is cleared to Animas Forks. This year looked pretty bleak- my regular skiing partner had hernia surgery at the beginning of April and is out until the beginning of June- my wife's sister is getting married in June and the entire month of May is filled with pre wedding "celebrations". My window for making the trip was this weekend. I anxiously watched the weather forecast and was close to pulling the plug because I thought we might not get a hard freeze, NOAA was predicting lows in the 30's and it looked like an inversion with temperatures even higher in at altitude. Global warming sucks!!!

As this was my only chance I decided that I would go for it and hope for the best. Most of my other skiing buddies had done Silver in the La Plata's on Saturday- so it looked like it would be just me and my dog, Maggie. I spent the night in Silverton and when I woke up at 4am it was 33 degrees- not good. I drove up the road and reached the trailhead around 5:00am. It was 30 degrees at the trailhead and when I stepped on the snow it was solid and frozen- YEEHAA!

At 5:15 I started skinning up the gulch in the dark. Climbing Handies from Grouse Gulch requires going up the gulch until you reach a saddle at about 12,500'.
Looking west down Grouse Gulch

Handies at sunrise from Grouse Gulch

From the saddle you ski down into American Basin and then ascend to the saddle on Handies and finish with the traditional route to the ridge. I was well ahead of the sun and snow was firm the whole way up. I took my time and reached the summit of Handies around 9:15am. My line was southwest facing and it was obvious that it was going to take a while before the corn came in.

The blue line is my ascent route and the red is the ski descent.

It was clear and calm on the summit and we hung out there for about 45 minutes just enjoying the solitude and incredible views.

Posing on the Summit while Maggie Checks out the Descent

Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre

Maggie gets a little shuteye on the summit

Around 10am I skied off the summit. The ridge was wind blown and bullet proof. At one point the snow choked off to about 8' wide. Nothing fun about it just energy sucking survival skiing. I skied down to the beginning of my line and it was immediately apparent that corn still hadn't come in. I took my skis off and kicked back for another 45 minutes. There were a couple of other skiers going up the west face, which I skied last year. It is a nice line, but takes even more time to warm up and is a little more committing than I wanted being solo. I also saw a couple of people across the way on top of a cornice. I assumed that they were skiers and kept and eye on them as it looked like they were going to ski a pretty big line. It tuned out that they were hikers and glissaded down the slope.

Around 11:00am I could tell that the snow was softening up, but still firm. The climb back up to the saddle on Grouse Gulch is east facing and I knew from prior outings that it turns into an oven and gets soft pretty quick. I decided to sacrifice perfect conditions for a safer exit and skied off the peak and down into American basin. The upper third was firm but grippy, as l got lower the snow got softer and there were some very nice corn turns to be had.

My line down the southwest flank- the turns are barely visible.

The climb back up to the saddle was roasting and the snow was soggy, but it was still solid enough to be safe.

The climb out back to Grouse Gulch follows the black line

The ski out of Grouse Gulch is often the best part of this tour, and it did not disappoint on this occasion- 2,500' of corn to the truck. The decent off the saddle starts to the left of the small rock outcrop.

Reached the truck at 12:15pm for a leisurely RT time of 7 hours.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Nice route.
04/30/2007 19:43
Thanks for putting this up, looks like a smart route. How is the access from Lake City?


Via Lake City
04/30/2007 19:48
I saw about 8 other people all of whom came up from the Lake City side. My guess is that the road is plowed at least to Grizzly Gulch. The road up American Basin is not plowed.

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