Peak(s):  Handies Peak  -  14,048 feet
Date Posted:  07/28/2007
Date Climbed:   07/27/2007
Author:  2_Salukis
 Handies Peak - from Ouray, Am. Basin & wildflowers  

Last year there was a thread that asked which were the top three 14ers for wildflowers, and the general consensus was Mt. Sneffels (including one post that listed it as #1, #2 and #3). So this past year was spent in anticipation of when we would do Mt. Sneffels.

Spent the 25th camping in the Amphitheater campground just south of Ouray. We were pleasantly surprised at how nice it was. On the 26th we left at 5:30 and drove the standard Yankee Boy Basin route to the TH. Here's the deal, IMO - getting to the TH of Mt. Sneffels is exceptional, but the hike/climb itself is much less impressive. (BTW the current condition of the col between Sneffels and Pt 13,694 is best done on the far left - no snow to contend with, although you'll have to squeeze through an opening to get back into Class 2 hiking to the summit.)

Now for Handies Peak.

We spent the 2nd night at the campground and broke camp again at 5:30, intending to take the ("shorter than from Lake City") Alpine Loop road to American Basin. It may be shorter, but the 4WD conditions were much more severe. 4WD and high clearance are definite "musts." We were in a loaded Dodge Dakota Quad Cab, so we didn't have the short wheelbase, but only scrapped the rear bottom twice.

The Alpine Loop was relatively easy to follow with the help of Trails Illustrated #141. From Ouray, head south and look for the entrance on the left not far after going through the carved out tunnel. From there, follow the signs at the major intersections to Engineer Mountain, until you see signs for Cinnamon Pass. Then follow those.

Two major treats along the way. The first was before Cinnamon Pass. In the past, we've only seen at the most dozens of Little Pink Elephant stalks. But in the meadows near Denver Hill were thousands of them!

Little Pink Elephant fields

Little Pink Elephants stalks (you can make out the individual elephant heads, trunks and ears)

The other treat was just past Cinnamon Pass. On the right were several Tall Cottongrass, which we had never seen before. Just like the name implies - cottony and quite unique.

Again, the majority of the trip from Ouray was no kidding 4WD stuff, and obviously slow going. We didn't get to American Basin and begin hiking until 9:00 (much later than intended).

Hands down, Handies' hike outshines Sneffels for wildflowers. Sure Yankee Boy Basin is full of them, but unless you're doing the 3000' rule and hiking along the road, you don't really experience them 1st hand with Sneffels. American Basin is blanketed with just as many wildflowers and they go all the way to the top. (Of course they thin out considerably in the scree and talus, but Old-Man-of-the-Mountain, Sky Pilot, Alpine Daisy and Mountain Sorrel are within 200 feet of the summit.)

The huge fields begin with Duncecap Larkspur,

then blend into Blue Columbine (yes, those are Columbine that extend well into the distance - at least 200 yards), Rosy Paintbrush, Red Clover, and American Bistort.

then into American Bistort, King's Crown, Mountain Thistle, and Tall Chiming Bells,

then just about everything

then Marsh Marigold's and Parry's Primrose.

Frankly, the pictures don't come close to capturing how thick and extensive the wildflowers are right now. Amazing and American Basin near the end of July may be an annual trip now.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Nice Hike
11/30/2010 17:20
I've heard good things about American Basin. I was thinking about making that trek late this season, but it looks like it might be worth putting off until next July. I like seeing a trip report written from a naturalist's perspective.


Amazing photos
08/23/2010 13:23
I was there a little too late this year (mid Aug) after they peaked. I was there back in 1994 at the right time however and it was amazing, but still not quite as good as you caught it.
Thanks for listing all the names!

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