From American Basin TH
Friday September 21, 2007
I had Friday off so I loaded-up and hit the road about 7:15AM and headed down route 285 south to route 50 west, over Monarch Pass and on to Gunnison. I then stopped and got more ice and bottled water for my trek into the San Juan Range. I then proceeded west on route 50 until I came to Blue Mesa Reservoir where I turned south (left) on route 149 across the first bridge heading for Lake City. I’d been to Gunnison and Blue Mesa many times for fishing excursions but this was my first time venturing to Lake City.
The weather was perfect and route 149 is a very good road (65 mph) and the high plains/prairie scenery with its countless mounds and sagebrush soon gives way to pine forests and aspen groves as the road winds south along the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River. After nearly an hour I came to the small town of Lake City and was very impressed with its quaintness and hominess as it was much better kept than some of the small mountain towns. Really nice.
I then went just over 2 miles further south of town and turned right on Lake San Cristobal Rd. and headed west around the azure waters of San Cristobal and out dirt Rd 30. This road is gorgeous with the turning leaves, pine forests, mountains, and the river on the left as it proceeds through varying sections of Dept of the Interior and private property lands for many miles and passes Mill Creek Campground on the left. The well maintained dirt road then narrows and heads northwest along a high ledge with the rushing river far down below as it climbs up into the Grizzly Gulch area and on to the well marked and maintained Grizzly Gulch/Silver Creek TH and two abandoned cabins. There were many campsites with fire pits along the road just after the TH.
I continued on this same dirt road for another 15 mins to where the road forks at a well-marked intersection where I turned left to American Basin and the road to Cinnamon Pass goes right. Passing a small parking spot I continued up into the basin and soon came to the end of the road and another parking spot with the Handies Peak trail sign on the left. This road is a little bumpy and narrow but is easily passable by high clearance vehicles. I arrived right at 1:30PM and the skies were sunny and clear all the way.
I readied my pack and was on the trail by 1:40, signed the trail registry and headed due west up into American Basin, this entire trail is above tree line and I was glad that I had lathered-up with sun lotion for there would be no shade the entire hike. The trail climbs on a road of sorts gradually into the basin with a line of walled peaks directly ahead with a good amount of snow showing on these eastern flanks, simply beautiful. A slight breeze kept things very comfortable as I wore short sleeves and a baseball cap for the entire hike.
The trail then begins to climb a bit higher on some short switchbacks and begins to turn left to the south, here I met two separate couples on their way down one after the other and the one couple had a small baby in a backpack, showing me how very accessible this peak is. I continued up until the trail levels and descends slightly and then heads up a rocky section to a large cairn. The trail forks to the left here and begins to head back to the east as it rounds out a huge “horseshoe” from where it began at the TH. The rocky trail drops a little and then climbs up a long traverse. Here I looked back and saw a deep blue lake perched just below the walled peaks; Sloan Lake, spectacular view! The traverse led to a series of switchbacks until it reaches a small saddle. The wind was a bit brisker here and cooled things off for me as I held onto my hat. The summit ridge edged in snow was directly above and a large basin was to the right with wonderful views of forests with changing leaves all around and the road to Cinnamon Pass clearly visible way to the left.
I made my way higher via some short switchbacks and then reached the ridge and on up to the empty summit at 2:55PM under perfect skies with countless peaks as far as the eye could see. I felt privileged and very much impressed with this peak and its fine views and scenery in every direction, a true tribute to the state of Colorado and these beautiful San Juan mountains. I gazed-off into the surrounding beauty certain that my photos wouldn’t do it justice; I grabbed a bite and a long drink, signed the summit log and headed down after about 25 mins on top.
This was my first time ever climbing in the later afternoon and the weather couldn’t have been better; about perfect I’d have to say. I saw more people heading up as I went down as I dawdled a bit, stopped at Sloan Lake and made the very most of this fine afternoon. I was back to the TH at 4:56 with ever lengthening shadows. My 32nd 14’er on this glorious day in Colorado….........way sweet!!