My friend Kylie and I decided to try for Redcloud, Handies, and Sunshine as a day-hike. The plan was to start at the 4WD trailhead at American Basin, climb Handies Peak via the southwest slopes, descend the east slopes to Grizzly Gulch, hike up Silver Creek and follow South Fork to ascend the northwest face of Sunshine Peak, cross the connecting ridge to Redcloud Peak, descend to Grizzly Gulch, and hike back up to the Handies trailhead.
We drove to Lake City Friday night and continued about 10 miles on Co Rd 30, where we spent a cold night in the back of the pickup. Eventually we gave up trying to sleep and started driving. We parked at the trailhead at American Basin and were hiking by 5:45.
The hike up Handies was relatively easy. By 7:30 we were on top enjoying alpenglow and a spectacular sunrise over the San Juans. We were surprised at all the snow up there, as apparently was whomever built a snowman on the summit. But the southwest slopes were fairly dry compared with the east aspect, and descending to Grizzly Gulch I questioned my wisdom in wearing tennis shoes. The hike down Grizzly Gulch yielded impressive views of the surrounding peaks and waning fall colors.
We crossed over the Cinnamon Pass road at Grizzly Gulch at 10 a.m. and started up Silver Creek. Around 11300' we turned to follow the South Fork drainage and soon cleared the trees for a view of the remaining route to Sunshine Peak. The trail petered out and we were soon slogging on nightmarish talus to the headwall below Sunshine's northwest face. Once there we selected the gully which appeared least steep and started climbing. This bit was punishing as the scree was alarmingly loose. Climbing out of the gully, we crossed the broad northwest shoulder and followed the switchbacks to the ridge. After some fun but brief scrambling, we found ourselves on the summit at 2 p.m with stunning views of the rugged San Juans.
We took a short break and then started hiking across the deceptively long ridge to Redcloud Peak. Shortly after 3 p.m. we reached its colorful summit and stopped to contemplate our future. As the crow flies, Handies Peak is nearly 5 miles southwest of Redcloud. For those of us who aren't crows, it's 9.2 miles to the trailhead at American Basin. We decided to see how we felt at the Grizzly Gulch trailhead and try to hitch a ride if necessary.
Return to American Basin
We descended the northeast ridge and started down Silver Creek. At some point, perhaps when climbing up the steep gully to Sunshine, I must have strained a muscle in my right leg which in turn made me compensate in a way that stressed one of those ligaments in my knee: it was really starting to hurt. Kylie was wearing out but still managed to make me feel slow. We stumbled onto the Grizzly Gulch trailhead at 5:30 p.m. There were lots of folks around and driving up to American Basin, and part of me--actually most of me and especially my leg--was strongly in favor of hitching a ride. But somehow the part that said "we've already come this far, so we might as well go another 4.6 miles and 1300' of gain" reached an agreement with the part of Kylie that said "how badass would it be to actually hike the rest of this," and the matter was settled. Just under two hours of counting fractional miles, steps, and roomy SUVs zipping past towards American Basin, we reached the pickup.
The original plan had been to go after the Wilson group next day, but I wasn't sure I would feel up to it. We drove some insane mountain roads to Silverton, got some food, and spent another cold night in the pickup. Kylie seemed refreshed in the morning, but my leg was still in quite a bit of pain, so I reluctantly called it off. Instead we drove more insane mountain roads to Telluride for some breakfast and returned to Denver.
Round-trip mileage: 21.5
Total elevation gain: 7500'
Time including stops: 13:45
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