4,000 meters is an unrecognized altitude threshold within the United States. However, it is as well known where the metric system is used, as 14,000 feet is known in the US. This page is dedicated to climbing those peaks in Colorado that rise above 4,000 meters (13,123 feet)

Friday, October 8, 2010

The 40 X 50 14er Challenge is Successfully Completed!

On September 18, 2010 I completed my 40 X 50 14er Challenge. That is, to climb 40 of Colorado’s 54 14er mountains before I turned 50 years old. I completed that challenge last Saturday (with 4 months to spare) on Blanca Peak at 14,345 feet along with my long time climbing partner Don Lochner.
Some interesting statistics:

  • Started (informally) in 1998 with my first 14er climb of Grays Peak, 12 years ago.
  • Total 14er ascents = 54 (which is also interesting in that there are 54 (recognized) unique 14ers in CO. While I did not climb all 54, I did complete 54 ascents on my 40th 14er.
  • Total estimated distance hiked = ~486 miles
  • Total estimated altitude gained = ~190,000 feet
  • Total estimated hiking time = ~500 hours
  • Number of summits that I missed due to weather = 1 (Castle/Conundrum)
  • Number of times that I ran for my life in a thunderstorm while at altitude = 2 (La Plata and Pikes)
    My 14er excitement is not over yet. Don still has a bunch of summits he wants to do so I will happily oblige him and repeat 14ers that I have already completed. I may even do a few that I haven't completed yet such as Ellingwood and Challenger. We will see. Its good to have a few 14ers set aside.

    My next act is to start climbing more of the CO 13ers now and concentrating more on the photography and “fun” aspect rather than the “Get er’ done” aspect. And finally, I want to start climbing with Sam and Henry.

    And that will all start next season…

    Wednesday, September 22, 2010

    The 40 X 50 14er Challenge is Successfully Completed!

    On September 18, 2010 I completed my 40 X 50 14er Challenge. That is, to climb 40 of Colorado’s 54 14er mountains before I turned 50 years old. I completed that challenge last Saturday (with 4 months to spare) on Blanca Peak at 14,345 feet along with my long time climbing partner Don Lochner.
    Some interesting statistics:

    • Started (informally) in 1998 with my first 14er climb of Grays Peak, 12 years ago.
    • Total 14er ascents = 54 (which is also interesting in that there are 54 (recognized) unique 14ers in CO. While I did not climb all 54, I did complete 54 assents on my 40th 14er.
    • Total estimated distance hiked = ~486 miles
    • Total estimated altitude gained = ~190,000 feet
    • Total estimated hiking time = ~500 hours
    • Number of summits that I missed due to weather = 1 (Castle/Conundrum)
    • Number of times that I ran for my life in a thunderstorm while at altitude = 2 (La Plata and Pikes)
      My 14er excitement is not over yet. Don still has a bunch of summits he wants to do so I will happily oblige him and repeat 14ers that I have already completed. I may even do a few that I haven't completed yet such as Ellingwood and Challenger. We will see. Its good to have a few 14ers set aside.

      My next act is to start climbing more of the CO 13ers now and concentrating more on the photography and “fun” aspect rather than the “Get er’ done” aspect. And finally, I want to start climbing with Sam and Henry.

      And that will all start next season…

      Tuesday, September 21, 2010

      Blanca Peak – 360 Degrees of Incredible Views; Payback for Hiking up Como Lake Road


      Driving anywhere in the southern portion of the San Louis Valley you can clearly see the magnificent and gigantic Blanca massif. It is unlike anything else 14er-wise in Colorado. Most 14ers are strewn within a sea of other high peaks and are in a sense, awash in the chaotic landscape of alpine gigantism.

      Blanca is quite different in the fact that it suddenly juts out of the floor of the nearly featureless and flat San Louis Valley. It ”looks” more like one would envision a mountain in that its mass, height, and sheer dizzying volume is overwhelming in contrast to its rather flat-lined host valley. Mt. Massive may be…well…more massive, but Blanca sure looks way huger!


      The Blanca massif is unique among Colorado 14ers as it most surprisingly juts from the San Louis Valley. It puts the “mass” in massif and anchors the Sangre de Cristo Range.

      Don and I left the Denver area late morning on Friday. For this trip we were using his full size, Professional Grade GMC Sierra pickup with an off road package. We arrived at Como Lake Road about 2ish and began the miserable journey up as high as we could go in his pickup. At about 3:30 we finally felt we had reached the limits of the Sierra and its driver. We had made it to 9,500 feet on the road and found a suitable place to park. We changed into our hiking gear, hoisted our packs, and off we went up (about 2,300 feet) towards Como Lake.

      I will not spend much time describing Como Lake Road. Everything you have heard about is true. Its sucks…a lot. Its is hot, steep, dusty, and mostly uninteresting.


      Don takes an editorial shot of the Como Lake Road sign

      We arrived, after traversing the the Como Lake Road in the full heat of afternoon at around 5:30 pm. We quickly found a beautiful, large, and protected camping spot near the lake and the old cabin.


      Our camp sight near the old cabin. Its one of the best sites we have had at a 14er trailhead.

      We quickly set up our tents, filtered water, and completed all the other stuff we needed to accomplish before nightfall. We didn't have long as the sun set soon after our arrival.

      To our surprise Como Lake provided another treat of light and subject matter. As the sun set it light up the valley leading to Blanca, Ellingwood, and Little Bear Peaks with such incredible light that both Don and I paused our activities to capture this beauty before it was gone.


      The sunset on Little Bear (tallest point on ridge) with Como Lake in the foreground was astounding

      Don and I rehydrated out Bag-O-Meals, ate, and then tended to some last minute evening chores before turning in for the night. The forecast for the next day was bluebird as it had been for the entire week and days to follow. We decided there was really no reason to wake up at our usual 4:30 – 5 am. So we planned to get up at 5:30. It was almost like sleeping in late.

      One thing that we (mostly me) had not taken into account was the dehydration we had suffered as a result of our hot and steep hike up Como Lake Road. This would haunt me somewhat on summit day. I simply did not drink enough after arriving at camp to make up for what had been lost Friday afternoon. This set me (us) up for a bit of misery on Saturday as we climbed Blanca. I am usually more cognizant of my fluids, but for some reason on this trip that wisdom escaped me.

      We woke up on Saturday as planned and puttered around camp getting ready for our climb. We were still in no particular hurry. It appeared no one else was in a hurry either as the typical early morning activity one finds at a 14er trail head was absent. There were plenty of people at the lake…but not many were up and around even by 7:15 am, when we finally hit the trail.

      The aspect of the early morning light within the valley leading to Blanca is perhaps the best I have ever seen. The rugged cliffs, multitude of varied lakes, and the clear skies provided us with intense photographic subject matter.


      The Blue Lakes area at about 12,200 feet. Lakes of glass and azure skies.


      We both trudged up the standard route towards Blanca. We would pass, and then be passed by a pair of hikers we met the night before on our ascent up Como Lake Road. Larry and his son Jonathan had travelled from Texas to bag Blanca and Ellingwood. They were great company and we leapfrogged them all day to the summit.


      The lower headwall leading up to the Blue Lakes. Ellingwood is bathed in morning light background left.

      The trail wound up two substantial and steep headwalls. The first leading to Blue Lakes and the second dropping us off at Crater Lake. Crater lake is a fascinating geological specimen. I would guess that many people hike past this area without a second glance.

      As we hiked back down on our return we noticed that a HUGE block approximately 8 stories high (just an estimate, it was really really huge though) was sitting in the valley. Its hard to miss. Looking up we could see a perfectly shaped area in the valley wall where it had peeled out of and ultimately crashed to the floor. That must have been a hell of a crash. The top of the block shattered on impact and sent debris far across the valley. The trail traverses directly through the debris field.


      This huge block used to be part of the ridge above. Its previous perch is quite apparent. This block was probably 8 stories high.



      Another look at the fallen block with Crater Lake behind. Shattered debris is visible right of the block.

      This geologic leviathan is worth a stop and examination next time you happen to be in the area. I wonder what the sound and the splash was like when the block hit Crater Lake…

      Don and I continued to hike steeply up above Crater Lake towards the saddle that connects Blanca and Ellingwood Peaks. The trail above Crater Lake can get a little hard to find. There seem to be several “braided” trails above the lake and across the ledges. There are cairns and nylon whiskers to mark the way but they are somewhat discontinuous. However, it is relatively straight forward where you need to go. Basically up to the saddle but stay toward the Blanca side. Don’t head for the center of the saddle. You will just make the hike unnecessarily longer.


      Looking up at the connecting saddle between Ellingwood (out of frame to left) and Blanca Peaks near the ledges. Blanca is actually to the left of the high point on the ridge but not visible here.

      There is probably a visible trail leading from the ledges to the saddle but we followed a more amorphous path and headed into the steeper terrain to hit the saddle higher up on the ridge towards Blanca. This route “cut-the-corner” and traded off a shorter hike for steeper terrain.


      Looking over towards Ellingwood from about halfway up Blanca’s ridge. Ellingwood is so steep and abrupt from this aspect that it gave me mild vertigo just looking at it.

      The fun starts when you hit Blanca’s Northwest ridge as the hiking class changes from class 1/2 to a healthy class 2/3 with exposure. Its a lot of fun scrambling on the solid rock with good handholds.There is a trail that runs on or very near the actual ridge crest. Don and I generally followed the ridge but did not necessarily follow the trail per se. We chose to follow what appeared to us to be the best route balancing climbing class, exposure, and routing towards the summit. It was a lot of fun with incredible views. It is not difficult but, you do need to watch your step as one bad move and you are headed downhill.


      Don takes a quick break from the steep and rocky ridge route to Blanca’s summit

      Don and I both made Blanca’s summit at about 11 am. No one else was on the summit at that time and Don and I celebrated! This was my 40th 14er summit (in 54 total 14er ascents) and Don’s 30th. We high-fived, knucked, and smiled until our faces ached. The weather was perfect blue-bird. The 360 degree views were perhaps the best I have seen from a 14er. Looking out over the San Louis Valley from 14,345 feet just can’t be beat.


      Just a portion of the great views. There is plenty to see. Little Bear is the high point along ridge foreground. Como Lake, nestled in the valley, is visible in the distance surrounded by trees towards the center right of the image.

      It had been a while since we had a summit to ourselves. And this was a fine summit to be on. Soon the Texan’s, Larry and Jonathan made their way up the ridge. We all talked, compared stories and took some time to rest and refuel. I still hadn't realized it yet, but by now, after 4 hours of climbing I was pretty dehydrated. I pulled out my peanut butter and jelly sandwich took a single bite and decided eating it was not a good idea. My appetite was gone. I was able to drink. I felt ok but still not quite right.


      Larry and his son Jonathan negotiate the final narrow ridge to Blanca’s summit



      Mount Lindsey and Iron Nipple to the East of the Blanca Massif



      Don, left and me, right. 14er number 30 and number 40 respectively

      On the way down the mountain Don and I decided that we would climb Ellingwood another day. We had considered climbing both peaks as they are traditionally done together. But after seeing it from Blanca’s ridge and our low motivation at that point we bailed and happily decided to head back to camp.


      Parts of the route below the summit are really quite steep and exposed

      The trip back down the valley was uneventful except for dehydration induced stumbling here and there. We arrived back in camp around 3ish.

      When we got to our campsite we found we had some new neighbors. A guy in some hugely modified Jeep Cherokee and his buddy. We learned later their names were Walt and Bruce. We were beat. Tired, hot, dehydrated, hungry, and very grumpy.

      Don and I sat down to eat and drink, I was still feeling a bit “punky” so I ate slowly. I filtered more water and drank a liter in no time and readied some more. Right after we were getting settled a whole bunch of Jeeps, Toyotas, and other vehicles started arriving. Probably about 5 or 6 of them and they appeared to know Walt and Bruce. Don and I began to think that instead of spending the night we perhaps should clear out before it got too rowdy as it appeared it might with all the new arrivals.

      But…we went with the flow and the other vehicles cleared out and left. Don and I were just too beat to hike out anyway. We could have, but it would have sucked.

      As it turns out we ended up spending the evening with Walt and Bruce (who had stayed), and another climber named Shane. Bruce and Walt were some of the most friendly and hospitable people I had met in a while. We hung out around a campfire, ate dinner, and shared stories. It was truly a blast. It was great to meet them both and spend time around the campfire cracking ourselves up. Thank you both for your hospitality and company.

      We finally crashed around 9:30 that night. The next morning Don and I woke up around 7. Ate, packed our gear, said our goodbyes to Bruce and Walt and headed back down the road.

      On the way home we had a HUGE burrito lunch at the Huerfano Cafe in Walsenburg. I can not tell you how good it was to eat a hot fresh meal. It was great to eat something that did not come out of a wrapper or bag and was not a bar, goop, or freeze dried. No beer though. After lunch Don and I headed back to Denver.

      This has been a great season. Beautiful peaks. Great friends. Fantastic pictures. And the completion of my 40 X 50 14er Challenge. Now I can relax a bit…


      GPS track for the Blanca hike.

      Monday, August 30, 2010

      Castle and Conundrum Peak, Loose, Steep Rotten, Exposed, Spacey and, Very Photogenic


      Castle and Conundrum are a peculiar mix of stark beauty, terrifying exposed steep and loose scree/talus, and incredible photogenicity. In retrospect, I truly loved climbing these peaks and the manageable technical challenges that they present a climber. While I was on the mountains, all I wanted was to do was get the hell out of the loose crappy rocks and onto level ground. How quick we forget the bad stuff after the hike is over.

      From stepping onto the trail outside of our tents to the summits, this trail is rather steep. It is unrelenting. It starts steep and then gets steeper.

      Don and I started on Friday the 20th. I worked in the morning from home and got some miscellaneous stuff finished. Don took two half days off on Friday. We met at Don’s house around 12ish and began our trip down to the trailhead over Independence Pass, through Aspen, arriving at out campsite at 11,500 feet at about 5pm.


      Our campsite at 11,500 feet. Right off the road and great views.

      The campsite was fine. While not huge, it had great views and presented us with two places to set our respective tents. The weather forecast for the next day was superb. And the skies were clearing as we readied our meals, took pictures, and otherwise prepared for the next morning.


      One of the spectacular views we had as the sun set and the clouds cleared

      Don and I woke up at 4:30am and consumed our usual; Starbucks canned latte for me and VIA for Don followed but some sort of repellent (at least at that altitude and time of day) oatmeal bar thing. It was still predawn and the Milky Way spread over the camp site in brilliant luminosity. Dawn quickly approached and the stars washed away. The temp was in the upper 30s and just a very light breeze. We started up the trail, which is actually an old mining road all the way up to 12,800 ft where there is a substantial parking area.

      At 5:30 we were able to chuck our headlamps and muddle our way in the dim morning light. Don and I had travelled about 20 minutes or so and when we saw a bright light in the sky traveling roughly from the Northwest to the Southeast. It appeared very high and looked like an airplane with its landing light on. However, as it traversed overhead it remained bright. Don commented, after some observation, that he thought it could be the International Space Station (ISS). Judging the direction of travel I determined that the inclination generally made sense for the ISS and Don, checking after he was home much later that evening, confirmed that the ISS was indeed making an overhead pass at that time. How cool is that? Seeing this space-bound sentinel also set the stage for other space related oddities to happen later in the hike.

      Don and I continued our way up the road all the way to the parking area at 12,800 feet. Here we got a good look at the 600 foot “headwall.” This part of the climb is nasty. No matter how you go up this thing you will have to negotiate very steep, very loose, very sharp scree and talus for 600 vertical feet. There are some faint trails winding their way up the slope. Don and I were able to meander along these trails, somehow, and climbed our way up.


      Don looks up the 600 feet of talus and scree leading to the bottom of the basin

      Upon reaching the top of this nasty heap of busted-up rock we hiked the short distance to the base of the trail that takes the hiker from the basin to the ridge top ultimately leading to the Castle summit. This trail is also steep (have I mentioned that this hike is steep?) but it is obvious as it switches back and forth directly up the slope towards the ridge. The trail then cuts across a straight climbing stretch where it finally brings the hiker to the ridge crest proper.


      The trail leads from the basin (lower left) up to the ridge crest (center right) providing access to Castle’s summit. Steep…Isn't it?

      This hike really begins to get far more challenging and fun as you attain the ridge crest. To this point one has essentially been steeply grinding up busted up rocks or hiking on a mining rode. The surrounding terrain is quite beautiful. However, the hike itself is somewhat…ah…well…a trudge.

      As you reach the Northeast ridge the hike becomes a climb. The NE ridge embodies what really sets “walkups” apart from climbs. The climbing class along the ridge to Castle’s summit varies between class 2 to class 3+ with exposure. Good Times! There were sections that bordered on class 4ish but perhaps I exaggerate for effect. But truly there were short sections where one must hunt around a bit for solid (emphasis on solid) hand and/or foot holds. All the while the slopes careen steeply away from you and downwards into the basin far below.


      A look back down the ridge crest. You can clearly see how broken up and exposed the trail is.



      Looking up as a lone climber negotiates the ridge with Castle’s summit, (adorned with other successful climbers) appearing right, background.

      Don, being afraid of heights, was not as expressive in his enthusiasm with the ridge section. Don is of course entirely competent in his abilities but simply needs some painful prodding and ridicule now and then. We had reached a point on the ridge were we just needed to sit and collect ourselves. And as oddly as it seems, there was just such a flat and stable area just below 14,000 feet. From where we were sitting the route seemed a little more than Don wanted to deal with.

      As luck would have it another climber came along (I did not get his name). We talked a little while and explained the situation. He volunteered to blaze ahead so that we could see him make his way up a technical portion and onto the trail above. And he did so. We saw that in reality there were just a few simple technical moves and then there was a pretty stable trail nearly all the way to the summit. That climber is pictured above. Thanks!

      Both Don and I made the rest of the climb to the summit with nary a problem. There were just a few other folks up there at around 9:30 am. The weather was still perfect and the route over to Conundrum looked more doable than ever.


      Climbers on the summit of Castle Peak ponder the route over to Conundrum

      Of question throughout the day was how we might descend. Of course one may either climb over to Conundrum and then reverse the whole trip back over Castle and down the ridge back to the trail head. I was of the mind to descend directly from the saddle between Castle and Conundrum. There was a LOT of loose talus and some snow/ice. From the ridge this route looks completely insane and steep. However I had climbed and descended the saddle route years earlier and knew it was less steep than it looked. This route is very popular earlier in the year when there is still plenty of snow on this route, which makes for a great glissade. In late August unfortunately the snow is mostly replaced by ice and liberally peppered with rocks.

      Don and I watched from the ridge and summit as other climbers made the saddle descent with what appeared to be little trouble. Also, as one changes their viewing orientation to that slope you can see that it is not as steep as it appears from across the basin. We now accepted that we would descend the saddle route even if it meant some limited ablative self-arrest.


      The saddle between Castle (left) and Conundrum (right). From this view the descent looks crazy steep and loose. And indeed it is. It is however possible to descend this route with care.

      We both stayed on Castle’s large summit long enough to recharge with some food and drink. We took our summit shots and chatted it up with others on the summit. The views were incredible adding to the panache of these two fine peaks.

      We wanted to get started towards Conundrum so we did not stay our usual 40ish minutes. We had studied the route over to Conundrum. The second peak seemed closer than ever. This was number 28 for Don but I had already been on top of Castle.


      A good look at the route from the summit of Castle all the way over to Conundrum Peak

      We met up with another climber as we headed down and across to Conundrum as we left Castle’s summit behind. As climbers do, we ended up hiking about the same speed and generally becoming engaged in conversation. We were talking about hiking and mutual interests, hometowns, and work. I mentioned, in the context of conversation, that Don was “actually a Rocket Scientist”, which Don actually is. The other guy (Scott as we would learn later) thought that was pretty interesting. He then mentioned that his grandfather was an astronaut. As it turned out…Scott’s grandfather is James (Jim) Lovell. Jim Lovell was the commander of Apollo 13 (and Apollo 8) and the astronaut who spoke the famous words, “Houston, We've had a problem.”


      A look at climbers ascending the ridge towards Castle Peak taken from the connecting saddle

      Jim Lovell's grandson! Perhaps others may not see this chance meeting as pretty darn cool but clearly Don and I did. And from Scott’s point of view, the chance to actually meet two random people on a mountain at nearly 14,000 feet…two people who were not just acquainted with the space program during the 60s and 70s, but darn near experts. At least we thought we were experts.

      We all hiked over to Conundrum in what seemed like minutes. It was a perfectly pleasant hike. We also got a good look at the descent route as we traversed the point where the descent joined in with the saddle and confirmed that it indeed was not terribly steep and appeared quite doable.

      In a short while we were on the smallish summit of Conundrum Peak. That made number 29 for Don and 39 for me. Scott graciously humored us by posing with me and Don in our usual “we made it” summit picture. The weather was still great. The really challenging parts of the hike were behind us, and it was still rather early in the day. We had nothing but time…and the descent down the saddle route.


      Don (left), Scott (center), and Me (right) on the summit of Conundrum Peak

      Don and I headed downwards towards the saddle after some relaxed refueling and rest, picture taking, and talking on the summit. At the beginning of the saddle descent we could see that there were trails leading down the saddle face at least as far as we could see. Eventually the slope was steep enough that the lower part of the descent was not visible. Thinking about this later I realized that the trails that we saw were the paths that hikers would use to connect from the top of the snow field (present in the spring) to the top of the saddle.

      We coordinated with some other climbers on the saddle to go down together so that we would not kick rocks down on each other. The slope was steep and very loose so sending rocks downhill was inevitable. Coordination between the climbers was mandatory and the resulting cooperation incredible. Everyone was working together and it made the descent MUCH safer.


      Looking back up the steep and nasty descent route

      As it turns out there was, after all, a good bit of “ablative self arrest.” It was not possible to avoid. The poor condition of the slope dictated it. The slope was variously steep loose dirt/rock, or subsurface ice with a semi-frozen crust of dirt and rock. Of the six or so folks that hiked down the saddle together, most, if not all, ended up falling and sliding down on some part of their body, unexpectedly, and ending up with various minor injuries involving scrapes, gouges, and blood. But it was agreed by all that these injuries were well worth the time and mileage saved on this route versus climbing all the way around and back over Castle.


      Ablative self arrest…Its not without risk

      The only – somewhat – unexpected danger was a crevasse at the base of the slope. I ended up traversing a loose slope about about 12 feet above the dangerous looking crack. I could not see down into it but I could gauge it was about 2+ feet wide and perhaps 12 feet long. Just as I was about half way across the short traverse my footing gave way and I was headed for the crevasse. I started clawing madly (somewhat in a panicked way) at anything that might stop me before I slipped into the menacing and mysterious maw. There was nothing but sliding dirt and rock around me but something I grabbed eventually stopped me. I was saved. From my somewhat uncomfortably closer position I was now able to look into the crevasse and saw that it was about 8 feet from the surface down to water. I could see and hear the delightful plinks and plops of debris that I had kicked loose in my fall as it slipped over the edge of the crevasse and into the water. Who knows how deep the water was. I didn’t find out. The sides of the crevasses were liberally sprinkled with embedded rock. Falling down that thing would have been a nasty ride!


      The crevasse as seen from above on the connecting saddle. I identified the terrifying crack later when look at my images.

      From here back to camp the hike was uneventful. Hiking over more giant piles of busted-up rock until we finally made it back to the upper parking lot at 12,800 feet then followed the road back down to our camp site. We were back at camp around 2pm. A great day. A challenging, interesting, and beautiful hike, in retrospect.

      Don and I packed up camp and eased our way down the long and rough road back towards Aspen. We ate at a place called “The Grill” in Leadville where they served up a decent burrito and then all that was left was the drive back to Denver.


      The GPS track for the Castle and Conundrum Peak hikes. Red is up, Blue is down.


      Next up is Blanca Peak.

      Tuesday, July 13, 2010

      Handies Peak – Another Jewel in the San Juan Mountains


      I need to get 3 more peaks to finish my 40 14ers before I am 50 years old (40×50). It looks like the last peaks will be Handies Peak (check). Conundrum Peak (a “soft” 14er but it counts in my book). Blanca Peak (sticks out of the otherwise flat San Louis valley). I turn 50 in February so I need to check these mountains off this season. Don and I got a late start last year not getting our first new 14er until late July. So we were determined to set out earlier this year.

      We picked Handies for no other reason than it looked pretty easy (relatively) and we could get to it as soon as the trailhead melted out. The melting out happened pretty quickly as the late Spring temps had been warm. I had been checking the trailhead conditions on 14ers.com. It appeared that by Late June we were good to go.

      Don and I left on Friday afternoon. I had just started a new job that week and already had to take off early my first Friday! Fortunately my new job at Qwest and my boss are excellent and the situation proved to not be an issue.

      Don and I left the Denver area around 1ish and headed to Gunnison for dinner at our favorite pizza joint Pie-Zan's on 730 North Main Street. They make an excellent facsimile of New York style pizza. We have eaten there a lot over the years and it’s always good.

      From Gunnison we made our way south through the bustling town of Lake City. Past the Slumgullion Slide and its associated beautiful Lake San Cristobal. I easily navigated the road to the America Basin trailhead in my 2004 Ford Escape. The road is really not that bad. I think a decent car could make it most of the way up the road except for a couple of shirt rough spots. High clearance is definitely a good idea but the road is not horrendous.


      The Second Stream Crossing at 11,400 Feet

      We drove all the way to the second, and larger, stream crossing. It was no problem to cross. We set up camp in a spot immediately after the crossing. We were about ¼ mile from the actual American Basin trailhead. The next morning as we hiked to the trailhead we saw that we could have made the short distance in the truck. But heck…It only added a little bit of walking to the hike. There were several streams washing down the surrounding peaks down improbably steep hillsides. American Basin is magnificent. It was still a little early for wildflowers. But, the green brush vegetation, colorful rock, streams, and patches of snow made for a visual treat.


      American Basin Near Sunset



      Our Campsite Just Above the Second Stream Crossing

      We each set up our tents and organized gear. We talked strategy and decided on an early start even though the weather was forecast to be perfect. The earlier we started the earlier we would be done. And with a 6+ hour drive back home we would be able to get back before it was too late.

      The alarm clocks (cell phone alarms actually) went off about 5 a.m. Don and I woke up and we choked down our familiar part tart breakfast. Don made coffee in his new (my old) Jetboil. We started hiking around 6:15 a.m.

      We made our way up the road to the actual trailhead where we signed in at the register and started up the trail. It was not really that steep but I was really feeling tired. I didn’t really know why. I also didn’t know it at the time but Don was feeling the same way. It was a bit odd. I felt as if we were taking f-o-r-e-v-e-r to just get the first mile or so done. Actually, we were holding a very good pace exceeding 1,000 feet/hour. I am not sure why it felt so slow and tiring. It was just one of those days I suppose.


      Sunrise in American Basin Above the Trailhead



      This Waterfall is but One of the Incredible Natural Features of American Basin and Handies Peak

      We had to do some route finding now and then as there was still some snow on and around the actual trail. Nothing too difficult. It was just hard to see where the trail went for short segments but we soldiered on in our discomfort. There was at this early hour quite a bit of ice on the trail. Some parts were rather wet from all the snow melt. With the nighttime temps below freezing there were many parts of the trail that were simply a sheet of ice which made for some careful navigation.

      We finally reached Sloan Lake and from here to the summit we both felt much better and really started to enjoy this hike.


      Long Shadows Cast by the Low Morning Sun. A Frozen Sloan Lake in Center of the Frame

      The terrain around Sloan Lake is very chaotic (in a geologic sense) but interesting. It is dominated by piles of old rock rubble that has eroded off the surrounding peaks and tumbled into the basin. In the approximate middle of this jumble is Sloan Lake. Just magnificent! The trail has been recently rerouted to switchback up a hill just below the lake and then traverses, loosing some elevation, towards the longer and steeper ascent up to the summit. Looking up the remainder of the hike it appeared to grind up pretty steeply but it was not really bad at all and the scenery was astounding, as is common in the San Juans.

      We started up towards the summit after a refueling stop and applying sun block. We really felt great now and the summit was within view and our reach. We climbed up to the top of the shoulder/ridge leading to Handies Summit. American Basin was stretched out beneath us in true glory. This statement is not hyperbole. It really is incredible. We were high enough now to really take in the vast San Juan views. The weather was pure blue sky. A slight breeze and a chill in the air. A basically perfect mountain hiking day.


      The Trail Stretches out Above Sloan Lake Heading for Handies Summit



      Colorful Lichen Decorate the Rocks On the Ridgeline Leading to the Summit

      We continued climbing making great time. We were on the summit around 9:30 a.m. There were 2 other folks on the rather smallish summit. The views, the mountain, the companionships was great. One person on the summit was Matt Payne who is a 14ers.com regular and a nice guy. He was on the summit with his father. We talked about CO 14ers, hiking, and web sites. We took pictures and ate. Rested and relaxed. Matt and I both host mountain oriented web sites and both obviously have similar interested towards the outdoors. Me and Don and Matt, and Matt’s dad bantered on about hiking and such. It was a blast. I have rarely met anyone on a 14er (or 13er) summit that I didn’t like. Typically people are interesting, friendly, talkative, and helpful. We all share the same interests after all.


      Don (left) and Me on the Handies Peak Summit



      Looking Down the Trail From the Summit. Small Switchbacks, Green Rock, and Sloan Lake a Long Way Down in the Distance

      Don and I finally decided it was time to head back down. Matt and his father headed off to Whitecross Mountain. We met a few other folks heading up. The weather was still perfect. It was great to have our first 14er complete in June and to have it be so incredibly scenic and in the midst of such great weather.


      A Look Across American Basin on our Hike Back to Camp

      We arrived back at camp around 12:30 p.m. We drove the long road back into Lake City and ate at the Tic Toc Dinner (no food finer). We had great burritos and somewhat odd service. Not bad service….just a little odd. Fitting for Lake City in a perfectly eccentric way. Then it was off for the long drive back to Denver.

      HandisJPS Track

      Handies Peak Hike GPS Track

      Next up…Castle and Conundrum Peaks