With my interesting experience on Blanca and Ellingwood still fresh (too fresh) in my mind; I was looking forward to this last weekend of climbing with Tom Vervaeke in the fall season. We had planned to climb four mountains in three days taking 22/23 Sep off work. We had planned to climb Handies, Sunshine, Redcloud, and San Luis if the weather held. After the snow storms that blanketed all 14er’s with a coating of snow on Tuesday, the weather has been flawless; deep blue skies have abounded. This is the first of three trip reports from the last few days.
Your option to hit “K” for kill is always there… We left Colorado Springs with Tom’s truck packed with all the car camping supplies one would ever need; funny how when you “car camp” you tend to bring along everything including the kitchen sink. We arrived at the Silver Creek/ Grizzly Gulch trailhead at about 8:45 in near perfect weather; crisp, clear, and sunny. We started up at 9:15 after a debate on carrying our ice axes… we decided to leave them in the truck.
The trail follows a beautiful stream then pops out of tree line rather early to follow a broad valley up to the base of Handies Peak. There sure seemed like a lot of snow of there as we got closer and I was wearing my light weight nylon/leather hikers and my gaiters were in the truck. We ascended up the basin to just west of Pt. 13,795 and gained the ridge after a short period of step kicking in the new snow. The ridge from here got rather steep (probably a climbers trail in the summer) and we took turns step kicking up the steep slope using our trekking poles for support. No danger here unless you slid off to the left as it dropped off rather sharply back into the basin.
As we summited on what we thought was the summit we saw we had an easy .25 ridge walk yet to go… so we did, arriving on top at about 12:30. The wind was really whipping and the wind chill was close to zero degrees but it was a great feeling to be on top. We watched a couple who we later learned were from San Diego ascend the American Basin approach with two large dogs wrapped in their own Patagonia sweaters. They all looked tired when they reached the top. After some pictures and conversations, Tom and I turned to leave.
Back down the gentle ridge walk, I was wondering about the sharp ridge without our ice axes. But no need to worry as the snow had softened and we were able to plunge step very safely down the slope. Just after leaving the ridge for the basin, Tom “I feel the need to glissade” Vervaeke found a safe 200′ glissade that brought back memories from the spring as flew down the slope.
At about 12,500 we were able to change into shorts for the trek back down the valley which we did in good time, arriving back at the truck at 2:15pm. With one down, we set up camp in some willows right at the trailhead. We knew it was going to get cold, so we gathered some firewood as Tom “My life for yours” (“The Stand”) can light any wood and soon made a blazing campfire. I tried out my H2O solar shower that had been sitting in the sun while we climbed… ohhh hot water in wilderness, camping is rough. We were the only ones camping that Thursday night so we had the entire area to ourselves. After sitting at the campfire until about 9:30pm we retired for some rest before setting off on Sunshine and Redcloud the next day; one down three to go..
Beta: Grizzly Gulch II Route, Class 2 7.6 miles with 3,650 elevation gain 5 hours 5 minutes