Day 1 - Mt. Sneffels (6 mi. 2,900 feet elevation gain)
• 2h 15m Ascent (second person on summit)
• 20m on Summit
• 1h 50m Descent
• Total time = 4h 10m
• Drove to Matterhorn Trailhead
• High camped at 12,500’
Day 2 – Uncompahgre & Wetterhorn (18 mi. 5,850 feet elevation gain)
• 2h 27m Ascent via the East Face snow route
• 27m on summit (first person on summit)
• 2h 01m back to camp via the long route
• Stayed 22m at camp
• 2h 18m to Wetterhorn Summit
• 1h 42m Descent
• Total time = 10h 56m
• Drove to Silver Creek Trailhead
Day 3 – Rain/Rest Day
Day 4 – Redcloud, Sunshine, Failed Handies (18 mi. 7,000 feet elevation gain)
• 2h 33m Ascent of Redcloud (second person on summit)
• 41 m across to Sunshine (first person on summit)
• 51 m back to Redcloud
• 30 m on Summit
• 1h 40m Descent
• Back at 11:30 a.m. and left for Handies at 12:00 p.m.
• Returned to trailhead after turning around with less than a mile to go (weather)
• Drove to American Basin Trailhead (attempt Handies from other side)
Day 5 – Handies and San Luis (18 mi. 6,200 feet elevation gain)
• 1h 38m Ascent (first on summit)
• 10m on Summit
• 55m Descent
• Total time = 2h 43m
• Drove to Stewart Creek Trailhead
• 2h 45m Ascent of San Louis (last on summit)
• 16m on Summit
• 2h 38m Descent (in the dark)
• Total time for San Louis = 5h 39m
• Total time for day = 8h 22m
After exuberantly leaving work on Friday, I began my solo trip to the San Juan mountain range in southwestern Colorado for some sight seeing and soul restoration. The drive to Mt. Sneffels was great. The 4x4 road that hugged the towering cliffs and rose high above the water flowing below was one of the better trailheads I've reached. I arrived late Friday night, and upon entering a steep, rocky section of 4x4 road, I promptly marooned my Jeep. I got out with my trusty Maglite and investigated the "hang up." I had managed to lodge an unmovable boulder between two pieces of my Grand Cherokee's undercarriage (I'm not even going to attempt to guess what parts of the vehicle were actually trapped). I couldn't go forward or back. However, it was only a minor setback, because I was able to find enough flat rocks to built a ramp/bridge so when I reversed, my front tires would climb the ramp, lifting me high enough to release me from the boulder's grip. After my new found freedom, I was careful not to overestimate my clearance for the remainder of the trip.
I reached the trailhead late on Friday night, and climbed into the back of my Jeep's makeshift sleeping arrangement and promptly dozed off. Anticipating my first ascent of the trip, I was early to rise and was ready to leave by 6:00 a.m.
View from where I slept
It wasn't long until the easy trail became completely snow covered. I ended up following someone's pre-placed boot prints and made easy work of the snow gully to the summit. There were great views, and a fun, small rock face to maneuver delicately around to reach the summit. I made nearly the same time on the descent as I did going up. It took me around 2 hours for both.
The snow field
View from Sneffels
Reaching the car, I quickly packed up and started the journey to the Matterhorn TH. I arrived at 4:15 p.m., repacked my gear, and headed up the trail to make a high camp for the night. I hiked in about an hour and a half to a ridge between Matterhorn and Uncompahgre at 12,500'. It was a beautiful, cloudless night. There was not a rustle of wind, and it was deathly still and silent. I opted to setup the tent without the rainfly, and it was a wonderful decision. I was able to watch the stars all night long. My digital thermometer said it reached a low of 33 degrees that night, but I was as comfortable as could be in my zero degree down bag.
View of Uncompahgre from where I setup camp (I did the snow field on the right)
My alarm rang at 4:00 a.m., and I got up ate, packed all my gear, and left by 5:30 a.m. I did the snow route up Uncompahgre, which I'm sure is all but vanished by now. It was steep, and difficult for me. I thought it would save some time, and I'm sure it did, but it was a lot of effort so early in the morning. Once you start the snow climb, there is no getting off, because all the scree beside the snow field is like quicksand/mudslide.
The sun just kissing Wetterhorn
I reached the summit of Uncompahgre in about 2.5 hours, and decided to take the longer, easier route back to the ridge where I had slept the night before. It took about two hours to make the rolling return trip, and my feet were pretty wet traversing all the slushy snow fields, even with my waterproof boots and gators.
Marmot checking on me
There appeared to be some great climbing on Uncompahgre, but I didn't see any routes on mountainproject. Looks good to me!
From my previous campsite, I loaded my heavy pack on my back and made my way around Matterhorn to Wetterhorn. I tried to avoid the deep, wet snow, and eventually got off route, and had to retrace some of my traverse to find the trail leading to Wetterhorn's summit. I ended up lacing up my snowshoes (since I was carrying them) and just going straight across the snow fields. Reaching a low point below Matterhorn and before the ascent of Wetterhorn, I stashed my pack in a safe place (away from marmots) and just took some water with me to the summit.
I enjoyed the ascent of Wetterhorn very much. However, as I got closer I saw the beautifully fluffy clouds turning a dark color. I made quick work of the last part of the route, and scurried up the class 3 crux to the summit in less than 45 seconds. I snapped a picture, and turned around to get out of there before the weather could do anything more than threaten.
I made a quick glissade on the way down (however, I came down the wrong face and had to go back up for my pack). I stacked the pack on my back, and headed back to the car. The descent from Wetterhorn took less than two hours. The total time for the ascent and descent of both peaks was just under eleven hours.
My glissade path
I took a quick bath in the river (this was the most dangerous part of my trip, because I nearly got hypothermia and drowned), and headed in to Lake City for some dinner at a local BBQ. With a great meal in my belly, I made the short drive to the next trailhead.
The view from my bathtub
After arriving at the TH and finding a camping spot I packed it in for the night. Late in the evening, while I was laying down reading, I heard a faint, but distant grumbling sound. I didn't think anything of it until I heard it again a few minutes later. Then again. I thought it might be coming from my car? Next time I heard it, I pounded on the car. The noise promptly stopped. I figured it was a coincidence, so the next time it happened, I hit the car again with my fist, and the noise stopped again. At this time, I knew it was something on or near my car. I climbed into the front seat and turned on the ignition. I looked out the windows to see if the sudden noise scared anything. It ended up not scaring anything but me, because I caught a glimpse of something scurrying into the bushes. The huge puffy tail was bright white. I thought it was a marmot (but too low elevation), raccoon (this was way bigger than a coon), a badger maybe? I didn't know what it was, but I didn't want to see it again, so I turned the car off, and went back to bed.
Several hours later, I was startled awake by the ominous sound again. I paused, listened carefully, and I heard it again. I turned the keys over, not starting the car, but gaining power to roll the windows down so I could see out, grabbed the flashlight, and then started the ignition. This time I saw the invader. It was a full grown . . . porcupine! It was huge and I didn't want to mess with it! Anyway, this happened about every hour throughout the night. Apparently, and luckily, I found out that porcupines like to chew on cars. I say luckily, because it didn't do any damage. After further research upon returning home, I found that many national parks have shutdown in the past due to problem porcupine's chewing through radiator hoses and brake lines. Little to no damage was done to my car, but I did have to wake up several times to turn on the ignition and scare the beast away. Every time, I thought, surly this will be the last time, but an hour later, he'd be back. Finally, at about 4:00 a.m., I'd had enough and I got out of my warm, cozy sleeping bag and went out into the 30 degree crisp, mountain air and picked up some rocks to discourage the porcupine from returning, but without action he must have received the message because he didn't return.
The fourth of July ended up being a rest day for me, mainly because I didn't get any sleep wondering what that animal did to my ride. I slept in, and it was overcast and rainy, so I decided to just relax, and catch up on some reading. Before bed, I ended up driving .4 miles to the actual trailhead to get away from the R.E.M. stealing rodent.
This day started out with more of the same. There were about five other cars in the TH parking lot, but at about 2:00 a.m. I heard a familiar, unwanted sound . . . the porcupine was back! He was chewing on my car again, and there were other cars in the lot. What in the world was so enticing about my car? I started my car, and he went under the car next to me, then eventually wondered around. I watched him for a bit, contemplating how I was going to contribute to his demise, but eventually I was too sleepy and gave up.
I eventually woke up at 4:30 a.m. and headed toward Redcloud and Sunshine by 5:00 a.m. It was a very nice hike with good scenery. I made it to the Redcloud summit in 2 hours 33 minutes. I was the second person on the summit. Immediately, dropped my day pack and hiking poles and headed for Sunshine. It took 41 minutes to travel across the saddle (I was the first on Sunshine), then another 51 minutes back. When I returned to Redcloud, I found my hiking pole handles and my backpack had been munched on by a high altitude animal. Am I some kind of menacing mammal magnet? So, for future reference, make sure you don't leave anything unprotected on the Redcloud summit, unless there are people there watching it.
View back at Handies from the Redcloud/Sunshine trail
View of Redcloud
It took me 1 hour and 40 min. back to the trailhead, where I promptly grabbed a bite to eat and headed across the creek toward Handies. It was right at noon when I left, and the weather was cloudy, but not ominous in any way. I thought I'd make the quick four mile ascent in less than two hours and be below treeline before it could start storming--I was wrong.
I made quick work of Handies, but the clouds started to get darker, and I was not happy with what was going on, so I just went quicker. I ended up making it to the summit ridge in about an hour, but with less than a mile to go, a huge clap of thunder finally let lose and the tremendously deep noise made my heart stop, and I involuntarily ducked and covered my head. Needless to say, I bolted back down to treeline. Once I got there, it rumbled and thundered more, and eventually let lose. However, once I got to treeline, I was no longer in a hurry, but disappointed that I just hiked an extra six miles, on top of the 12 I just did, with no summit, so my pace slowed tremendously.
Once back to the car, I decided since I'd virtually climbed all of Handies' East slope, that I'd drive over to the southwest side and approach it from there the following morning. Also, I have to admit, the troublesome porcupine had a strong influence on my decision to move my camp.
Before I left, I decided to take another bath in the creek. I think the water was between 5 and 11 degrees, so it was refreshing to say the least. While I was flirting with hypothermia I did see a bull moose on up the river. Well, I'm pretty sure I did, but it could have just been a vision of my quickly freezing brain.
When I reached the American Basin trailhead, the sky had cleared and it was a beautiful evening. I was the only one at the trailhead.
My wristwatch alarm rang at 5:30 a.m., and I was on the trail to Handies (again) by 6:00 a.m. It took a mere 1 hour and 38 minutes to reach the summit, where I was the first, and about 55 minutes on the descent. Handies is a fantastic summit because it is mountains as far as you can see.
Afterwards, I drove the arduous dirt road from Handies back to Lake City, then over another 40 miles of dirt rode (all 2WD this time) to San Luis peak. Since it was raining when I got to the Stewart Creek TH, I just crawled in the back and took a nap. However, when I woke, it was clear as could be and only 5:00 p.m. After a small subconscious debate, I decided, "why not have some adventure?" I packed a light overnight pack (in case the weather changed) and headed for a sunset summit on San Luis.
Along the meandering, mostly flat trail, I saw no fewer than 11 beaver ponds. I watched two neighbors lazily paddle through their wattery domain. These animal architects didn't appear to have a care in the world--but I did, because I wanted to reach the summit before dark.
Picture of a lodge
It took me 2 hours and 45 min. to reach the summit, where the sun was just setting (it was 8:45 p.m.) In the distance, I could see a pink thunderstorm, and it was awesome to watch from the summit. I noticed I had good reception, so I called Ashley and it was very nice talking with her for a while. It was already dark, so I wasn't in any hurry to get back down. I contemplated setting my tarp up on the summit and camping there, but instead I opted to head back down for the night.
San Luis Summit
I was planning on putting the iPod in for the descent to hopefully deter my forest night terrors, but I must have forgot to lock it on the ascent, because it was dead. So, I got to descend in darkness and hear all the glorious sounds of the pitch black forest. I tried to leave my headlamp on the trail, because I didn't want to turn away and see all the eyes watching me.
Eventually, I made it back in 2 hours and 38 minutes, at 11:58 p.m. It rounded out another 18 miles of hiking and over 6,000 feet of elevation gain for the day. Needless to say, I just crashed when I got back.
The following morning, I left at 6:30 a.m. and headed back to Boulder. It was a wonderful trip, and I was able to cover a lot of beautiful country. I enjoyed every minute of it.