ascent and descent route: standard route from American Basin. southwest face/ south ridge
14,048' Handies Peak
photo- Sunrise over Handies Peak from high in American Basin. photo by Zach Taylor, 2011.
Joel and I had just climbed and ridden Redcloud/Sunshine the day before and were kicking around the Cinnamon pass area killing time before the train left for Chicago Basin on the 8th. I had ridden Handies in a white out the season prior but Joel had never been up there yet and I was looking for a little better experience. The road was already plowed to American Basin and we were already camped nearby so we decided to climb Handies the next day, on the 6th.
We got up a bit before sunrise at our camp at the Silver Creek trailhead and took the short drive up the road to the last part of where the road was plowed just below the American Basin trailhead.
photo- Joel Paula skinning towards Handies Peak high in American Basin. photo by Zach Taylor, 2011.
We made quick time across American Basin. There were multiple cracks across the snow surface that ran for 50-150' or so. We guessed that most of these happened the day prior in the afternoon when the snow became very unstable due to the warm daytime temperatures. Many wet sluffs and a few wet slab avalanches had run recently in the area. We guessed the day before. We had recieved a good freeze the night before so avalanches were not a worry when we toured through the valley however the cracks and slides were an impressive reminder of nature's power. We had seen similar conditions occuring on the 5th (the day before) in Silver Creek just down the valley when we were touring back to camp in the afternoon.
We continued up the southwest face of Handies (used axe and crampons for one steep section, the rest was skinned), gained the south ridge, and were on the summit pretty quickly. Another beautiful summit under clear, sunny skies. There was a bit of a spring breeze but not enough to hinder enjoyment of the summit.
photo- Joel Paula on the summit of Handies. photo by Zach Taylor, 2011.
photo- Zach Taylor on the summit of Handies. photo by Joel Paula, 2011.
The summit descent of Handies was easy as we descended the snow caked south ridge down onto the southwest face of Handies and out into American Basin.
photo- Joel Paula enjoying turns on the southwest face of Handies. photo by Zach Taylor, 2011.
photo- Zach Taylor riding the southwest face of Handies Peak. photo by Joel Paula, 2011.
I was able to snowboard all the way to where the road was plowed. We walked down the plowed road for less than five minutes before we were back at my Blazer. We drove my car back to our campsite at the Silver Creek Trailhead and sat in the sun eating food and drinking beer.
We had not seen anyone else up there since the road had been closed but the road had been opened to the general public that morning while we were up on the mountain. We were passed by two vehicles with two people in each. The last car (an ATV actually) stopped and an older man asked me in a very thick Louisiana accent what we were doing as he looked our campsite over and all its dirty drying ski/snowboard gear. We said that we had been climbing and skiing peaks in the area for the last couple days. "Ya'll got Spot?", he asked. "Huh? I said. "Ya'll got one dem Spot beacons?", he replied.
I replied that we had avalanche beacons but no Spot. He looked confused and drove off up the road. A bit passed and then he drove by again. "Dem avalanche beacons kinda like Spot beacons?" he asked. I explained what they were to him. He frowned and thought for a couple minutes. "How old are ya?" he asked. I said 26. "Boy you'll learn by the time you are 30. You should really consider getting Spot." I smiled politely and wished him a good day as he drove off.
For the last few weeks of peak climbing since this day the phrase, "Ya'll got Spot," made it into the vernacular of all my friends and I as we climbed peaks across the San Juans. "Ya'll got Spot?" was uttered repeatedly and many a smile was brought as the story was told in Chicago Basin and Matterhorn Creek later as well.
I am not saying that Spot is a bad idea to carry in the backcountry, it is not. It is a good thing to carry but not an essential like a avalanche beacon, a beefy first aide kit, and some basic medical and rescue knowledge are. The situation and scolding from an overweight Louisiana man regarding our backcountry practices was pretty funny though so I thought I would share here.
We camped one last night at Silver Creek on the 6th and then we made our way to Durango to catch the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge...