What: Handies and Wetterhorn Peaks
When: June 11th and 12th
Why: Took advantage of beautiful late afternoon climbs
Stats: 8 miles and 3500 feet each day
Recently I just hiked Handies Peak and Wetterhorn Peak and I started them both at 2 in the afternoon. Now I knew getting late starts in Colorado is a rare occurrence and I always enjoyed them however never did I realize this would be so beautiful. I had a late start on Mount Massive last fall as a morning front was racing through. Everyone else that morning turned around and we were the only ones to summit that day. Late starts can really be rewarding as long as you know when they are safe. This generally required some background knowledge about the weather. I hope you enjoy the photos I was able to capture below of these two glorious afternoon hikes.
On June 10th, 2012 I had just done the Jones Group near Silverton (Hiked American, Jones and Niagara) and was tired from the long drive over to Lake City. After driving all morning June 11th, I noticed the clouds had not built into anything dangerous and around 2pm, what was going to be a rest day for me turned into an afternoon stroll. I started from the Grizzly Gulch/Silver Creek trailhead and in the hot sun made my way up the trail to treeline. I took a long break by the creek at a flat area in a beautiful meadow to eat and keep an eye on the clouds. Some darker ones passed overhead but by 4pm I knew for sure nothing would develop. I continued in on and off sunshine to the summit of Handies following a nice class 1 trail the whole way up. At 5:30 I stood on top with no one else around. I had complete solitude with the gorgeous afternoon lighting dancing around the entire San Juan Range. Some virga was falling well to the east with small puffy clouds overhead and a clear western sky. Views to The Weminuche were fantastic and I was able to make out all the big peaks. Uncompahgre and Wetterhorn stood out like a pair of sore thumbs. I was always told Handies had great summit views but I grossly underestimated the beauty. Redcloud and Sunshine were staring me in the face the whole hike up across the valley.
I sat on the warm calm summit as the clouds slowly travelled eastward above me for about 45 minutes taking lots of photos. The hike down was also beautiful with complete solitude. I even saw a porcupine and more elk. Back at the car I cooked some dinner and met a nice couple who also was travelling the country in their car. Talking with them was a nice way to relax in the evening.
The next day I drove down and after an internet stop in Lake City I drove to the Matterhorn Creek trailhead with plans to do Wetterhorn on the 13th. I again planned for a rest day as I had 6 days in a row with summits. I sat by the car and with a keen eye on the clouds...2pm rolled around and nothing was developing. Just the ordinary garden variety but very pretty cumulus clouds. So I went for it! Surely this couldn't happen again could it?
Heading up the half mile long 4WD road I continued up the trail making good time to treeline. To my surprise the clouds were even less than the day before so I kept going without taking a break. I reached the SE ridge and crossed the only little snow patch on the route. At 13,500 feet the terrain finally reached class 2 and at 13,850 feet it finally reached class 3 with the ledge crossing and the final scramble. This was easy although I crossed to the ridges' east side at one point which was very loose. Better to stay on the west side and cross right below the Ships Prow instead of further around it. Tons of cairns were littered everywhere. At the summit again at 5:30 pm I sat there for about an hour just taking in the scenery and enjoying the moment. It was another calm and warm evening at 14,000 feet and most people when they climb these peaks summit when the sun is high in the sky at midday and the lighting is just horrible for viewing and photography. I seemed to be unable to keep my finger off the trigger and one fantastic photo after another just entered the lens! As the sun got even lower, the western sky got clearer and I was easily able to se the La Sal Mountains in Utah and all of the San Juans. To the east again lie some virga that obscured the rest of Colorado's mountains.
I hope you enjoy these photos...late starts in Colorado are a rare but beautiful occurrence.
Starting at 2pm in Colorado in June can be very dangerous but if you have lots of knowledge about the weather and weather patterns as well as a detailed forecast that you can fully read and understand you will know when this is safe. At some point I think everyone hiking and climbing in Colorado should get to a summit around 5 or 6 in the evening as the views are just so much more spectacular with the evening light.
Thanks for taking a look! Happy trails,