WALKING ON THE WILD SIDE
Handies Peak, Colorado
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Funny how some times things in our lives come full circle. The story behind Handies Peak, where this photo was taken at 14,058 feet, started in the year 2010. Scot and I had been dating for a while and this was our first big trip together with all three kids (James, Nicole and Dylan). The two week trip took us from Houston, Texas (where we both lived at the time) to New Mexico for a few days before, then finally an infamous stay in Colorado before returning home. The location was a campground just outside of Lake City, Colorado, a small town nestled in the San Juan mountains.
It was my first time to this area and the beauty of the rocky mountains was breathtaking, both figuratively, and thanks to the elevation, quite literally. When Scot said he was going to take James (13 at the time) to the top of Handies Peak as his first “14er”, I was happy to stay behind with the two younger kids. Little did we know that this trip would set James down the path of becoming a true mountaineer. James eventually became an alpine climbing guide, and has taken people on trips up mountains that make this one pale in comparison.
Caption #1: Scot and James at the top of Handies Peak in 2010.
Caption #2: No trip is ever complete without having a wildlife encounter. A friendly yellow-bellied marmot posed for James.
Fast forward ten years from that first trip to the summer of 2020 when I found myself back in the San Juan mountains meeting up with friends. Scot, Dylan and I were living in Nathrop, Colorado and I had already scaled several “14ers” including the tallest peak in the state, Mount Elbert. By now my lungs were well adjusted to handle the low oxygen level at 14,000 feet. On reaching the summit, I paused to take this picture looking back the way I had just come. The endless trails winding down the mountain face reminded me of my first visit to these rugged mountains with my soon to be family of five.
And now for a few more pictures and a short story about my climb to the top of Handies Peak in August of 2020 with long time friends Sandy, Raul, Angels and Gisela.
We met the day before our climb in Lake City, Colorado. The road to the trailhead is a 4WD road and I did not want to take my Subaru, so I left it parked near the town. Our journey up the mountain began in the now infamous "4WD Van" that Raul built to handle off road terrain as well as function as place to sleep for the family of four while on the road.
(See the van here https://www.facebook.com/TrueAdventurLife )
That evening, we spent the night in American Basin with plans to get an early start in the morning to make the summit. As I was setting up my tent for the night I had some neighbors make their presence known with their high pitched chirps. Meet my neighbors... who thankfully quieted down before sunset so I was able to get some sleep in preparation for the ~5.4 mile round trip to the top of Handies.
Caption #3: These two yellow-bellied marmots were my entertainment for the afternoon/evening.
Morning came before we knew it and after a short breakfast we were all ready to begin the steep climb. The ascent of ~2,400 feet had us stopping for breaks along the way to catch our breath and refuel our bodies with snacks and lots of water. One of those breaks was a stop at Sloan Lake at ~12,900 feet where I had a fun wildlife encounter. I am guessing my backpack smelled good as a meadow vole took the risk of coming out in the open to examine my pack. I have seen voles many times on trips but this was the first time I had one be so brazen. I am guessing it was quite used to seeing people as climbing a "14er" has become quite the rage. (According to the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative an estimated 340,000 people hiked fourteeners in 2020.)
Caption #4: A cute snack break visitor, a meadow vole (Microtus pennsylvanicus).
It was time to continue on and leave this cute one to fend for itself as we strictly followed the outdoor etiquette to "leave no trace". Sorry little one, but that means no scraps of food left behind. The stop was just what we needed to finish the climb and make the summit well before noon. In the high Colorado high country storms can develop quickly causing dangerous conditions, so it is best to start early and summit before noon when doing a fourteener. On this day however, we had perfect weather and was able to take our time and enjoy the views before making our descent back to camp.
Caption #5: Angles, Raul and Gisela on the top of Handies Peak.
Another adventure complete safe and sound. See you next month,
Lea Frye - Wildlife Photographer
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www.leaf-images.com | Lea Frye, Wildlife Photographer | Helena, MT
Wild Animals / Wild Landscapes