Peak(s):  Handies Peak  -  14,058 feet
Mt. Sherman  -  14,043 feet
Mt. Sheridan  -  13,748 feet
Date Posted:  06/27/2014
Modified:  06/29/2014
Date Climbed:   06/17/2014
Author:  EZSide
 The Bones of Winter   

Statistics - Travel: 6/12-6/13; Colorado 6/13-6/20; Return: 6/20-6/21
3,500 total miles driven. 27 Trail miles and 9,500' elevation. Mike's first and second summits and 3 more for Bill.

The tone of our much anticipated June trip was set last fall. The initial plan would be to camp at Mill Creek and try for a summit of Handies, with a backup target of Redcloud. Many other alternatives were also prepared. Mike had hoped to venture west last fall for his first mountain summits, but life simply didn't evolve to allow the plans to work out. Instead I had a true pilgrimage solo which helped to lay the foundation for this return to the San Juan Mountains. There was little question of a reset around his 60th birthday and Father's Day, and the plans solidified deep in a robust WI winter.

Handies and Grizzly Gulch - Fall 2013

Fall Legends TR

Our first stop was in Colorado Springs, where we had an evening visit to Garden of the Gods. I had never been there and it was a nice chance to reflect and honor those who have passed before us. Top on my mind was our Dad. Also several 14er members lost last year - all whom had provided inspiration and reflection for life. I never had the chance to meet them in person, but the shared connection to this extended community is none the less real.

"6 weeks backpacking in Colorado" - an entry on my Dad's Christmas wish list from 1977.

Go rest high on that mountain; Son, your work on earth is done.
Go to heaven a-shoutin' Love for the Father and the Son. "Go Rest High on That Mountain" - Vince Gill

There is no doubt that our Dad joined us in spirit for our 6 days.

Saturday would find us on a warm-up hike along North Crestone Creek after a beautiful morning drive turned into a dust storm in the San Luis basin. Then we would move on to Lake City and Mill Creek campground. Mike would delight in the views of the San Juans from Slumgullion Pass. I would wonder if any of last fall's snow was again gleaming in the sunlight. The Bones of Winter were still meaty in mid-June in the San Juans, despite unevenly distributed winter snows.
June from Slumgullion Pass.

We would settle into campsite No. 4 at Mill Creek, where the melt water rushing down the creek would keep Mike awake and provide the background for me to sleep well.

Mill Creek Site #4 Base Camp ... the 'Taj Mahal' as our large tent is known in our family.

Mill Creek rushing with spring runnoff.

We had started Sunday morning with Birthday pancakes, then it was off for another warm-up along Cataract Gulch. On the way out I convinced two unsuspecting hikers to join me in a verse of Happy Birthday for Mike. I later noted that this route is on the way to Half Peak - a worthy target for a future adventure. It was also of course Father's Day. Both of us had left family at home for this trip; it was perhaps the hardest part for me. We talked much about spending time together with our families. I have always spent Father's Day with my lovely wife and my two boys, often hiking in WI.

Fathers Day 2002 - Bluff Trail - Devils Lake, WI.

I missed you guys - you are my life! I'm glad we have so many good memories to sustain us!

A first look at Handies on Monday quickly turned to a warm-up after parking too low. A snow bridge provided a dry crossing of the Lake Fork headwaters, reminiscent of a dream from last fall's trip. We turn at 12,200' to keep the day a warm-up and retain Tuesday as another 'go' day. It was great to meet Philip who is on his way down after a quick summit, and for Mike to get a flavor for the travel fast/light side of being in the mountains. In a moment of premonition, we noticed a marmot scurry from under his XTerra with which he graciously ferried us across the creek on his running boards.
A first look at the American Basin

High winds overnight Tuesday discouraged a sunrise adventure, but when we return on Tuesday we were free to create our own vision of a route to the summit over the generous, frozen slopes. We choose a direct line to just west of Sloan Lake, then worked our way high of the standard route to gain the slopes of the saddle.
Our traverse to the saddle.

Mike enjoys the saddle.

Everywhere we saw the decay of winter moistening and nourishing the blooms of summer. The blended beauty of the seasons renewed our spirits. The views were stunning in every direction as you gain elevation towards the summit.
Mike earns his first summit at last!

Bill on summit.

14,000 ft. blossoms.

Half Peak (center left) will make a nice outing someday.

On the way down we met a party of six that were lightly prepared and somewhat confused about the route. They chose to follow us out and I hope we were of some help. We would later meet the family in Lake City where a grateful wife and mother thanked us for helping her family avert 'disaster'.
We find ourselves on lead on the way out.

At this point in my life, I accept many events and simply believe things are meant to be and search for the positives. A Tuesday return from a summit perhaps was meant to be ... not for our benefit.

Our return held its own adventures including a marmot enjoying a meal of copper wire and washer fluid under our hood, and more adventuresome driving. We were fortunate to not suffer vital damage and were not stranded. We especially enjoyed the abundant deer, moose, and 'camp mooch' on our off days.
Our Element serves us well. We didnt know that there was a marmot under the hood!

A moose reaches for tasty buds.

Our camp mooch - a noble fellow.

We also stopped in Lake City where we shared our Handies pictures with the Lake City chamber of Commerce.
Lake City CO Album Link

After departing our Mill Creek Base Camp we moved on to the Fourmile Creek Trailhead and Sherman, where we aimed at being higher for the sunrise. It was a great early morning hike and summit.
Moonlight in Fourmile Creek Basin.

First light on the way up Sherman.

Mike, being 10 years my elder, shared stories such as the childhood joy of an early start and the chance to ride along with our Dad in his milk truck while he hauled milk cans from the farm stops to the dairy.

Winter's bones were picked clean here, with only a couple of remaining cornice remnants. I ventured over to Sheridan while Mike set his own pace down the fun class 2 ridge.

The saddle cornice.

Summit no. 2 for Mike!

Sheridan summit windbreak.

Sawatch from Sheridan

With a second summit, it felt like it was time to head home. A final adventure awaited us, foretold by the building thunderhead over the plains. It would form a rain shaft with rainbow streaks, then split in two. We would do battle with the northern half of the storm for a few evening hours along I-80.
Storm over Nebraska.

In an unusual similarity to my fall trip, on the way home I encountered a stranger and a tragic story. Unlike fall, this one was still unfolding. A young woman at a truck stop in Omaha was frantically searching the Saturday paper. I asked if she was checking for headlines about herself in a joking manner. She said she was looking for family information. Again I quipped something about any time you're not on the front page it's a good day. She said they were front page two days ago - her mother and brother had been murdered. She didn't seem to have much information except they had caught the suspect, and that the police could not assure her the suspect was still being held. She was hoping for more information in the newspaper.

I offered my sympathy, and encouraged her to hang in there. Then I reflected that 20 years from now she'll be able to see and recognize how she's a much stronger person. I again wished her peace as I left. I found it hard to believe my few words of comfort made any difference. She's frequently been in my prayers.

We know not the hour or the day.

I can't begin to describe the satisfaction of being a part of making this dream come true for my older Brother. Somewhat to his surprise, he learned that he is far from the winter of his life! The camaraderie was more than I ever imagined it could be; made all the more special because it was with my big brother. Mike, thanks for taking a shot at your dream and allowing me to help make it happen!

As we sense the Chill Of Life's Winter - Take time to bask In the glory of June!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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