Peak(s):  Mt. Sneffels  -  14,155 feet
Redcloud Peak  -  14,037 feet
Handies Peak  -  14,058 feet
Wetterhorn Peak  -  14,021 feet
Uncompahgre Peak  -  14,318 feet
Date Posted:  07/29/2022
Date Climbed:   07/20/2022
Author:  Epembroke
 San Juan Lake City Driving Loop   

This trip report focuses on driving logistics and not as much trail pictures because that is all explained really well on the dotcom. My friend and I did a driving loop to hike consecutively some of the San Juan 14ers around Lake City, so 5 14ers in 4 days - we stacked Redcloud and Handies on Day 2. (Sneffels, Redcloud, Handies, Wetterhorn, Uncompahgre.)

The driving logistics for these are no joke if you are trying to get them done consecutively. I did it in a 2012 4Runner 9.6" clearance, no lift, BFG AT KO2 tires. Ended the trip with a bent tailpipe, rear bumper detached on the right side of the car but was able to re-attach easily, a scrape on the rear right bottom of the bumper, and some surface scratches on the sides of the car. ***One change I would make to this itinerary would be to hike them in this order instead of what I did: Sneffels, Handies, Redcloud/Sunshine, Wetterhorn, Uncompahgre. This route means that as soon as you come off Cinnamon Pass, you turn right to go to American Basin and will avoid backtracking on CO Rd 30. (I did not hike Sunshine as I had done it the previous winter, and was maybe going to save Handies for my finisher, but since we had a good weather window, we went for Handies, but it did involve extra driving). Unfortunately, I didn't take photos of the road because I was so focused on driving that it didn't occur to me to stop and take photos. I felt like I was racing to beat the weather. But I do hope these logistical notes help someone.


CINNAMON PASS: The main thing is that you don’t want to be driving Cinnamon Pass in the dark. So I opted for a longer-mileage route since we were doing it in the dark. It didn’t add that much extra drive time for me because it was less technical than Cinnamon Pass.

WATER: You cannot filter from Matterhorn Creek TH so before you go to hike Wetterhorn, make sure you have enough for your camp chores and a day of hiking. You can filter before you head up there, from American Basin, Grizzly Gulch/Silver Creek, and then once you get to Uncompahgre/Nellie Creek.

GAS: Make sure you have a full tank of gas when leaving Lake City. There aren’t any gas stations between Lake City and Curecanti and Gunnison that were open (except expensive boat gas at the Curecanti Marina if you get into a pinch as we did). It is only a little over an hour’s drive and 55 mi but we had some detours and my GPS wasn’t working, and it made us short of gas.

GPS MAPS: Download and save all driving directions/TH in Google Maps before you leave. You likely won’t have much cell service. Also, bring a real road map in case your phone doesn’t work and you have no cell service and you forgot to pre-save routes!

Day 1 (Drive) - Picked up my friend in Arvada at 9am and took I-70 through Grand Junction, Montrose, through Ouray, down to the start of the Yankee Boy Basin 4WD TH where the bathrooms are. Tried to go past the big puddle of water (was it a creek??) just past the bathrooms but I felt it was too rough past there. There is another road to the left and plenty of space to turn around. No tent camping here but did sleep in the car without an issue. Several other cars were there. We were prepared to move/leave if asked.

Day 2. (Hike/Drive) 5am Started hiking and did Sneffels SW Ridge up and South Slope down. The route finding from Photo 21-Photo 30 was different for us as I think we took the wrong gully and got off route. If you do get off route, it is easy to find yourself on some class 4 rock. So just try your best to stay on route. I think we submitted around 9:30am and left the summit around 10am and were in the standard route bad gully by around 10:30am.

-- To Silverton by around 3pm (remember to grab a few gallons of water here), on Alpine Loop, over Cinnamon Pass, got to top around 5pm, and then drove down to Lake City side. Tighter switchbacks on the Lake City side of Cinnamon Pass. Lots of ATVs, which I pulled over to let pass.This whole drive takes a few hours, probably 3 hours. Once down the pass, turn left and head to the Silver Creek/Grizzly Gulch TH for Redcloud and Sunshine. There were bathrooms, complete with a cinnamon air freshener in one of them! It’s a decently-sized TH with places to sleep in your car or pitch a tent.

Day 3. (Hike/Drive/Hike/Drive) 4:30am Started hiking Redcloud from Silver Creek/Grizzly Gulch TH - NE Ridge up and down, summited around 8am. Got back down to TH around 10:30am.

-- Drove back toward Cinnamon Pass on Country Rd. 30. There’s a creek crossing to get to the American Basin 2WD TH and it’s bumpy and rocky but not awful after doing Cinnamon Pass. To continue on to the 4WD American Basin TH, there are two moves that are tricky and require higher clearance. I stayed right. I did drive over the old piece of metal both ways and it didn’t hurt my tires.

-- About 12:30pm, got to Handies American Basin 4WD TH - SW Slope

-- After hiking Handies, eat dinner and filter a bunch of water here (4-5 gallons here if you forgot to restock in Silverton as I did) as you can't filter from polluted Henson Creek at Matterhorn Creek TH. (I use a 3L hydration pack and my friend carries 2L but he ran out or close to it every day.)

-- Now drive to Wetterhorn Matterhorn Creek almost to the top of the 4WD TH - SE Ridge.To avoid Cinnamon Pass in the dark, go back past Silver Creek/Grizzly Gulch TH, and take this long and bumpy "road" to Lake City. LONG Day (3:30am to midnight to be laying down in tent near top of Matterhorn Creek 4 WD TH). You will be driving counter-clockwise from American Basin to Matterhorn Creek TH through Lake City. It is only 19 miles to go back over Cinnamon Pass (clockwise) and 34 miles to go through Lake City, but I would do this (counter-clockwise) route again if I had to do it in the dark. The time difference isn’t as bad as you’d think….From American Basin, Google Maps says around 1 hr 53 mins to use Cinnamon Pass and 2 hr 5 mins to use CO Rd 30.

-- Once you pass the Silver Creek/Grizzly Gulch TH, the road has some drop offs but you'll probably be in the dark so you can't see how steep it is. The drive from Handies 4WD TH to Wetterhorn and mostly up 4WD TH probably took close to 3.5 hours. Didn't make it up all the way as we did this in the dark and it was harder for me. We pulled off close to top on left there is a large, grassy field at 11pm.

Day 3. (Hike/Drive) Wetterhorn Southeast Ridge standard route from near top of Matterhorn 4WD TH.

-- Drive to Nellie Creek, which takes about an hour from Matterhorn Creek 4WD TH. Uncompahgre Nellie Creek 4WD TH - South Ridge, this drive was very tough. There are a handful of tricky features and I bent my tailpipe and rear bumper a little. The dotcom description makes it seem like this road eases up a bit, but I found that it did not until I was almost at the top. In my experience, it was tough almost the entire way. There are probably 4 tough moves, one involving a creek with a big hill and a rock, and a left turn. Coming out of the creek, I stayed right of the rock. I think that was the second creek crossing but you’ll know it when you see it. None of the creeks were deep when I drove these routes.

Day 4. (Hike/Drive) Hike Uncompahgre. Took an hour to drive 4 miles back down to the 2WD TH.

Comments or Questions
Thank You!
07/30/2022 10:07
Nice report. Appreciate all the info! I was staying in Purgatory last year for a few days and got away one day to do Handies. Had a rental mid-size SUV and went over Cinnamon Pass (both ways). It was fun yet exhausting....

Nellie Creek Road
07/31/2022 17:44
This is no joke! Do not even attempt without four wheel drive and good clearance. Next time I am opting for a shuttle up and down the road from THE SPORTSMAN out of Lake City. Arrange with them ahead of time--very reasonable.

Cinnamon toilets
08/08/2022 14:55
Great summary for these peaks... it seems the 'apple/cinnamon' air fresheners are the new norm in the Cinnamon Pass area! lol

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