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". . . turn hard right on an abandoned jeep road that climbs up the face of the mountain
and goes around six or eight switchbacks before going into Grouse Gulch.
Once above tree line . . . continue straight ahead on a trail in an ESE direction on
the left side of the stream . . . When you reach the top of a low ridge where
you can see a small lake to the right, the trail becomes very faint . . ."
~ partial course directions for the clockwise loop at Hardrock

After runners left our aid station on CO 110 AKA Engineer Pass Rd./Alpine Loop, they followed a switch-backing trail up, up, up Grouse Gulch toward American Basin and the highest point on the Hardrock course, Handies Peak.

Here's part of the Drake map to illustrate this little piece of the course (only about 5% of the race):

At 58 miles into the race, they faced a 3,338-foot climb from 10,710 feet at the Grouse Gulch aid station (far left on map) to 14,048 feet in a little over five miles to the top of Handies. Along the way they followed a pretty little stream, ran or hiked over American-Grouse Pass, curved around the usually-snow-filled American Basin (which I marked #1 on the map above), forded the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River and the Sloan Lake Stream, crossed a marshy flat through the tundra, negotiated a rock slide above Sloan Lake, and climbed on a narrow trail to the summit of Handies Peak (#2 on map).

Cool, I thought. I want to go up there, too! I've never been to Handies Peak in either direction on the course.

Jim has, though. He was part of a group of HRH volunteers and folks from the Colorado Trail Initiative who worked on the trail up in the basin and on the peak before the 2007 race. They reached the basin by driving up rough 4WD roads over Cinnamon Pass and toward American-Grouse Pass. This is one of the scenic photos he took that day, looking back down into the basin from the peak:

Photo Jim took of Sloan Lake and American Basin from Handies Peak on July 7, 2007;
Grouse Gulch is down below the basin, to the left and out of sight.

He took lots of great shots that day, which you can see in our 2007 journal at this link.

Looking at his pictures again makes me want to get up into that basin. Alas, it didn't happen this year either.


From our vantage point 'way down at the aid station we could see up into Grouse Gulch for about a mile (next photo). As always, I wondered what it looked like beyond our view. I love high basins and I love climbing 14ers.

Well, this climb will have to wait until another year. By the time Jim and I started up the gulch at 10 AM on Saturday, we were already pretty fried from our long communications stint at Grouse and needed sleep more than an adventure.

Cody and I climbed up the trail about a mile on Friday afternoon before the runners started coming into our aid station. That gave me more appreciation for the next challenge they faced, one of thirteen or fourteen major climbs in the race. The grade on the switchbacks isn't as bad as some of the other parts of the course but nothing is "easy" after running/hiking 58+ miles on the HRH course.

Upward hound:  near the beginning of the switchbacks

That short hike just whetted my appetite for more. So I persuaded Jim to come along with me on Saturday morning after we got sprung from our ham radio duties. Although he's been up to American Basin and the summit of Handies previously he didn't get there this way, so the terrain was new to both of us.

We didn't realistically plan to go all the way to Handies, but I thought maybe we could at least climb up to the highest basin.

Nope. We were too tired and the trail got steeper beyond the point I'd gone on Friday.

View south from the trail

We did get up to 12,029 feet in elevation in 1.4 miles (a gain of 1,319 feet) and could see the highest basin and Handies Peak. It didn't look that far ahead, but it would have taken more energy than we had to climb another three-plus miles and 2,000+ feet in elevation. We'll save it for another time when we're more rested and can enjoy it.

When we got up to a lower basin at 12,000 feet we could see Jennifer Roach and her pacer (hubby Jerry Roach, author of a popular Colorado 14ers book) in the distance ahead of us. Jennifer was the last runner to leave Grouse (9:23 AM Saturday) and finish the race under 48 hours. She must have really pushed herself because 7:30 is the average time to leave Grouse to make it to Silverton before the final cut-off. 'Way to go, Jennifer!

Ahead of them we could also see two other runners, probably Deb and Steve Pero. We thought we might see someone else coming up the trail as we descended, but the three runners who reached Grouse after Jennifer all dropped at Grouse.

The photos in this entry are mostly in order going eastbound up Grouse Gulch, then coming back down. That gives potential Hardrockers an idea of what they'll see on this part of the course, whether they're going the CW or CCW direction (uphill is CW, as it was this year).

It also lets runners who've done this section in either direction in the dark see what they missed. I took some of these pictures on Friday and some on Saturday. 

I enjoyed following the little creek up through the gulch. It doesn't have a name on the Drake map but emanates from the low basin where we turned around and the surrounding drainage area.

There were lots of pretty flowers along the stream, which were a pleasant distraction when the trail got steeper in this section:

Some parts of the trail have loose rocks to slide on going downhill.

Colorful Indian paintbrush and those ubiquitous dandelions



I was happy to have an excuse to stop periodically and take pictures!

There are many reminders in the San Juan Mountains of the mines that used to be so prevalent here. Since the Hardrock Hundred is a tribute to the determination and strength of those original "hardrockers," it's appropriate that the course takes runners past many old mining relics such as this one:

The next five photos are in and near a lower basin where we turned around. From here we could see American Basin, Handies Peak, and surrounding mountain peaks but we didn't get high enough to see Sloan Lake.


An orange HRH flag marks the course as it approaches American Basin and Handies Peak,
in the distance. The elevation here is 12,029 feet; the summit of Handies is 14,048 feet.

The view to the west from 12,000 feet

A little closer view of the basins to the west

Looking more northwest


The remaining photos are going back down to Grouse Gulch. This is the direction runners go in a CCW year during the race.

Most of these pictures are from Saturday morning. Both mornings there were gray clouds building up to the northwest but we didn't get rain where we were.


Cody looks a mile down the trail to the road, far below. Dogs don't see very well,
but with his keen sense of smell he probably knows that's where our truck is!





A hiker not associated with the race was heading down to the road
 near the aid station after summitting Handies.

Almost back down to the road

We had great views in every direction on this climb; they gave me ideas for other hikes from this location in addition to American Basin and Handies Peak.

For example, we could see a jeep road winding up through Picayne Gulch between the mountains to the west of us (Eureka, Treasure, Hanson, and other peaks):

When I looked at the Drake map later I saw that it loops back down through Placer Gulch to Animas Forks, where I could pick up Engineer Pass Road and return to the aid station location.

There is a cabin on one of those slopes. That intrigues me, too. Might have to check it out . . .

There are so many trails and jeep roads through the San Juans that I can't possibly do them all in my lifetime. I like that.

Next entry: photos from the Hardrock awards brunch on Sunday

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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2010 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil