Last summer, when we were visiting Silverton for a few days, we tried, and failed, to hike Handies Peak. Here is how it went from both of our perspectives.
We left Silverton right after breakfast. As we were driving out of town, we were relying on my quick look at a map of the area and Sabrina and Paulette’s memory of having driven to Grouse Gulch, the start of our hike up Handies, during Hardrock over a month prior. We ended up taking the wrong road out of Silverton and wasted quite a bit of time before we realized where we should have been. We got to the Grouse Gulch Trail Head around late morning.
As we started up the trail, a series of long switchbacks, the kids quickly started to feel the elevation and the hike. We had made it up the switchbacks and about three quarters of the way up to the American Basin-Grouse Gulch Pass when a break became absolutely necessary. Several kids were bonking hard. We stopped at a small glacial lake that had a rock outcropping to shield us from the building wind and had snacks. Nourished and rested, we headed up the rest of the way to the pass, which tops out above 13,000’, which would end up being our highest elevation for the day.
During our hike up, Sabrina’s stress fracture hadn’t seemed to inhibit her greatly. The kids were moving slowly and the lower impact of uphill travel did not seem to be affecting her too much. As we started down into American Basin, things started to turn to shit. The boys took off down into the basin and within minutes were several hundred yards in front of us. I tried to stay back with Sabrina to help, but trying to keep up and the impact of keeping her footing moving downhill produced visible winces of pain in her face. We regrouped at the bottom of the basin and started our climb up Handies, now nearly 2,000’ above us. This quickly proved to be too much. On top of this, it started to hail. Fucking great. Sabrina sat down and we all put on our rain shells. This is the point that the day turned from a poorly executed hike to a total failure.
From the moment I got out of the van it was a disaster. I was my usual self trying to get everything done and in the rush slipped out of the van causing some ridiculous pain in my facture area… oops. Not being willing to admit failure, I strapped Tru on my stomach and threw the pack on my back. I’ve never hiked with poles but thought possibly this could relieve some weight from my leg and gave it a go, not too gracefully. As Seth said the up hill was fine, down I was just hoping to not cause a full fracture. My careful steps still hurt and how slow I was going began to scare me more and more. At some point I knew this was going to get terrible, I just wish I had known how terrible it could get.
Sabrina couldn’t get back up. She was either in shock, or early hypothermia from sitting down and having her body temp plummet in the now quickly worsening wind and hail/rain. The decision was made for me to run across Cinnamon Pass to see if the route would be possible in the van. This would prevent Sabrina from having to climb back up and over the pass and down Grouse Gulch. From where we were in the basin, it was only about a mile to the American Basin Trail Head. As I ran over Cinnamon Pass, I realized that this would be a real challenge to get the van back over. I also realized that with the worsening weather, the near impossibility of getting Sabrina back over the pass which we had crossed, and the much longer trip over Cinnamon Pass than I had anticipated, I had no choice but to drive back over. I finally reached the van maybe seven miles from where I had started, and at least an hour longer than I had estimated (I had guessed the pass to be three to four miles). I got in the van, turned the key, and the bane of my existence, the gas light, flicked on with three quick chimes. My heart sank. Not only would I have to make it over Cinnamon Pass, I would have to hope like hell I didn’t run out of gas in the process. The first side of the pass was sketchy, but not too stressful in our 15-passenger van. As a tangent, our van is built on a truck chassis, but at the time, we had some pretty suspect tires for what I was trying to pull off. Since, we have put commercial-grade off-road tires on the van to help ensure we are prepared for our adventures. Anyhow, the second half of the pass is where the day became truly terrifying for me. Our 15-passenger van, though it is built on a truck chassis, and has decent ground clearance, is still a 15-passenger van. It is really long. Trying to navigate the worst hairpin turns I have ever encountered in my life, as the van is making all kinds of noises indicating that it is about to break under the stress that I am putting it through, while trying not to look off the edge of the road that drops a thousand feet to the dabin below only a few inches away from where I am maneuvering six-point turns still sends chills down my spine. Somehow, both the van and I made it down the road to the American Basin Trail Head, passing Jeepers with their jaws on the floor at the sight of what this jackass in a 15-passenger van was trying to pull off.
So Paulette, myself, and 6 kids sat. Paulette and I sat very close together huddling for warmth as the hail/rain continued on and off. The kids quite surprisingly and to our benefit played happily most of the time. Tru even stayed pretty silent maybe sencing the same thing Paulette and I were feeling. The conversation with us was kept to mundane topics. As time drew on it was later discovered that we were thinking the same thing, there was no way it took this long, something terrible happened. I watched the small amount of cars leave the trailhead and the daylight slowly go away, what were we going to do? Could we hitch a ride with someone? Not knowing what the road out looked like I wondered how terrible it would be to take all the kids sans carseats out of here. At what point would we have cell phone reception again and be able to call seth, my +1, anyone for help? The thoughts stayed terrible but neither of us talked about them…
I parked the van below the 4WD point for the trail head access road. Both to get my feet back on solid ground and to preserve what little gas we had left. I had been gone hours longer than I had told Sabrina and Paulette that I would be at this point. As I ran the road the rest of the way to where they were waiting, the looks on their face puzzled me, at first. They started to yell “Where is the van??”. It hadn’t occurred to me that approaching on foot would scare them. It was nearly dark. I told them that the van was just down the road. I also suggested that Cinnamon Pass wasn’t the road that I would suggest for us getting back to Silverton. They agreed. At this point, I the gravity of what I had just pulled off sunk in and I almost started to cry. That was the scariest shit I have ever done.
Paulette and I basically freaked when he came on foot. After he described his journey we were happy to take the 4 hour drive around and we shared our fear of him being dead all around. Im pretty sure he was not the only one that cried, that day was probably the most emotional day of all of our lives. So today Handies and I have a beef. Although I may be healing from a stress fracture (undiagnosed from before the trip) I am ready to finish what we started last year. Hopefully with no Cinnamon Pass stories this time!