Saturday, September 1, 2012

Sloan Lake and the American Basin Trail

Distance: 3.2 miles round trip
Elevation: 11,600 ft - 12,941 ft
Elevation Gain: 1,341 ft
Date Hiked: 16 July, 2012
Dogs: Off leash
Bathroom at the trailhead: No
Tags: #hiking, #mountainlake, #coloradooutdoors, #gearguide

Sloan Lake in American Basin is nestled in one of the prettiest places in Colorado.
Sloan Lake out of American Basin in the San Juan Mountains is not the most spectacular lake in Colorado, but the journey will rock your world and twirl your planets!

Early morning at the trailhead
Columbine along the trail
The sun finally touches the rock formations at the back of the basin
American Basin, twenty miles from Lake City, is a glacial carved valley with jagged rock formations at the far end.  At the right time of year the basin is filled with wildflowers and peak baggers on their way to Handies Peak.  At the far end of the basin is a rock glacier.  Rock glaciers are different from ice glaciers in that the water is not a solid mass, but exists between the rocks so all you see is flowing (in geologic time) rock. To me it looked like a giant multi-"toed" amoeba ready to gobble us whole. 

American Basin is known for its wildflowers.  While the other hikers we met said this was  a poor year, I was hardly disappointed. 
Heading up the trail now
The route travels up the left side of American Basin, gradually gaining altitude before veering to the left an onto a shelf for an adjoining basin. Another rock glacier lies in the distance and Handies Peak is off to the left.  Turn around at this point for spectacular views back down American Basin.  The rugged rocks and green tundra grasses are quintessential apline terrain.

The tongue of the rock glacier is just ahead
Looking back down on American Basin from the perpendicular shelf
The lake is on the shelf to the right.  The route will go up and over the small berm in the foreground than and then switchback up to the shelf on the berm in the middle of the image. 
Once on the shelf, the route heads straight back before suddenly switching backing up the right side of the basin. At the top is a large cairn. This monument marks the junction between Sloan Lake, which is only a 30 yards or so away and the route up Handies, which crosses the rock glacier and over to the other side of the basin.

Heading across the shelf
Almost to the top
The large cairn marks the junction of the trail to Sloan Lake,  which is just ahead, and the trail to Handies Peak
The volcanic nature of the San Juans is evident all around the lake, which is bordered by coarse igneous rock.  While we were visiting the lake on our return trip from Handies, we ran into a couple who hike to the lake every year.  We ran into quite a bit of wildlife on the way including Ptarmigan and baby Marmots.
View of the lake
Looking back down on the lake as we continued up towards Handies Peak
While I can't gush enough about this area, I must warn you that getting to the trailhead is a chore.  While maps and guidebooks say the road to American Basin is passable by a passenger car, we had trouble in our 4x4 truck.  If you really want to do this trail, I would suggest renting an ATV in Lake City.  An ATV will get you up and over the rocks but will be much thinner and shorter the better to pass other like minded individuals on the narrow shelf road.

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