I’ve often heard Handies called the easiest 14er with the hardest approach. To reach the trailhead, it’s a rough 4x4 drive up and over Cinnamon Pass from Silverton, CO on the Alpine Loop. Though my boyfriend and I had driven this road before, it was still a nerve-wracking experience. I don’t think I could ever understand how people do off-roading for fun.
Anyway, we reached American Basin well before dark on a Saturday afternoon in July. We setup camp, ate dinner, and watched one car after another bump past us on their way to the trailhead, where they would presumably be camping for the night. Because Handies is such an easy climb (Class I), it’s a very popular summer day hike. Rory and I had attempted it as a snow climb in June, and only encountered two other climbers.
In the morning, we put eNZees on to prevent blisters on our hike, and headed toward the trailhead as the sun came up. As I suspected, there was a tent city at the trailhead and the campers were just waking up. We hurried past them, hoping to be the first hikers to summit Handies for the day. (A Canadian runner and an older Venezuelan man beat us to the punch, but we were well ahead of the main body of hikers.)
Compared the cold, snowy wasteland we’d encountered on our climb earlier this summer, the hike up to Handies was like a totally different place. The open meadows and high alpine tundra were abloom with wildflowers. Marmots and picas squeaked at us as we passed. We even encountered a family of marmots, babies included, playing on a boulder near the trail.
View from the top of Handies Peak, 14,058 ft.
It's chilly up at 14,000 ft!
It’s roughly 3-miles to the summit and after two hours we made it to the top at 14,058 ft. The views of the San Juan Mountains are beyond words. If you’re lucky enough to be in this part of the country, I’d highly recommend this hike. It’s well worth the sore legs!