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Handies Peak. Photo Credit: Daniel Jensen - OutThere Colorado.
Handies Peak. Photo Credit: Daniel Jensen.

Handies Peak

Things to do

BackpackingCampingHikingMountaineering

The San Juan Mountains, Colorado’s largest mountain range, are known for remoteness and long slogs through the wilderness to reach your destination. Not so for 14,048-foot Handies Peak, which can be summited on a relatively short trail (5.75 miles roundtrip) off of a decent road. Located in almost the geographic center of the range, there are few places to get a better appreciation for the might of the San Juans that atop Handies Peak.

Spend enough time in the high country and you’ll become well-acquainted with marmots, the large rodents that eke out a living on the rocky slopes. But I’d never been chased by one until climbing Handies. Maybe I was interrupting a mating ritual. Maybe the varmint was just in a bad mood. Whatever the reason, it gave me a good chase for 30 feet or so before turning back. I continued on to the summit, giving the cantankerous critter a wide berth.

Pro Tips

  • Most people climb the peak from American Basin, the shortest route. But you can make a loop of it by starting at the Grizzly Gulch trailhead, ascending the east slope on a good trail and coming down American Basin, walking a mile or so on the road back to your car.
  • For those with a good Jeep or other high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicle, you can continue up the road to Cinnamon Pass, one of the prettiest places in Colorado reachable by car, and stop for lunch in Silverton.
  • Plan an extra day on your trip and climb 14ers Redcloud and Sunshine, the trailhead for which is right across the road from Grizzly Gulch.

Recommended season(s): Summer-early fall.

R. Scott Rappold

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