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.
- 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