Handies Peak 14058′
Total Time: 3.0 hours
Round Trip Mileage: 6.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 2700′
Crux: Class I
Trailhead: American Basin
Handies Peak is without question the easiest 14er in the San Juans. From American Basin, the hike is less then 6 miles roundtrip with under 3000′ of gain. The hardest part is getting to the trailhead, with about 13 miles of rocky dirt road, the last several miles deteriorating to 4WD. After my ankle/foot injury the day prior on Gladstone Peak, I wanted something easy to test myself before just packing things up and heading home early. I had originally planned a big Wetterhorn- Uncompahgre double header that day, but thought Handies would be a safer bet one day post injury. Despite the short hike, I again started fairly early, with hopes to climb something else later in the day if all went well. The Subaru did well on the 4WD road, making through the river crossing into American basin, and stopping about 0.2 miles from the actual trailhead at a wide pullout.
There were a number of cars already at the trailhead, the easier summit being understandably popular, and I set out under partly cloudy skies into the beautiful alpine basin. What seems to set Handies apart from any other 14er I had climbed in either Colorado or California was how green it was. Unlike the bare, loose rock I had fought with on Wilson Peak, the trail and basin was mostly packed dirt with grasses and wildflowers leading nearly to the summit. It was a nice contrast considering the rough day I had before. My ankle was holding up well as I hiked along, and although it was about 4 times the size as my normal right ankle, the pain was mostly a dull ache. I passed a number of groups as I climbed into the higher basin near Sloan Lake, and began to traverse across a rocky slope as the trail began to switch up to the summit.
I reached the high notch along the ridgeline running south to American Peak after 1.5 hours of hiking, with a nice view to Redcloud and Sunshine Peaks, two nearby 14ers. From this point, the summit was not quite as close as it had looked from below, but a steep trail up and over several false summits brought me to the broad summit.
The views were most impressive to the north, with Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre dominating the skyline. I tried to make out Wilson Peak from the day before, but couldn’t pick out the summit somewhere to the west.
My ankle held up well so I did not linger long, thinking I might be able to do Redcloud and Sunshine in the afternoon. I passed a few dozen groups on the descent and by the time I reached my car, significant clouds were already building. I drove the rough road to the Redcloud/ Sunshine trailhead, and I did not make it far up the trail before dark clouds loomed overhead and rain was clearly imminent. I took a break along the stream to soak my swollen ankle, then headed into Lake City for an early dinner and early night before going ahead with the Wetterhorn- Uncompahgre double header.