Colorado 14ers: Handies Peak

Solitude rules on this remote trek through wildflower meadows to a skyscraping post above the rugged backcountry of the San Juan Mountains.
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Solitude rules on this remote trek through wildflower meadows to a skyscraping post above the rugged backcountry of the San Juan Mountains.

Pity the fools who traverse Handies during the annual Hardrock Hundred sado-marathon: By the time many runners reach the summit, it’s pitch dark and they miss a peak-filled panorama that our local experts voted No. 1 in the state, beating out Pikes Peak and other well-known lookouts. This remote point scrapes the sky near Lake City (pop. 375) in the heart of the northern San Juans.

Four more Fourteeners are close at hand, and on a clear day a sharp-eyed climber can pick out at least a dozen others, from lonely Mt. Sneffels in the west to the Sangre de Cristo Range peaks in the east; from the sharp Needles in the south to the pyramids of the Elk Range, far to the north. Apart from abandoned mining roads, there’s no sign of humans—the view might as well be in the Yukon, not crowded Colorado. For maximum impact, go in July when legendary wildflower display is peaking; above, cornices still cling to the leeward edges of high ridges and white snow dapples the tundra slopes. And, for the love of Mr. T, go during daytime.

-Text by Dougal MacDonald
-Mapped by Kim Phillips and Patsy Fellman

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 6.1

Waypoints

GGT001

Location: 37.936985, -107.460968

Head SW on Grizzly Gulch Trailhead. In 200 ft., cross stream on bridge and follow narrow dirt path as it ascends through fragrant spruce and aspen

GGT002

Location: 37.9342499, -107.4657822

Steady ascent on dirt trail with views of a small waterfall on L; travel through pockets of aspen

GGT003

Location: 37.9320679, -107.4732513

Head SW through a meadow flanked with tall grasses and willows; the rushing of the stream can be heard from the trail

GGT004

Location: 37.9293726, -107.4785936

Follow switchbacks to ascend a small boulder field

GGT005

Location: 37.9248505, -107.4838486

Leave shaded forest for grassy, alpine tundra; unobstructed views of Whitecross Mtn. to the N and Handies to the SW

GGT006

Location: 37.9221497, -107.4893341

Rock hop across a small stream; continue SW

GGT007

Location: 37.9192657, -107.4946518

Turn R and swing N at trail sign; cross a narrow, shallow stream on a small log

GGT008

Location: 37.922184, -107.4990463

Trail curves to the SW, cutting through a boulder and scree field

GGT009

Location: 37.918251, -107.5037537

Head S on steep dirt trail to begin summit ascent; rocky at times

GGT010

Location: 37.9130592, -107.5044479

Handies Peak (14,048 ft.): Bird's eye views of American Basin to the SW and Grizzly Gulch to the NE. Neighboring 14ers: Sunshine and Redcloud Peaks form a single ridgeline to the NE; Uncompahgre Peak's distinct, flat top summit is silhouetted to the NNE

Handies Peak

Location: 37.9212988, -107.4914038

©Kim Phillips

Grizzly Gulch Trailhead

Location: 37.9369621, -107.4610062

©Kim Phillips

Hiking into Grizzly Gulch

Location: 37.9299988, -107.4779606

©Kim Phillips

Distant View of Handies

Location: 37.9296688, -107.4781215

A small boulder with Handies Peak in the background
©Kim Phillips

Alpine Tundra

Location: 37.9205117, -107.4925196

©Kim Phillips

Grizzly Gulch

Location: 37.9195892, -107.4937105

©Kim Phillips

Whitecross Mountain

Location: 37.922196, -107.4988925

©Kim Phillips

San Juans

Location: 37.9165001, -107.5051727

©Kim Phillips

Summit Views

Location: 37.9131241, -107.5043793

©Kim Phillips

Handies Peak Summit

Location: 37.9130592, -107.5044479

©Kim Phillips