Handies Peak (4282m) is one of the easiest 14’ers in Colorado, but far from boring. The view from Handies’ summit is famous and spectacular and I could see mountains as far as the eye could see. Unquestionably one of my most memorable moments in the Colorado wilderness.
Mills Creek Campground
The rain was pouring down all night, and I woke up several times because of loud thunders. But the weather was pretty fine when I woke up 06:30 at the Forest Service Campground in Mills Creek west of Lake City. It was a windy morning and the low drifting clouds were moving in a furious speed. The weather forecast clearly stated that there would be a very high risk of thunderstorms in the morning, thus I did not have very much expectations for the day.
I had arrived Mill Creek Campground the previous evening. The campground was very easy to find. First I drove 3-4 kilometres south from Lake City on Colorado 149. Then I turned right onto the Lake San Cristobal Road. From this junction it’s approx 20 kilometres on a very scenic road to the campground.
I had slept in my car the entire night at Mills Creek Campground, because the never ending thunderstorms simply didn’t offer me any chance to pitch the tent in the evening. But that actually saved me a lot of time in the morning. I had a quick breakfast before I continued on the increasingly steep and rough road to the American Basin Trailhead. First I passed the Silver Creek-Grizzly Gulch Trailhead after 8 kilometres and then I reached the American Basin Trailhead after 15 kilometres. The trailhead is just before a steep switchback on the Cinnamon Pass Road. I recommend a high-clearance vehicle on this road, at least on the last few kilometres.
I left the parking lot 08:05 after I had measured the elevation to be exactly 3473 metres. There was a 4WD road going into the basin, so I walked on that road for about one kilometre before I arrived another parking lot and two vehicles. I could see Handies Peak on my left side and the summit had a white snow cap due to the previous night snowing in altitude. The wind was really cold, and I had to put on my winter clothes, including warm gloves. There was a good trail all the way to the summit, and no confusing trail-junctions. So it was a really straightforward hike to the 4050 metres high saddle between Handies Peak and Point 13588. The wind was really fierce as I struggled my way on the snow covered trail to Handies’ summit via the south ridge (class 2 according to my guidebook, but I would rather say class 1 because of the excellent trail). I was really glad to see that all the clouds had vanished during the last hour, probably because of the fierce wind. I had not seen such a blue sky during my last two weeks in Colorado, and I really hoped that this would continue.
I reached the summit 09:20 and found myself a rather windless spot just behind the ridge. I really enjoyed the magnificent view from Handies Peak (4282m). This was without doubts the best view I’ve ever seen from a fourteener in Colorado. I could see the Needle Mountains far away in the southwest, the Wilson group and Mount Sneffels to the west and last but not least, Wetterhorn Peak and Uncompahgre Peak to the north. I could also see Redcloud and Sunshine Peak in the east, and started to make plans to climb those peaks as well, if the weather (and my physics) didn’t deteriorate during the next couple of hours.
I spent 30 minutes on the summit before I started to descend. I met several parties on my way down, in addition to a large group of young people. They had volunteered to improve the trail in order to reduce erosion. They had no summit plans, because they were 100% devoted in the important work on the trail. Keep up the excellent work !
I returned to my car 10:50. The weather was still beautiful, and I could not see any clouds at all. Thus it was a very easy decision to continue my race for 14’ers in the afternoon. I drove down to Silver Creek-Grizly Gulch Trailhead aiming to climb Redcloud Peak and Sunshine Peak.
(I’m referring to the YDS class rating system throughout this article)