OverviewHandies Peak is the 41st highest peak in Colorado and is in the San Juan range. The climb up Handies is quite nice scenery and the summit is noted for its remotness from civilization. From the summit you cant see a city or a road.. not a sign of civilization. The two most popular trailheads to climb Handies are the American Basin trailhead, and the Grizzly Gulch trailhead. Grizzly Gulch is a longer climb, but it has the advantage that you can use the same trailhead to also climb Redcloud and Sunshine. It is also the most scenic route up Handies and is marked as a classic route. Redcloud and Sunshine are usually done together in one day and Handies the next.
American Basin has the advantage of being the shortest route to the summit. Sometimes people will climb Redcloud and Sunshine one day then drive to American Basin to climb Handies. Those that I know that have done this said the road was rough between the trailheads and recommend 4wd. Personally, I like the idea of setting camp at Grizzly Gulch and doing all 3 peaks from there in 2 days and not having to move- plus it is more scenic this way.
For more information on the area see: Uncomahgre National Forest
Getting ThereIn Lake City begin measuring from the bridge crossing Henson Creek, heading south. Go 2.2 miles to the Lake San Cristobal Road and turn right. Go past the beautiful lake and up the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River. Continue to mile 14.3 where the road forks and a take the right fork up Cinnamon Pass Road. At mile 18.3 you will see the large parking lot at the Silver Creek - Grizzly Gulch Trailhead. An alternate way to reach the trailheads is from Silverton. Measuring from Silverton's north end, follow Hwy110 for 12.3 miles to Animas Forks, climb steeply east to reach Cinnamon Pass at 15.3 miles, cross the pass and descend on its east side to reach the Silver Creek- Grizzly Gulch Trailhead after 21.1 miles. A 4 WD is required for this approach.
There is ample parking available at the Grizzly Gulch trailhead. The trailhead also has toilet facilities.
Mountain ConditionsThe trail from Grizzly Gulch starts out crossing the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River over a couple of logs. From there it follows the creek for about 2 miles. Handies is easily visible. We took the approach up the East slopes ( the classic approach). It takes you up to a saddle then across the ridge to the summit. You do see some cars and roads below just short of the summit, but by the time you reach the summit they are blocked from view. Colorado mountains are famous for afternoon summer storms. Watch the skies and try to be off the summit by noon to be on the safe side.
Conditions on this mountain, like all Colorado 14ers, are subject to change rapidly- especially during the summer when most people climb Handies. The mountains are their own weather system, and weather forecasts from nearby towns often have little to do with actual mountain conditions. You can generally count on clear to partly cloudy in the morning, and heavy clouds and thunderstorms in the afternoon during the summer.
There is no substitute for getting an early start, and getting as much of the mountain "behind you" as early in the day as possible. Keep a good eye on the sky as weather conditions can deteriorate rapidly. The greatest weather danger is from lightning strikes, and climbers are killed almost every summer in Colorado by lightning strikes. July seems to be the most deadly month for lightning.
Two climbers were killed by lightning in Colorado within a couple days of each other in the summer of 2003. I think the following important information from Gerry Roach's book "Colorado's Fourteeners From Hikes to Climbs" bears repeating. Added here with permission from Gerry Roach:
Colorado is famous for apocalyptic lightning storms that threaten not just your life, but your soul as well. This section will have special meaning if you have ever been trapped by a storm that endures for more than an hour and leaves no gap between one peal of thunder and the next. The term simultaneous flash-boom has a very personal meaning for many Colorado Climbers
1. Lightning is dangerous!
2. Lightning is the greatest external hazard to summer mountaineering in Colorado.
3. Lightning kills people every year in Colorado's mountains.
4. Direct hits are usually fatal.
1. Start early! Be off summits by noon and back in the valley by early afternoon.
2. Observe thunderhead buildup carefully, noting speed and direction; towering thunderheads with black bottoms are bad.
3. When lightning begins nearby, count the seconds between flash and thunder, then divide by 5 to calculate the distance to the flash in miles. Repeat to determine if lightning is approaching.
4. Try to determine if the lightning activity is cloud-to-cloud or ground strikes.
5. Get off summits and ridges.
1. You cannot outrun a storm; physics wins.
2. When caught, seek a safe zone in the 45-degree cone around an object 5 to 10 times your height.
3. Be aware of ground currents; the current from a ground strike disperses along the ground or cliff, especially in wet cracks.
4. Wet ropes are good conductors.
5. Snow is not a good conductor.
6. Separate yourself from metal objects.
7. Avoid sheltering in spark gaps under boulders and trees.
8. Disperse the group. Survivors can revive one who is hit.
9. Crouch on boot soles, ideally on dry, insulating material such as moss or grass. Dirt is better than rock. Avoid water.
The following link is also helpful: Lightning Safety and Crouch
Also see this report by nchenkin It will make you really think about lightning safety: Struck By Lightning!
CampingCamping is readily available at the trailhead and there is adequate parking and toilet facilities. There is no charge for camping or parking. Lots of tourists will drive up to the trailhead for the day, but ample parking is available for them as well as the climbers.
If you are going to climb Redcloud and Sunshine one day and Handies the next I would recommend staying at the Silver Creek Grizzly Gulch trailhead. Ericdix adds: We climbed Redcloud and Sunshine, and then the next day planned to climb Handies. We chose to move our camp from the Silver Creek/Grizzley Gulch Trailhead to American Basin. This made for a much shorter route. At this trailhead however, there are not many good campsites. So for those of you looking to combine Handies with Redcloud and Sunshine, it might be easier to camp at the Grizzley Gulch Trailhead.
When To ClimbSummer is easiest and most popular. July and August tend to be peak season. Try to climb during the week if possible to avoid the crowds. This is a popular climb in the San Juan mountain range because you can climb 3 mountains from the same trailhead ( Redcloud Peak, Sunshine Peak, and Handies Peak). Colorado mountains are famous for afternoon storms. Try to climb early and as a rule of thumb be off the summit by noon.
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External LinksCOLORADO 14ERS INITIATIVE LEARN MORE ABOUT COLORADO 14ERS AND VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES
Leave No Trace
Check out the web site of LNT and learn some important minimum impact hiking tips.
Colorado Mountain Club
CMC’s web site will tell you all you need to know about Colorado’s largest and oldest hiking club.
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