Peak(s):  Handies Peak  -  14,048 feet
Date Posted:  10/06/2018
Date Climbed:   09/29/2018
Author:  eaagaard
 Handies from American Basin  

Handies Peak from American Basin Trailhead

I climbed Handies Peak from the American Basin trailhead on 09/29/2018. After climbing El Diente from Kilpacker Basin the day before, I was looking for something relatively short and easy. I wanted to be at the summit for sunset, but I got a little bit of a late start so I walked faster than I usually do up the trail. As such, my impression of the difficulty level may be a little exaggerated. Suffice it to say I poured a lot of sweat and was really quite winded by the time I made it to the summit. My legs felt the final 200 yard push up to the summit. The weather was gorgeous – late afternoon sunshine, very little wind down in the basin, and a few clouds that I hoped would turn into an awesome sunset display.

The trail just below Handies final ridgeline to the summit

Row upon row of peaks!

I was the only one on the trail most of the way. However, I met two hikers ignoring the “stay on switchbacks” signs and instead barrelling straight down the hillside on their way down. As a conscientious Texan who does my best not to add to the damage to the alpine environment, I was shocked at their selfish behavior.

I made it to the summit just as the sun kissed the horizon. What an awesome view!

Handies' shadow with last light on Sunshine Peak.

Uncompahgre and Wetterhorn were prominent on the northern horizon, and Redcloud and Sunshine were off to the east.

Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre Peak

I could see the Rio Grande Pyramid to the south, and Mt. Sneffels seemd the most prominent peak to the west. I caught the last few rays of light on Handies’ summit, and then I got a nice light show after sunset.

Post-sunset display with Sneffels prominent on the western horizon.

I noticed three moving specks off to the north, who quickly resolved into hikers moving along the final ridgeline on the Grizzly Gulch trail to Handies. They made it to the summit as dusk turned into night, and after we exchanged a few pleasantries and I took a photo for them, they turned around and left me alone again on the summit.

Hikers with Coxcomb, Wettherhorn, and Matterhorn in the background

The wind was significantly stronger on the summit than down the trail, and as the sun set it got immediately and noticeably colder. Soon I was headed back down myself, my headlamp supplementing the faint lingering light in the west. It was fully dark well before I got back to the trailhead, and I took advantage of the incredibly dark sky to take some star photos. Coming from a big city near sea level, the clarity and brilliance of the stars in the mountains of Colorado never cease to amaze me!

Milky Way and Mars (to the left)

I slept in the car at the trailhead. The night was warm – no colder than about 35 – and relatively calm. The entire American Basin 4WD trailhead is on a slight slope – not a big slope, but enough to make sleeping in the car a challenge. I kept sliding out of a comfortable position. So I woke up often – the silver lining being that I was able to enjoy American Basin by moonlight several times during the night.

American Basin by moonlight.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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 Comments or Questions
Driving to American Basin
10/07/2018 06:00
Thank you for the informative post! I have a Nissan Rogue which is only AWD as opposed to 4WD. Do you think it's possible to make it all the way to the Handies TH in American Basin with an AWD (the final 0.9 miles). Thanks

Here's what the description says after reaching the fork between American Basin and Cinnamon Pass. "Turn left. If you do not have a 4WD vehicle with good clearance, park in the pull-offs near the start of this road. It's 0.9 mile to the trailhead from the start of the American Basin road. After 0.2 mile, cross a stream which can be fairly deep in spring. If you don't feel comfortable driving through the water, there are some parking spots in the area. Continue to the end of the road where you'll find a large parking area and marked trail."

Re: driving
10/07/2018 07:49
Rbbirer, there was one dicey spot shortly after the creek crossing, but in the dry conditions I encountered Iâm confident you could make it. I was in an AWD Ford Explorer and, with careful navigation, had absolutely no issues. If itâs snowed or sleeted since I was there, all bets are off!

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