East Slopes of Handies Peak

Date hiked: 11/20/16

Mileage: 7.9 mi

Head Count (how many other hikers I saw): 3 groups and a dog.


I started this season off hiking Redcloud and Sunshine Peak from Grizzly Gulch, so it’s only fitting that I finish it with Handies Peak from the very same trailhead.

The East slopes of Handies Peak isn’t the standard route to the summit, but it does offer a longer approach and a class-2 climb. Plus, with the snow really starting to accumulate, I couldn’t get my car up to American Basin, so this route offers another option when the second trailhead becomes inaccessible.

After crossing Lake Fork Creek on a footbridge, the first two miles of the route tracks a drainage creek through terrain once carved by glaciers, and now rife with avalanche chutes, a sign not to be ignored when thinking of a winter summit. Views of Handies Peak are never far off, and on the return, Sunshine, Redcloud, and the other high summits surrounding Silver Creek breed a beautiful horizon.

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Alpenglow at the trailhead. The day doesn’t feel right anymore if I’m not awake by 3AM.

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Crossing Lake Fork.

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Handies Peak.


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At 2.5 miles, the trail levels in a basin below Handies Peak, then veers north towards Whitecross Mountain to gain a rugged shelf on more passable (class-2) terrain. When I went, much of this was obscured by the snow, but looking on Google Maps, the trail becomes evident in summer conditions.

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Handies Peak in all its glory.

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The trail starts veering towards Whitecross Mountain at this post. Though it seems you’ve somehow missed a turn, the trail does eventually wrap it’s way back around towards Handies Peak.


Nearing the ridgeline.

3.5 miles in, and with just .4mi to go, the trail reaches the ridge. Gaining the false summit, the remainder of the route follows the north ridge along easier grades to the true summit. During late fall and early winter as the snow starts to fall, Crampons or Yaktrax are advantageous on the slick boulders near the crest.


On the ridge, gaining the false summit.

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The last leg unveils the coming storm. I was trying to book it to beat the snow (the first big one we had this season if I remember right). Luckily the moisture stuck to the higher elevations, and I got out before getting snowed in, but my hike wasn’t without a few flurries along the way.

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Two unusual summits: Wetterhorn (left) and Uncompahgre Peak (right)


Handies Peak was by far one of my favorite mountains this year. From the summit, not a sign of civilization can be seen: no cities and no towns, no roads or traffic. Just mountains and the wild lands. A true escape.


Whitecross Mountain in the northeast. Uncompahgre Peak rises behind a hazy snow on the far left horizon.


Looking east towards Silver Creek on the opposite side of Lake Fork and Grizzly Gulch, with Redcloud and Sunshine Peaks to the right.


Mining ruins at the trailhead.


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(From Lake City): From the southern end of Lake City, follow Highway 149 for 1.7 miles. Turn right onto CR 30 at Lake San Cristobal. The trailhead is 16.2 miles up this road. The first 4 miles are paved, then it becomes an easy 2WD dirt road for about the next 8.5 miles, growing rougher until the trailhead. The road is passable by any passenger car, though spring and early summer may require 4WD. The 14ers website cautions for higher-clearance, but I got mine all the way to the trailhead with 5.9 inches of clearance and only minimal trouble higher up. Use caution – it’s a busy road in the summer with ATVs, and grows tight in some areas.

13.8 miles, 29 min

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