The San Juans have done it again — completely stolen my heart.
Handies Peak has been on my list of 14er hikes for a long time. It’s short, sweet, and best of all, located in the San Juan mountains — my favorite.
The long 4-wheel drive road is a lot like driving to Yankee Boy Basin in Ouray. We arrived in American Basin and I ran around frantically taking photos like the views and wildflowers might disappear by morning. We ate dinner, took more photos, and went to bed. At 2 am the alarms went off. Andrew snapped a few photos while I slowly got my gear together. We decided on an early start so we could catch the sunrise on the summit. Sunrise on a 14er summit has been on my “bucket list” for a while, and because Handies’ summit promised mountains as far as the eye can see and a well maintained trail to the top, we figured this should be the one.
My body immediately rejected the early start. I felt sick. We joked that I should just never wake up early, because my body just wasn’t having it. I couldn’t eat or drink water, so the hike went slow. Andrew asked if I wanted to turn around, but I knew I didn’t. As overly safe as Andrew is, he did a quick assessment and then let me make the call. I knew it wasn’t altitude sickness and just an upset stomach, nothing totally uncommon for me. We made it to the summit with about 15 minutes to spare til sunrise. I was thankful that I hiked slowly, because sitting on the summit was chilly. I laid down and Andrew boiled water in a JetBoil. Hot tea never tasted so good!
Maybe it was the tea or maybe just relaxing, but my stomach started feeling better. Despite low clouds, pinks and oranges started appearing in the sky. We didn’t think we’d see the sun due to the clouds, but we were content with the views anyway. A curious pika playing under Andrew’s camera bag distracted us, but suddenly I looked up to see a big bright ball in the sky. I squealed and pointed; Andrew grabbed his camera.
We stayed on the summit just long enough to snap some more photos, have a mini dance party (that was just me), and eat a snack. As soon as we started down the trail I was blown away at what we had just hiked. A colorful alpine lake, streams, and wildflowers that never seemed to end made for the most enjoyable 14er descent I’ve ever experienced.
I can’t call Handies my absolute favorite 14er (Sneffels still wins), but it easily wins the best views award.
Round trip: 5.5 miles
Vert gain: 2,500
Photos by Andrew Bradberry