14,000-foot Handies Peak is waiting for you

Hiking to the sky

While many of Colorado’s summits can be difficult to reach, that’s not the case for all of them, even some of the tallest. Handies Peak, at 14,048 feet, is perhaps one of the most alluring mountain tops in the Rockies. Surrounded by wilderness, its vistas are uninterrupted: Nothing but mountains for miles.

The journey begins in Silverton, Colorado. Elevation 9,300 feet, population 700. This historically infamous mining camp was more densely populated in 1874 than today. The only municipality in all of 388-square-mile San Juan County, the highest county in the United States, Silverton still holds its rustic charm.

Unimaginable efforts were made to cut hundreds of miles of roads leading from downtown Green Street out into demanding terrain, all in the name of silver and gold. Ghosts of mining structures still stand in ruin and the roads to them are gateways to the backcountry.

Just nine miles up a valley leading north of Silverton, almost to the headwaters of the Animas River, a path leads into Grouse Gulch, and when followed, it falls directly into American Basin, to the base of Handies Peak.

At 14,048 feet, Handies towers over the basin. Thought to be named for a resilient pioneer in the area, the name also has ties to the Tabasco Meat Sauce Company, which owned a successful silver mine nearby.

The mountain is a massive landmark, cloaked in grassy slopes, rocky shoulders and a soft ridge that favors hiking. The 2.5-mile approach through Grouse Gulch carries hikers through alpine grasses and fields of summer flowers. Creeks and streams fall down the valley.

Upon gaining Grouse-American Pass, another 2.5 miles crosses the more rugged American Basin, where hikers encounter even rockier terrain before the ascent up the peak.

The Handies Wilderness Study Area is a 16,000-acre parcel of the Bureau of Land Management, the highest of its kind outside of Alaska.

After the remaining smooth, steep ridge line hike just close to the abyss, there is little exposure and the summit is astounding. There is plenty of room at the top. Take your time and enjoy it.

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