How to Climb a Colorado 14er

There is probably nothing so appealing for travelers to Colorado than the idea of climbing one of her iconic 14,000’ peaks. Climbing any one of them is a great accomplishment and each offers a unique experience for hardy climber/hiker types. Disclaimer here: according to the Colorado Mountain Club, none of these peaks are “easy”.  The lowest rating they give is “moderate”. Know your limits, experience, and use common sense. “Weather, terrain conditions, and individual technical abilities must be considered before undertaking any of these climbs….” (The Colorado 14ers, Third Edition, Warning).

Handies Peak is considered one of the easier 14ers. The Southwest Slopes Route has a reasonable vehicle approach (24 miles) that will take about 1.5 hours from Lake City, CO to parking in American Basin. The last 4 miles or so can be negotiated in a 2WD vehicle (recommend HIGH clearance) if the road is dry! Early season drivers take note that there are a couple of stream crossings. This road has portions of single track, shelf road conditions with a long drop-off. Uphill traffic has the right-of-way!  We didn’t drive the last mile which made our hiking round trip closer to 8 miles than 6. 

Our group, which included my seven-year-old son and his eight-year-old cousin required three hours to summit and two hours back to the car. The path is steep and lacking in route finding difficulties in good weather. Our ascent was in early August. This year, we crossed water sources 3 times (one lake, 2 streams) that can resupply your water if you have a filtering system (most Colorado water courses have Giardia). You need to start hiking pre-dawn and should be headed back down before noon. Storms can occur at any time with lightning, ice, and snow in every month of the typical popular season (June through September). Late Fall, Winter, and Spring climbs can be for expert mountaineers only. 

Finally, a great idea is to find out current, local conditions from the people who know. I always look for a local outdoor shop. In Lake City, CO, that shop is The Sportsman  ( They are knowledgeable and open 7 days a week. They have a great selection of outdoor equipment and are fly fishing experts with the shop to match. They run a shuttle to the trailhead of Handies Peak that leaves between 4-5:00 AM by appointment if you don’t have the vehicle you need. Happy climbing! Keep on Driving and Thriving. 

Information you can use:

What: Colorado 14,000’ peak. Round trip 6-8 miles (depending on where you start) with 2500-3000’ elevation gain.

Where: Hinsdale County, Colorado. San Juan Range near Ouray, Lake City, Silverton, and Telluride (SW Colorado)

Route: Southwest Slopes (Standard route) 

Access: Drive to the American Basin Trailhead via County Road 30 (from Lake City, CO). Rough 2WD to 10,400’, 4 WD to 11,600’.


Other Resources: The Colorado 14ers, Third Edition by the Colorado Mountain Club. And the definitive, Colorado’s Fourteeners, Third Edition by Gerry Roach cannot be beat for detail about each of the mountains.

Have you climbed Handies Peak? Please leave us a comment as we would love to hear about YOUR adventures.