Colette’s First 14er!
Handies Peak is a walk-up, no technical skill needed to make it to the top, but it’s still no joke.
At sea level, 20.9% of the air you breathe is oxygen. At 14,048 feet of elevation, you’re missing 43% of that oxygen. Every step sucks, and people not acclimated to altitude are sucking wind.
The drive to Handies Peak from Silverton is no cakewalk itself – rough, rutted road that eats stock tires, and leaves low clearance vehicles stranded with leaking oil pans. Your core muscles are already wasted before you hit the trailhead from the constant motion, even if it’s only at 10mph. Add in narrow dropoffs and a massive avalanche and it’ll get you wide awake early in the morning!
American Basin is nothing short of beautiful. Deer, snow patches, and huge field of wildflowers. If it weren’t for the terrible drive, this place would be flooded with day-trippers sitting and enjoying the beauty. The trail starts deceivingly benign, then as soon as you get to the end of the basin below American Peak it turns east and you start the switchback climb. And climb. And climb.
We could see storms out in every direction as we made our way up the trail, doing the math of wind movement and calculating the amount of safe time we had before we’d need to be off the mountain.
As we neared the summit, I realized that at our current pace we were going to get weather before we made the summit, so I let Colette know I’d be running ahead to bag the peak in case the weather went really south really fast and we had to get down quickly. Since she’s not a peakbagger, not making the actual peak wouldn’t be a huge disappointment to her, but I wanted to check this one off so I didn’t have to make a return trip someday.
Sure enough, as soon as I got to the summit it started to snow. Small ball-shaped snow, but still snow. Luckily it stayed a nice slow steady pace, and
Colette summitted to the pitter-patter of lightly falling snow.
We had intended to spend some time at the peak, but as we caught our breath and took in the expansive Colorado views, we could see lightning strikes closer and closer, and when Colette’s hair all stood straight up we knew it was time to get off the peak fast. We jetted down below the ridgeline as quickly as we could, and then took our time making our way back down through the basin.
Despite the short time on the summit, this was a huge success – bag a 14er and another day out in the Colorado mountains!