Peak(s):  Handies Peak  -  14,048 feet
Date Posted:  08/18/2018
Date Climbed:   08/18/2018
Author:  daway8
 Handies w/ 35lbs pack: aka Capital warmup  

Thought I'd highlight for folks an interesting comparison I stumbled across which might be handy for anyone else in a similar position as I am and also give some tips on how to deal with the goofy directions Google gives to the trailhead.

I was planning to tackle Capitol Peak this weekend but the weather forecast was looking progressively worse as the weekend drew near. Knowing how strongly people recommend only taking that peak on when there is pristine weather I opted at the last minute to change plans. Besides just the weather I had also done all 14 of the 14ers I had taken on so far this season as day hikes (some of them rather grueling, like the Crestones combo and Challenger/Kit Carson). Having just bought a new pack for this I wasn't sure how I would hold up lugging all the extra weight to backpack in so I figured it might be good to have a conditioning hike to get myself ready.

That's when I took a closer look at Handies Peak - the easiest peak I had left to do. I noted that from the 4WD trailhead the stats are rather similar to the hike in to Capital Lake, where people camp if they do Capital as a backpacking trip. The campsites at Capital Lake are around 6 miles in with about a 2k gain. Handies is 5.5 miles RT with 2,500 gain, although with Handies your starting elevation is roughly the same as the finishing elevation for the Capital Lake campsites. So I thought, why not camp at the Handies trailhead then pack up the tent and do the entire hike to the summit with my full 35 lbs backpacking pack on (I have yet to master light packing skills, much less ultralight...)?

Campsite at American Basin trailhead for Handies. The trees here are pretty much the only ones anywhere near here but the ground is totally rocky.

So I did a half day on Friday and drove down to camp at the trailhead. Quick word on the route, as others have noted - perhaps a few pictures might help too. Google for some reason tries to make your like much more difficult than needed by adding an hour and a half to an already very long drive. It's much faster to follow the trailhead directions from

Google doesn't think people can pass along County Road 30. Google is wrong.

The trouble spot for Google Maps - just do "add stop" and "choose on map" to manually place a stop to the right (east) of this gap and it will give you proper directions to this point.

The pictures above shows what throws Google off - there is an absolutely trivial stream crossing at Cleveland Gulch (you could literally probably almost take a tricycle across it - though some of the road along this section might significantly challenge a standard 2WD passenger vehicle). If, like me, you rely heavily on Google to direct you when you're zoning out on a long drive there's an easy way to get around this issue and still have Google give you all your turns. Just use the Google Map link from the trailhead description from (I always launch it from the app) and have Google plot out its overly long approach. Then hit "add stop" and "choose on map" to manually place a stop to the right (east) of Cleveland Gulch along CR30. After that delete the original stop at the trailhead and Google will take you up to the stream crossing. Then after you cross the stream (assuming you've downloaded your maps beforehand for offline access) just relaunch the Google Maps link from the app and, now that you're on the west side of the stream crossing it won't have any trouble plotting out the remaining short stint to the trailhead.

By the way, the 4WD portion up to the trailhead is short and fairly easy with an appropriate vehicle but it would be an impressive feat to get a regular passenger car over that section - better to walk if you don't have good clearance (assuming you made it along CR30...)

So for the hike itself it's extremely easy to follow the trail in the dark though there are a couple a junctions where I stopped and pulled up the photos and did a quick double check of the gpx file I had loaded - if you had no info it might not be obvious at first which branch to take if you're hiking in the dark.

About halfway up it started to snow on me and then it turned to drizzle. Looking around there were still stars in much of the sky so I gambled that it would blow over soon. But with about a half mile to go to the summit I noticed far less stars and there was significant lightning activity in the clouds in the west (no visible bolts just the kind that makes the entire cloud glow). Being so close to the summit and not wanting to repeat the 6hr+ drive for one of the easiest 14ers there is, and noting a very long delay between the glow and thunder (when there even was any) I decided to risk it and went into Beast Mode to push aggressively to the summit. I got there just as the first colors of sunrise were showing in the east and flashing clouds were approaching from the west. I stayed just long enough to snap a quick photo and note the time then made haste to return to the trailhead since the vast majority of this hike is pretty highly exposed to the weather (almost no trees at all).

As a sidenote, I would highly recommend people test out putting on your poncho and/or other rain gear ahead of time - which I more or less did but when standing on the side of a mountain in the dark at 4am in a cold drizzle with a breeze blowing I found this to be quite a challenge. Obviously it's better to not be on the mountain under such circumstances but if you do enough 14ers, most everyone seems to eventually get caught in some snap storm so it's best to have a plan ready when you're not under pressure...

Summit photo of the first colors of the coming sunrise - I would have stayed to watch it if not for the approaching storm.

My poncho kept the worst of the rain off but had me sweating like a pig at the pace I was going. Round trip was just over 3hrs. Considering that I lugged a 35 lbs pack on my back the whole way up to 14,048ft I was pleased with that time. It was certainly a good conditioning trek to get me ready for the hike up to Capital Lake (which is the only reason I lugged that pack to the summit).

Back at the trailhead - everyone else still in their tents.

I didn't see a single other person on the trail, despite there being a significant number of tents all around the trailhead. Guess nobody else got up early enough to leave before the storm and all had enough sense to not go up after the rain started. Not sure if anyone else eventually went up to the summit today or not as I zipped home and am still riding the adrenaline rush as I'm whipping out this trip report.

Now hopefully there will be a weekend with some better weather soon so I can tackle Capitol - I'm certainly not going to try to race any storms on that peak!

Stats: 5.5mi RT, 2,500ft gain, ~3hrs

3:15am start hike from 4WD trailhead

4:23am rain/drizzle

5:38am summit

6:24am back at Jeep

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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