Redcloud Peak and Sunshine Peak trip report

Disclaimer

I had originally thought I would hike in the Sawatch Range on Friday, but at the last minute, I decided to take advantage of my last weekend of summer to take my first trip to the San Juans. The only problem was that I didn't leave here until 7pm and I knew it would be at least an 8 hour drive. Since this was expected to be a pretty easy day-hike, I thought I might just start hiking whenever I got there and worry about sleep later. As it turned out, I was too tired to try this and bivied in my car at a turnout about a mile up the Cinnamon Pass shelf road from about 3am to 7am.

When I finally crawled out of my bag at 7:20, well after sunrise, the weather looked good, and I made my way up the impressive shelf road to the Silver Creek Trailhead. The road is fairly rough with a lot of potholes, but still manageable in a normal car.

There are actually two trailheads here, with my trail heading NE, and the Grizzly Gulch Trail heading SW towards Handies Peak, another 14er. The trail is first a 4WD road that is signed as being prohibited to motor vehicles. A few minutes up the trail is the trailhead register and somewhere around here the road is blocked by a cable hanging between two trees.

After a while the road becomes a trail and scenic Silver Creek comes into view. Even though it's late August, there were still a couple small snowfields along the creek starting at about 11300ft. There are several options for climbing Redcloud and Sunshine, but I decided to take the easiest route for the ascent. This follows the excellent trail all the way up to a 13000ft saddle on Redcloud's NE ridge. The view from here down into the Bent Creek drainage is classic. The view up to Redcloud is excellent as well. Unlike many gentle mountains where you can't see the true summit from high up, the ridge takes a left turn a few hundred feet from the top. The mountain got it's name from the unusual red-orange rock near the summit and you can see this, along with the thin remnants of a cornice between the main summit and a very minor false summit to the right.

The final ridge climb is on a strong climbers trail, but man is it steep; 1000 vertical feet in 0.6 miles and this includes a more level area just below the summit. I passed quite a few pairs of hikers on the way up, and there was a group on the distinctively colored summit when I reached it at 10:13, elapsed time only 2:09 for 3600ft due to the easy going.

Clouds were increasing pretty rapidly and I was starting to regret not starting earlier. A few wisps of clouds were reaching all the way down to the summit of Sunshine still 1.3 mile away. I lingered long enough to take a couple of pictures and sign the fresh CMC register and set out for Sunshine, knowing there was an escape route about 2/3rds of the way across the ridge to the west.

The ridge is easy with only a few minor ups and downs. The weather actually improved somewhat as I hiked. The low point between the two summits is much closer to Sunshine, so the last 500ft up to it's summit is moderately steep up a pseduo-trail through the talus. I reached the summit of the lowest Colorado 14er at 10:59, 2:55 after starting, and after 46 minutes on the ridge.

Here I caught up with the group of five that included the CMC member who had put the new register on Redcloud and did the same on Sunshine. I didn't ask if he had replaced full registers or if the previous registers were missing.

Of course, the views here were about the same as on Sunshine, but with the better weather, I could hang around and enjoy them more. Mostly the view is one relatively gentle ridge or mountain after another. The distinctive Wetterhorn Peak and Uncompahgre Peak, were, well, distinct about 10 miles north. I stayed up here for 20 minutes, hoping the group would leave so I would have the summit to myself for a while. This didn't happen so I packed up and headed down.

I had seen the beginning of a trail through scree and talus heading down from the 13500ft saddle, so I decided to try this descent. Borneman and Lampert's 2nd edition and Roach's guidebook both suggest this as a possible route. Unfortunately, this was a sucker trail leading into a steep, loose scree and dirt slope. As an added bonus, there were quite a few cantaloupe sized rocks on this slope with not much supporting them. Being as careful as possible, I still set a couple of these loose and I'm really glad no one was below me as they fell a long way. Fortunately, the slope became easier lower down, mainly scree and dirt. The day after this hike I happened to see a copy of B and L's 3rd edition in a local bookstore and they suggest not descending this way due to the inevitable damage that you do to the slope and this is probably a reasonable assessment for late summer.

But...once you get down below this steep stuff, you start hitting a trail that comes and goes until finally becoming a good trail. Not only that, but once it gets down to treeline, it travels through, IMHO, an exceptionally beautiful area along the south fork of Silver Creek. If the scree slope is covered with snow, I would think this to be an excellent route (bring an ice axe) and reasonably conscientous.

This trail meets the main trail at the confluence of the south fork and the main creek and this made an excellent spot for a bite to eat. The rest of the hike down went quickly as the weather gradually turned uglier. As was the case with Mount Shavano a month ago, I heard the first crack of thunder as I was signing out on the trailhead register (~1pm).


To the chronological trip index

To the Redcloud Peak page

To the Sunshine Peak page

File last modified: 02 January 2005

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