San Juans: Redcloud and Sunshine (July 11, 2015)

Day 2 in the San Juans found us with a much simpler day: Redcloud and Sunshine.  Redcloud is a pretty straightforward walkup peak while Sunshine is a quick jaunt over and only at 14,001 feet!

The night before, Kris and I had set up camp at the Silver Creek/Grizzly Gulch Trailhead.  The road up to it is straightforward and in pretty good shape.  Narrow in some spots, but nothing most 2WDs with decent clearance can’t manage.  Arriving at the trailhead, we found that we would be anything but alone.  It was the pre-Handies aid station for the Hardrock 100.

36 mile mark of the Hardrock 100.

36 mile mark of the Hardrock 100.

We talked with the crew at the station and found that were towards the last third of athletes.  Hoping for a relatively quiet night, we settled in early, falling asleep before the sun even went down.  Uncompahgre and Wetterhorn had knocked us out cold.
3 AM, the alarm goes off.  We take our time getting ready and are on the trail by 4:10.  Feeling better, but still fatigued from the previous day’s effort, we start slow.  The trail joined us in our slow start, taking 1.7 miles to climb the first 1,000 feet of the day.

The trail follows the creek to tree line and even a good ways past it.  In the blackness of early morning, the sound of rushing water dominates the senses and we experience very little beyond the water and what we can see from our headlamps.  Around 11,600 feet, we hit the remnants of a massive avalanche.  In the early morning light, we struggled to find  the best way out of it.  It wasn’t necessarily finding a safe route, we just wanted to find the trail as opposed to awkward rocks/scree.


Coming back across the avalanche remains.


Looking up at the path of the slide. Snapped trees were strewn across the snow.

We eventually picked up the trail right next to the creek and were back on our way.  Shortly after, we noticed clouds already building to the southwest over Handies.  This was more than a bit confusing/disconcerting considering the forecast called for a 0% chance of rain.  Knowing this, we continued climbing, but kept a watchful eye as we approach treeline on the clouds behind us.

Morning clouds build over Handies

Morning clouds build over Handies.

As we arrived in the basin, the clouds stayed to our southwest, so we continued up.  Eventually, some wispy clouds floated their way over, but nothing that was threatening.  The train through the basin meanders a bit, but is excellent trail that gradually climbs until  around 12,400 feet where it quickly jumps up to a ridge below the summit approach of Redcloud.  We made quick work of this section since the sun stayed pinned behind the surrounding mountains and kept us quite a bit colder than we had anticipated.

IMG_1104 _MG_8039 _MG_8041 _MG_8042 _MG_8044

We hit 13,000 feet about 2:15 into the hike (6:15 AM) and were greeted with our first views of the true summit of Redcloud.  We stopped to put layers on and watched an incredibly quick hiker make work of the summit approach to Redcloud and move his way over to Sunshine.  He had passed us somewhere in the 11,500 foot range and seemed to be continuing at his quick pace.

The view to the top here can be a bit demoralizing as you stare up at a bunch of rock and a trail that is full of sweeping switchbacks.  Thankfully, the trail is relatively stable and you just need to put your head down and one foot in front of the other to reach the false summit around 13,800.  From here, its quick jaunt to the base of the summit pitch and then a simple switchback hike to the summit.


Looking over at yesterday’s accomplishments. Wetter horn on the left (the one with a slant on the right side) and Uncompahgre (the giant one on the right)


Looking at our next objective: Sunshine. The clouds are starting to add in some variableness to our day.

_MG_8051 _MG_8056 _MG_8052 _MG_8054

We were on the summit less than 3 hours into our hike and caught the final bit of a beautiful sunrise over the peaks to our east.  With the clouds moving in, we did not spend long on Redcloud.

The hike to Sunshine is straightforward.  Its relatively downward with an ascent at the end to reach the peak.  We completed the traverse in 42 minutes.  As nice as it was to have reached our second summit of the day…we still had to go back over Redcloud on our way down!


Sunshine Summit. 14,001 feet. The lowest 14er in the US!


Sunshine summit looking back at Redcloud.


Once again, clouds were still building so we didn’t spend too long on the summit.  We were quickly off on our way back over to Redcloud.  Its around 1.5 miles between the summits and its definitely more up on the way back.  Nothing steep or technical, but enough to make you notice.  I struggled to keep pace with Kris, but we still found ourselves on the summit of Redcloud for a 2nd time 43 minutes after leaving the Sunshine summit.  It was all downhill from here!

On the descent, I began to feel a pain in my right heel.  Not one for bone injuries or pain like this, I was a bit nervous as to what it was.  Stress reaction? Stress fracture?  Hot spot in my boot?  Who knows.  With the Leadville 100 coming up, I was exceedingly cautious and protected it for much of the descent.

On our way up, we had caught a glimpse of huge Columbine fields in the early morning light.  With the peaks summited, I took a moment to grab a few shots on the way down.

IMG_8062 _MG_8069 _MG_8074 _MG_8068 _MG_8078

Kris and I decided that if someone put a gun to our head, we could hike Handies.  However, we wanted to enjoy the peak, and with that in mind we decided to save it for another day.  As we finished our hike, the skies opened up and drenched us with a chilly rain for the last 5 minutes of our hike.  As we broke down our tent, Handies was obscured by gray clouds, reaffirming our decision to leave it til another day.

After all, we’re not just in this 14er business for the peaks, but for the experience and views as well.

Redcloud/Sunshine Stats
Elevation Gain: 4,675 feet
Mileage: 11.9 Miles
Total Time: 6:19 (2:52 to Redcloud, 3:34 to Sunshine)
Average Speed: 1.9 mph

The GPX file for this trip is attached to the Trip Report:

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