| Sunshine / Redcloud from Mill Creek TH
Climbers: Me, Myself, and I
Conditions: Dry, except for remaining groppel sitting along much of the route near the summits from a recent storm. One snow crossing just above treeline on the Redcloud trail where an avalanche must have slid sometime this past winter.
Up until the end of July, I had been telling myself that I wanted to make it down to the San Juans for a 14er climb at least once during the summer, and I came across the Mill Creek trailhead with access to Sunshine and Redcloud peaks when searching for trailheads that my little Mitsubishi can easily access. Being a non-standard route, I was even more enticed to give this a try. Since there are only a couple reports for this route on the site, I thought I’d chip in with one to help out. Now, babbling out of the way, here’s my “story”, if you will.
I started up the trail at about 6AM using one of the many starting points. I happened to use the one that is almost directly across (and a little west of) the entrance to Mill Creek campground.
I realized that the trail has multiple starting points after hiking up several yards and started to notice other trails joining up with mine that all led from different points on the road below.
The trail started out mellow at first, leading into some parts of forest.
A few minutes of that and then BAM! The trail turns straight up the mountain, no switchbacks at all. Just up. And up. It felt as if it were almost vertical. After a little while, the trail eased up a little bit and turned to cross a talus field. This first field was easy to cross and the trail was still well-defined at this point.
After the talus field, the trail again went straight up the mountain, except this time it was for a longer distance than the first. It had me muttering some colorful language to myself, that’s for sure!
Then again, the trail came to a talus field, except this time, it was, to continue with the trend here, larger than the first one. I lost and re-found the trail many times here. There are a few cairns spread out somewhat of a large distance from each other. If you hike this route, expect to lose the trail at least once in this area, which is right after a “false timberline”, as I would like to call it.
After losing the trail and finding it again a few times, I entered the trees once more, but they were thinner. I was indeed finally getting close to timberline. The steepness of this trail will make you think that you will hit timberline quickly, but it will most likely take longer than anticipated.
What REALLY wanted to make me GTFO of the trees was, while taking a short break, randomly hearing the low-but-increasing-in-pitch growl/groan that a bear would make. What did I do? Well, literally the first thing I did was make this face:
I nervously continued on, away from (but still going uphill) the direction I heard the noise from. I clapped loudly and threw rocks against each other to make noise while walking, and didn’t hear (or see) anything else. Thank goodness!
I should also mention that the trail remains difficult to keep up with during the last part of forest before timberline. Cairns are nearly nonexistent from the large talus field upwards.
No worries, though! All you must do is walk uphill, past timberline to the ridge. From there turn left along the ridge towards Sunshine’s summit which should be in view.
A couple of small cairns that would have been useful in the forest now guide the obvious path towards Sunshine’s summit.
Sunshine is on the left.
I walked across the large flat section (a blessing after that steep trail!) and up Sunshine’s easily-seen-as-false summit. Here’s a look back down the east ridge. The forest where I walked up is directly behind it.
Soon enough, the grass turned into complete talus, but the trail actually remained easy to follow. It is discolored from the rest of the rock and stands out a little bit.
Sunshine is again on the left.
From this point, the summit of Sunshine still looked painfully far away. However, once I saw someone gain the summit, it put things into a better perspective and I realized that I was actually a lot closer than I thought.
The trail then continued on to the saddle between Sunshine and the child false summit. It goes across the saddle and picks up on the north side of Sunshine, following the ridge just below the crest.
The trail here is still a little discolored, and I was able to follow it all the way to the top of Sunshine.
A look back:
Sunshine's east ridge.
Once I got to that point, the summit seemed like it was within arm’s reach, and it nearly was! Some pictures from the top:
A fantastic cairn on the summit!
Looking west to Handies Peak.
After a break and a snack, I headed down the ridge to the saddle between Sunshine and Redcloud. A short downhill walk that seemed like 5 minutes brought me to near the bottom, and Redcloud was in perfect view. There must have been a large groppel storm within the past couple days, because the trail was illuminated by it. The trail to Redcloud, with Uncompahgre in the background:
They don’t want you going down the slippery, rocky slope? Gee, I could only imagine why!
I gotta say, it was cool walking on this almost all the way to Redcloud’s summit:
I also learned why they call it “Redcloud”. By this point, I was convinced that I was no longer on Earth, but on Mars.
I gained the summit of Redcloud a mere 50 minutes after leaving Sunshine. Here are some Redcloud summit pictures!
Looking back at Sunshine Peak.
Looking west into a sea of mountain peaks!
I took notice of that planking thread in the forum and decided why not... What's sad is that I was cracking up to myself after seeing the pic, hah
After another break and snack, as well as pulling that stupid plank like the dork I am, I decided I would start heading down from the summit, along the more well-traveled standard route from Redcloud. Looking down at the first part where the trail continues over the bump and down to the saddle:
As I got down to grassy terrain, I took great notice of what has been all the rage lately – the San Juan region’s wildflower BLOOM BOOM. A quick picture of a general area:
They got more and more plentiful as I got towards the draining creeks, whose small banks were packed with wildflowers.
Here are some wildflower pictures from the way down Redcloud:
Further down the trail, I came across this leftover snow from where an avalanche must have come crashing down. A cool formation! Down the trail from here, there were many baby pine trees laying down facing downhill. Avalanche for sure!
This had to be crossed. I certainly felt safe while doing so… Not really. At least if it caved in, it’s only a few feet down.
Soon after, I was back below timberline and, in what seemed like to time at all, I reached the register and then the trailhead.
A trail to Handies in the distance shares the same trailhead.
From here, I simply walked along the dirt county road back around the west and south sides of Sunshine, back to where my car was waiting near the Mill Creek campground.
This was a very fun day, and I thoroughly enjoyed my first views of the San Juans from high up. What a cool mountain range! I recommend this hike, it makes for a good adventure since you won’t have to take the same way up and back down. If you don’t want to walk all the way back to your vehicle if you park at Mill Creek, the road sees more than enough traffic to hitch a ride back.
Thanks for reading!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):