Timeline of trip...
Left Brighton at 7pm
Arrived at TH at 1am
Started Red/Sun TH at 6:40am
Summit Redcloud at 10:20am
Summit Sunshine at 11:35am
Left Sunshine at 12:00pm
Re-summit Redcloud at 1pm
Arrived back to TH at 3:30pm
(saddle took 1hr)
(Total time to add Sunshine to the route took us 3 hrs including 30 minutes on summit and 2 breaks about 15 minutes each)
Hit TH at 5:45am
Summit at 9am
20 minutes on top
Back to TH at 11:45am
We drove Thursday after work and didn't get to the TH until 1am. There was only one other vehicle when we arrived. As soon as we got settled to sleep in the back of our car I heard something outside walking around. It was eerie. I tried to ignore it, but soon heard it underneath and heard what sounded like something scratching/eating or messing with part of our car undercarriage. We had enough and moved locations. We never did find out what it was. I assumed it was some kind of critter who wanted to nibble on our car parts. I've heard of porcupines doing that. But we tried shining our headlights to see what it was and never did end up seeing anything. Strange. There was also a sign posted on the bathrooms at the TH warning of a recent bear attack and it discouraged tent camping. We learned later that the man who was attacked by this bear ended up with 96 stitches!
Day 1: Redcloud and Sunshine Peak
We hit the TH the next morning and traveled through the forest until we got above timberline and into the basin. The fall colors were awesome and the basin was much much longer than expected. It was so long it made me doubt we were even on the right trail. There is an area where you walk over several rocks and talus for quite a while. I didnt remember reading or seeing anything about this area, so it really did make me 2nd guess the route. After the rocky area, you will be higher in the basin and will see a tall mountain to your right. This is not Redcloud, but the false summit that you will eventually hike to the top of. This area is also marmot central.
After you climb higher and closer to the ridge, Redcloud finally comes into view. It doesnt show itself until you are almost on top of the ridge. After topping out on the ridge, we made the trek up the false summit. It is mostly talus the whole way but not too bad and doesn't take too long. After you top out of the false summit, the rest of the route is shown up to Redcloud. But pictures make it seem longer than it really is. It only takes maybe another 5 minutes to reach the top.
Redcloud finally shows itself (the redish cone on the left)
Heading up the false peak from the ridge
Amazing views of Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre (two more peaks I can't wait to hike)
The last push up Redcloud
I loved the red summit! So unique and unlike any other peak. We were the first ones of the day to summit and right behind us was a solo hiker named Dean. He was the owner of the lone car we saw at the TH the night we drove in.
We stayed long enough for a few pictures then headed to our next goal of the day, Sunshine Peak. The saddle to Sunshine is long but not bad at all. On a great weather day like we had, the saddle was rather enjoyable. This would not be an area I would like to be stuck in in a storm though, so check the skies before you commit to attempting Sunshine and be ready to turn around if need be. The saddle took about an hour for us.
Matt heading up from the saddle
We ran into Dean again on the way up and invited him to join us to hike Handies the next day.
Handies, Our next days goal
We then continued to the top and arrived at about 11:35am. The summit was amazing and the weather was awesome. It was very sunny on Sunshine We decided to take advantage of the weather and just relaxed since we were the only ones on the summit. We stayed until the next group showed up, took some more summit pics and then we were on our way again to head back over to re-summit Redcloud once more for our descent.
Looking back at the saddle to Redcloud looked so far away and we weren't really looking forward resummiting Redcloud. But in all honestly, it wasn't bad at all and we rather enjoyed the route. I think it is a much better option then descending off the saddle down the steep scree. Plus there was a sign placed there saying not to descend that way and there is a good reason why. Soon enough we were back on Redcloud again. Does this mean I get to count that I have hiked Redcloud twice??? Hee hee. I think it deserves some kind of recognition.
Looking back at Redcloud (if you click on the pic you can see people on the summit)
Finally back on Redcloud again
We quickly made out way back down to the basin and then took a break to strip off more layers because it was such a hot afternoon. I had brought microspikes and gaiters with me thinking we were going to hit snow and I was dead wrong. The weather was so great and unexpected. We were able to get a better picture of the rocky section through the basin. The fall leaves were soooooo gorgeous. The sun lit the leaves and made our hike through the forest so bright. This was probably one of the most gorgeous fall hikes. I highly recommend the route in the fall. We got back to the car at 3:30 and then relaxed the rest of the afternoon.
Looking back down the basin and the rocky area
Redcloud and Sunshine were amazing peaks. I was nervous about the length, but the 12 miles went by rather quickly and I felt pretty good when we were done. We debated whether to hike Handies from the Grizzly Gulch route or American Basin. We decided to stay night night where we were and hike Grizzly Gulch route even though the length was longer. We started up a fire and had some dinner. Dean came over and we all hung out that evening. There were only 9 other people on Redcloud/Sunshine today including Dean. Everyone else headed back into town and the three of us were the only ones left that evening. We were glad we stayed because Dean would have been the only one and frankly it was a little nerve racking at night with the recent bear attack. So we were glad to have the company.
Day 2: Handies Peak
The next morning Dean joined us and we all left headlamp early at 5:45am. Hiking through the forest in the dark was scary. We whistled and sang and kept up conversation hoping that wouldn't catch any bears by surprise if we did encounter any. The forest was longer to get through than the forest section up to Redcloud. It was a beautiful hike that went rather quickly. Pretty soon we topped out on the ridge. It was incredible! The exposure was pretty awesome and rocky. You can look down the other side and see the other trail from American Basin. We even saw a group that had just begun there hike. We could practically see their entire route.
Matt & Dean
The ridge and some exposure
We headed up to the top and encountered some steep, loose switchbacks. It wasn't a very fun section and you have to be careful with your footing. Luckily its not too long of a section. You eventually top out and the true summit comes into view. The hike across is short and quick.
On top, with the true summit to the right
The next few pics are some summit shots. The views were breathtaking. Now I can fully understand why the San Juan range is known as the endless mountains. It was so true. It really did seem like the mountain went on forever in every direction. We could see Sneffles, Uncompahgre and Wetterhorn and we debated for a while were the Wilson group was. We summited around 9am and left shortly after 9:20am.
We realized after descending that we were the only group on the Grizzly Gulch route up to Handies Peak that day. Looking down this valley knowing we had it all to ourselves was an incredible feeling. Here is a picture of what was ours today. Love it!
Looking down the Grizzly Gulch route. Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre can be seen in the distance on the left. Such a gorgeous route!
The descent was fast and almost painless. For this being my 3rd 14er on this trip (4th if you count climbing Redcloud twice), my poor little toes were starting to get blisters so we hurried down as fast as we could. But of course we had to take silly pictures on the way down. Here is one of Matt diving off a boulder.
We got back to the TH around 11:45 and were driving out by Noon. It was an amazing day and finally getting to see the canyon/scenery that we missed before was incredible. This is probably one of the prettiest places I have been to. Of course the fall colors made everything more spectacular. I would love to have a cabin here. Maybe someday. Lake city was really pretty too. So many awesome lakes and such a cute little town.
Overall, I love the San Juans. I loved the challenge that all 3 of these peaks presented. The exposure on Handies was pleasantly surprising from the route we took. All the surrounding peaks were incredible. There are not enough positive words I can use to describe this area. Also, this weekend was perfect. I was expecting some snow and obviously didn't encounter any at all. The weather was perfect and all the people we met that day were so nice. The only thing that scared me was how much wildlife was in the area by the TH. There were tons of deer several feet from us and after our trip was over, we found several spots of bear scat near the river where we were camped. If you decide to tent camp, make sure you make it as "bear safe" as possible and keep all food and scents away from your area. Im grateful me and my hubby were able to enjoy one last trip of the season together.