| Red Cloud / Sunshine- Northeast Ridge Silver Creek
The hike of Longs Peak a month ago served to only wet our appetite for climbing, but it was getting late in the season so both my hiking buddy "LOVENIT" and I wanted to try and get one more weekend of hiking in before winter set in. When he suggested a trip down to the San Juans, I was game, neither of us had done any climbing in that range. We agreed to meet up in Gunnison where my family would be staying while we hiked and carpool down to the trailhead.
The drive from Parker to Gunnison took about 4 hours via 285. Upon arriving I got the family settled into the hotel while we waited for LOVENIT to arrive. We didn't have to wait long and after transferring all my gear to his truck, we grabbed some dinner before heading out to Lake City, which was about 50 miles away. It was dark by the time got there and we missed out on the spectacular views and the shelf section of the road. The road to the Silver Creek trailhead is in decent shape with just annoying potholes all over.
About ˝ mile from the trailhead, and a good 14 miles in from the main road, we ran into a Mercedes SUV that stopped us and asked if we knew where the Italian restaurant was. It was all we could do to contain our laughter, Italian restaurant out here? As we would realize on the drive out, there actually is an Italian restaurant on that road, just not 15 miles in.
There were already a half dozen vehicles at the trailhead when we rolled in. It was after 9pm so we readied our packs for the next morning and laid out our bags in the back of the truck. As we settled in, we could hear Opera music blaring from a Toyota across from us. No biggie, we figured they would turn it off after a while. This was partly true, sometime after midnight the Opera music stopped and the talk radio began and it did not end until 5am the next morning. If you, the guilty party are reading this, hopefully you just didn't realize how inconsiderate it was to the rest of us. We talked to several other people at the end of the day who found it just as annoying as we did.
The weather over the past few days had been rain, rain and more rain, that night was no exception. Sometime during the night it rained soaking the bottom part of our sleeping bags which were hanging out of the truck shell on the tailgate. The rain at the trailhead meant snow at higher elevations. It was cold and overcast and we wrapped up breakfast and hit the trail. Of the vehicles camping overnight I think we were the last to head out.
The trailhead is well below tree line and the first part of the trail winds its way up through the forest along Silver Creek. Be sure and turn around and take in the view of Handies Peak across the valley, we were treated to a spectacular view of it. Along the trail LOVEINT discovered tons of raspberry bushes that still had berries on them so we had to stop several times to partake of this tasty treat.
At about 12,000 ft we entered this basin and could see the traces of snow that last nights storm had left. It didn't slow our progress any and it made for some great pictures.
The hike up to this point was pretty easy and even flat through the basin. At the back end of the basin the trail really starts to gain elevation. As you top out on the ridge you are finally treated to the first view of Red Cloud. Even with the snow it's easy to see how it gets its name.
At this point we were reminded by the wind that we had left the shelter of the basin and we quickly donned coat, hat, and gloves. This is also the point where the trail turns into a steep talus slope.
I am not sure if it was the cold weather or the lack of sleep from the night before but neither of us was feeling particularly energized on this hike. We trudged up the steep slope to the top of the false summit. At this stage of the hike the route flattens out and you get a nice break and an opportunity to catch your breath before you make the last push to the summit.
Upon reaching the summit the wind was really blowing so we quickly snagged our summit rocks and broke out the summit sign. Lucky for us a lone hiker was just arriving after returning from Sunshine and he offered to take our picture.
The views of the route over to Sunshine are a bit discouraging but take heart it's actually an easy hike. The weather also looked to be much nicer in that direction so we spent little time on Red Cloud.
The hike along the ridge line over to Sunshine was a breeze and it gave us plenty of opportunity to catch our breath and rest our muscles. It was along this section that we passed most of the people who were out hiking. All had already made the summit of Sunshine and were on the return leg of their trip. After ridge walking for a while and arriving at the last push to the summit, you are reminded that Sunshine meets the 300ft rise criteria.
It was at this point we met up with a guy who had come up the Northwest face of Sunshine rather than across the ridge from Red Cloud. Whenever possible we like to make loops out of our hikes rather than having to backtrack. So we had him show us the starting point of this. If you intend on doing something similar when hiking these peaks, be careful because there are some nasty cliffs and even a sign that warn you of their danger. We thanked him for the info and continued on to the summit of Sunshine. Ironically we were treated to some "sunshine" on Sunshine as the clouds broke for a while.
The drop off the Northwest face was steep but manageable and the snow added some excitement as it made the rocks a bit slippery.
The only "hard" part of this route is navigating down this gully. All the rock in this area was slippery and loose. We took our time and did not have any problems with it.
After you successful make your way down from the steep gully you are treated to an endless sea of boulder hopping. Get used to it; it takes a while to cross this section.
After crossing the sea of boulders you gradually make your way back down to tree line and the trail becomes well defined again. Keep yours eyes open for the remains of an old cabin along the trail. The CFI was working on building a new section of trail near here. Make sure you use it as the original trail is heavily eroded. If you plan on taking this route up to Sunshine keep your eyes open for this gully.
After crossing back over Silver Creek and regaining the trail it was an easy walk back down and out to the trail head. Of course we "had" to stop again several times to eat raspberries. I think we made it back to the truck about 2:30pm. We chatted for awhile with several other hikers who were at the trailhead but eventually decided we needed to make our way further up the road to the American Basin and get ready for Handies Peak in the morning.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):