| 2 Big Days in the San Juans - Part I
Handies Peak, Sunhine Peak and Redcloud Peak
July 28th, 2008
Route: Handies (Grizzly Gulch), Sunshine (NW Face), Redcloud (traverse and return via SilverCreek)
Round Trip: ~20 miles
Elevation Gain: 7000+'
This week had originally been tagged for a 2500 mile motorcycle tour of Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Utah... but my friend in Montana was unable to get time off of work, so plan B would have to be executed. My brother was going to be in the San Juans during this same week, so I thought maybe we'd be able to hook up on a couple of peaks as well. A broken wrist changed his plans, so I was off and running on my own. After a stop in Rifle Saturday night for a class reunion, spending Sunday in Montrose checking out the Black Canyon with a friend, I was off to the San Juans on Monday.
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison
I decided to take Cinnamon Pass rather than track the 120 or so miles back around through Lake City. What a great experience. The route is 18 miles from where you leave the pavement on Hwy 550 to the Grizzly Gulch/Silver Creek TH. It took me 2 and a half hours with one short stop near the base of Engineer Mountain. If you have a capable 4WD, I highly recommend doing this at least once in your lifetime.
4 - Wheelin'!
Descending towards Animas Forks
American Basin comes into view after crossing Cinnamon Pass
After arriving at the TH, and setting up my tent and EZ-up (there isn't much shade right at the TH camping spots) I decided on Handies for Tuesday morning and Sunshine/Redcloud on Wednesday.
Sunset over Cinnamon Mountain
With a 4:45 rally, I had a hot breakfast and hit the Grizzly Gulch trail at 5:40. This is a beautiful route climbing quickly through the dark timber and aspens, crossing through meadows and offering some great glimpses of the creek. Great views of Whitecross Mountain are also a nice bonus in the early morning light.
1st glimpse of Handies
Sunrise over Sundog and Sunshine
Flowers below Whitecross Mountain
The true summit of Whitecross Mountain from the gulch
Panorama of the Grizzly Gulch Basin and Handies Peak
I summited at 9:20. Spent about 30 minutes hanging out and just enjoying the solitude. This was my first mid-week 14er, and I have to say it was pretty cool, being there, knowing most people were settling in for a day of work.
Panorama to the north
The trip back was easy and uneventful, although the basin was now fully awake. The transformation that takes place in just a few hours is amazing. Flowers that were all closed up on the hike up, were now open, the marmots, birds, bugs... they were all going about their daily chores... Just a magnificent display of the cycle of light and dark, life and death.
Flowers, streams and Peaks!
Manny the Marmot, sunning and posing
Moths hanging out in groups
I arrived back at camp at about 11:30, and was greeted by the "Great San Juan fly plague of 08"... there were 4 kinds of swarming bugs... the "don't bite, but land on anything sitting still and annoy the crap out you kind", the "bite you so friggin hard right through your bug spray kind", the "giant horsefly that would likely drain a quart or 2 if they got a hold of you kind" and finally, the "good ol' fashion skeeter kind".
I made some lunch and walked around in circles for 20 minutes eating it. As long as you kept moving, the bugs weren't so bad, but sit still for 12 seconds... and blam, it was game on for them! What should have been a relaxing afternoon, turned into a "how can I stay cool and avoid the bugs" exercise. Finally, after 3 hours of battling, I gave in. I put my hiking clothes back on, packed my gear and headed up the Silver Creek trail. It was 4pm. I figured I'd scout the trail to tree line, where the bugs hadn't been so bad and kill a couple of hours.
After about a mile or so you come to the gully where the Sunshine Peak NW face route takes off. After finding my way across Silver Creek, I found the faint trail and headed up the gully.
Looking back from ~12k'
The northwest face of Sunshine Peak and the gullies
I was feeling pretty good, had my headlamp in my pack and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. I was started think this was going to be a big day. I decided to go for it.
I didn't have Bill's route description with me, but it was clear that I had to climb one of the scree gullies. I picked the one that appeared to have a trail leading up it. At the top was about a 15 foot section of class 3+ scrambling up over some rotten rock, followed by another 100 feet of steep dirt/rock/scree mix. I carefully worked up through this "crux" section, and topped out at the base of the true NW face. A nondescript, talus slope with a hidden, segmented trail up through it. It was now a little after 6, so I felt like my timing was going to be pretty good.
Looking down at the route from above the headwall, yellow arrow is the top of the gully
There really is a trail (sort of) through this
I summited Sunshine at 7:20, snapped a couple of pictures and then hurried off for the summit of Redcloud.
Sunshine Peak casts its evening shadow
The view across the traverse
It took just over an hour to reach the summit of Redcloud. you do encounter a couple of false summits along the way, but the traverse is along a very well worn trail and presents little challenge. I had timed it just right, I got to do something few people have probably done in late July in the San Juans; witness a sunset from the top of a 14er.
Sunshine Peak bathing in the late evening light
The eastern horizon, minutes before sunset
Cinnamon Mountain and the rest of the western San Juans
Sunset over the San Juans
Now the fun began... I started off of Redcloud in the twilight. I was down to the saddle before my headlamp became necessary, but the hiking was fairly easy and the route was simple to follow.
I encountered an avalanche run out that was about a hundred feet tall still. The trail just ended into this white wall of snow. It was interesting to cross in the dark, as I hadn't seen it in the light. In a way it was very creepy, all the broken trees, boulders, and other debris randomly strewn about, but no sense of scale, as the headlamp only illuminated about 25 or 30 feet out.
I finally made it back to my tent at 10:25, drank a 32 ounce Gatorade and crashed. It was a huge day, and I feel privileged to have been able to pull off such a feat in the heart of the monsoon season.
Stay tuned for part II of my San Juan adventure.