Peak(s):  Handies Peak  -  14,048 feet
Sunshine Peak  -  14,001 feet
Redcloud Peak  -  14,034 feet
Post Date:  08/07/2008
Modified:  03/31/2009
Date Climbed:   07/28/2008
Posted By:  covfrrider

 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+'

The plan:

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.


  • Comments or Questions

Making the most of your weekday
01/19/2011 03:38
I really like the ”Sunshine Peak casts its evening shadow” shot and its pyramid shadow How many people are in a position to take that shot, let alone on a Monday?
Nice shots and storytelling.


08/07/2008 17:44
I‘d like to second del_sur‘s comments. I was on Redcloud and Sunshine year before last and it was beautiful, but those sunset shots are spectacular! Thanks for sharing.


08/07/2008 17:55
how different that place looks without snow. Very beautiful. Looks like you had a great trip.....where‘s part 2?



08/07/2008 18:39
Those sunset shots are amazing!


Great Pictures...
08/07/2008 23:25
...I really like the one with the shadow and the sunsets. Beautiful and I hope to get down there sometime again.


Nice Pics!!
08/07/2008 23:46
Looks like a great day!

San Juan Ron

Trip report
08/08/2008 01:20
Awesome trip report. The shadow pic of Sunshine was particularly interesting. SJ Ron


08/08/2008 03:03
Great report ... you sure did have a unique and rare experience -- a sunset climb on a 14er -- in monsoon season, no less. Sounds like it was a great time. Great shots.


08/08/2008 16:12
Thank you to you all for the kind words... This has turned into a ”dare to be different” activity for me... and so far I‘ve been lucky enough to get some great weather to pull off some pretty cool stuff. Personally, I really enjoy climbing in the later part of the day. The shadows and lighting are just so different. I‘m glad you guys enjoy the different perspective I‘m sharing... and along those lines... Aubrey, I‘d love to tag along on one of your outings, you and Jen always seems to be doing something different than the mainstream.


Handies was Awesome!
08/12/2008 14:02
Great photos and trip report! My son and I climbed Handies on the 29th as well and it was fantastic. Were you the fellow hiking with treking poles? Anyway, we had a great time in the San Juans and look forward to coming back to Colorado next year.

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