Peak(s):  Sunshine Peak  -  14,001 feet
Redcloud Peak  -  14,034 feet
Handies Peak  -  14,048 feet
Date Posted:  09/17/2012
Date Climbed:   09/15/2012
Author:  aliciaf
Additional Members:   jmc5040

Day 1: Sunshine & Redcloud

Route Ascended: Sunshine's NW Face
Route Descended: Standard route off Redcloud
RT Mileage: 10 miles
Start Time: 7:00am
Summit Sunshine: 11:45am (summit break for 30 minutes)
Summit Redcloud: 1:20pm (summit break for 20 minutes)
Finish: 3:55pm

We left Denver at 7:45pm on Friday night and started our long drive toward Lake City for our first weekend of hiking in the San Juans. Fueled up on a venti Starbucks iced caramel macchiato, I managed to stay awake the entire time while my fiance was driving. We made it to the Grizzly Gulch/Silver Creek TH around 1:45am (-ish). The road getting there was definitely a rough 2WD road, possibly even 4WD in some spots. I know I wouldn't even think about driving my Mazda 3 over some of those sections, but Jordan's Subaru Outback had no problem with it. Immediately after parking our car in the Silver Creek parking lot, we rolled out our sleeping bags and hit the hay. I laid awake for quite awhile listening to all of the animals running around our car - I was very paranoid considering the recent bear attack in the area. I eventually got tired enough to forget about my fears and fell asleep around 3:30am for a solid 3 hours of sleep the first night.

My iPhone started alarming at 6:15am Saturday morning and, with a huff, I turned it off and reset the alarm for 30 minutes later at 6:45. Jordan and I finally got up just before the alarm went off a second time and began to get ready for our two-peak day. After a quick breakfast, we hit the trail around 7:30. There was a slight chill in the air, but once we got the blood moving, we warmed up fast. The trees in the forest were a beautiful shade of yellow and orange and before we knew it, we reached the spot where the trail crosses the creek for the Northwest Face route. We made quick work of the trail until we got to the large rock/talus field where we continuously lost sight of cairns. We think we ended up starting up the route to the left where it tops out on the Redcloud-Sunshine saddle, which is emphasized in the route description NOT to do. We quickly realized this and decided to just cross the talus and aim for the gully we were supposed to ascend. I don't believe we were on the correct "route," but ultimately made it to the base of the gully.

Fall colors

Trail split where NW Face route begins (look for cairns)

In the talus field

Looking up the gully, the rock looked loose and miserable. As I started making my way up behind Jordan, that thought was proved factual. I carefully placed my hands and feet every inch of the way up to gully to prevent sending rock down and to prevent slipping and sending myself down the gully. I knew the gully would be loose and steep, but for some reason I wasn't expecting this. I finally made my way out of the gully and we took a short break on the flat section there before heading towards the switchbacks on the right side of the face (Option #2 in the route description). We finally made it to the ridge and our final push to the summit topped us out at 11:45am - 4hrs, 15 minutes after starting. The confusion in the talus field definitely slowed us down a bit, but the weather was fantastic so we weren't worried.

Looking down the gully

Summit of Sunshine - can see Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre

Looking towards Redcloud

We enjoyed some food on the summit of Sunshine for about a half hour before making our way across the saddle to Redcloud. We stopped and chatted with a couple of groups going the opposite direction as us (including Patrick who would be finishing on Handies the next day!) and made it to the gorgeous red summit of Redcloud at 1:20pm - about one hour after leaving Sunshine.

Redcloud summit

It was both of our 20th summits

On the descent

We enjoyed the views for 20 minutes and started our way down the standard route back to the TH. The descent was enjoyable - nothing too noteworthy. We made it back to the car at 3:55pm - 8hrs, 25 minutes after leaving (with about an hour worth of rest on the summits). We considered driving back into Lake City for some dinner, but decided the drive back out on the access road wasn't worth it. Instead, we decided to make the switch to the American Basin TH for Handies the next day. Read my TH update for information on that road if you're interested.

Day 2: Handies Peak

Route Ascended: Southwest Slope (standard route)
Route Descended: Same
RT Mileage: 5.5mi
Start Time: 8:00am
Summit Handies: 10:45am (15 minute break on summit)
Finish: 12:45pm

After a VERY rough night sleeping at the American Basin TH (animals running around vehicle again and an animal INSIDE our vehicle trying to get to our food kept us awake 90% of the time - not exactly sure what it was... pika, vole?), we awoke to our alarm at 7:30am. After rubbing our eyes and staring at the ceiling of Jordan's Outback, we decided laying there wasn't going to make us any less tired and got up. We quickly got ready and ate some breakfast before hitting the trail at 8am. We were really struggling during the hike due to a severe lack of sleep. We took quite awhile to get to the summit, but we made it around 10:45am after a surprisingly steep trudge up the ridge. We rested there for a short time and ate some food, while a chipmunk kept making sneak attack moves on me to try to steal my food. We started back down the trail around 11am, carefully making our way back down the steep, gravel-ly ridge. We saw Patrick again who was finishing today on Handies around 13,200' with his daughter, Trisha, who will be finishing this coming weekend on Sherman. We wished them both well and congratulated them on their upcoming finishes. The descent back to the TH was much quicker than our ascent, as we made it back to the car just 1hr 45 minutes after leaving the summit.

Heading up Handies standard route


We packed all of our belongings up and began our very longggg trip back to Denver. We intended on stopping in Lake City for some lunch but found that every restaurant was closed - I'm assuming because of the wine festival that weekend? Instead, we continued on to Gunnison and stopped for some pizza at Mario's Pizza and Ristorante. We finally made it back to Denver around 8:00pm and pretty much just crashed.

Heading back down the American Basin road

Overall, our first San Juans trip was excellent. Beautiful fall colors, great summit views and we knocked off three peaks. Biggest downside was our lack of sleep (probably only 5-6hrs total over the course of the two nights), but it all is worth it when you're standing on top of a mountain summit with the love of your life. Life couldn't be any better at that moment in time...

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Chipmunk on summit
09/18/2012 14:44
Hey, that same chipmunk was on the summit with us too and trying to be sneaky with eating our snacks. I have never seen one of those on a summit before. Funny! Congrats on baggin three more peaks. The San Juans were gorgeous this past weekend.


Nice pictures
09/18/2012 20:01
and a nice start on the San Juans. And, it was nice meeting up with the two of you on both climbs. We took your advice about the descent off of Sunshine!

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