Peak(s):  Sunshine Peak  -  14,001 feet
Date Posted:  09/07/2013
Date Climbed:   09/02/2013
Author:  Brake414er

 Sunshine via the Northwest Face  

I climbed Redcloud about five years ago but had to forgo Sunshine. So, since I was back in the Lake City area to hit Wetterhorn and some others, thought I’d knock this one out as well.

I camped on the other side of the Alpine Loop, at the road up to the Uncompaghre TH. Got up early and left around 5:30 to drive over and up to Silver Creek TH. It had stormed all night long, thunder and rain. It was still spitting when I arrived at TH. After contemplating the weather for a bit, decided to give the NW Face a go. Left the TH a little after 7 am. Camera issues prevented many pictures.

The cutoff for the NW Face route is well marked. Follow the route info on 14ers and you’ll find it. I was also tracking the route on my GPS, but saw the large cairn before my GPS beeped at me. The trail junction is very evident as well. Once across Silver Creek, the trail is very well established all the way back to what the 14er route guide calls the “small rock glacier”.

To this point the trail is very enjoyable, paralleling the creek and then up through the trees. At this point the trail disappears and after gaining the top of the ‘small rock glacier’ it becomes a routing through a talus field. There are some cairns at the beginning of the talus. However, as the 14er guide points out, there are also cairns leading east to the area below the Redcloud/Sunshine saddle. And the trail to the east is more evident; enough to pull me off course for a bit.

Instead, once you top the ‘small rock glacier’ look for the break in the cliff band under the Sunshine summit where you will need to ascend. The 14er guide refers to it as “… a small, steep gully…” and there is an accompanying picture (photo 9). Head directly to the base of the gully to avoid being pulled in the wrong direction.

So, this is where the route becomes a bitch. That gully is a lot steeper than it looks in the 14er pictures. No real exposure; but, looser than a bunch of fresh snow. It had been raining a lot over the past few days and the ground was very wet. All the rocks in the gully have been pushed aside. The dirt was so wet, it wasn’t holding. Basically, one step down slide for every two steps up. If it hadn’t been for my poles I’d have likely not been able to keep from sliding down. Ended up on my face a couple of times. And, if you are climbing in a party, definitely helmets. Toward the top, I worked my way to the right side to get some hand holds on the ‘gendarme’. Unfortunately, can’t put much pressure on it. The rock is rotten and very friable.

This picture, taken from Redcloud summit, shows the NW Face route up the South Fork creek to attain the ridge. The first ‘x’ is where the ‘dirt glacier’ begins. The second ‘x’ marks the beginning of the dirt gully.


Once above the gully, the routes to the summit are obvious; the right side being more so. I ended up choosing the left side and found a decent yet steep trail through the talus to the north ridge. It’s fairly steep though unexposed. Topping to the ridge is a welcome relief. It’s a brief climb from there to the summit using the main trail.

The short dirt gully took more out of me than the several thousand other verticals. So, opted to go down over Redcloud via the standard route. From Redcloud I looked back over my route and my impact on the dirt gully was obvious – the ground there was so wet that my passage left a large, dark gash in the gully. Weather turned out great for next few hours.

The loop up the NW Face and back over Redcloud was 10.5 miles from Silver Creek TH and took 5 hours.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions
San Juan Ron

09/08/2013 00:59
I have hiked that route many times and pictures NEVER do it justice! SJ Ron


09/09/2013 02:28
You may have better success taking one of the gullies farther to the right. I came down through there earlier this year and it seemed to get steeper as you get closer to Sunshine. Either way, I remember thinking how glad I felt to be going down through there instead of up.


Gullies - Agree
09/09/2013 15:16
I agree, especially looking at the pic after the fact. Next time I'm going to check those out. Great point. Thanks.

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