Peak(s):  Sunshine Peak  -  14,001 feet
Redcloud Peak  -  14,034 feet
Date Posted:  02/15/2015
Date Climbed:   02/14/2015
Author:  Somewhat of a Prick
Additional Members:   falcon568
 Sunrise on Sunshine, plus Redcloud.. from Mill Creek.   

Valentines Day...a good day for some suffering!

Chad and I pulled into our campsite right across the road from the Mill Creek Trailhead around 10pm. Something to note, some directions say it's about 7.5 miles to the Mill Creek Campground, however its easily 10 miles or a little more. I followed the directions found here:

...and it messed us up a bit with the off mileage. We turned around thinking we missed it around 8.5 miles, only to turn around again and push on until we finally found it. We wasted a good 15 or 20 minutes trying to hunt this down.

We set our alarms for 2am, with the hope of catching nice frozen snow for as much of the early route as possible. Having read a few previous trip reports about this route, one thing was's a VERY steep route right out of the gates. Do NOT be fooled by the mileage of this route, ignore it completely. You gain a LOT of elevation in a very short distance, mileage wise. We ended up with boots on the trail at 2:35am. The trail was dry for the first good chunk of it, then the snow started. The early start was clutch, we booted right over it for the majority of the trail below treeline. Closer to treeline the snow relented and we started postholing, we finally donned our snowshoes...but not before doing a significant amount of damage to this route. I cannot stress it enough, start early on this route in winter. If you're having to wallow through all of the snow below treeline getting Redcloud will probably be out of reach, let alone Sunshine. It will drain your spirits and melt your soul.

Once out of treeline, there were 3 major hills to get up before we finally topped out on Sunshine. All of the snow for us was frozen pretty well, but we left our snowshoes on for the majority of the way up to Sunshine. On the last stretch of the ridge to the summit we put our snowshoes on our packs and booted the rest of the way to the top.

**These images show the 3 major hills you encounter before the summit of Sunshine. These images were taken on the way down, as it was pitch black on the ascent

View right out of treeline:

2nd bump:

Final major gain of elevation. Sunshine summit can be seen in the background. Snowshoes were taken off shortly after the top of this bit of gain:

Again, if you start late on a sunny, clear day...the above section will be a thigh deep mess of hell on earth.

We hit the summit of Sunshine at 6:40am, just a hair over 4 hours from the start. We had some great shots of the sun rising over the San Juans. Enjoy:

As soon as we left the summit of Sunshine, we donned our microspikes and wore them for the rest of the day until we were halfway down to treeline coming off Sunshine.

Shortly after we descended Sunshine to head to Redcloud, we hit the crux of the route...not that I was expecting a crux at all. There was quite a bit of snow that had been windblown onto the ridge. We had seen avy debree in other areas (not on the route), and this section looked like it was holding a good chunk of snow. Trying to stay super high on the ridge proper was also a tad risky, as it was corniced from the wind in several sections. For a moment I honestly thought Redcloud was not going to happen. I was scared to get off the ridge for fear of triggering a slide, and also scared of following the ridge and falling off a broken cornice. Chad spotted a few rocks poking through the snow not far below the ridge, a good sign that it was not corniced in those sections. Chad lead the way through this part...which was maybe 100 meters or so of what I considered to be the tricky section.

Some of our prints during a portion of the aforementioned section of the route:

It may not look like much in the pictures, but when you're seeing avy debree on other sections of the mountain it was a concern. Once safely over this section we resumed the cruise to Redcloud. There is a nasty false summit when you're headed to Redcloud. Here is the view of the remainder of the route AFTER the false summit:

We hit the summit of Redcloud at 8:15am. We were a little tired but feeling fairly strong overall. Spirits were high having gotten the 2nd summit, and coming in ahead of the schedule we set for ourselves.

Some pictures of the views from the route to Redcloud, and some summit shots:

Summit of Sunshine seen in this Panorama:

View of Sunshine from the false summit of Redcloud

Grenadier range is to the left of Chad's head. Chicago Basin is just a little further left of the Grenadiers:

Some random thoughts about the ridge to and from Redcloud. I felt this 2.5-3 mile stretch was easier than the Belford/Oxford traverse, if you're looking for a comparison. It is a lot of mileage above 13,000 feet so it's not to be taken lightly, however. We also had GREAT weather on this day. Some wind, but nothing major. If the weather was worse, this has the ingredients of being a massive sufferfest. We were just lucky today.

We were back at the saddle below Sunshine's summit at 9:15. You do NOT have to summit Sunshine again, there is a trail that leads down and off to the side of Sunshine that will connect you with the ridge you took to the summit of Sunshine.

View of the trail mentioned above:

Headed down Sunshine to the trees we finally got to see the views we missed in the morning:

It wasn't yet 10am, and we made it about half way to the trees before the snow finally caved under the weight of the sun. After a few plunges up to our thighs we relented and put on our snowshoes. We were slipping and sliding through the trees, and occasionally postholing WITH snowshoes on. This part sucked really hard, and it only got worse. We got lulled into a false sense of security thinking we would have no problem following our trail from the morning back to the car. Before we knew it, we were surrounded by an ocean of talus. There are a few small sections of talus that you travel over that is part of the route, but there are also several football field-sized talus fields on the way down that are most definitely not part of the route. We lost a LOT of time and took several spills in the ocean of talus. We were trying to make our way over to where we thought the trail would be and it was absolute misery. Every rock slid, even the ones that weighed a hundred pounds. I tweaked my ankle a bit, and Chad also had a fall or two that didn't look too great. After a lot of wasted time and a lot of pain, we finally linked up with the trail...for a little bit. We relaxed again and lost the trail again. Even out of the snow in daylight, this trail is easy to lose. We stumbled and bumbled our way to the road and got ejected off the mountain a couple hundred yards from the official trailhead. At this point, we were both frustrated and tired. Once below treeline, do not put yourself in cruise control or you too may find yourself in a sea of talus. Stay on point all the way to the car, it's very easy to get yourself in a world of hurt.

Shortly after being spit off the mountain:

We got back to the car at 12:30. It took us roughly the same amount of time to descend from Sunshine to the car as it took us to ascend, misery.

We finished the route in a grand total of 9 hours and 55 minutes. We both agreed there would be hours added on if we had started at 6 or 7. Start early. If you can time this with a full moon to help navigate through the trees before sunrise I would recommend that as well. Chad happens to have a headlamp that is brighter than the sun, so that helped too.

We took turns driving/sleeping all the way back home...and I still made it to my dinner reservations with the girlfriend for Valentines which was the true victory of the day.

Comments or Questions
Great Read
02/16/2015 18:02
Enjoyed the trip report. Thanks for sharing.

Thanks for the steps...
02/16/2015 18:25
... over to Redcloud. Definitely saved us a few minutes!

Somewhat of a Prick
No problem Mark!
02/16/2015 19:15
Glad to see you made it over to Redcloud.

Who Needs Sleep
02/17/2015 03:57
Me, I need sleep, that was early. Definitely the way to go on that climb, can’t beat a summit sunrise!

Glad you found
02/17/2015 16:19
The trail, haha. Nice work and nice photos. Nothing quite like a winter summit in the San Juans.

Good write up
02/19/2015 18:47
Thanks for write up Adonis. I enjoyed reading this and enjoyed your photos. We’ll, get another snow climb in eventually...

The trail?
02/20/2015 15:34
A summer ascent thru steep trees left me wondering ’where’ the trail was at many points–––nice work guys!!!

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