"Sundog" - 13,432 feet
Sunshine Peak - 14,001 feet
Redcloud Peak - 14,034 feet
PT 13,832 - 13,832 feet
PT 13,811 - 13,811 feet
"Sundog" - 13,432 feet
Sunshine Peak - 14,001 feet
Redcloud Peak - 14,034 feet
PT 13,832 - 13,832 feet
PT 13,811 - 13,811 feet
|Scoring Points With "Sundog" and Friends|
Looking for something to do in the San Juan while they were still exceptionally and unseasonably dry I saw a conditions report for "Sundog", a ranked 13er connected to 14er Sunshine Peak. I'd never heard of "Sundog" but it was close to where I was at the time (Creede area) so I decided to give it a go, tacking on Sunshine and nearby neighbor Redcloud Peak as well. If I was feeling real good I'd also add centennial 13ers Point 13,832 and Point 13,811, making for a big but productive day. I had an idea of the kind of terrain and stats I'd be getting myself into, but only a general one; the only other time I'd climbed Redcloud and Sunshine in 2016 was on a day of climbing Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre, then driving over and doing Redcloud and Sunshine without sleeping, starting at something like 8:30pm, not finishing until after 3am, half-delusional from exhaustion. I had no real recollection of what the terrain was like other than that it was generally easy.
Back in modern times, armed with only a map and my wits I drove over to the Silver Creek/Grizzly Gulch trailhead knowing that it was still mostly dry and accessible. The two other times I'd driven over for Redcloud/Sunshine and Handies I'd been able to drive my little Civic up with some careful maneuvering, which was no less the case this time. The road had been trashed by the wild 2018-2019 avalanche season and was clearly still in the process of being rebuilt, what with smashed up trees and gravel somewhat carelessly piled up on either side of the road where it crossed gullies, the debris parted like the Red Sea to allow passage into the heart of the mountains. I arrived shortly after sunrise and found generally calm, cool weather and partly cloudy skies. I hoped it would remain nice since I figured I'd be finishing in the dark.
This area of the San Juan is huge. Everything soars up and towers over everything else and is steep and gnarly and just big. It's not the Weminuche but it is the San Juan and it doesn't let you forget. From the parking lot "Sundog" rose steeply above Silver Creek and the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River. Looking at the slope angle shading of "Sundog" is kind of comical as there appears to be almost nothing on the entire mountain under mid-30 degrees.
The excellent Redcloud Trail angles northeast up the Silver Creek drainage. Avalanche carnage here, too, was everywhere. The pictures will be sporadic in the report but some of the stuff didn't even make sense, like trees being blown uphill 100 feet and over ridges and such. The creek itself was choked to the gills with trees, rocks, and ice that had never melted from the previous season. I thought some of the avalanches near Freemont and Independence Passes were wild; these were unfathomable.
I had a hard time processing just how much chaos there was in this area. I knew it was bad but it was mindblowing. Literally miles of trees torn asunder and cast aside like nothing. How the trail wasn't completely ruined I don't quite understand, given the number and size of avalanches that had roared across it. I didn't cross any debris on the trail en route to "Sundog" (though some had been sawed up and moved to the trailside) but I would on the way down.
I took the trail until I was generally underneath "Sundog"'s north ridge. This was just about the only approachable side of "Sundog", and I think it and the ridge to Sunshine are the only two routes on the entire peak; everything else is too steep and loose to be climbed. With more snow there could possibly be some snow climbing but all options would likely be quite steep.
The north ridge is broad enough down low to be gained from a number of possible locations, so I just kind of picked one that looked reasonable and crossed over Silver Creek on a massive, frozen chunk of trees that looked more like a jumble of Czech hedgehogs (the anti-tank defense) than anything natural. From here I entered the forest on thin snow and picked my way up the ever steepening ridge. I didn't put on my microspikes but I was aware of my footwork and kept my awareness of the terrain high.
I kept my eye out for the tracks I knew were on the ridge somewhere but I just wasn't sure. Eventually I was kind of forced onto the eastern margin of the ridge, where things drop off almost vertically in that direction and only slightly-less-than vertical to the west, where I discovered the tracks. If I were to do this route again (or suggest it to others, which I do; "Sundog" is awesome by itself and adding on more just makes it even better) I'd immediately make my way to that eastern margin.
I continued up to treeline, which to my knowledge at this point was the highest treeline I'd encountered in Colorado; it ended somewhere between 12,100 and 12,200 feet, higher than the 11,600 I usually find. The views from treeline were spectacular.
The snow ended almost instantly at treeline and gave way to the usual scree and talus as featured in the photos. I'd rather that than the snow, as my trail runners and socks were wet by now and would be given an opportunity to dry out.
Continuing up, "Sundog"'s ridge began to get rugged. Outcrops and blocky towers appeared. In a land of otherwise smooth and rounded features these impediments looked intimidating; I wasn't quite sure what they held in store, I just knew that the report from a couple days earlier stated they'd also climbed in trail runners. It turned out all of the terrain on the north ridge was easy and it only got hairy on the traverse to Sunshine but I didn't know that until I got to it.
The closer I got to the block jutting rudely from the ridge the more apparent the route became. I'd have a little snow to contend with but it was more the loose rock on top of rotten rock I was worried about.
The remainder of the hike to the summit is just that - a hike. Going over to Sunshine is where the real meat of this climb would be. When I arrived on the summit my GPS watch said I'd only gained 2970 feet of elevation, so I went back down the north ridge a little and came back up, making sure to hit the magic 3,000 foot mark before continuing on.
It wasn't readily apparent from the summit just what the ridge would entail, but it looked like fun, with some scrambling and exposure along the way. The initial section was easy and it got difficult from about the middle through the end, where it dropped off into a flat area below Sunshine.
A couple of gully crossings were where things got spicy. The northern side of the ridge was essentially vertical. No way would I climb on any of it. To the south things were only slightly lower angle, but that was really the only alternative. The ridge crest itself did not feel safe in many spots and was often covered in snow. Not knowing what was under the snow I wasn't about to attempt a tightrope walk across it with the dizzying exposure on both sides, so a couple of times I dropped several feet below the ridge crest and below the snow and traversed on vaguely slabby and very loose terrain. This only occurred two or three times but it was enough to give me pause; the rock was generally grippy but it was rotten, so the utmost care had to be taken, especially when selecting footholds.
While the rock quality left something to be desired I was having a blast scrambling through this section. I'm getting more and more used to the combination of poor rock, scrambling, exposure, and snow/ice, and this had it all. A super fun ridge that I'd recommend to anyone who likes scrambling (though perhaps wait until it's dry if you get skeeved by snow). After what felt like both an hour and a brief blip of time I came to the second to last challenge, a steep and exceptionally loose gully that I'd have to down climb as the ridge dropped off vertically on the Sunshine side and I didn't want to down climb that. This was probably no worse than Class 2+ but the feet were unstable and the endless gullies funneled into one another below what I could see. Not a ride I'd like to take, in other words.
One more brief section of Class 2+ down climbing remained before the scrambles relented onto steep, soft dirt (probably loess).
From here the rest of the route over the four remaining peaks was easy, all Class 2 or easier. "Sundog" was a great scramble and I'd definitely do it again.
Sunshine of course is known as an easy peak but most people do it in combo with (and coming from) Redcloud. There's several trails up Sunshine's northwest face and the one I took allowed me to peer down Sunshine's vast and rugged south face. Considering I'd been up here only once before in the dark and on a different route I had no idea how rugged and spectacular Sunshine actually was. It's reputation as an easy 14er does not do it justice.
It didn't take me long before I was on top of Sunshine with the long traverse to Redcloud ahead of me.
The traverse between the 14ers is long but it's easy. There was snow drifted on most of the trail with steps postholed into all of it but I still tried to stay on rock where I could, even if it was off-trail. All told it took me about 45 minutes to make the crossing, which runs about a mile and a half and 550 feet of gain in the direction I did it in; there's slightly less gain going one-way from Redcloud to Sunshine.
It was almost exactly noon when I topped out on Redcloud. I still had approximately a third of the total vertical and an unknown amount of distance left (it turned out to be about ten miles) so I wasn't sure if I'd get both unnamed centennials or if I'd be finishing in the dark or what. I immediately left the windy summit and dropped down Redcloud's northern aspect which was very snowy. This was probably the most tedious-feeling part of the day as it was all snow or loose rock. There were tracks in quite a few places so I just kind of followed their lead and blazed my own trail as direct as I could, and in one spot I stopped to put on microspikes to cross a large, stiff snow slab. It didn't take me long to get to the Redcloud/Point 13,832 saddle but it felt like it did. At that point everything dried out as most of the remaining route was south facing and melted.
The initial terrain up from the saddle was just the usual talus and scree and then it led into a couple of improbable looking areas marked by narrow ridges topped with towers and flanked by steep slopes. There were some trails visible across said steep slopes but it wasn't clear whether they were human or animal trails nor whether they were safe or easy. Perhaps the northern side of the ridge, which I couldn't yet see, held other options.
The next section looked much the same but had a more defined trail. All of the slopes I crossed looked steeper from afar than they were in reality. Some snow might have made things interesting but as I found it there was nothing of concern.
The remaining hike to Point 13,832 was all on easy tundra. I couldn't see what the remaining hike to Point 13,811 looked like until I summited 13,832.
Point 13,811 was still a long ways away but the route all looked gentle and forgiving on the southern aspect. The ridge was spectacular in its dichotomy between easy terrain and the rugged bowl to the north, the land leaping on top of itself in an unbroken wall of sheer cliffs and ragged ribs.
It was past 1pm by this point but I wasn't about to orphan 13,811 so I dropped down and began hiking towards it. A small unranked, unnamed bump duly called Point 13,632 stood proud between its two higher neighbors and was easily skirted on its right/southern side. The southeastern flank of 13,632 was covered in a surprising amount of snow, all of it quite hardpacked and iced over, even the footprints that I would have otherwise used. My trail runners couldn't really make a dent or get much traction so I put on my microspikes and cruised back to tundra before removing my spikes again.
It was all nice and dry from this point and soon I was on top of the last peak of the day, Point 13,811, with the long traverse back to below Redcloud and the hike down Silver Creek remaining.
While neither of these peaks offered anything in the realm of technical excitement they were still fun and very pretty. I sometimes find myself bored doing easy Class 1 and Class 2 hikes but these were quite pleasant and throwing in the fun on "Sundog" plus a couple of 14ers raised these two peaks higher than if I had done them by themselves. I still had quite a bit of mileage to go and the north-facing bowl descending from the Redcloud saddle was full of snow that would slow me down. Off I went, retracing my steps over tundra domes and under the gendarmes of the early ridge. I made a minor route shift staying close to the edge of the ridge ascending Point 13,632 so I could (almost entirely) avoid the snow there and went directly over its top in case it ever gets added to "the list" later.
Once I got to the Redcloud saddle I knew the last of the work was directly ahead of me. Because it was in shade most of the day the bowl was still very snowy. I didn't put on my microspikes but I was sure my feet would be getting wet again, and I would have to race to catch and keep up with the sun.
I was able to follow numerous sets of tracks that snaked through the bowl, mostly not on the trail. The drifted snow marked the boundaries of the trail but most tracks took direct paths down and that's what I did too; the snow was shallower as well so I wasn't punching up to my knees on the trail. Once I reached the sunkissed far ends of the bowl where the creek took a sharp turn to the west the snow quickly tapered and mostly stopped.
I resumed hiking on the trail, making brief detours over massive piles of avalanche debris a couple of times. These were basically giant ice balls with trees and rocks embedded in them that covered the trail and were too dense to hack up and move out of the way. It might take a year or two before these are melted enough to clear, but for now they're easy enough to just clamor over and around while searching for trail segments in the chaos. Eventually those too ended and I was back on all dry trail. I returned to my car without issue near darkness, tired but very satisfied with the results of the day. "Sundog" was a real treat, Redcloud and Sunshine were far more enjoyable on my second visit, and Points 13,832 and 13,811 were the cherries on top of an excellent outing.
Climbers: Ben Feinstein (myself)
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
|Comments or Questions|
Caution: The information contained in this report may not be accurate and should not be the only resource used in preparation for your climb. Failure to have the necessary experience, physical conditioning, supplies or equipment can result in injury or death. 14ers.com and the author(s) of this report provide no warranties, either express or implied, that the information provided is accurate or reliable. By using the information provided, you agree to indemnify and hold harmless 14ers.com and the report author(s) with respect to any claims and demands against them, including any attorney fees and expenses. Please read the 14ers.com Safety and Disclaimer pages for more information.