Peak(s):  Redcloud Peak  -  14,034 feet
Sunshine Peak  -  14,001 feet
Handies Peak  -  14,048 feet
Date Posted:  06/04/2021
Date Climbed:   05/29/2021
Author:  dvdcmiller
 Redcloud peak (NNW couloir), Sunshine peak, and Handies   

Climb of 14ers Redcloud peak (14,041'), Sunshine peak (14,011') on Saturday, 2021/5/29 and Handies peak (14,062') on Sunday 2021/5/30.

We drove to Lake City from Denver on Friday 2021/5/28 to find the Alpine loop (CR 30) very drive-able to the trailhead (no snow or boulders on the road). We met others summiting Handies from American basin, so i suspect the road is free of snow until you can see where it is snowed in where it climbs/winds above American basin.

The mountain valleys were similarly mostly melted out below ~treeline at 12.000'.

I got up at 3:45 am on Saturday to have breakfast and get going from the trailhead at 5:13, kind of pokey start. My goal was to ascend Redcloud via a couloir if possible. Photos on show low angle snow fields on the NW aspect of the mountain. You cannot see the NW face on the hiking approach, consider a drive further up the Alpine loop to check the snow in advance. On reaching the valley down from Sunshine at N37.94918 W107.43856 at 11,331' I saw 3 paths of snow on the NNW aspect that looked clime-able. So i crossed the stream to proceed to N37.94518 W107.43682 at 11,612' at the base of the NNW couloirs to put on crampons. At this time a guy from Ridgway appeared at the base of the snow to do climb same aspect.

With me taking pictures, he easily got well ahead of me. We followed the leftmost arc, which topped out at the highest elevation on Redcloud. Being west facing, the snow was out of the sun the entire ascent. My truck suggested the temperature of 31 F at camp, so you would expect a good freeze from additional radiative cooling overnight at higher elevations. The right half of the snow was solid and made for excellent climbing conditions. The bottom 2/3 of the chute was low angle, so it was easy to ascend in piolet en canard and other French techniques for crampons. The top part of the chute is steeper angle maybe on the order of 40 degrees. There were a few small rocks in the snow through the route to indicate the hazard and need to wear a helmet. The route topped out on a ridge in a scree field. From there i immediately took off crampons and scrambled to the snow ridge on the shoulder. The scree was slow going - look for the areas of largest rocks to minimize the sliding of the scree. Basically the mountain is an unsupported pile of loose rock and dirt at this location. Once at the mostly melted snow ridge above the scree i still had my ice ax out, it was much faster to gain the summit. I reached the summit at 10:30 am.

In retrospect, a better option may have been to follow the middle line of snow on the NNW aspect to the lower shoulder and transfer across on snow to the NW couloir, which was wider and ran all the way to the summit. Another option would be to go further up the valley to start at the base of the NW couloir at N37.93739 W107.43415. Look for the route diagram image. I cannot confirm there was snow all the way from the base of the NW couloir, but i suspect that was the case. In better snow years (unlike this season) the snow may be more plentiful on all of the Redcloud couloirs.

From Redcloud it is over 1.5 miles, with little elevation change to Sunshine. The north face of Sunshine was snowy, with deep postholing only in a few of the usual soft locations (nearest the edge of snow fields, where the underlying rock is best able to soften the snow). Many simply summited in shoes or boots in the path of steps already in the snow; I still had my ice ax. I did not notice rock debris in the snow here.

There was no established track on the shortcut route down Sunshine to N37.94918 W107.43856 at 11,331'. Also the convective weather forecast was mild that day, with a calm-looking cloud layer setting in through the afternoon over most of the San Juans. Not knowing how postholey the upper section of the shortcut might be (big snow fields), i returned on the standard route to arrive at Redcloud at 1:30 pm. It is easy to assess Handies from Redcloud summit - don't forget to take picture if you intend to do that one next. I followed down the Redcloud standard route. There were big snow fields from 13,000 to 12,000 feet. The snow was appreciated, however, because it locks any scree or dirt in place. It was typically relatively shallow and solid snow (cloudy sky, cooler temperature). I suspect the higher part of the Redcloud standard route shortcut from Sunshine is faster, but less scenic. I reconnected with my morning approach to arrive at camp at 4:45 pm.

I got up at 3:00 am on Sunday to have breakfast and get going from the trailhead at 4:56. We did want to start earlier because Handies is immediately in the light of the morning sun. We followed the established trail, the vast majority of which was melted out (you could see this from Redcloud summit). The trail follows the north side of the valley. We did encounter snow above treeline at 12000'. We put on crampons at N37.92147° W107.49220° at 12,200' at 7:15 am. We ascended successive snow ramps topping out at N37.92133 W107.49606 at 12683' and N37.92089° W107.50113° at 12,995'. Through much of the approach, with our early start, we found an inch or two of softening snow on a hard frozen base. Again my truck suggested a temperature of 31 F at camp before we left. We reached the summit ridge at 9 am. The snow was starting to soften more considerably at this time, still in direct sun. I used an ice ax and now also an ice tool to follow a stepper line of deeper continuous snow. Following a mostly lateral stretch above the steepest section above the summit ridge, we reached the summit at 10 am. I do not recall rocks in the snow through the approach, but the lower section does pass between rock bands.

After taking pictures and snacking at the summit, we left at 10:45. I followed areas of thin snow below the steepest ramp. The meadow above 12000' was a brutal lateral 1000' of post holing, which seemed like a modest price to pay in the shoulder season. We retraced our route to return to camp at 2 pm.

There were inquiries on 14ers FB about what gear to bring. Obviously to do the couloir route, crampons, ice ax, and helmet are standard. I found it curious and i would even say unsafe that most everybody did not bring an ice ax (meaning tethered to your body) for the summits on the standard routes during the shoulder season. A tether has saved me from losing control when i dropped my ax glissading Mt. Sopris. You would not want to slide off the faces of the summit sections - there are some big falls.

I can't give blanket advice on snowshoes and microspikes. To me, this depends on the weather of the previous day, the overnight freeze, what time you start, your travel speed, the weather the day of ascent. The valleys were well melted on our visit, we got going when we wanted to, it was overcast (cooler) early afternoon, so we did not bring snowshoes and were happy with the limited postholing encountered. I have never used microspikes, but had crampons both days.

Redcloud starting pack weight: 22.9 lbs
Redcloud ending pack weight: 22.9 lbs (including am layers)
Handies starting pack weight: 28.1 lbs (including both ice ax and ice tool)
Handies ending pack weight: 24.3 lbs

Link to album of photos:

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

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