Peak(s):  Sunshine Peak  -  14,001 feet
Redcloud Peak  -  14,034 feet
Date Posted:  02/01/2009
Date Climbed:   01/31/2009
Author:  elliojos
 Sunshine/Redcloud - Winter   

Noticing a spring-like weather forecast for the weekend, I took a friend down to Lake City intent on topping out on Sunshine Peak and Redcloud Peak before skiing back down. After doing my research, it seemed like the most reasonable winter route is to start at the Mill Creek Campground, gain Sunshine‘s east ridge, take the ridge to the summit and ridgewalk 1.3 miles to Redcloud. This TR is designed to be helpful to others pursuing a similar adventure.

Although the campground is not open or plowed, a good size pullout is plowed at the entrance to the CG. It was here (~9,500 ft) that we slept in the car the night before the climb. We were hiking by 6 am. The route begins abruptly by ascending northward from the campground to gain Sunshine‘s east ridge. Depending on the exact line chosen up this ridge, you will have to contend with varying levels of scree, dirt, cliffs, trees shrubbery, and possibly some snow. On Jan. 31, 2009, there was very little snow on this south face.

Initial slopes to gain the east ridge (we did this in the dark and somehow avoided all the cliffs)

The route we chose gained the ridge around treeline (~12,000 feet), which meant we were scrambling/bushwhacking for 2,500 vertical feet. Although steep and not far in distance, this portion of the climb was deceptively demanding. This half of our daily elevation gain demanded at least 3/4 of our energy.

The scree

Once on the ridge, the snow became less spotty and the terrain flattened out enough that I could take my skis off my back and skin for the next 1,000 vertical or so. My partner was on snowshoes.

First views of Sunshine Peak after gaining the east ridge

The final 1,000 feet up Sunshine was too steep for skinning, but just right for kicking steps sans crampons. Gaining the east ridge took its tole on my partner, so he opted to leave Redcloud for another day and descend the route we came up.

Looking down Sunshine‘s east ridge from the summit

Redcloud Peak from the summit of Sunshine Peak

The San Juans to the north (Wetterhorn to Uncompagre)

Looking back at Sunshine from Redcloud‘s summit

From Sunshine‘s summit, it‘s a long 1.3 miles along the connecting ridge to the top of Redcloud. This traverse was quite brisk despite the beautiful weather that accompanied us. I skied from the top of Sunshine down to the first saddle, where I left my skis. After peak-bagging Redcloud, I returned to my skis and continued my descent from the saddle.

My ski descent started at the saddle just left of center. Skiers: note that there are some pretty splendid looking lines in this area when avy conditions are better.

The terrain in the upper part of this east facing basin is fairly steep (~35 degree max?) and not immune to avalanches. After selecting a relatively safe route, I skied down to treeline before skinning back up to gain the east ridge and meet back up with my partner. I wanted to continue skiing down the gully, thinking that I could avoid descending our miserable early morning ascent route by taking that gully all the way to Bent Creek, then following the creek back to the road. Having not actually tried this, I can‘t speak for it, but I‘m convinced that it would have been better than retracing our morning route, which we did.

I skied down the ridge until the combination of lack of snow and intensely tight tree spacing forced me to walk. About an hour and a half of unpleasant trudging later, we made it back to the car.

Altogether, the route took us about 10 hours. I think two fit skiers could reasonably do it in 7. I hope somebody finds this helpful!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

That‘s not much snow....
02/03/2009 04:14
leading to the east ridge. I‘m surprised. Great job on a winter San Juan peak!



Nice Job!
02/03/2009 17:01
Looks like it ended up being a great weekend for you guys. How did the new set up in the truck work out?!


05/02/2011 14:23
I‘ve been looking for some more winter 14er ski descent ideas and these may work great. Thanks for putting together the TR.


Great job a long slog!
03/02/2009 23:56
We were just there this past weekend 2/28/09, same conditions and wore ourselves out up that 4,000 ft gain in the beginning. Commendable that you went on to do Redcloud. 3 long months without much exercise will remind you how hard 14ers in the winter really are! VERY NICE!


12/14/2011 20:09
My friend and I have been eyeing Sunshine and Redcloud as the snow it not too much further north. Also not much intel on this route on 14ers.

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