Peak(s):  Sunshine Peak  -  14,001 feet
Redcloud Peak  -  14,034 feet
Date Posted:  07/06/2009
Modified:  03/02/2016
Date Climbed:   06/30/2009
Author:  KeithK

 A Tale of Wildlife, Scree and Celebrity  

Sunshine Peak (14,001') and Redcloud Peak (14,034')
June 30, 2009
Route: Sunshine Peak North Slope, Traverse to Redcloud, Standard Redcloud Descent
Elevation Gain: 4,800'
Round Trip: ~10 miles
Colleen (oriiion) and KeithK

"Those damn things are always at that trailhead, that's why we don't camp down there." – Bill Middlebrook

The San Juans. What more need be said? Even the worst of the San Juans will kick the rear end of the best that the Sawatch, Mosquito or Ten Mile Ranges have to offer. After almost two years since my first visit, I was absolutely determined to make a trip back down to the most beautiful mountain range in Colorado, and I would make it count. The Silver Creek Trailhead would be my first destination, and with minimal convincing, Colleen would join me for two days in the incredible Lake City area. Being her first foray beyond the central mountains, I could appreciate her excitement, remembering the exuberance I felt on my first trip.

Front Range cities only wish they were Montrose…

We met at the Tic Toc Diner for dinner and to discuss logistics. The Diner is a neat little place, but does not serve alcohol, which is too bad. The food was pretty good, even for the typically sluggish Lake City service. Setting off for the trailhead, the area did not waste any time proving its worth, as a moose waded lazily in Lake San Cristobal, just yards from the roadside. Farther up, near the shelf section, a large group of Bighorn Sheep played on both sides of the road, with a healthy assortment of rams, ewes and lambs, the latter being as cute as you could expect. What a treat!

At the trailhead, we set up our respective camping arrangements, and settled in for sleep. Well, some people slept. Awakened at 12:30 by scratching sounds from below, I was less than thrilled to realize that the wildlife of the area was chewing on the underside of my truck like it was a rack of beef turning on a spit. I fumbled around for my flashlight and quickly got out to chase the vermin away. Only there was nothing to chase. Damn marmots are fast, I thought. Settling back into a comfortable sleeping bag, it wasn't long before the sounds of rodent teeth on Ford Ranger belly began again, and I once again set out to investigate. Nothing. No signs of anything. All right, this sucks. I moved the truck to the other side of the road. Maybe they'll chew on someone else's vehicle. Scrape, scratch, scrape. Of course that was not the case, and by 4:30 I realized that I was not going to sleep. A black Suburban pulled up to the trailhead as I retreated from another unsuccessful investigation, and I lazed in the warmth of my bag as the two occupants set off up the trail with headlamps blazing. Scratch, scrape, scratch… lick, lick, lick. This is ridiculous!!! After four hours, I realized that my flashlight didn't seem bright enough, and changed the battery. Bam! What a difference. I once again hunched down to inspect the underside of my precious vehicle, and lo and behold, there was the culprit! A porcupine the size of a Labrador retriever was comfortably using my drive train as a hammock. Yikes! The pointy end of an ice axe does not phase a porcupine, as it just moves away from the nuisance. A running, moving vehicle does little to disturb one of these beasts, either. A couple was unimpressed, if not terrified, as I asked them for advice on how to get a porcupine out from underneath a truck. They turned around and headed for the Handies Trailhead. As the day began to dawn, I finally managed to coerce the varmint into a spot between the truck's cab and bed, where I could clearly see his armored rotundity. So it was, trekking pole in hand, that I learned how to remove a porcupine from underneath a vehicle. As it turns out, enough force will allow the pointy end of the pole to penetrate the seemingly impenetrable, and a stunned and probably very sore porcupine will slowly waddle its way to the ground and head for the bushes.

Sunlight graces the highest reaches of the surrounding peaks…

I love this view of Handies…

At 6:00 we were off and walking up the immediately steep Silver Creek Trail, with the Sunshine Peak Northwest Face route in mind for the morning. After only two hours of sleep, it still felt great to be on the first 14er trail of my week long vacation. The trail junction was easy to find, as the South Fork of the creek is obvious, and there are three large cairns marking the area. The trail up the drainage is also visible, especially from the high trail which was obviously built to skirt the avalanche run out in the area. Crossing the creek, we followed the obvious trail up the drainage, and I noted the equally obvious trail on the other side of the valley that would lead to the "Sundog" ridge route. Not feeling that strong or ambitious, we continued on the "safer" route. Finally reaching tree line, the route ahead seemed obvious, with the prominent gully to the left of the gendarme standing out in the dead center of the cirque. Obvious, that is, if you're not blindly following cairns. As we began to climb, away from the center of the basin, I felt like something wasn't right, but I did not have the route description with me, and thus was not able to read Bill's warning "Do not turn left (east) in this area. There is another route that turns left and climbs to the Redcloud-Sunshine saddle - it's loose and dangerous."

Our first look at Sunshine Peak, with the correct route dead ahead…

The cairns lead to the North Slopes Route, while the correct route stays aimed directly along the rock glacier towards the prominent gendarme right of center…

Roach's North Slopes Route is atrocious. Nothing but scree; steep, horrible scree. We decided to continue in earnest, as backtracking seemed like a lot of work as well. In hindsight, maybe a traverse directly across the basin would have worked better, but we committed, and it was up, up, up. Sort of. I glanced back to see the first two climbers of the day descending the correct route down in the creek bed. Oh, so that's where the route is. Colleen really did not like it when a softball sized rock rolled right between her legs, and I mumbled an obscenity out of embarrassment for not noticing how completely unsafe the route was becoming.

Even for a pile of scree, Sunshine Peak still manages to display a rugged beauty…

We begin to swim uphill…

Farther up the slope. Really.

She's smiling now…

No matter how careful, I could not avoid dislodging stones here and there, and we finally split up. I chose a more direct route on larger, but still loose, rock, while Colleen spotted a line that she thought would work well enough. As I finally managed to find the actual "trail" higher up, I heard a shout. "Keith!" Uh oh. I started to gingerly descend. "KEITH!" Okay, she's really not happy right now. I dropped onto a shallow bench above Colleen, where she was feeling very uncomfortable on a slope of tennis balls that were ready to head straight for the bottom of the mountain. Not wanting to kick rocks down from above, I cautiously found a spot where I could guide Colleen into a more solid line. That is, once she decided to stow her trekking poles and work with four points of contact on the nasty, loose junk. Eventually wriggling up and out of her predicament, we were able to follow the trail to the ridge line, where this sign provided such timely wisdom.

Almost to the top. Really. I promise this is a different picture than the last two…

Oooo, what's over there?

Perhaps another sign like this would be useful at the bottom of the slope?

With profuse apologies for leading this first (and last?) time hiking partner up one of the worst routes imaginable, we took a much needed break, and enjoyed the incredible views of the San Juans. Wetterhorn Peak and Uncompahgre Peak absolutely tower over the ridgelines and Handies sits comfortably amidst an absolute sea of mountains. The Eolus Group and other Needles frame the southern view, and even the Wilsons play off in the hazy distance to the west. Mount Sneffels is scarcely a stone's throw away. Even the elusive San Luis Peak is available to the discerning eye. Rested and recovering, we set off for Sunshine Peak, with Colleen catching her second wind and leading the assault on the ridge. After what we'd climbed earlier, this felt easy, even as the pitch steepened onto the summit block. Though loose, it was still worlds better than the lower slope. We ran into a couple of loan hikers coming to and from. Pkclimber from Colorado Springs was eyeing Handies, and I told him that he needed to go for it! GabeK stopped to chat on his way down, and we wished him well on his summer of temporary work with the Parks Service and 14er adventures. He would later make note of Colleen's sweet trailhead assault vehicle in his trip report.

Much better trail ahead…

Off in the distance, Mount Sneffels points skyward…

Colleen in high gear as the summit nears…

It felt terrific to be on the first summit of the day. Although already 11:00, the weather was as good as it could possibly be, without a hint of storms in any direction. After another well deserved, albeit short break, we retraced our steps to the saddle, and began the journey up the long, winding ridge line to Redcloud Peak.

Just can't get enough of them…

The view to the west… Mt. Wilson and El Diente were just visible to the naked eye, but the camera can't quite capture them over Handies's right shoulder.

The sea of mountains continues to the south…

Rio Grande Pyramid…

I was pleasantly surprised at how easily this one and a half mile traverse went. A winter of hard work was clearly paying off, as I felt fresh and strong, and the summit of Redcloud appeared abruptly right at noon. A father and daughter, along with her friend on her first Fourteeners, were exuberantly enjoying the experience, and the two girls were off to Sunshine, only after sharing their delicious Honey Stinger Energy Chews. Those things taste a lot like candy! Speaking of which, it's time for another product endorsement. Thorough testing has proven that the Citrus flavored Camelbak Elixir is far superior to the Lemon-Lime variety. I highly recommend it…

Beginning the traverse to Redcloud Peak…

It's not as far as it appears…

A well earned summit photo amongst the most spectacular mountains in Colorado!

Such an impressive sight…

Descending from Redcloud is not one of the most pleasant experiences. The trail is covered in ball bearings, and I've never slipped more on dry ground. Fortunately, the descent did not take long, and gaining the saddle on the Northeast Ridge provided relief. We dropped into the basin, and began to just enjoy the stroll down hill, happy to have perfect weather and plenty of time. Returning to the trailhead at 2:30, the crystal cool of the river beckoned, and a quick change of footwear was in order before plunging in to the ankles. My feet have never felt better.

The parting shot…

Avalanche run out has effective re-routed the trail higher up on the slope…

I couldn't help but notice a sticker as a car pulled in, and I went over to meet the driver. We chatted for some time, while Colleen made her way down the road to take care of some town business. BradyJ, it was great to meet you, and thanks for the "tip". Wishing Brady a great day, I hopped in my truck and drove up the road, seeking an elusive black Suburban, the same vehicle that I had noticed but not really recognized in the early morning darkness. "Hey, do you guys know a Bill Middlebrook?" I asked, as I strolled up to their camp. "Yeah, that's me," said the familiar face as he tended to some tidying up. It was great to meet Bill finally, and his cousin Jim. I'm sure he'd hate the word "celebrity", but it was fun to chat with a somewhat iconic figure in our little world. Thanks for confirming that porcupines are common at the trailhead, Bill! But more so, thanks for the great work you do on It was great chatting with you guys, and I hope to see you again soon!

I met Colleen back in Lake City, where Poker Alice provided a very good Chicken Club along with a 22 ounce Fat Tire, and we worked on our plan for the next day…


 Comments or Questions

Rio Grande Pyramid
07/07/2009 04:38
really is an island unto itself. I want to climb that one someday. Way to persevere Keith, great views of the San Juans, especially the Grenadiers. Looks like a rewarding day.


Last year...
07/07/2009 04:41
Benners, Marmotman, and I made the trip down from the saddle the same way you climbed up. Not very pleasant, but it certainly made things more exciting. Looks like another great day in the San Juans. Nice job!


entertaining as usual
07/07/2009 05:46
you are really knocking them out this year....and I also went down from that saddle....boy that sucked!


07/07/2009 18:56
I‘ve looked down that way you came up, and thought I would only want to descend that way to avoid lightning. Routes like that make us appreciate the nice trails! Congrats on getting some of the San Juan 14ers.


07/08/2009 04:33
You have to admit, torturing yourself on the scree and finding that sign at the top of the slope is classic! Congratulations on great year you‘re having. Between work and family issues, I‘ll be lucky to see half as many 14ers as you‘ve already done.

Gabe K

Nice Meeting You!
07/08/2009 17:19
Hey Keith!

Awesome report! It was great meeting you up above the treeline, maybe we will cross paths again on the trail soon. I just did Uncompahgre Peak from the Matterhorn Creek Trailhead, in my opinion, it was WAY more scenic than the standard route from Nellie Creek.


07/09/2009 18:42
Thanks for the comments!
Helmut, let me know when you go for the Pyramid! Who knows, I may be in the mood for a backpack...
Yep, that North Slope route is pure torture, should have known better... Brian, I figured someone along the way would get a kick out of the irony of us exiting right at that sign.
Gabe, have a great summer, and maybe I‘ll run into you again!

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