My first fall out West also happened to be one of the rare falls when the snow just held off... and held off... and held off. So I took advantage of the late-coming snowpack and headed out to Lake City for a couple days of peak bagging.
My first day was to be Redcloud/Sunshine. I didn't get much of an early start (9AM) but it wasn't really necessary (there's little to no danger of lightning storms so late in the year). The trail departs from the trailhead and follows Silver Creek up to a high basin below Redcloud Peak. It is mostly quite easy hiking all the way into the basin, with the occaisional steep passage. Nothing too strenuous at all and most hikers will still feel quite fresh by the time they reach the basin.
I was completely alone on this trip (not only was I soloing the mountains, but there was no one else hiking that day), and the basin felt large and empty. The trail has been rerouted some from the original routing, and there is ample signage to prove it. As I went higher into the basin, the elevation and steepness both started to increase and take a toll on the lungs. By the time I reached the high saddle below the peak, things got a bit strenuous.
The most strenuous part of the hike was, by far, the ascent from the saddle below the peak onto the false summit. It is a straight vertical ascent for several hundred vertical feet, and then some well-cut switchbacks which are a HUGE relief after the grunt on up from the saddle. Reaching the false summit below Redcloud is sweet sweet relief, as from there it's just a quick jaunt up to the top, where one of the finest views in all of Southwest Colorado awaits. Redcloud is positioned on the Northeast corner of the San Juans, and most of the range spreads out before you. A truly tremendous view.
The traverse over to Sunshine Peak was nothing big, and was actually quite easy until the last quarter mile or so, where you get most of the vertical rise crammed into a small amount of space. Nonetheless, with only 500' or so of el. gain onto the summit, it's a small push. The view from Sunshine was equally impressive, if not more so, than Redcloud. The summit registers showed a huge disparity-- it seems many folks who climb Redcloud skip the Sunshine traverse-- truly their loss.
The BLM sign "Do not descend-- extremely dangerous-- not a trail" looked like it meant business, so I decided to grunt back over Redcloud to do my descent. This was a bit of a stinker-- after summiting two fourteeners-- that's a full day in and of itself. The extra 550' of el. gain on the way back was a bit of a kick in the pants, but c'est la vie. It must be done.
These peaks were a great full-day's hike, and upon getting back down, a large mac-n-cheese (and T.V.P.) dinner really hit the spot and set me up nicely for Uncompaghre Pk the next day.
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