Get Set, GoMountains: Sunshine Peak (14,001’) and Redcloud Peak (14,034’)
Climbed the East Ridge to Sunshine from Mill Creek Campground and traversed to Redcloud. Returned over Sunshine
Elevation Gain - 5500’ (approx)
Roundtrip Mileage - 7 miles (approx)
Roundtrip Time - 11 hours
There was a neat forecast for Saturday, 20% Snow during the day followed by 4” late on Saturday from the storm system that was blowing in on Sunday… pretty good in the grand scheme of things. Moderate avalanche danger was predicted by the CAIC for all Northern San Juan aspects and elevations. I met the Jamies (and Crestone, their semi-evil trash-talking bear) at the Fort at 6:15PM and we drove down to Lake City together. We stopped at the Gunnison Taco Bell for a small meal and reached the Alpine Moose motel at 11:30PM where Sarah was waiting for us after her 5000’, 15 mile ‘warm-up’ run up some 13ers in the area. We went to bed planning on a 6:30 start.
We boiled up some hiking water in the morning and drove to the Mill Creek campground on the Lake San Cristobal road.
Sunrise from Mill Creek Campground
Hiking the Trail
It was close to 7AM when we started hiking. There’s no messing around with this route and no time to get warmed up. We were faced with steep dirt and talus from the moment we left the cars. We used sparse animal trail whenever we could but were mostly booting straight up the slope. The steep dirt soon turned to crusty snow where we had to occasionally put some effort into kicking steps. The road and Bent Creek are visible below.
Kicking steps up icy snow slopes
Steep climbing is great though and we gained elevation through the trees at a reasonable pace.
We climbed through trees to the bottom of a cliff band and skirted the base of it to the left
Skirting Cliff Bands
A Different Route around the Cliff Bands
We stopped for our first break at 8:30AM to eat, hydrate and enjoy some of the scarce sunshine we got to see during the day, except for the Peak of course.
San Juan Scenics
We continued on for 10 minutes before we started post-holing deep… it was snowshoe time at 11,000’ and change.
We continued up through more trees and shrub, occasionally having to bushwhack through dead brush.
The trail-breaking never got too hard or deep and the most we ever had to break in the trees was about 6-9” deep, often less.
Up and Above the Timber
At 9:45 we were close to timberline on the slopes approaching Sunshine’s East Ridge. The snow was crusty and rippled with sastrugi. We picked lines across the slopes moving from one clump of trees to the other at the beginning and then started heading up the slope beyond following what appeared to be the safest line. This was a pretty typical slope angle we followed, and although there was steeper stuff above it appeared like they would run down different paths if it came to that.
Slopes above the Timber
Here’s what the slope looked like from the flats prior to the ridge.
Slope seen from the Flats
The ridge has a couple false summits (that don’t show up on the USGS topo… maybe because they don’t really drop off more than 40-50 feet on the other side) that must be summitted on the way up to the peak. We decided to keep snowshoes on the entire way since it looked likely that we could use the extra traction.
The E. Ridge
We decided to break for brunch out on the flats. Clouds were starting to move in now.
Clouds moving in on the San Juans
After some much-needed food we started moving again up the slope to the first prominent looking point on the ridge. We found a cairn here and there.
Up the slope to the first prominent point on the ridge
There were some cool sections on the ridge and one fin of snow that was slightly exposed to the climber’s right. We gladly climbed the crest of the fin thankful for the little exposure we were blessed with for the day.
The E. Ridge
Fins of Snow
Some of these cliffs lay below us to a climber’s right
Cliff's on the E. Ridge
First High Point on the E. Ridge
Here’s a view of the peak from the first unmarked high point on the ridge. There’s a bit of a drop down from here before the summit pitch. Clouds were dipping closer now bringing some snow and wind, and things were starting to look pretty special.
Here’s looking down the summit ridge at the point we had to climb over, from the summit ridge and again from the summit.
E. Ridge from the Summit Ridge
E. Ridge from the Summit
Traverse and Summits
We summitted Sunshine at 12:30PM. I highly recommend this for a winter route (although I silently swore never to climb it again during the descent). This climb was so much more fun than my summer climb of this peak. I got to watch my first Sunrise from 14,000’ during that trip last year. There was no so such opportunity on this trip.
mugshots to replace summit register signatures
We hung out on the windy summit for about 15 minutes. Sarah and I decided to continue on to Redcloud while the Jamies returned to the car. Things were looking bright and cheery on the way to Redcloud.
Onward to Redcloud
The descent to the saddle went fairly quick. Balaclavas had to come on halfway through the traverse and gloved hands had to rise up occasionally and provide a wind-shield. There are a couple annoying false summits on the way to Redcloud and I was totally hoodwinked by at least one of ‘em. Here’s Redcloud’s summit from this false summit.
We summitted at 2PM, enveloped in clouds. We were pretty relieved to finally be there after all those %#& false summits.
Sarah on Redcloud's Summit
Here’s looking back at Sunshine.
Sunshine from Redcloud
We drank some water on Redcloud’s summit and quickly began descending, anxious to get out of the wind.
Re-climbing Sunshine and Descent
On the way back to sunshine we stopped at a spot sheltered from the wind to eat some candy quickly for some energy to get back up Sunshine. A portion of my Gatorade had frozen which surprised me since I hadn’t realized it was cold enough for that to happen. I ate some of it and washed it down with some of it. We got back to Sunshine at 3:20PM. It was all downhill from here. Here are a couple more shots of my favorite area of the East Ridge.
Descending the E. Ridge
Cliffs on Climber's Right of the E. Ridge
The descent went without incident. The snow in the trees had turned slushy and what required a fair kick-stepping effort in the morning was now allowing us to sink to our thighs. We strapped snowshoes back to our packs at around 11000’ and continued plunge-stepping and glissading the rest of the way down. We didn’t need our axes for the glissade and the snow was just perfect for it. We were back at the car a little before 6PM for a round trip time of a smidgen under 11 hours. This winter has left me yearning for more. With just one weekend of it left I am particularly conscious of having squandered too much precious climbing time falling on my face with skis on my feet. There’s always next year I suppose. Jamies, Sarah, I had a fantastic time out with you guys. Let’s get talking about the next time.