Intro/StatsSunshine Pk (14001’)
Redcloud Pk (14034’)
9 miles RT, 5700’ gain
From Mill Creek Campground (9500’)
February 11, 2012
Participants: Kevin P, Sarah, Caroline, Shawn, Joe, & Kevin B
Winter has finally made a real appearance in Colorado and with that the avalanche danger has skyrocketed. The name of the game now is ridge routes. The original plan for the weekend was to do Uncompahgre as a backpack, but the forecast was looking pretty bad for Sun. Kevin suggested Redcloud and Sunshine on Sat, since the forecast looked a lot better. The winter route is via Sunshine’s east ridge from Cinnamon Pass road and the route is relentlessly steep. The route to treeline is south facing, and we were hoping the wallowing wouldn’t be too sustained. With a strong team of 6, we should be able to share the trench work nicely!
13er Quarter Peak looking good with early sun hit:
The Sunshine Express
We all met up at Mill Creek and Cinnamon Pass Road Sat morning and set out a bit after 7am under clear skies and a crisp temp of 6 degrees. The good thing about a steep route is it doesn’t take long to warm up! Since we were starting way down at 9500’, there was enough dry ground to avoid snow for awhile. We weaved our way up and tried to follow the trail, but there was enough snow that made it pretty tough to follow the trail. By the time we had been going for a half hour or so, we took a layer break and I didn’t even need a beanie as the internal furnace kicked into overdrive on this steep grunt. There are a few minor cliff bands to navigate through, but with daylight it’s easy to find an efficient line. The bushwacking wasn’t too bad, but we did get sucked into a nasty talus field that was really annoying and time consuming. As expected, we did have a bit of a wallow from about 11300’ to treeline. Lots of sugar to wade through, but it wasn’t bad rotating leads. This was the first time I had broken trail uphill significantly all winter!
Sarah and Caroline taking care of business:
There was only one area of the route to worry about regarding avy danger, and it was just above treeline. We popped out of the trees just south of the east ridge and headed well right of a slope that looked loaded enough to go. The snow was reactive in the trees with some whumphing here and there, so we played it ultra conservative.
The most recent storm apparently wasn’t much of a wind producer, because our trail breaking efforts had only just begun! We plowed our way up the ridge as scoured slopes were nowhere to be found! The crux of the ridge walk was climbing a benign snow bridge.
Kevin and Sarah scaling the little snow bridge:
There was enough snow on the ridge to cruise all the way up in snowshoes. It made for very efficient travel other than a few brief scoured areas. There is a trail up the ridge, and we were able to follow it in spots.
Joe nears the top:
We made good time and topped out around 12:15. A cornice below the summit made for a nice contrasting shot westward.
Final push to the summit:
We had just climbed 4500 feet in only 3 miles, but we all felt strong enough to head on over to Redcloud. I remember this being a pretty easy traverse in summer, but today would be a different story. The descent down Sunshine’s north ridge goes very quick as it is mostly wind scoured sastrugi.
Most of us kept our snowshoes on all the way down to the saddle. We had to stick to the ridge crest and avoid sidehilling across the somewhat loaded east slopes.
Joe did a great job breaking trail all the way over to Redcloud. The trail is more wind blasted heading up Redcloud, but it was filled in enough to make it taxing.
The last bit of powder down to the saddle:
We all got fooled by the false summit as I totally forgot about it. What’s that big, red peak over there? Why, it’s Redcloud! Another 4/10ths of a mile to go, and it felt longer as my tank was running low. I bought a big, fat chicken breast for a tasty summit meal and enjoyed the second half on Redcloud, which was enough calories to make the return trip over to Sunshine pleasant. Amazing how much real food can rejuvenate you, but some people don’t call the $1.09 manager special from the City Market in Buena Vista real food!
Redcloud group shot:
The slog back to Sunshine went quicker since we had less vertical and we topped out around 3:20. Descending into the drainage east of the saddle wasn’t an option today as the slopes were just too loaded. At least we had all the vertical behind us, but we were dreading the steep descent.
We enjoyed soaking up the titillating late afternoon views as we dropped down the ridge. The descent was very pleasant all the way down to about 11300 feet where we took off our snowshoes and prepared for the last nasty 1700 feet or so. A group of two hikers followed our track to Sunshine, and it was in great shape for a speedy descent. We tried following the trail on the east side of the talus field, but ultimately we had to deal with it. Tree belays, slip and slides, and balet pirouettes on dinner plate talus ensued. Good thing I’m not a cussing man. Shawn was really enjoying the fun now! Too bad Darin Baker wasn't on the trip, because he would have heard some more Nazarene cuss words. Cotton picken talus! I decided to cut across the talus and get back into the forest ASAP. We picked up our track, and the rest of the descent was steep but not bad. We made it back to the cars just a hair past 6. It was great getting out with the group and take advantage of the short weather window. The track is gone now with a big dump the next day, so there’s no poaching this one!
Sunshine parting shot: