Colorado 14ers: Redcloud, Sunshine & Handies
14,034; 14,001; 14,048
My 14er partners, Robert and Patrick had already knocked off Redcloud
and Sunshine Peaks while I was on a Denali climb so I was left to do
these on my own in late July 2008. But I was to meet up with them the
following day for a weekend of climbing in the San Juan Range. We would
go after Uncompahgre and Wetterhorn together. This was my first climbs
in the San Juan. I was going for 5 peaks in three days and was thoroughly
impressed in all aspects.
I made the 7 hour drive to the tourist town of Lake City Colorado and had an overpriced sandwich at a local restaurant. The drive to the Silver Creek/Grizzly Gulch (10,400') trailhead took about 40 minutes on good dirt roads and a final few miles on a moderate 4WD road. I was glad to have my Jeep for this entire weekend in the San Juan but a regular car could have made it to this trailhead.
I pitched my tent next to the parking area and took advantage of the permanent restroom. After a good night sleep I left camp at 5:00AM on Friday, July 18th. My headlamp showed a well traveled route gaining steadily along side Silver Creek. After half an hour or so I cleared the trees at 11,100' and saw the trail make a wide sweeping right turn up the basin below Redcloud Peak. I still did not have a clear view of either Redcloud or Sunshine at this point. It is amazing how well hidden these two are!
A few other climbers were on the trail but it was mostly quiet .. except for the squeaks and peeps from the pikas and marmots. The wild flowers were in full bloom making the entire area look like a Van Gogh painting. I gained a saddle at 13,000' and began the climb to Redcloud summit. The trail was strong and route finding not an issue. Soon on top of Colorado's 46th highest peak at 14,034', I enjoyed the nice views and got a chance to scout out my next objective.
The ridge line between Redcloud and Sunshine is classic Colorado - long, sloping on both sides, devoid of foliage and, of course, surrounded with awesome views. It is a long ridge as ridgelines go - about a mile and a half. Soon I was on Sunshine's summit. It is the lowest 14er at 14,001' but quite impressive. Time for my sandwich and video and I left for the return trip to Redcloud and the trailhead. I had been warned to resist the temptation to take the scree slope down from the saddle between these two peaks since it is considered difficult and dangerous. There was even a sign warning of the dangers - rare in my expereince on 14ers. All it took was one look for me to agree and I made a beeline for Redcloud.
As I went down, I took the time to enjoy the wild flowers again and take some pictures. But since I was moving so well, I begin to consider climbing Handies that afternoon instead of a few days later as I originally thought.
at the trailhead at noon, I decided to make the short drive up the
now more rugged 4WD 'road' to American Basin and the trailhead for
Handies at 11,600'. It was another beautiful basin area spotted with
mid summer snow fields, green grass and of course, wild flowers. Quite
a sight ... and you can drive to it! The parking lot was filled with
Jeeps, trucks and ATV plus tons of tourists enjoying the views and having
lunch. Clouds were forming so I hit the trail as quickly as possible
in an attempt to bag my third 14er that day.
The trail to Handies, Colorado's 40th highest peak, is very well marked and defined so it was a matter of going up as quickly as possible to beat the late afternoon storms. I had heard the views from the summit of Handies were one of the best but with all the clouds around all I did was get up and down as quick as possible. Yes, it was a pure 'peak bagging' experience!
The Handies Group was not very taxing and in fact would make an excellent introduction to the Colorado 14ers. The San Juan Range is spectacular and offers phenomenal views from every summit. With these three complete, I now prepared to meet my friends for Uncompahgre and Wetterhorn the next day.