Thursday, September 5, 2013

Redcloud and Sunshine Peaks

14,034’   -    14,001’
August 15th, 2013


After finishing Handies Peak on the 14th, I drove down to the Grizzly Creek trailhead to be ready to attempt Redcloud and Sunshine Peaks the next day. I spent most of the day lying around the Xterra reading and trying to nap a little.  As I laid around doubt once again began to seep into my mind.  Many of same thoughts that had been running thought my mind the night prior to Hanides came back.  I did not have enough 14ers or big days under my belt this season to leave me doubt free. So as the hours of waiting slowly passed, I tried to push my doubts deeper inside of me.  I meet BookMark from Ohio as he made his way back to the trailhead from a successful solo summit of both peaks.  Talking to him about his summits helped to build my confidence. 

When my alarm went off just after 4:30 a.m. I felt the best I had in several weeks.  I hoped that this was a good sign, even though the doubts were still swirling around in my mind.  I was headed up the trail within 30 minutes. Forgetting my regular pack was coming back to haunt me.  As I headed up in the cold my main head lamp would not stay on. The small spare that I kept in the car would have to light my way until dawn broke.  The trail climbed steadily for the first mile and a half through forest.  With each step I felt my doubts and fears being pushed further and further out of my mind, and I began to truly enjoy the experience.

At a mile and a half the trail begins to turn to the northeast as it contours along the side of Silver Creek before hooking around the backside of Redcloud Peak.  The sound of the creek was joined by its beauty as dawn began to chase away the night.  As I climbed higher into the basin at the head of  I watched the sun slowly climb down its east face, snapping away a dozen pictures of it progress.  It was not until I reached the saddle between Redcloud and Peak 16,561’ that I realized that I had only been seeing the false summit far below Redcloud’s true summit.  With the disappointment I continued on one step at a time.  The trail up to   These social trails were badly eroding in many places so I stayed on the main trail, to honor the hard work of those who put in the work to make these great trails.
the creek I could see Redcloud’s summit come into view.
the false summits was crisscrossed with many social trails, taking the direct line upwards in place of the switchbacks.

The final push to the summit climbed up a section of serpentine trail and I soon found myself alone on my first summit of the day at 9.a.m.  Aptly named, the summit was covered in a red colored rock. With one more new summit still lying ahead on me today, I only spent a few minutes taking pictures before starting the ridge traverse over to Sunshine Peak. My original plan for the day was to take the standard route up then come down either the NW Ridge or down from Sundog Peak.  However, as I traversed southward to Sunshine I just did not see an easy line that would take me down either of these two routes.

The traverse to Sunshine
The traverse felt easy, after getting my second wind on Redcloud’s summit.  Even the final push up to the summit felt easier that it looked from below.  I was passed by a group of three coming back from Sunshine, who had spent the night at the head of the lower basin, and claimed the first summits of the day.  I made Sunshine’s summit just about an hour after leaving Redcloud’s.  The summit was my own for 20 minutes before I was joined by another solo climber.  Talking with him he had decided to try to reach the basin below and to the west of the summit.  While I really liked the idea of making this into a loop hike, rather than having to reascend Redcloud’s summit, I did not see a good way to get down to the basin, especially by myself. After a good snack I headed back across the traverse to Redcloud.

The challenge with heading back to Redcloud is that you have to regain 500 feet of elevation. The trip back went much slower, and I found myself stopping quite often.  The worst part was when I topped out on what I thought was going to be the summit, only to find that I still had a ways to go, and still more elevation to gain. Finally reaching Redcloud’s summit again, I was surprised to see over 15 people sprawled out recovering from their 1st summit of the day.  Not wanting to be caught in the mass of people, I quickly made my way off of Redcloud.

Basin to the West of Sunshine Peak
The descent back to the trailhead went smoothly.  I did get to see all the spectacular views that were hidden in the darkness of my ascent.  Just under 2 miles from the trailhead I ran into a family that I had seen heading up Sunshine as I was heading down.  They had decided to try the basin descent on the way back.  They said there was a lot of butt sliding to make it down to the basin, but from there it was easy.  Even after talking to them I felt like I had made the right decision for me. If I would have been hiking with someone else I would have gone for it, but solo, it was an easy choice.

Once back to the trailhead I was packed up and on the road within 30 minutes.  Despites my doubts, it had been a good and successful trip, but I was anxious to get home to Karen and Cade.  Now with my summer break almost over, and not many close 14ers left unclimbed, my 2013 14er season may be at a close. After my earlier rained out attempt on Pikes Peak, I really like to try to get back there to close out all the Front Range Summits, except Long’s which I am saving for last.  However, with training for a trail half marathon at the end of September, I am not sure if my schedule will allow me to get away for one more. But isn’t a 14er good training for a trail race??

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