If you’re thinking about making Redcloud and
Sunshine a loop and it isn’t winter, don’t.
Don’t do the loop unless you LOVE, LOVE, LOVE
gullies (I don’t love gullies)
If you do decide to do the loop, wear a helmet
and crampons (for the rocks & scree, not snow)
Don’t do the loop
Since I’m not a fan of sleeping at trailheads I woke up at
midnight and drove five and a half hours to the Grizzly Gulch/Silver Creek
trailhead. I missed a turn (I blame the
lack of signs) and ended up not making it to the trailhead until 6:30am, which
meant I didn’t start until 6:45am. This
is the latest start I’ve ever had on a 14er.
Yes, I was pretty mad at myself.
In any event, here’s what the rough 2WD road to the trailhead looks
There were a few bumpy spots, and a lot of puddles. Unless your car is lowered, it can probably
OK, so I started at 6:45am, which meant the sun was already
out. Here’s the trailhead
As I was leaving my car I saw a man rushing down the
hill. Apparently his friend was visiting
from out of state, and he’d forgotten the beer at his car. Luckily they weren’t too far into the trail
when he realized his mistake, and he was rushing back to get it. I wished him luck, and silently thought to
myself it would probably be a better idea to enjoy the beer after successfully
making it back to the vehicle. I any
event, I appreciated his enthusiasm.
The trail up was very well maintained
And the aspens are just starting to change color.
The first part of this hike follows the Silver Creek. It was absolutely beautiful in contrast to
the red rocks.
For reference to those of you who do choose to do the loop,
here’s where you either turn right to go up Sunshine first, or where you come
out after making the loop. It wasn’t
obvious, as it just looks like a trail to the creek. Note the placement of the mountains in the
The trail did include a lot of scree
Once I reached the basin the trail evened out for a bit,
then climbed up to the right.
Here you can see Redcloud
It’s important when you get to the saddle to turn
right. A lot of people were turning left
to head to a beautiful 13er, but it isn’t on the trail to Redcloud.
Here’s a look at the trail up Redcloud. As you can see, it has a false summit (right)
and true summit (left).
And once again, a view of the false and true summit
From the saddle the final push wasn’t too bad
I took a shadowselfie because I do that type of thing
And a picture of me at the summit.
I had the summit all to myself. The pair of guys hiking behind me was about a
mile behind me at this point.
I turned and looked south to Sunshine Peak. It was a good mile and a half to this summit.
It looked like another double summit was
Take note here for those of you who wish to make this a loop
instead of crossing back over Redcloud to head back to the trailhead: The topo map shows this as a blue line above
but when I passed the place this intersects I saw this sign
indicating it’s NOT a trail and not to use it as such (14ers.com states the
The hike up Sunshine was long but steady. Here’s my summit photo.
Here I got out my maps and tried to decide which route to
follow. I knew not to go down the saddle
from Sunshine, and I really didn’t want to go back over Redcloud (that 1.5
miles and another summit climb didn’t sound like fun).
When I have the option I try to make my hikes a loop, and
that seemed like an option when looking at my map (I took the loop below the 3). It included a gully, which I’m not fond of,
but it looked like a doable trail. I
brought up my GPX file and looked at the pictures. Yes, it looked doable as a difficult class 2. So I headed down the Northwest Face of
Sunshine. It hugged a ridge, and was
FULL of exposure, rock, and scree
When I made it down the ridge this is what I saw. It looked like a pretty easy way to hike down
Until I hit the top of the gully. This is what it looked like from the top
I noticed several cairns indicating several different ways
to go down the gullies, but I wanted to stick with my GPS route. So I did some investigating, looking over and
around as much as possible. In the end I
decided to go with the GPS suggestion.
I put my camera and hiking pole in my bag and took a deep
breath. This was going to be an
adventure! I slid more than I hiked, but
I was careful and made it down my gully of choice without stopping/getting
stuck. I carefully close each
step/foothold, and hand placement, and thought to myself how one wrong move
would result in my sliding down a rocky slope for several hundred feet. It was very slippery and a bit scary but it
was obvious this was how I was intended to complete the trail. Here’s what it looked like from the bottom.
This is the route I took.
I can’t imagine hiking up this!!!
I was deposited in a basin and could see the trail I needed
to connect with further ahead, so I just started walking towards that
trail. There were cairns, which was
helpful, but not needed on the way back because I could see where the trail
led. Here’s a picture looking back at
And a picture of the hike ahead.
I came to the stream where two men dressed in camo, along
with their black lab, greeted me: “You
must have some big ovaries to have hiked that!”
I was a bit confused until they told me they’d seen me climb
down the gully. They had binoculars,
heard a few rocks drop, and thought they’d be seeing a rockslide. Instead they saw me descend the gully and
were quite impressed. Their exact words
were that I “seemed in control the whole time”. They also said two guys came down behind me,
or at least they think they did. They
saw two guys looking at the cairns and trying to descent to the right. I mentally thought about those two guys
behind me and the beer. Ugh. I hope they made it!
I smiled, wished them luck, and tried to quicken my
pace. I still wanted to get in one more
peak today if the weather allowed.
Almost immediately it started hailing from out of
nowhere. It was cloudy but didn’t look like
hail. The hail/rain came down quickly,
and was over in 5 minutes.
At this point I connected with the Silver Creek trail and
headed back down to the trailhead.
I’d started at 6:45am, and it was now 12:30pm. The hike had taken me almost 6 hours, 12.25miles,
4669’ elevation gain.
Now I had a choice to make.
Should I hike Handies Peak or spend the night in my truck and try to
hike it in the morning? I was
exhausted. I mean really, really
tired. My lungs hurt and so did my
calves. I hadn’t eaten all day (besides
some beef jerky and dried bananas along the trail) and I was running on 3 hours
of sleep. And it looked like a small
storm was going to roll through. The
only thing keeping me from stopping and getting some rest was the thought of
sleeping at the trailhead. I know from
past experience this never ends well.
Although I try I’m never able to sleep, and I’m always really, really
cold. I have Raynauds, so I’m overly susceptible
to the cold, no matter how much I bundle up.
It makes for miserable trailhead camping experiences. I did not want to get up at 5am freezing cold
and try to start out on a hike. It takes
me forever to defrost!
I decided I’d attempt Handies. I knew I could always turn back, since I didn’t
really need to summit today. If the
weather got too bad or I felt I couldn’t go on I’d just head back to the truck,
sleep, and try again tomorrow.
So I grabbed my new maps and headed up the Grizzly Gulch
trail, crossing a bridge
The aspen trees here were also beginning to turn
I was hiking slow. I
mean, really, really slow. I usually
hike around 2mph when hiking 14ers, rarely stopping to do much but take
pictures. However, on this hike I found
myself stopping every 50 feet or so to catch my breath. This wasn’t normal, especially for such an “easy”
hike. I was embarrassed for myself, but
explained it away: I’d hiked Mt. Lindsey
yesterday, and Redcloud and Sunshine Peaks this morning. That’s a lot of mileage and elevation gain/loss
in under 24 hours. I was allowed to be a
bit tired, right? I was still upset with
myself. Breathing only got more difficult.
I continued on, rounded a corner, and I saw her: A beautiful mama moose! I knew she was a mama because I could hear
her calf braying in the bushes somewhere like a donkey jumping in circles. It was an adorable sound! However, Moose are dangerous and known to
charge, especially mamas protecting their babies. She was really close on the trail so I gave
her a wide berth and didn’t make eye contact.
I took this one picture from behind a tree and hurried on. She kept her eyes on me the entire time I was
in view. It was a bit daunting, but
really, really cool. I usually expect to
see Moose in meadows, so seeing on in the trees, and so close, caught me off
guard. In fact at first I’d thought she
was a horse. In any event, cool
experience! I was already glad I’d made
the decision to hike Handies today.
Then I heard the thunder.
Great. I looked up, but the
clouds didn’t look threatening. I exited
the trees and came into the basin and caught my first glimpse of Handies.
I saw a quick flash of lightening and began
counting/mentally calculating my options.
I looked up at the clouds again.
Hmmm. Now I had a choice to
make. The clouds really didn’t look
threatening, but I’d heard thunder and seen a bit of lightening. Thunder was rumbling in the clouds but there
was no more lightening after that one bit (it didn’t hit the ground, but stayed
in the clouds). The wind was moving to
the Southwest of me (I could see the clouds moving) and behind the peak I could
see sunlight. I was hiking very, very
slowly. I decided it would probably take
me longer to summit than it would take those clouds to pass, so slowly I
continued on. At this point I knew I was
the only one on the trail (I couldn’t see anyone ahead of me and no one else
was signed in the trial register. I’d
also passed someone who told me they were the last one up today).
I continued on at a slow but steady pace. By now I was stopping every 25 feet to catch
my breath. I wanted to cry. This was an easy peak, and yet I hadn’t been
this tired/sore/exhausted since climbing my first 14er (Pikes Peak 26 mile
route). It kept sprinkling off and on,
so I kept putting my jacket off and on.
It was a nice excuse to stop and still be “productive”. I kept my eye on the sky.
I was about ¾ of the way through the basin when I looked up
and saw sheets of ice raining down from the direction of Handies. It looked like it was going to hail again,
and here I was, 2 miles above treeline, with no place to go. I’d known this was a possibility when I’d
started this hike, so I pulled up my hood, turned against the wind, and braced
myself. I knew these storms usually only
last a few minutes or so, and this one was over in about 5 minutes. It left me with a wonderful view! Check out that layer of hail/snow (graupel?)
This was cool! It was
beautiful, and just as I’d predicted, there was sunlight after the brief storm. I stopped to take off my jacket and heard
what sounded like a loud clap, then tumbling.
The brief storm had caused a rockslide!
I couldn’t see where it was coming from, but I could hear a steady
stream of rocks tumbling down. I tried
to get it on video, but due to the wind didn’t come out very well. For the rest of the hike I heard rocks
tumbling. Geological time is now people!
The last mile and a half seemed quite steep. The elevation gain seemed more here than I was used to, but it was a short hike to the summit, so I guess I needed to make up elevation somewhere.
Did I mention I was hiking slow? I mean really, really slow? After the storm my paced slowed to hiking 10 steps, stopping to breathe for 5 seconds, and continuing. I was hurting all over, couldn’t breathe, and even this pace seemed to be killing me. I was mad at my body, but kept going. I knew the storm threat had passed, and I could see the summit. I was going to make it: Just give me a second to breathe.
At this point I looked down at my feet saw a rock shaped like a skull. It was about the same size too. This took me back for a second, but I decided to do the obvious thing and take it as a good omen and continued on. No pictures of the rock (it seemed morbid and too much like negative foreshadowing). The peak was once again in the clouds. Weather changes quickly on 14rs!
The last quarter mile was steep scree, with loose rocks wet from the recent storm. Read: slippery. I had to hike even slower, but I enjoyed it when I got to the rocky part because it meant using different muscles in my legs. Climbing was easier than hiking. This was actually a lot easier than it looked (besides being slippery).
Woohoo! Another false summit! That’s three for three for today!
I turned around and looked back on the basin I’d hiked, with Redcloud and Sunshine in the background. Pretty awesome!
I made it the final push to the summit winded, out of breath, and with a frozen face and fingers. I couldn’t smile because my lips were frozen, but I’d made it!
I was super proud of myself, but ready to hike back down. My body seemed to enjoy hiking down as compared to up (I didn’t need to stop/rest/catch my breath). The clouds continued to swirl around the mountain
After I’d hiked about a mile down the sun came out and birds/pikas/marmots started chirping. The rest of the hike was uneventful (I looked but didn’t see the moose again). I was very, very proud of myself for making the decision to hike when I did. It was probably the most exhausting hike I’ve ever done. I started at 12:45pm and didn’t make it back to my truck until 5:30pm. That’s 5 hours for an 8 mile hike. Ouch!
When I made it back to my truck I was hungry and tired, so I made some Mountain House Lasagna, thinking I’d eat the entire serving and still be hungry. But I wasn’t. I wasn’t even able to finish half the meal. I sealed it up, put it away, changed my clothes, and hopped into my sleeping bag, exhausted. I pulled out Roach’s book, and looked up my Sunshine descent today. His notes: “Avoid this route of Sunshine’s West Gullies are snow free”. SMH.