For the third year in a row, Chris and I went to Colorado around the 4th of July holiday to hike some 14ers, with plans to hike Sunshine Peak and Redcloud Peak in one day. This time Chris’ girlfriend Dollie joined us, but she was no longer his girlfriend after this trip. We left my house on Thursday, July 5th, and made a quick stop in Cisco so Chris could replace his geocache that had gone missing. It was around 100 degrees during much of the drive on I-70, but cooled off as we headed toward Lake City. Beyond Lake City we arrived at Cottonwood Creek and found a place to camp. It rained part of the evening but let up in time for us to set up our tents before going to bed.
My alarm went off at 4AM. I wasn’t hungry but forced myself to eat a little breakfast with some coffee. We packed up our gear and drove to the Silver Creek/Grizzly Gulch trailhead, arriving at 5:30. There were already a few vehicles at the trailhead, and as we began hiking we got passed up by a few faster groups. Normally when I first begin a hike I feel tired quickly, but then after a short while I get into a groove and can push on. This time, however, it seemed like that groove wasn’t going to happen. After the first mile and a half I was beginning to wonder if I’d be able to complete the hike. Most people hike Redcloud and Sunshine as an out-and-back, but we wanted to hike a loop which would save us a little distance and elevation gain but was partially off-trail and had some more difficult climbing. We left the main trail and entered the South Fork of Silver Creek. At first there was some bushwhacking until we gained a trail that would lead us most of the way up the basin.
I finally started to feel less exhausted as we ascended the South Fork. The trail passed through a forested area where an old miner’s cabin sat, nearly ready to collapse. We followed the trail above the treeline where it abruptly ended at the base of a rock glacier. While we were sitting on some small boulders to rest and eat a snack, the sun finally appeared above the horizon and shone upon us. Continuing on, we reached the base of several small couloirs which had looked enormous from a distance, but were only about 300 feet tall. We climbed the one which Chris had read about online as being the easiest. It wasn’t too difficult for me to climb, but I had to rest frequently and use my hands a little near the top to help keep my footing.
From the top of the couloirs we still had nearly 900 feet left to ascend to Sunshine Peak, most of which was done on faint trails through the talus. We reached the summit a little before noon, about six hours after we’d left the trailhead. Yikes, this was turning out to be a long day. Sunshine Peak is barely a 14er at 14,001 feet above sea level. I really enjoyed the views from there–I was able to see some 14ers that I’d already climbed, and others that I intend to. I was quite relieved to have reached this point because all the hard work was over. We’d gained most of our elevation and only had to dip about 500′ into the saddle from Sunshine and back up to Redcloud before it was all downhill. Doing this hike as a loop made it so we didn’t have to traverse the saddle twice and hence lose/gain all that elevation twice. There had been a group of people on Sunshine when we arrived, but as soon as they left Chris popped the question and Dollie said yes! They left Sunshine Peak engaged to be married.
It took well over an hour to hike the 1.5 miles between Sunshine and Redcloud. We reached a snow drift just below the summit of Redcloud and had a snowball fight. After another rest at this summit, which sits 33 feet higher than Sunshine at 14,034′, we began the descent along Redcloud’s north ridge and then into the Silver Creek drainage. The hike down Silver Creek was wide open, sunny, and hot. It seemed to drag on a little and the scenery wasn’t as nice as the South Fork. We finally arrived at the trailhead a full 11 hours after we’d begun. The hike was 10.4 miles with about 4,100′ elevation gain (counting the 500 lost and gained in the saddle). It had been a long day, but well worth bagging two 14ers.
We drove farther up the road along Lake Fork of the Gunnison River and found a place to camp. It began hailing shortly after we arrived, dumping a lot of marble-sized hail. The storm really cooled things off and by bedtime much of the hail remained on the ground, so I chose to sleep in the driver’s seat of the Jeep rather than set up a tent, but Chris and Dollie slept in their tent. The next morning we drove up to Cinnamon Pass and down to Animas Forks. Near the pass we spotted a mine adit a short distance off the road and, upon getting a closer look with the long lens on Chris’ camera, we noticed there was a deer sitting inside! We walked closer for a better look, but not close enough to spook the deer away. We spent some time in and around Animas Forks, where Chris and I had already been last year but this was Dollie’s first time seeing the ghost town. We ate lunch nearby and then drove toward Silverton.
While driving, a sign for a self-guided mill tour caught our eye. The Mayflower Mill processed gold, silver, and other metal ores from 1930 until 1991, and is now open to the public. For $6 per person, we jumped at the chance to explore the mill at our own pace. I won’t post a lot of photos since it’s a paid attraction, but I would definitely recommend taking the tour.
Next we drove up to the Mayflower Mine, which used to feed the Mayflower Mill via a two mile long aerial tramway. I was slightly worried driving the upper section of the road to the mine. It was pretty rough and rocky, and it was just beginning to rain. We made it to the top and I was able to take a few photos before the rain got heavier and then turned to hail. With poor weather set in, we headed into Silverton for fuel and supplies and killed some time by exploring the town. After the rain let up we found a place to camp along the Animas River near Arrastra Creek. Despite how wet everything was, I decided to sleep on my cot instead of setting up a tent.
I slept well that night and awoke Sunday to a foggy and beautiful morning. We all took our time with breakfast and drying out gear before packing up and hitting the road. We’d be heading home this day, but opted to take the scenic route over Black Bear Pass into Telluride along the way. Chris and I had attemped the same drive last year but arrived at the pass to find that the San Miguel County side of the pass hadn’t been plowed. At that time there were snow drifts as tall as my Jeep that had been plowed on the San Juan County side. This year there was practically no snow anywhere along the route. The wildflowers were severely lacking as well. The San Juan side of the pass was easy, but the descent into Telluride on the other side had a couple of sketchy spots. Luckily it was all downhill so my Jeep made it without any issues, but it was a little nerve-wracking for me. One guy in a big, built-up Jeep expressed disdain that I was attempting the drive, while later a hiker seemed impressed that I’d made it past the worst parts. After reaching the lower and better part of the road, we checked out the top and bottom of Bridal Veil Falls and took a short walk over to the Meldrum Tunnel. We also watched people on the via ferrata route, which is now on our to-do list for a future trip. We passed through Telluride and stopped at the gas station just outside town (not for fuel–ouch!), and then began the long drive home. Temperatures peaked at 104 degrees during the drive and I was already sorely missing the mountains by then.
Photo Gallery: Sunshine and Redcloud Peaks
GPS Track and Waypoints:
[Google Earth KMZ] [GPX]