Friday, July 12, 2013

Redcloud Peak, 14,034'; Sunshine Peak, 14,001'; Sundog, 13,432'

Essence: On an excellent trail climb a pair of fourteeners connected by a high, smooth ridge. Completing the curvilinear divide is Peak 13,432', unofficially named Sundog. The most delightful of the three mountains, Sundog is often neglected due to an accident of altitude. Falling shy of 14,000 feet this ignored treasure has fallen prey to the fourteener shadow effect. Experienced hikers can turn the standard out-and-back into a circuit by adding Sundog, ranked No. 300 among Colorado's peaks.
Travel From Durango Via Cinnamon Pass: In a 4WD, high-clearance vehicle drive 47 miles to Silverton. Turn northeast and proceed up Greene Street, the main drag. Zero-out your trip meter as you make a soft right onto San Juan CR 2. The dirt road is good at first but degenerates to a slow, rocky surface. In 11.5 miles, 0.5 mile before reaching the abandoned mining town of Animas Forks, go right toward Cinnamon Pass on the Alpine Loop. At 11.8 miles, stay right. Drive over bedrock outcrops with uneven ledges. At 12.1 miles the roads to Engineer Pass and Cinnamon Pass diverge. Make a sharp switchback to the right. The track is steep, narrow, and rocky. Reach the pass, elevation 12,640 feet, at 14.3 miles. Negotiate four tight and ledgy switchbacks. At 16.1 miles continue straight at the spur road to American Basin. Reach the Silver Creek Trailhead at 20.4 miles. Join the crowds tailgate camping in the parking lot or find private and lovely camps just up the road toward the pass. There is an outhouse at the trailhead but no water. Allow 2:15 to 2:45 from Durango.
Travel Via Lake City: Drive about two miles south on Colorado 149 and turn right on County Road 30, the Alpine Loop, toward Lake San Cristobal and Cinnamon Pass. Zero-out your trip meter. After 12.5 miles the track becomes rough and between 13 and 14.5 miles it is a shelf road that hugs the south flank of Sunshine Peak. The Silver Creek Trailhead is just shy of 16 miles with a large parking lot on the right. When it is dry 2WD vehicles with good clearance should be adequate. Allow an hour from Lake City.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 10.8 miles, 4,860 feet of vertical for the three-summit circuit. Redcloud and Sunshine without Sundog is 12.2 miles with 4,800 feet of climbing.
Time: 7:00 to 8:00
Difficulty: Redcloud and Sunshine are on an excellent trail with easy navigation. The Sundog circuit is off-trail; Class 2+; navigation moderate; mild exposure.
Map: Redcloud Peak, Colorado 7.5 USGS Quad
Latest Date Hiked: July 12, 2013
Quote: Everything is number. Pythagoras, ca. 569 B.C.E

From the summit of Redcloud Peak the trail can be seen following the ridge to Sunshine Peak. Sundog is the mountain with the flat backbone. (THW, photo)

Route: Detailed route descriptions of Colorado's 54 peaks above 14,000 feet may be found in the definitive, Colorado's Fourteeners: From Hikes to Climbs, by Gerry Roach. He depicts every possible route up the three peaks. Alternatively, consult The route described here is a clockwise loop that incorporates the two fourteeners on the way to Sundog. The trail goes over Redcloud and terminates on Sunshine. Sundog is off-trail to the west.

From the Silver Creek Trailhead, elevation 10,400 feet, gently ascend northeast through a mature aspen and conifer forest on a soft trodden trail busy with people. In 1.7 miles at 11,320 feet the South Fork of Silver Creek comes in on the right. This is where our three-peak tour meets back up with the main track at the end of the circuit. Emerge from the woods into a sea of senecio. Silver Creek remains on hiker's right while the track bends around the billowing skirts of Redcloud.

The path turns east and crosses a rivulet moistening brookcress and bluebells. Looking back, Handies Peak, 14,048', monopolizes the earthline.

The trail hooks southeast through tundra to Pass 13,020', shown. It will take about two hours to cover the first 3.5 miles while gaining 2,620 feet. Redcloud is less than an hour away with roughly a thousand feet of climbing remaining in the next mile.

The trail switches steeply up the north slopes of Redcloud. People on the summit of Handies are visible with the naked eye.

The grade decreases when the trail turns south to take a direct ridgecrest shot at the carmine cloud house.
(THW, photo)

From the weathered cone a panoramic wedge encompasses Coxcomb Peak; Wetterhorn Peak, 14,015'; Matterhorn Peak; and Uncompahgre Peak, 14,309'.

Sunshine Peak resides 1.5 miles south. The trail mimics the tight turns of a skilled slalom skier while losing 500 feet to the saddle. Topping out at 14,001 feet, Sunshine just makes the cut; it is the lowest of Colorado's fourteeners. This image, taken from Sunshine, looks back at Redcloud and the trail between the pair. (THW, photo)

Climbing two fourteeners in one day is a celebratory accomplishment. The overwhelmingly popular choice is to turn around at Sunshine, returning as you came, climbing Redcloud once again as this hiker is doing. 

To reach Sundog from Sunshine, retrace your steps 250 vertical feet to a cairn marking the junction with an old rocky trail that switches down the west slopes of Sunshine into the upper reaches of the South Fork Basin. Do not return to the Sunshine-Redcloud saddle; the trail west from there is closed.

Pitch down to 13,300 feet, leave the trail and continue westward to the broad ridge between Sunshine and Sundog. (If the weather totally degenerates, simply continue to follow the South Fork track all the way back to the confluence with Silver Creek and rejoin the standard trail. This bailout course is ten miles total with 4,400 feet of climbing.)

Walk down the divide to Saddle 13,100'. It takes about 25 minutes to reach the crest from here. This hiker is on the ridge looking down into the South Fork drainage. (THW, photo)

The initial climb up Sundog's backbone is steep with three sections of scrambling. Go straight up the secure grey rock, avoiding the blood-red stone. (THW, photo)

Soon the ridge levels out but gets a bit narrow. This image looks back at Sunshine. (THW, photo)

Sundog has several false crests and while the summit block looks sinister, it presents little trouble. This image looks 1,600 feet down into the South Fork drainage. (THW, photo)

To complete the loop, follow an intermittent social trail down the north ridge, shown. Portions are loose and rocky.
(THW, photo)

Skirt a blocky wall on the left/west. (THW, photo looking back)

Enter the forest. At about 11,600 feet, leave the ridge turning right/east to descend roughly 100 feet to the creek. Things are a little tangled up and messy in the drainage but cross it and find the trail that leads to the confluence of the South Fork and Silver Creek. Cross Silver Creek and go up a short incline to connect with the main trail. Turn left for a fast walk back to the trailhead.