Redcloud Peak 14034′ and Sunshine Peak 14001′
Total Time: 6.5 hours
Roundtrip Mileage: 10.3 miles
Elevation Gain: 4500′
Crux: Class III (Class II if you go down the correct gully)
Trailhead: Southfork of Silver Creek/ Grizzly Basin
The last day of my four day stretch in Colorado would be another double header, albeit a tamer one- Redcloud and Sunshine. These were typically climbed together, with a short ridgeline connecting the two 14,000′ summits. The combined hike as an out an back would be about 12 miles, but if I were to loop down through South Fork of Silver Creek, it would be closer to 10 miles, making for a reasonable half day before the long drive back to Phoenix. Knowing that I had a long day ahead in terms of driving, I again started well before sunrise at the Grizzly Gulch trailhead, hiking by headlamp up the fairly consistent grade along Silver Creek. The sun rose shortly after I passed the turnoff for the south fork, difficult to see in the dark and marked by a small cairn. As I hiked higher into the basin, I could see a handful of others above me nearing the ridgeline.
With the sun finally rising, I could see there were already ominous looking clouds above, Colorado returning to it’s regular pattern of afternoon storms. The trail climbed up to the NE ridgeline, then from there headed steeply upslope with the occasional switchback.
While it was steep, there was trail to be followed the entire way, and not much that you could really characterize as class II. At the summit, there were two others already taking in the view, and we talked for a bit about the various 14ers in Colorado. All of us had resigned ourselves to the hike over to Sunshine, not really looking forward to the mile of talus in between, but it being way to close to not do it.
The four of us left the summit at different times, following the fairly well defined trail between the summits along the ridgeline. The use trail bypassed a few false summits before steeply switching the last 300′ to the top, and I rejoined the other hikers.
The clouds continued to build early, and the conversation seemed to focus on how no one was looking forward to hiking back along the ridge up and over Redcloud on the hike out. I pointed out the loop down the south fork of Silver Creek I was planning on taking, a well established route online, but they all balked at the idea of it, looking steep and loose. So as they individually headed back down the connecting ridgeline, I dropped off the summit to the west, following a surprisingly defined trail partway down the steep west ridge before switching down the north face into a high bowl. Once in this talus bowl above the lower cliff bands, the trail disappears, but the talus was compact and solid, making travel easy to the start of the various gullys through the cliffs.
I had remembered reading online that the recommended gully on the ascent was the far left, meaning I should head for the far right gully on the descent. Yet as I drew closer to the top of the chutes, I spotted a cairn at the gully far to my left (the far right gully on the ascent). As I drew nearer, I picked up a use trail that headed into the gully, and I started to think maybe I had just remembered the beta incorrectly. The chute looked crappy and loose, but like it would work…
I gingerly worked my way down the pack rocks over by far the worst terrain of the day. I found climbing to be a bit easier on the sides of the gully, using the solid rock to work past the loose gritty rock in the steeper spots. The chute spilled into the lower basin after climbing down a small 3-4′ dry fall, and I thought my troubles were over. Unfortunately this section of talus wasn’t much better, and although I could boot ski down some of the looser stuff, for the most part I was just trying not to fall or exacerbate my ankle injury.
At this point, it was clear that I probably should have chosen the gully far to my right, and as I neared the base of the chutes, they converged into the headwaters for the South Fork of Silver Creek and I regained a faint trail. The trail stayed near the bottom of the valley, crossing small lingering snow patches until reaching an alpine meadow where the trail became more defined.
I glanced at my watch, wanting to make it back to the car by 11:00. It was already after 10:30, and it seemed unlikely that I would hit that goal as the junction with the main trail still seemed far down canyon. I started to half jog downhill, passing an old dilapidated cabin and reaching the log bridge to regain the main trail, marked by a small, easy to miss cairn.
From there it was quick hiking back down the main trail to the trailhead, reaching it exactly at 11:00 AM. The clouds were building rather quickly and it seemed that rain was imminent, and with a 10 hour drive back to Phoenix ahead of me, I wasted no time loading up the car and driving down the rough dirt road for the long, long ride home.