Date Climbed: June 11, 2018
Elevation: 14,034 (Redcloud) and 14,001 (Sunshine) feet
It was late in the day, I had just come off of a 6 hour road trip, and it was unseasonably dry. The infamous wildfires raged just beyond the mountain ranges, and the thick haze of their smoke was visible in the distance. The weather forecast called for a thick layer of smoke later in the day. Worse yet, access would be denied to all hikers the following morning. My original plan was to bag as many peaks as I could, but my plans were forced to change due to the unpredictable nature of the wildfires this year. It was a quick peak bagging mission, followed by another 3 hour drive at dusk to get some of the most remote peaks in the Sawatch Range (more on that in my later). For now, I was set on Redcloud and Sunshine Peak.
Compared with the other 14ers, Redcloud and sunshine may be the ugliest of the bunch. Redcloud has its name for a reason (pictured above) and Sunshine is no sunshine of mine. But the peaks were a part of the list, and at the very least, there were some great views of what some may consider the prettiest 14ers: Uncompahgre Peak and Wetterhorn.
As I worked my way up the trail, the difference in my new training programs had paid off. Having learned my lessons on Aconcagua, I began to take training seriously. My lack of proper strength training could have cost me a couple of toes had the weather been worse. For that reason, I would never let my fitness (or lack there of) be my weakness again. I made quick time on the ascent, and saw not a single soul. The peacefulness and easy going was a nice change of pace after the thrill of my recent climb on Skywalker.
As I approached the summit, I felt the familiar rush of excitement as I stood atop one of the highest points in Colorado. As there was no forecast for inclement weather, I took my time enjoying my lunch and taking pictures. By this point, it was well past noon, and I still had another 14er to summit and descend.
I donned my pack and began the mile long hike over to Sunshine. This too passed fairly quickly, and just as I began the final push to the summit, I ran into a young couple with their baby. We simply nodded and continued on our way. One day, I would be the dad who carried his child on his back up one of these peaks, sharing in the experiences that had taught me so much about endurance, hardship, faith, friendship, and love. Hopefully I'd have a few good stories to share along the way, too.
The summit of Sunshine was pretty much the same as Redcloud: hazy with a few beautiful peaks on the horizon. Maybe it was the wildfires, or the late start, or the drive, or even the peaks themselves, but the sense of accomplishment at this point was lacking. It was almost easy. After the superhuman effort of Aconcagua, the technical ability of Aconcagua, and the thoughts of returning to another expedition, the "easy" 14ers had lost some of their excitement.
Deciding to save some time (a mistake I knew I shouldn't make), I took a more direct descent down the infamously loose north slopes. There's a reason Gerry Roach warns to only take this route on snow. The descent was much steeper, icier, and looser than I imagined, and soon what should have taken half an hour turned into an hour and a half. The initial descent went by quickly, but once in the basin, the ancient rock glacier put up a good fight. There was no trail, and every step was like walking on marbles.
Eventually the rock gave way to grassy slopes and a trail appeared, and my pace quickened again. By this point, the shadows were growing longer and I still had to descend, drive down a rough road in a small car, and drive 3 hours to my next excursion. Clearly I would not be backpacking in that night. An hour later I came across the remains of an abandoned cabin.
It was almost an exact repeat of Missouri Gulch as Salix and I had attempted to descend out of the storm only to find ourselves lost next to an old, forgotten cabin. Only this time I was not running away from a storm, I did not have my dog, and I had a lot more experience under my belt. It was obvious this route was seldom used, but it was fairly straightforward: just follow the river downhill. I quickly was able to join back up with the standard trail and made it back to the car just as the valley fell under the shade of the surrounding mountains. A 3 hour car ride followed by a restless night of car camping would bring me to some of the most remote 14ers in Colorado: Columbia and Harvard. These would be a whole different beast to take on.