July 20, 1986: Redcloud Peak (14034') and Sunshine Peak (14001')

One of many trip reports by Alan Silverstein.
Last update: May 6, 2008

The Silver Creek trailhead was between Ouray (west) and Lake City (east), closer to the latter. There were many people camped at the trailhead, in flowery, grassy meadows, including a large Outward Bound group.

Saturday night a distraught-looking fellow drove up to the trailhead with a sheriff's truck behind him. The guy had dropped a friend at Silver Creek, and was to pick him up about six hours later at Mill Creek, which is about 1000' lower and five miles down the valley. The friend was overdue after a solo climb of the two peaks.

It didn't take long to find the person who'd last seen him. The lost hiker had continued up Redcloud at about 12:30, the last person up for the day, after passing a group that had barreled off the summit when lightning hit nearby. Everyone made the dismal assumption that he'd been hit by lightning.

At 10 pm, a Hinsdale County Search and Rescue party of three went up the trail with whistles and a dog. At 2:30 am, they returned with nothing to report.

At 6:00 am, Dave Landers and I started up the Silver Creek trail. Like many trails in the area, the first 1/2 mile or so was a closed 4WD road. It took us a long way northeast, quite comfortably, except of course it was cold, overcast, and gloomy due to the continuing monsoon weather. At 7 am at the South Fork junction, we split up. Dave preferred to go an extra 1.5 miles around to the north on the trail, while the west gulch up to Redcloud looked appealing to me (very "direct").

I climbed through trees, then up hard snow, in old steps, with an axe. When the snow ran out, I had to struggle up some of the most rotten sedimentary scree and dirt I've ever seen. The whole mountain (that side, anyway) appeared to be decaying red rock, with no real ribs or boulders, and precious little tundra either.

I caught up with a party of three that went up the left side of the gulch (north, away from the peak). I continued on a more direct route south to a flat ridge, then suffered up the last 700' east. To my surprise, Dave beat me to the top by ten minutes, along with a Search and Rescue party. I arrived at 9:20 (3:20 for 3630'), pushing very hard. There's nothing like uncertainty (about where the rest of your party is) to give you incentive! On this peak, I recommend the trail.

The top of Redcloud was remarkably orange-red in color. It was quite unique in color, if not in form. The shape was typical, a rounded mound which was the high point of a long ridge. It was more symmetrical and pointy than some.

The S&R guys, then Dave, departed the summit ahead of me, bound for Sunshine Peak on a 1.5 mile traverse south. I stayed a while watching low, billowy clouds blowing in and around the nearby peaks, then followed at 9:45. We all really expected to find the lost hiker dead of a lightning hit somewhere on the ridge, and were surprised that we didn't. He signed in on the Redcloud summit register, and we discovered later that he'd also made the top of Sunshine. That was eerie, seeing his name penciled in.

The traverse was long but easy, on a good trail most of the way. We dropped as low as 13480' and then had to gain the 520' back in a steep haul up Sunshine. The clouds were partial enough that we'd gotten good looks at and knew the route. I pushed pretty hard because of the uncertain weather, making the traverse in only 40 minutes (arriving at 10:25), half of it up from the saddle.

Sunshine is the lowest of the Colorado Fourteeners. I couldn't figure out which one foot of rock put it into the elite club. The top was rounded and had a 3' high, rock-wall wind shelter on it. At the time, it also had on top of it a party of about five S&R guys with walkie talkies. They were in touch with their HQ at Mill Creek, but hadn't found the missing person anywhere above timberline, in between clouds drifting past...

Dave didn't stay long, but I recuperated and observed for 45 minutes, and gave half my lunch to a very hungry would-be rescuer. The group was waiting for a CAP (Civil Air Patrol) plane from Montrose that was also overdue. It didn't show up until about 2 pm; I found out later that it had taken off and aborted three times due to weather. And it didn't do any good when it arrived.

One "boom" from an approaching cloud motivated me to depart at 11:10. I followed Dave down into the South Fork gulch, a huge basin with snow and scree walls -- quick but treacherous, and very orange. I met him (caught up, in fact) at the Silver Creek trail junction at 12:15. After a long lunch waiting for rain to stop, we hiked out in 35 minutes, until 1:45. There was still no word of the lost hiker.

The comment in my journal is: "A longer pair of Fourteeners, and tough climbing, but we did them well. Too bad the weather was so crummy. Sunshine was Colorado Fourteener #40 for me!"

At 3:30 we left the trailhead. I went down to Mill Creek to see what was up and if I could do any good -- nope. They called Fort Carson for a chopper, which we heard the next day from Handies Peak. Apparently it found the hiker dead of heart failure (not lightning or a fall) below timberline, off the trail.

By 6 pm I was camped with Dave at some meadows a mile down from American Basin, 2.5 miles past Silver Creek. We debated a sunset climb of Handies Peak -- but wisely called it a (long) day.