Four San Juan Range Fourteeners

One of many trip reports by Alan Silverstein.
Last update: February 14, 2009

From:  Alan Silverstein <>
Date:  18 Aug 1998 20:33:04 -0600
Subject:  mini trip report

Hi gang. I'm still (at HP this evening) heading home from a wonderful week in the mountains of southwest Colorado with Kathy Glatz and her two midsize dogs, Buddy and Princess. I could write a very long trip report about our outing, but I probably won't take the time. I do want to share the highlights though, so here goes a relatively brief (for me :-) telling of the tale.

I did my first Fourteener climbing in two years... Four summits on three hikes, three of the peaks being just the second time I'd climbed them. (I've now visited 35 of the 54 Fourteeners twice.) Kathy had been up three previous Fourteeners, but none since a serious auto accident a couple of years ago. It was an unacclimated challenge for both of us.

We left Denver Tuesday morning 8/11, and got back to Denver last night, Monday, 8/17. The odd timing corresponded with Kathy's daughter traveling to visit relatives. This did help us dodge highway traffic a little too.

Tuesday, we took US 285 southwest out of Denver at a leisurely pace. You know the little hot-dog-shaped stand in Conifer, for instance? First time I ate there... Not bad. :-) [2009: It's seen been moved further "uphill" to just beyond Bailey.]

We checked out some rock hunting sites listed in Voynick's book. Not much found of Hartsel barite or Browns Canyon fluorospar. Nice dinner in Saguache (northern San Luis Valley), and then we camped for the night in the Rio Grande National Forest boonies about 20 miles west of town at another rock site (the "Houselog Creek" geode location). We had to wait for the rain to stop at sunset to put up the tent... We had rain and mild thunderstorms every day for six days, starting between about 11 am and 5 pm, but we made do.

Wednesday morning, I gleefully hunted a bucket full of cool agatized geodes and fragments from a decayed rhyolite (lava) hillside near camp while Kath slept in and later boiled eggs. Then we motored through some of the most remote terrain in Colorado southwest to the Stewart Creek trailhead for San Luis Peak (14,014'). We backpacked about 4 miles west and 1700' up to timberline from 1:20 to 5 pm. Not many flat spots, but we made do with that too. It was a rolly-polly night.

Thursday morning, we hiked 8:30 - 11:15 up to the top of San Luis, another 1800' gain, worrying about the weather since we didn't get an early start and it clouded up. Kath was slow but had pretty good endurance. We made the top without any altitude problems, just some light-headedness... Excellent scenery of course, and it was great to be back on top of a high peak.

We had to bug out 20 minutes later as a storm coming from the north ate Stewart Peak. It corn snowed hard on us walking down the ridge, but fortunately there was no lightning... Total hiking time back to camp was just 77 minutes. We rested, packed up, and backpacked out by 5:15 in intermittent rain.

I was thrilled to be hiking a Fourteener again, but saddened by how long and hard it seemed. Kathy also found it challenging, but she was happy to be able to do it at all. The dogs essentially climbed the peak twice as they raced up and down and off and onto the trail.

We took more muddy, rustic back roads southwest to Lake City; 2+ hours with a gorgeous sunset view from Windy Point. We found a nice cabin in town, not too expensive, and got a good dinner at the Happy Camper just before closing time.

Friday we slept in and goofed around town, then meandered up the Cinnamon Pass road ~20 miles southwest from town. I hadn't been in the area for ten years, and it was nice to be back. It didn't seem to have changed much, not even the road's rockiness and potholes... Neither better nor worse than I recalled. Kath's Subaru Legacy wagon did OK as the road got more and more 4WD going up to American Basin and Handies Peak (14,048').

The weather looked relatively placid, and we weren't too tired and sore, so we started walking up Handies at 1:50 pm. Of course everyone else was coming down, so after 45 minutes we had the trail and the mountain to ourselves! That's a nice treat any more on Colorado's highest mountains. We summited at 5:15 pm; 3:25 for about 2900', pretty good! The mountain was gorgeous, but the trail felt long and steep, especially the gravelly sections near the top.

On top it was warm and calm, but we were surrounded by thunderstorms, God-beams, and infinite mountains... Pretty awesome. One storm was very slowly headed our way, but I thought we had plenty of time, but then another built up fast right over us. So once again we had to bug out in just 20 minutes to avoid the risk of lightning. We did most of the hike out in rain that stopped just when we reached the car. The nearest bolts were about a mile and a half distant.

We camped the next two nights near the Redcloud/Sunshine trailhead (Silver Creek), just off the road at about 10,400'. There was lots of traffic along the road in waves -- early morning hikers, later mid-day jeepers, some motorcycles and other OHVs, but it was quiet overnight.

Saturday, Kath called for a rest day. I don't think I'd ever "wasted" a day hanging around a camp in the mountains, whether car camping or backpacking, so that was novel. And it was cool! Except for the flies, zillions of them. Pretty stupid and easy to kill, but there were uncountable reinforcements, along with the occasional mosquito.

I hunted in some mine tailings nearby... Boring. Then I found a drusy quartz crystal outcrop, and "hard rock mined" for about 4 hours! Way fun and very relaxing. It was fun hanging around the trailhead watching the peak baggers come and go, and letting the dogs explore on their own. I counted 18 cars parked at one time.

Sunday morning, after the usual evening rain and another good sleep, we got up early and started northeast up the Silver Creek trail at 6:45 am. It was quite cold and wet though the sky was a cloudless blue. We followed the nice trail all the way around to 13,000' on Redcloud's northeast shoulder. Clouds built up again. After 4+ hours, Kath decided to call it quits about 800' below the summit. We separated at 11:10, and I pushed on at "warp 9" watching the clouds carefully. I made the top (14,034') at 11:45. Spectacular scenery again of course.

Just like last time 12 years ago, wanting to make it over to Sunshine Peak (14,001'), I didn't linger long on Redcloud, just 10 minutes. Then I raced down the high rocky ridge trail to the saddle in 25 minutes, eyed the weather some more, and nearly ran the 500'+ up to Sunshine in 20 minutes -- the same speed as 12 years ago -- I felt good about that. :-)

Of course while there was little lightning that day, there were plenty of dark clouds milling, so I didn't stay long. Ten minutes on top and I started down at 1 pm. I decided to go off-trail straight down the steep and loose northwest face for an adventure and to minimize lightning risk. Not dangerous really, but difficult footing, especially trying not to disturb the football-sized rocks any more than possible. It began to drizzle.

Below on a wide snowy bench, I headed for a steep gully I'd scoped out earlier. I got well down into it as it started to rain harder. I had a nice half hour lunch sitting on a rock most of the way down the gully, under a poncho, with a tremendous view (except for the poncho :-)

Further down the drainage I made a thrilling discovery... boulders of white quartz with banded agate and some drusy crystals. The area was littered with tons of cool raw material! All on BLM land, too. Of course I could only carry out a few chunks, being four miles from the trailhead.

I enjoyed the return to the "south fork" junction. I picked up the trail down from the Redcloud/Sunshine saddle and later the main trail down to the car. The upper trail was primitive, but the forest was indescribably beautiful after the rain.

I found Kathy et al at the trailhead at 4:45 pm. (Thanks for packing up camp!) We went back to Lake City for an excellent but time-consuming dinner. No rooms at the "inn", so we headed southeast over Slumgullion Pass after sunset, and camped in the dark in the forest wilds near North Clear Creek Falls.

Monday we admired the waterfall, a spectacular cascade, and hung around Creede for a long time eating and rock hunting. After that it was mostly a long drive home, about four hours plus a dinner break in Bailey. Unfortunately the hot springs near Villa Grove were closed on Mondays...