Redcloud Peak & Sunshine Peak 14er Hike Review

General Hike Information: Redcloud Peak & Sunshine Peak

Video Hike Review: Redcloud Peak & Sunshine Peak

Redcloud Peak: ★★★ (3/5 Stars)

Sunshine Peak: ★★ (2/5 Stars)

Distance: Total:12.17 Miles RT

9.32 Miles RT to Redcloud Peak

2.92 Miles RT from Redcloud to Sunshine Peak

Elevation Start: 10,116 ft

Summit: Redcloud Peak: 14,035 ft, Sunshine Peak: 14,006 ft

Estimated Time to Complete: 7-8 Hours RT

Difficulty: Moderate What does this mean?

Season: Year Round – Expect snow November – June

Check the Weather Forecast

Getting Here: First navigate to Lake City, Colorado. From here, continue through the town and turn right onto Colorado Rd 30. Continue on this road for about 16 miles, staying right at any junctions in the road. The road gets narrow at times but for the most part is doable in any standard car. After 16 miles, you will reach the trailhead on your right. You can enter “Sliver Creek / Grizzly Gulch Trailhead” into your favorite navigational device.

Parking: There is a small parking lot at the trailhead for Redcloud Peak & Sunshine Peak. The lot can fit about 5-10 cars and could fill up on busy summer weekends. There are two non-plumbing bathrooms here and parking is free.

Dogs: This is a dog friendly hike with lots of exposure once you get above the treeline. The hike to Redcloud Peak is mostly packed dirt while the ridge over to Sunshine Peak has more talus and small rocks. If you are hiking Redcloud Peak and plan to attempt Sunshine as well, be sure that the weather is good because once you are on the summit ridge, there is no protection from any inclement weather.

Camping: There are a variety of dispersed camping spots along the road to the trailhead, but you do have a drive a few miles into it to reach them. There are some areas to camp near the trailhead as well. If all of those are full, you could drive past the trailhead to find even more camping. In summary, there are a lot of places to camp…

Make it a Loop: Redcloud Peak and Sunshine Peak is an out and back hike. However, if you wanted to, you could hike up Redcloud and down Sunshine’s Northwest ridge or vice-versa. If you do this, you will not start or end in the same location but it will be a “loop”.

Trail Summary: Redcloud Peak and Sunshine Peak are a pair of “14ers” located in the San Juan Mountains of southern Colorado. The trail to both peaks involves packed dirt, loose rock and scree fields. The hike is dog friendly, good for families and moderately experienced hikers. The ride from Redcloud Peak to Sunshine Peak is about 1.5 miles long and involves about 500 feet of elevation loss/gain.

Trail Route: Standard Route (Northeast Ridge Redcloud, East Ridge Sunshine Peak)

Trail X Factors: Exposure to Weather

When you hike anywhere in Colorado at high elevation, severe weather rolling in has to be a top priority when planning to embark. Redcloud Peak and Sunshine Peak are no different. Once you leave the treeline around 12,000 feet, the remainder of the hike will be completely exposed. If the weather forecast for the day is calling for snow, hail, thunderstorms etc, you will want to be very careful on this hike. Once you gain the north ridge of Redcloud, you have about 3.5 miles of high elevation hiking in order to hike to the summit of Redcloud, over to Sunshine Peak and back to Redcloud. Once you are this high on the mountain, there are no easy ways to lose elevation in a worst case scenario. If the weather is clear on your hike, you will be rewarded with tremendous views in all directions.

Gear Needed:

  • Waterproof Hiking Boots/Shoes
  • Rain Jacket
  • Mickey’s Mountain Kit
  • Water / Snack
  • Optional: Hiking Poles
  • Optional: Camera
  • Optional: Tripod
  • Optional: Filters

Mick’s Tip: Pair With Handies Peak

Chances are, if you drove all the way down to Lake City for Redcloud and Sunshine Peak, you are into hiking. If so, be sure to pair these two mountains with neighboring Handies Peak. Located right up the same road, this is a quick hike that provides great summit views and a beautiful high elevation lake. Still want more? “13er” Whitecross Mountain is also in the area.

Photography Tip: I have to be honest, this hike was somewhat lackluster as far as photography goes. I was lucky enough to have a beautiful sunrise on the summit of Redcloud Peak and good views of stars during my night ascent. The summit views of Redcloud Peak and Sunshine Peak were great though. In the summer, there are a variety of open fields where colorful wildflowers go as well. However, for the most part, this hike consisted of a packed dirt trail that switchbacks up the mountain.

Mick’s Trip: Redcloud Peak & Sunshine Peak

July 2017

Juno and I had not been on a solo hiking trip since the fall of 2016, so we were long overdue. By all accounts, Redcloud Peak & Sunshine Peak were dog friendly mountains, so I knew this would make for a perfect trip to make when Jackie was out of town. I could knock out 2 more “14ers” and Juno could tag along. We hit the road and arrived to the Silver Creek/Grizzly Gulch trailhead around 6:00PM on a Sunday night. We were the only car in the parking lot, but there were frequent passes of 4WD vehicles throughout the evening.

Red Cloud Peak & Sunshine Peak Hike Review
Looking back at Redcloud after the first summit of the morning.

Once again, the weather forecast for the hike day was iffy. Chances of thunderstorms starting at 9AM and increasing throughout the day. I decided to start our summit attempt at 12:30AM and ideally be down below treeline before 8AM. I set-up camp, fed Juno, had a nice little campfire and went to “sleep” by 9PM. As I laid in the tent, I heard rumbles of thunder and saw flashes of lightning until I eventually nodded off. When the alarm went off in the morning, I felt thoroughly un-rested, but ready to go.

Juno looked at me like, “are you drunk?” But once I opened the tent zipper, she tried to run out of the tent. Could I be that bad of a tent-mate? I prepared my bag for the day, fed Juno breakfast and we hit the trail around 1AM. After the cloudy end to the previous day, my first inclination was to look up at the night sky. There were a couple of stars, but it was mostly cloudy. As we hiked through the trees, I noticed several flashes of lighting in the sky above. Perfect. My plan to start early was looking like a bad idea. Instead of getting struck by lightning in the day, now I get to do it in the pitch black of night!

Red Cloud Peak & Sunshine Peak Hike Review
Looking over to Sunshine Peak

I decided to continue on and keep an eye on the sky. We broke treeline after a couple of miles and now I was really on the edge. If there was a storm coming, this was not the place to be. Luckily, as we continued to work up to the basin below Redcloud Peak & Sunshine Peak, the skies started to clear, revealing a starry night sky. For the third consecutive hike, I ran into 2 adolescent male deer who also looked at me like, “WTF are you doing here at this hour? We are closed.” Luckily for my arm’s sake, Juno did not notice them and we hiked on by up towards the ridge.

As we slowly gained the ridge of Redcloud, I started doing math in my head. If we continued this pace, we would be at Redcloud by 4AM and over to Sunshine Peak by 5. This meant that we would be summiting both mountains in the dark. I have hike at night plenty of times, but this was the first time I would be standing on top of a 14,000 foot mountain in the pitch black. Once we had made it to the ridge, there were several fake trails to follow, so I did the best I could to navigate us up the real one. The trial conditions worsened here and it was evident that this mountain was heavily traveled.

I checked my watch and it still was showing an elevation of 13,600 feet, approximately 400 short of the summit. We continued to hike what I assumed was a false summit and before I knew it, were standing on top of Redcloud Peak. The weather forecast still was in the back of my head and I knew that it was about 1.5 miles to Sunshine from here. We skipped the usual summit photos, video and snack in effort to make it over to Sunshine as soon as possible.

Red Cloud Peak & Sunshine Peak Hike Review
Summit of Sunshine peak in the complete darkness.

Sunshine Peak

Although I couldn’t tell at that hour, the trail from Redcloud Peak to Sunshine is very evident. The short hike involved a couple of descents, minimal elevation gain and rockier trail conditions. The trail up to Redcloud was mostly packed and loose dirt, where the trail up to Sunshine was mostly rock fields and scree. As we approached Sunshine Peak, we hiked up a couple of false summits but finally reached the top around 5:00AM. It was pitch black still, but I could tell that it was going to be a great sunrise. I gave Juno some water and a snack for being such a good girl, attempted to snap a summit photo (see above) and shoot some video footage. I was thrilled because this was summit 31/58 of the “14ers” in Colorado and #9 for Juno.

Red Cloud Peak & Sunshine Peak Hike Review
Juno taking in the sunrise.

I knew that I still had a long, exposed hike back to a safe elevation if storms rolled in, so we headed back to Redcloud fairly quickly. The hike back took a bit longer because the sun was rising and it was BEAU-tiful. We arrived back to Redcloud around 5:45AM and once again had it completely to ourselves. I Facetimed Jackie who was about to board a plane for Chicago, snapped several pictures, gave Juno another snack and soaked in the beautiful sunrise.

Red Cloud Peak & Sunshine Peak Hike Review
Very little editing done here, it was a stunning sunrise.

By this time, the sky was beginning to light up and I was finally able to take a peek at the clouds around me. The weather to my south did not look good, but otherwise, everything looked pretty normal. My motivation at this point was to get home and sleep because the 3 hours I had the night before were not cutting it after 9+ miles of hiking. As Juno and I worked down the ridge and into the basin, I was amazed as to how different the scenery looked during the day. The single dirt trail was surrounded by green grasses and wildflowers. We reached the basin around 6:30/7AM and this was the first time we encountered other hikers.

Red Cloud Peak & Sunshine Peak Hike Review
Summit kisses

What were these people doing here on a Monday at 6AM, didn’t they have jobs??? We exchanged pleasantries, Juno shed all over their hands while they pet her and went in our own directions. Eventually, we reached the treeline again and I began to hunt for Juno’s poop bag which I had placed on the trail hours before. I know some dog hardos will probably not like the “leave it and get it later” method, but carrying around a stinking bag of shit is not really my “thing.”

Red Cloud Peak & Sunshine Peak Hike Review
Looking over to Uncompahgre Peak in the distance

I was scanning the side of the trail as we descended and before I knew it, Juno had lunged into the dirt and was very clearly trying to eat a mouse. One bite, everybody knows the rules. I had to force open her jaws, stick my hand into her mouth and take the warm, limp body of a mouse out. It was clearly dead, so I tossed it in the grass for some animal who actually needed a meal to have. What they don’t tell you about being a dog owner is the dead mice you fish out of your animal’s mouth while carrying around their smelly poop.

Red Cloud Peak & Sunshine Peak Hike Review
Looking up towards Redcloud Peak from the basin below.

After that event, I was really ready to wash my hands and be done with Redcloud Peak and Sunshine Peak. We arrived back to the car and I was happy to hit the road to head home.

Red Cloud Peak & Sunshine Peak Hike Review
Enjoying the stream that is fed by high elevation snow melt.

Overall, I thought that Redcloud Peak and Sunshine Peak were a fairly boring pair of mountains. They reminded me of some well traveled mountains that you would find on the Front Range of Colorado. Both peaks are considered Class 2, but I have no idea how that is the case. There was nothing technical about this hike, just lots of switchbacks. Although the basin below Redcloud Peak was beautiful, I would probably not revisit these two mountains for another hike.

Redcloud Peak & Sunshine Peak Video Hike Review

 

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