February 01, 2009

San Juan Winter 14ers

Noticing that yet another nice weekend was in store, I made plans to climb two fourteeners in the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado. The crux of this trip turned out to be finding a climbing partner on short notice. Ryan pulled through. After leaving work at lunch to go home and pack, he was ready to leave at 3:00 and we drove to Lake City.

We planned to climb the east ridge of Sunshine Peak, which carries the distinction of being the lowest 14er in the US at 14,001 feet. After reaching Sunshine's summit, we planned to traverse the 1.3-mile ridge between Sunshine Peak and Redcloud Peak, followed by a ski descent.

The first part of our journey required us to gain the east ridge, which meant 2,500 vertical feet of steep scrambling/bushwhacking amongst a menagerie of small cliffs. Most of our energy for the entire day was exerted on this portion of the climb. Once on the ridge and above the trees, we caught the first glimpse of the mountains we were aiming for.

Sunshine Peak - the East Ridge route gains the false summit on the right before continuing up to the true summit. Redcloud Peak is out of view to the right. Yes, the sky really was that blue.

The strenuous first part of the climb brought Ryan to abandon the original plan of climbing both peaks. At about 13,000 feet on Sunshine's east ridge, Ryan and I split up. He intended to take his time and enjoy the rest of the climb on Sunshine before retracing the route. I shifted into high gear in attempt to summit Sunshine, ski down to the saddle between Sunshine and Redcloud, hike up to Redcloud and back to the saddle, and ski from the saddle down to treeline where Ryan and I would once again meet up.

Thanks to the weather, this revamped plan worked out, and Ryan beat me to our meeting spot by about 2 minutes.

Looking down Sunshine's East Ridge from the summit

The beautiful San Juans, with Uncompagre Peak on the right and Wetterhorn on the left

Redcloud Peak from the top of Sunshine Peak

The second leg of my ski descent started at the saddle, just left of center

The distance between the two peaks seemed like a long 1.3 miles, perhaps because I was trying to hurry. The ski descent was wind packed, variable, fast, and fun. Most importantly, it was a great way to avoid walking down the mountain.

Overall it was a nice 10 to 11 hour hike and a great way to end January. The weather was spectacular, and we literally didn't see a cloud the entire day. We spent the previous night on the new bed in the back of the 4-Runner, which exceeded all my expectations. It's weekends like this that make the ensuing work week seem all the more drab.


Oakley said...

Great trip report and pictures. I'm looking to do the east ridge this January - Any advice on route finding from the Mill Creek area? Does any sort of trail exist or is it all just "head northwest and up?"

Josh said...

It's been quite a while, but I vaguely remember a steep, trail-less ascent to get things going and gain the first ridge, then just follow the ridges. Perhaps there's a better way to start than I went. Have fun!