| San Juan Springtime
Solo climb and summit ski descent of Sunshine and Redcloud Peaks, 6/7/2011
About 10 miles, 5000 feet climbed, 4000 feet skied
Caleb (RoanMtnMan) and I have been playing phone tag all spring, trying to set up a ski trip that, for one reason or another, seems to keep slipping away. On Sunshine and Redcloud, we at least managed to ski the same mountains in the same week. Now we just have to refine that a little, and shoot for the same day... Caleb called me on Monday to tell me about his excursions in the San Juans over the weekend. Handies and Wetterhorn, he said, still looked pretty solid, as did Sunshine, but Redcloud was melting out fast and needed - NEEDED - to be skied right away. This conversation happened at about 4 PM; I was on the road by 5:30, headed for Lake City to take my buddy's advice.
I arrived at the trailhead at around 11:00, threw my sleeping bag on the ground and settled in for some blissful sleep. I awoke a couple of times and noticed that the stars were becoming more and more vivid. The smoky haze from the wildfires in southern Colorado and Arizona was finally starting to dissipate. My alarm went off at 3:30. If it had a snooze button I would have used it. Then two meteors split the sky, a minute or two apart, directly over my head. Time to go! I started up the trail at exactly 4:00.
As I hiked up the Silver Creek trail, I began to wonder if I was getting too late a start - East facing snow, sunny day, and I'm by myself - so I put my head down and marched. All around the valley the sky was fading to the beautiful grey of dawn, but I didn't even stop to take any pictures, I was too hell-bent on gaining altitude. I reached the summit of Redcloud by 6:30 and continued over the connecting ridge, reaching Sunshine around 7:15. The joke was on me: it was actually pretty cold, and breezy to boot, and I ended up having to wait for the snow to soften.
One interesting detail about this climb: I think this is the first time I have kept trail shoes on all the way to a summit on a ski trip. Here is my pack on Sunshine's summit; note that my boots are still attached to my skis:
I passed some time eating and enjoying the views of Handies...
... and Wetterhorn, in the early morning sun:
Here's my best Jack Nicholson impression:
Eventually I became impatient and decided to ski before the snow softened. It was suncupped and grippy, and made for decent turns, though it did shake my socks down a little. I descended into the obvious bowl slightly north of east from the summit. As I lost altitude I was finally able to scratch the snow surface:
When the slope flattened out I looked at my altimeter: 12,950 feet, just over 1000 feet of skiing. Some folks hold to 1000 vertical feet as a minimum to count a summit descent; I take a somewhat more ambiguous standard of skiing until you either run out of snow or of gravity. Either way I was happy with my barely-visible tracks...
... and turned to the task of regaining the ridge to Redcloud:
To the south lay the Hall of the Mountain King:
Even on an east-facing slope, it remained cool enough to keep a thin fleece on while I climbed back up to the ridge. Once there, Handies greeted me again:
... and I looked back at Sunshine. There's still a lot of snow on that mountain!
Uncompahgre kept me company as I walked back along the connecting ridge:
View from the summit of Redcloud:
Looking own along the north ridge: Caleb is right, it's thin, but for now you can still get a clean summit descent without shoveling any snow!
Me and my shadow, and the summit register...
The descent off Redcloud was perfect corn snow. i was glad that I hadn't waited any longer on the summit of Sunshine. This photo was taken from about 12,500 feet, looking back toward Redcloud's summit. I did have to take a wide detour to skier's right to stay on continuous snow:
Snow ran out at about 11,500 feet:
Usually I like to conclude a TR with a farewell shot of the mountain just skied. This route doesn't afford that opportunity, so here is another shot of the ever-smiling Handies Peak:
Back at home, I poured myself a post-hike beer to top off a nearly perfect day (Dale's Pale):
Thanks for reading!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):