Peak(s):  "Sundog"  -  13,432 feet
Sunshine Peak  -  14,001 feet
Redcloud Peak  -  14,034 feet
PT 13,832  -  13,832 feet
PT 13,811  -  13,811 feet
Date Posted:  11/20/2019
Date Climbed:   11/10/2019
Author:  supranihilest
 Scoring Points With "Sundog" and Friends  

Looking for something to do in the San Juan while they were still exceptionally and unseasonably dry I saw a conditions report for "Sundog", a ranked 13er connected to 14er Sunshine Peak. I'd never heard of "Sundog" but it was close to where I was at the time (Creede area) so I decided to give it a go, tacking on Sunshine and nearby neighbor Redcloud Peak as well. If I was feeling real good I'd also add centennial 13ers Point 13,832 and Point 13,811, making for a big but productive day. I had an idea of the kind of terrain and stats I'd be getting myself into, but only a general one; the only other time I'd climbed Redcloud and Sunshine in 2016 was on a day of climbing Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre, then driving over and doing Redcloud and Sunshine without sleeping, starting at something like 8:30pm, not finishing until after 3am, half-delusional from exhaustion. I had no real recollection of what the terrain was like other than that it was generally easy.

Back in modern times, armed with only a map and my wits I drove over to the Silver Creek/Grizzly Gulch trailhead knowing that it was still mostly dry and accessible. The two other times I'd driven over for Redcloud/Sunshine and Handies I'd been able to drive my little Civic up with some careful maneuvering, which was no less the case this time. The road had been trashed by the wild 2018-2019 avalanche season and was clearly still in the process of being rebuilt, what with smashed up trees and gravel somewhat carelessly piled up on either side of the road where it crossed gullies, the debris parted like the Red Sea to allow passage into the heart of the mountains. I arrived shortly after sunrise and found generally calm, cool weather and partly cloudy skies. I hoped it would remain nice since I figured I'd be finishing in the dark.

This area of the San Juan is huge. Everything soars up and towers over everything else and is steep and gnarly and just big. It's not the Weminuche but it is the San Juan and it doesn't let you forget. From the parking lot "Sundog" rose steeply above Silver Creek and the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River. Looking at the slope angle shading of "Sundog" is kind of comical as there appears to be almost nothing on the entire mountain under mid-30 degrees.

19961_01
"Sundog" from the parking lot.

The excellent Redcloud Trail angles northeast up the Silver Creek drainage. Avalanche carnage here, too, was everywhere. The pictures will be sporadic in the report but some of the stuff didn't even make sense, like trees being blown uphill 100 feet and over ridges and such. The creek itself was choked to the gills with trees, rocks, and ice that had never melted from the previous season. I thought some of the avalanches near Freemont and Independence Passes were wild; these were unfathomable.

19961_02
This one was just a little one.
19961_03
Silver Creek is under there... somewhere.
19961_04
These trees were blown over going uphill. That means the avalanche was so powerful it ran down and across the creek with enough force to jump the mountainside and smash fully grown trees uphill. Unbelievable.

I had a hard time processing just how much chaos there was in this area. I knew it was bad but it was mindblowing. Literally miles of trees torn asunder and cast aside like nothing. How the trail wasn't completely ruined I don't quite understand, given the number and size of avalanches that had roared across it. I didn't cross any debris on the trail en route to "Sundog" (though some had been sawed up and moved to the trailside) but I would on the way down.

I took the trail until I was generally underneath "Sundog"'s north ridge. This was just about the only approachable side of "Sundog", and I think it and the ridge to Sunshine are the only two routes on the entire peak; everything else is too steep and loose to be climbed. With more snow there could possibly be some snow climbing but all options would likely be quite steep.

The north ridge is broad enough down low to be gained from a number of possible locations, so I just kind of picked one that looked reasonable and crossed over Silver Creek on a massive, frozen chunk of trees that looked more like a jumble of Czech hedgehogs (the anti-tank defense) than anything natural. From here I entered the forest on thin snow and picked my way up the ever steepening ridge. I didn't put on my microspikes but I was aware of my footwork and kept my awareness of the terrain high.

19961_05
Easy terrain low in the trees, growing steeper and steeper as I ascended.

I kept my eye out for the tracks I knew were on the ridge somewhere but I just wasn't sure. Eventually I was kind of forced onto the eastern margin of the ridge, where things drop off almost vertically in that direction and only slightly-less-than vertical to the west, where I discovered the tracks. If I were to do this route again (or suggest it to others, which I do; "Sundog" is awesome by itself and adding on more just makes it even better) I'd immediately make my way to that eastern margin.

19961_06
Human and pup tracks! I know I'm in the right spot now.

I continued up to treeline, which to my knowledge at this point was the highest treeline I'd encountered in Colorado; it ended somewhere between 12,100 and 12,200 feet, higher than the 11,600 I usually find. The views from treeline were spectacular.

19961_07
Nearing treeline.
19961_08
Looking north across Silver Creek. The sources of numerous avalanches are obvious.
19961_09
Handies Peak (left) and Whitecross Mountain.
19961_10
Redcloud Peak with Sunshine hidden off to the right.

The snow ended almost instantly at treeline and gave way to the usual scree and talus as featured in the photos. I'd rather that than the snow, as my trail runners and socks were wet by now and would be given an opportunity to dry out.

Continuing up, "Sundog"'s ridge began to get rugged. Outcrops and blocky towers appeared. In a land of otherwise smooth and rounded features these impediments looked intimidating; I wasn't quite sure what they held in store, I just knew that the report from a couple days earlier stated they'd also climbed in trail runners. It turned out all of the terrain on the north ridge was easy and it only got hairy on the traverse to Sunshine but I didn't know that until I got to it.

19961_11
Graceful ridge up and up.
19961_12
First and only major obstacle on the ridge. There were multiple options up this, all of them Class 2+ or harder and covered in gravel/loose rock.

The closer I got to the block jutting rudely from the ridge the more apparent the route became. I'd have a little snow to contend with but it was more the loose rock on top of rotten rock I was worried about.

19961_13
I hugged the left margins of the major block and went up one of a number of gullies.
19961_14
Looking up the guts of this thing. It is about this steep but, surprisingly enough, is more stable than it looks. I'd call it Class 2+, maybe Easy Class 3, as there was some use of hands and thoughtful movement. The scrambling occurred only in very short spurts, otherwise it was just steep Class 2 talus hopping.
19961_15
Looking back down from where the more hike-like angle resumes.
19961_16
Almost the entirety of the north ridge in view, with Uncompahgre prominent in the upper middle. The outcrop I scrambled through is visible on top of the shadows.

The remainder of the hike to the summit is just that - a hike. Going over to Sunshine is where the real meat of this climb would be. When I arrived on the summit my GPS watch said I'd only gained 2970 feet of elevation, so I went back down the north ridge a little and came back up, making sure to hit the magic 3,000 foot mark before continuing on.

19961_17
Meat.

It wasn't readily apparent from the summit just what the ridge would entail, but it looked like fun, with some scrambling and exposure along the way. The initial section was easy and it got difficult from about the middle through the end, where it dropped off into a flat area below Sunshine.

19961_18
Looking back along the initial ridge. It's exposed but easy. Once again Uncompahgre stands proud on the right.

A couple of gully crossings were where things got spicy. The northern side of the ridge was essentially vertical. No way would I climb on any of it. To the south things were only slightly lower angle, but that was really the only alternative. The ridge crest itself did not feel safe in many spots and was often covered in snow. Not knowing what was under the snow I wasn't about to attempt a tightrope walk across it with the dizzying exposure on both sides, so a couple of times I dropped several feet below the ridge crest and below the snow and traversed on vaguely slabby and very loose terrain. This only occurred two or three times but it was enough to give me pause; the rock was generally grippy but it was rotten, so the utmost care had to be taken, especially when selecting footholds.

19961_19
One of said gully crossings. On one I traversed part way across and then just punched and kicked steps into the snow, but this one I crossed over the rib on dry rock to avoid the snow. It's certainly steep and exposed but I'd rate it Class 3. I don't know what the ridge crest itself goes at but in the Roach 14er guidebook this alternate route (p. 286 28R5) is rated Class 2+.
19961_20
Following footsteps with exposure on both sides. I can't be the only one who finds irony in stopping in a slick, snowy, exposed snow knife edge to take photos of said snowy exposure.

While the rock quality left something to be desired I was having a blast scrambling through this section. I'm getting more and more used to the combination of poor rock, scrambling, exposure, and snow/ice, and this had it all. A super fun ridge that I'd recommend to anyone who likes scrambling (though perhaps wait until it's dry if you get skeeved by snow). After what felt like both an hour and a brief blip of time I came to the second to last challenge, a steep and exceptionally loose gully that I'd have to down climb as the ridge dropped off vertically on the Sunshine side and I didn't want to down climb that. This was probably no worse than Class 2+ but the feet were unstable and the endless gullies funneled into one another below what I could see. Not a ride I'd like to take, in other words.

19961_21
This reminds me a lot of the gully to the summit of "The Citadel" in the Front Range. I only went up that and only went down this but superficially they seem somewhat similar.

One more brief section of Class 2+ down climbing remained before the scrambles relented onto steep, soft dirt (probably loess).

19961_22
It's difficult to see but there's one final, short scramble down from here to where the talus gives way to dirt.

From here the rest of the route over the four remaining peaks was easy, all Class 2 or easier. "Sundog" was a great scramble and I'd definitely do it again.

19961_23
Taken from the flats below Sunshine, this shows the descent off "Sundog"'s southeast ridge.
19961_24
The various trails up Sunshine. I took the one to the right.

Sunshine of course is known as an easy peak but most people do it in combo with (and coming from) Redcloud. There's several trails up Sunshine's northwest face and the one I took allowed me to peer down Sunshine's vast and rugged south face. Considering I'd been up here only once before in the dark and on a different route I had no idea how rugged and spectacular Sunshine actually was. It's reputation as an easy 14er does not do it justice.

19961_25
I tried to stick to rock which meant going off-trail. Plenty of loose junk everywhere but more enjoyable than the snowy trail.
19961_26
Just one of Sunshine's many gaping gullies to the void.

It didn't take me long before I was on top of Sunshine with the long traverse to Redcloud ahead of me.

19961_27
Redcloud a long ways off. Once again Uncompahgre makes an appearance.
19961_28
Looking down on lowly "Sundog". Pretty rugged considering much of the surrounding terrain.

The traverse between the 14ers is long but it's easy. There was snow drifted on most of the trail with steps postholed into all of it but I still tried to stay on rock where I could, even if it was off-trail. All told it took me about 45 minutes to make the crossing, which runs about a mile and a half and 550 feet of gain in the direction I did it in; there's slightly less gain going one-way from Redcloud to Sunshine.

19961_29
On top of Redcloud looking at the traverse to Sunshine.
19961_30
Looking at most of the ground I'd have to cover over to Point 13,832 and Point 13,811.

It was almost exactly noon when I topped out on Redcloud. I still had approximately a third of the total vertical and an unknown amount of distance left (it turned out to be about ten miles) so I wasn't sure if I'd get both unnamed centennials or if I'd be finishing in the dark or what. I immediately left the windy summit and dropped down Redcloud's northern aspect which was very snowy. This was probably the most tedious-feeling part of the day as it was all snow or loose rock. There were tracks in quite a few places so I just kind of followed their lead and blazed my own trail as direct as I could, and in one spot I stopped to put on microspikes to cross a large, stiff snow slab. It didn't take me long to get to the Redcloud/Point 13,832 saddle but it felt like it did. At that point everything dried out as most of the remaining route was south facing and melted.

19961_31
At the Redcloud/Point 13,832 saddle. Point 13,832 is the rounded peak on the right.

The initial terrain up from the saddle was just the usual talus and scree and then it led into a couple of improbable looking areas marked by narrow ridges topped with towers and flanked by steep slopes. There were some trails visible across said steep slopes but it wasn't clear whether they were human or animal trails nor whether they were safe or easy. Perhaps the northern side of the ridge, which I couldn't yet see, held other options.

19961_32
Closer to the first obstacle. In the previous picture this is the large bump on the left.
19961_33
Traversing under the first bump. The trail across this initial slope isn't visible in the photo but there is a faint one consisting mostly of dirt segments.

The next section looked much the same but had a more defined trail. All of the slopes I crossed looked steeper from afar than they were in reality. Some snow might have made things interesting but as I found it there was nothing of concern.

19961_34
Below the second bump. Lower angle slopes than they appeared.
19961_35
Knight's chess piece.
19961_36
After rounding the corner. This slope is a little soft and loose but the trail is quite well defined and easy.
19961_37
After rounding the final corner Point 13,832 is finally within reach.

The remaining hike to Point 13,832 was all on easy tundra. I couldn't see what the remaining hike to Point 13,811 looked like until I summited 13,832.

19961_38
Sunshine (pointy peak) mid-left and Redcloud on the right. The trail going down and to the left off the far right saddle is marked on maps but does not appear to reach anywhere in particular, ending at approximately 12,000 feet in Bent Creek drainage.
19961_39
Wetterhorn (pointy peak) on the left, Matterhorn (not that Matterhorn) just left of the big gap, and Uncompahgre from the summit of Point 13,832.

Point 13,811 was still a long ways away but the route all looked gentle and forgiving on the southern aspect. The ridge was spectacular in its dichotomy between easy terrain and the rugged bowl to the north, the land leaping on top of itself in an unbroken wall of sheer cliffs and ragged ribs.

19961_40
Point 13,811 is the farthest high point along the ridge.

It was past 1pm by this point but I wasn't about to orphan 13,811 so I dropped down and began hiking towards it. A small unranked, unnamed bump duly called Point 13,632 stood proud between its two higher neighbors and was easily skirted on its right/southern side. The southeastern flank of 13,632 was covered in a surprising amount of snow, all of it quite hardpacked and iced over, even the footprints that I would have otherwise used. My trail runners couldn't really make a dent or get much traction so I put on my microspikes and cruised back to tundra before removing my spikes again.

19961_41
Snow that I didn't want to slip on.

It was all nice and dry from this point and soon I was on top of the last peak of the day, Point 13,811, with the long traverse back to below Redcloud and the hike down Silver Creek remaining.

19961_42
Almost...
19961_43
...there.
19961_44
Looking east towards Red Mountain. Not that Red Mountain nor the other Red Mountain, no not that Red Mountain either, but this Red Mountain.
19961_46
Centennial thirteener Rio Grande Pyramid far to the south.
19961_47
Last shot of Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre, I swear!
19961_48
That ridge! Sunshine (left) and Redcloud (right) in the background with Point 13,632 (left) and Point 13,832 (right) in the foreground looking dome-like.

While neither of these peaks offered anything in the realm of technical excitement they were still fun and very pretty. I sometimes find myself bored doing easy Class 1 and Class 2 hikes but these were quite pleasant and throwing in the fun on "Sundog" plus a couple of 14ers raised these two peaks higher than if I had done them by themselves. I still had quite a bit of mileage to go and the north-facing bowl descending from the Redcloud saddle was full of snow that would slow me down. Off I went, retracing my steps over tundra domes and under the gendarmes of the early ridge. I made a minor route shift staying close to the edge of the ridge ascending Point 13,632 so I could (almost entirely) avoid the snow there and went directly over its top in case it ever gets added to "the list" later.

19961_49
Reversing the area between Point 13,832 and Redcloud Peak. The pointy peak on the right is an optical illusion; Wetterhorn Peak hides perfectly behind "Copper Creek Peak".

Once I got to the Redcloud saddle I knew the last of the work was directly ahead of me. Because it was in shade most of the day the bowl was still very snowy. I didn't put on my microspikes but I was sure my feet would be getting wet again, and I would have to race to catch and keep up with the sun.

19961_50
Looking down from the Redcloud/Point 13,832 saddle.

I was able to follow numerous sets of tracks that snaked through the bowl, mostly not on the trail. The drifted snow marked the boundaries of the trail but most tracks took direct paths down and that's what I did too; the snow was shallower as well so I wasn't punching up to my knees on the trail. Once I reached the sunkissed far ends of the bowl where the creek took a sharp turn to the west the snow quickly tapered and mostly stopped.

19961_51
Golden orange beauty.

I resumed hiking on the trail, making brief detours over massive piles of avalanche debris a couple of times. These were basically giant ice balls with trees and rocks embedded in them that covered the trail and were too dense to hack up and move out of the way. It might take a year or two before these are melted enough to clear, but for now they're easy enough to just clamor over and around while searching for trail segments in the chaos. Eventually those too ended and I was back on all dry trail. I returned to my car without issue near darkness, tired but very satisfied with the results of the day. "Sundog" was a real treat, Redcloud and Sunshine were far more enjoyable on my second visit, and Points 13,832 and 13,811 were the cherries on top of an excellent outing.


Statistics

Climbers: Ben Feinstein (myself)
Trailhead: Silver Creek/Grizzly Gulch
Total distance: 16.06 miles
Total elevation gain: 6,783 feet
Total time: 8:58:42
Peaks: Two fourteeners, three ranked thirteeners

  • "Sundog", 13,432'
  • Redcloud Peak, 14,034'
  • Sunshine Peak, 14,001'
  • Point 13,832
  • Point 13,811

Splits:

Starting Location Ending Location Via Time (h:mm:ss) Cumulative Time (h:mm:ss) Rest Time (m:ss)
Silver Creek/Grizzly Gulch Trailhead "Sundog" 2:08:31 2:08:31 0:00
"Sundog" Sunshine Peak 1:11:02 3:19:32 0:00
Sunshine Peak Redcloud Peak 0:43:32 4:03:05 0:00
Redcloud Peak Point 13,832 1:09:51 5:12:56 0:00
Point 13,832 Point 13,811 0:53:38 6:06:34 0:00
Point 13,811 Silver Creek/Grizzly Gulch Trailhead 2:52:08 8:58:42 Trip End

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):




Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 46 47 48 49 50 51


 Comments or Questions
yaktoleft13

Nice!
11/20/2019 15:34
That's a big day! Your GPX track really shows how freaking far out of the way Pt 13,811 is. Grats on getting all 5!


supranihilest

Out there
11/20/2019 15:45
@yaktotheleft13: Thank you! These big days are what I live for, and this one was an awesome mix of all kinds of terrain and conditions. Those unnamed centennials are super far out there compared to a lot of spur hikes I've done. The photos do a good job of showing the distance for once too. This whole area is just full of peaks so massive they almost have to be that far apart by definition!


DoubelDD

Great Job
11/21/2019 20:03
Thank you, that was a really informative, helpful report


supranihilest

No problem!
11/21/2019 23:51
@DoubelDD: You're welcome, happy peakbagging!


Nicster

Awesome!
11/22/2019 10:24
Great report and well done! Did Redcloud in July and all the avy debris was still snow covered. Really interesting to see the true extent of the carnage


jladderud

Solid!
12/10/2019 13:43
I did Redcloud plus the two unnamed 13ers in August (my Ford Focus also made it to the TH) with more daylight and less snow and was still plenty tired. Impressive adding on Sunshine and Sundog! Sundog looked tantalizing from Redcloud. I'll have to make use of your beta at some point.


supranihilest

asdf
12/13/2019 18:45
@Nicster: Thank you! It really is pretty wild out there. I'm looking forward to seeing what other areas of the San Juan look like after what appears to be the start of another gnarly snow year.

@jladderud: Sundog was awesome, definitely worth a trip up both the north ridge and across the ridge to Sunshine.



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