- Date Hiked: March 5, 2005
- Miles Hiked: 6.0
- Elevation Gain: 4,560'
- Hiking Partner(s): Greg Hiltbrand,
Carl Siegel, Jamie Princo
- We climbed the east ridge of Sunshine Peak from
the Mills Creek Campground. It
took us six hours to ascend and just over three to descend after our
summit time. We hiked for
approximately 1,500’ before reaching snowline.
After this, it was 2,500’ of breaking trail and snow shoeing to
the narrow ridge leading to the summit.
Snow conditions varied greatly.
For the most part, we generally sank into the snow between six to
twelve inches; often times more, occasionally less.
We removed our snowshoes for the last 500’ and finished on foot
with ice axes because of the steepness and exposure encountered.
It was a tough but fulfilling day.
For an extended trip report, feel free to continue reading.
- Since I had a couple of weeks of work scheduled
in Durango, I thought I’d take advantage of the trip and attempt a
14er in southwestern Colorado. I
decided to try Sunshine Peak after reading a relatively recent trip
report and learning about trailhead access.
I had never been to the San Juan Mountains and was unfamiliar
with the area. I did not
want to hike solo, so I posted for climbing partners on a couple of
internet message boards. Surprisingly,
this trip ended up being a reunion of climbers from my attempt of Mount
Yale last April with the addition of Jamie.
- The trailhead is accessible with a two-wheel
drive vehicle and the snowline was relatively high because of the
southern exposure of this route. We
started hiking at 6:30 and were making slow but steady progress.
From the statistics of the hike, it is fairly obvious that the
entire climb is steep. Unfortunately,
it wasn’t long before Jamie was trailing the group and didn’t feel
good. After negotiating the
cliff bands above the road, we worked our way into the trees.
When viewing a map of the area, you can see that the Mill Creek
Campground has a small drainage on either side of it.
We generally climbed on the east shoulder of the west creek
between the two drainages. We
utilized game trails when convenient and even picked up a climbers trail
with sporadic cairns at one point.
- The snow was not strong enough to hold our weight
without snowshoes, so they went on almost immediately upon reaching it
at around 11,000’. We
continued to work our way north-northwest in the trees.
Because of the difficulty of trail breaking, we changed leaders
frequently in order not to burn anyone out.
When following, it was almost as if you were simply hiking a
steep trail, but when leading, the climbing was strenuous and difficult.
On our second break after gaining 2,000’, Jamie decided it just
wasn’t his day. Fatigue
and a slight case of altitude sickness had already taken its toll and he
informed us that he was not able to continue.
He returned to the trailhead and hitch-hiked back to his vehicle
in Lake City.
- Greg, Carl, and I soon made it to tree line.
We continued our routine of trading leaders, hiking slowly but
surely, and taking our scheduled breaks.
The weather was sketchy and visibility was limited at times;
however, the wind was nominal and we decided to keep going.
At approximately 12,500’, we reached a flat shelf we dubbed
“The Loft”. We made our
way across this area and began ascending the triangle shaped slope to
the more narrow and prominent east ridge of Sunshine.
As we reached 13,200’, the climb was beginning to wear on us
and the group began to spread out slightly.
I feel as though the Televator on my MSR snowshoes helped me out
a lot on this steep hike. The
Televator lifts your heel, reduces calf fatigue, and makes climbing
easier and more efficient.
- Anyway, we took a final break together at
13,500’ where there were vertical cliffs to the north.
We could finally see the remainder of the route and east ridge of
Sunshine Peak. It looked
corniced and steep. Only
500’ from the summit, we removed our snowshoes and broke out the ice
axes. Despite its
steepness, the snow was more wind blown which reduced post-holing some.
Greg even opted to put on his crampons when we reached a very
steep and slick 40’ pitch of snow.
We stayed to the right (north) of the ridge and cornice.
Below The Loft, on The Loft, and now, my eyes were playing tricks
on me. Because of the white
snow and sky, I had a very difficult time with depth perception. Rocks on the shelf that looked 100’ away were often several
hundred yards, and now as I gained a small hump on the ridge, the summit
looked 200’ vertical feet above me.
- I thought we had made fairly good progress and
was disappointed to see what remained of the route. I started to plow through now soft and deep snow determined
to make it to the summit. Surprisingly,
after only 20’ of difficult work, I popped out over a small cornice
and realized there was nowhere else to climb.
I was actually a bit confused after my previous assessment of how
far we had yet to go. I
walked across the summit to verify we had made it and then returned to
look back down the east ridge and yell to Carl and Greg that I was on
- Greg and Carl arrived shortly and we
congratulated each other on our successful climb. It was 12:30. I
estimated that to continue over to Redcloud and back would take at least
another two and a half hours. I’d
like to say we decided not to attempt Redcloud based solely on the
questionable weather, but we realized that we were spent.
Happy with what we had accomplished, we decided not to tempt
fate. The views were
limited, and after approximately 45 minutes on the summit we started our
- The return to the trailhead was generally
uneventful. We took a break
at 12,800’ where we strapped on our snowshoes again.
Another break was needed at tree line and then at snowline to
remove our snowshoes. Unfortunately,
we got off track below the snow and didn’t ever pick up the
climber’s trail. We
struggled through some cliffs higher up on the mountainside and even ran
into some extremely loose and rotten talus, which was unpleasant to hike
in. Finally, we were back
at the trailhead at 4:30 where we said goodbye and began our
respectively long drives to Colorado Springs and Durango.
- I felt like we had assembled a strong team.
We all agreed and openly admitted that none of us could have
summitted solo. Excellent
teamwork, good route finding, and a little luck with the weather made
this a great winter 14er climb. Thanks
Greg and Carl.
- Click here
to view a 2D
map of the area where this hike is located.