Exactly one week ago today we joined the masses and headed into the mountains for the holiday weekend. In an effort to stay as far away from the crowds as possible we decided to explore a new, far-from-Denver range – the San Juans. We head into the mountains at least once a week but we haven’t ventured very far south. This seemed like a great excuse to take a drive, check out a new range and hike a few mountains.
We had high hopes for three summits – Redcloud Peak + Sunshine Peak and Handies Peak. The plan was to drive up to the Silver Creek/Grizzly Gulch trailhead and backpack a short distance up the trail to Redcloud/Sunshine then start out for the summits before dawn. If all went well on these two summits we’d relocate our campsite and head for the summit of Handies Peak on Tuesday morning before heading back to Denver.
That isn’t exactly how it worked out but we worked out a suitable compromise. I think our bodies appreciated the compromise ,especially if you consider the 26 miles I put in on trails 36 hours before hiking and the fact Redcloud/Sunshine alone put us at our highest mileage for mountain hiking!
So, what really happened?
It all started out as planned. We arrived at the trailhead by 5pm, double checked our packs and started up the trail. We had recently impulse purchased a new pack from REI and my shoulders are in love with it! It’s a men’s pack so it actually fits my long torso and rides on my hips! We also packed up our smaller Camelbaks for the day hike.
We set up camp, ate dinner and were crawling into our sleeping bags just as the rain was rolling in. This is our second mini backpacking trip…and the second time we have been stormed on. Last time was our hike up Oxford and Belford and I soaked up every second of booming thunder. This time I slept through it all. Apparently I’m pretty darn good camping!
Our morning started early. We were both actually awake before the alarm went off so we were up and on the trail by 3:15am. Yup, that early. With any luck we would hit our first summit before sunrise!
With the exception of mystery glowing eyes off in the distance hiking at night is pretty great. You can only see short stretches of trail at a time so which means you do not have to stare up at a far away summit while plodding up endless switchbacks. Plus, your hike back down the trail is a whole new experience!
As predicted we summited Redcloud Peak before the sun broke the horizon. However, this did not make us the first summiters of the day…a crazy guy running up the mountain passed us in the last few hundred feet. He then went on to summit Sunshine and beat us down the saddle. Yea, he was booking it!
The saddle between Redcloud and Sunshine looks like it goes on forever but has a fair amount of “flat” ground where you can stretch out your legs – a lot easier than Belford/Oxford and Shavano/Tabegauche. We made it across the 1.5 mile stretch in roughly an hour, putting us at the Sunshine summit just after the sun started rising.
We killed a little time a top Sunshine Peak as we had the summit to ourselves – a huge perk to ridiculously early wake up calls when hiking mountains! The hike back to Redcloud seemed to take forever but it didn’t kill our legs. Instead is worked up an appetite which was a good excuse to stop at the summit…well, food and photos!
We spent the majority of our hike back up Redcloud discussing the idea of hiking Handies Peak the next day. I wanted to go for it, just because. Chris wanted to play it smart. There was a lot of bribery and no one wanted to compromise – until we spotted a short trail to a nearby 13er. We decided to forgo Handies in favor of a random 13er summit. It would put us at 3 summits for the day, 4 if you count our re-summit of Redcloud…which really doesn’t count but it did play an big part in our compromise!
The 13er turned out to be…interesting. And another hands on learning experience for us. I’ll be back with details on that in the near future.
After the 13er summit we headed down the mountain to pack up our campsite and hit the road. But not without a quick stop at Silver Creek for a frigid ice bath provided by Mother Nature and unpacking the food we had stashed for re-fueling! The water so so freaking cold but the soft sand felt so good on my feet! Gotta love mountain streams! And the food…well, you can’t really go wrong with cheesy chex mix and KitKat bars…
Turns out I should have saved that KitKat bar for the latter part of our drive home. All was going well until we hit Fairplay, a full 70 miles away from home. Traffic basically stopped, then barely crept over 10mph for the next 20 miles. Yes, it took me roughly 2 hours to go 20 miles. No, I was not a happy camper. Actually, the KitKat probably wouldn’t have helped much.
Eventually we made it home, at lots of Kraft Mac & Cheese, rinsed off our trail dirt and fell into bed. I may have really wanted to stay in the mountains but by Tuesday morning I was glad to be at home in my own bed! As for my legs – they did an amazing job of holding up to a 26 mile run Saturday and 14 mile mountain hike on Monday! They even wanted to run on Tuesday but the rest of me chose to sleep in…