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“We made such good time yesterday. We don’t need to hurry this morning do we?” I heard the Lady’s sleepy voice as she was cuddled tight against me. The alarm had sounded again at 4:00 am.
“I’m so comfy cozy!” she continued as her wiggle worked its way into a full blown stretch. I resisted the temptation to launch into a John Wayne impression about “burnin’ daylight!” Besides, we were a long way from daylight and I had already gotten enough scowls from the Lady about other terms that had creeped into my vocabulary. Texans were now “Texicans” and fellow travelers along the trail were now “Pilgrims.”
We started hiking 15 minutes later than yesterday, very excusable but we did have a little further to go, four miles further and a total of 4800 feet vertical gain. We reached the trailhead and this morning we turned left and headed up Silver Creek.
The sun was starting to hit Handies to the west when we reached Monday’s turn around spot.
We were hiking east into a high west facing basin with ridge tops well over 13,000 feet. It would be a long time before this area felt the warmth of the sun.
The trail switchbacks up out of the basin and reaches the northeast ridge of Redcloud Peak. This was sunrise for us this morning.
The whistle pigs were also up, enjoying the sun, and watching the first pilgrims pass by.
The northeast ridge was a fun ascent.
The Lady topped out on the subpeak and then went for the top.
The Lady is always excited about summits and curious about what she can see from the top.
She looked down to see if Stew was up.
The day before had been a nice warm up. Today was 5 miles with 3700 feet vertical, again in three hours. Those 15 minutes hadn’t hurt.
Here’s a wide angle shot to the west up the Lake Fork of the Gunnison and the Cinnamon Pass Road. Grizzly Gulch and Handies is just to the south.
Here’s a view to the north.
And a view to the south and our next 14er of the morning, Sunshine Peak.
It’s a mile and a half along this ridge with a pretty significant saddle in between; significant enough to designate Sunshine as a separate peak. We started off.
The views, terrain, and just the experience of being up here were spectacular.
Here’s a view to the north at that saddle and the Lady working her way up Sunshine’s north ridge. Redcloud is the high point beyond.
Summit of Sunshine Peak, 14,001 feet.
Notice that the clouds this morning are a little different than the day before. Those wispy high ones that look kind of like mare’s tails are called mare’s tails. Old time field weather forecasters would say that mare’s tail clouds can be an indicator of an approaching front.
After talking with a nice fellow from Bosnia who had bivouacked high up in Silver Creek Basin the night before, we headed back over to Redcloud.
The drop off from the ridge into the South Fork of Silver Creek is impressive.
We setup a camera timer shot on the summit of Redcloud Peak, 14,034 feet.
This is one of our favorite telephoto views to the north. Besides all the beautiful red rock of the San Juan Mountains (ever wonder where all that red sedimentary rock in Utah came from?), this is a close up of three of our favorite summits, from right to left, Uncompahgre, The Matterhorn (a high 13er and a pyramid, doesn’t look like the Swiss Matterhorn), and The Wetterhorn (it looks like the Swiss Matterhorn).
After all our wanderings up high, we left the top of Redcloud around 11:45 am. We enjoyed the hike back down and talking with pikas and whistle pigs. The tail end of summer’s wildflowers were nice with larkspur and gentians and the previously photographed columbines.
We did notice that Silver Creek is silver and wondered why.
Why would anybody be in a hurry to come down from here? We were not.
We rejoined our buddy Stew at camp. He reported that the vehicle traffic was down from previous days but the road was drying out, generating dust, especially from the faster atv’s and utv’s. We sat in our chairs and resumed our hobby of perfecting waving techniques. You see everybody that went by waved at us and we felt a deep responsibility to reciprocate. Stew worked on a good old fashion American wave with just a hand in the air. The Lady worked on her Miss America parade wave, a dished hand with back and forth movement at the wrist. I wanted the Queen of England’s wave, highly dignified, honestly looked like she was actually answering every single wave, and all with almost imperceptible hand movement. I hardly mastered it.
Stew is a wonderful camp companion. During our lazy times we had ongoing discussions on the geology of the San Juans. As I have said, Stew comes prepared. He pulled out his copy of Roadside Geology of Colorado. He pointed out that we were surrounded by volcanic rock and that possibly six ancient calderas had been identified, hard to see now because of massive erosion and then recent glaciation. I asked why were there volcanoes, we were not along the ring of fire, was this a hot spot like Yellowstone? Stew investigated further and said it was possible this area, way back in time, was on a mid ocean ridge similar to Iceland. The Lady wanted to know how high these volcanoes were since in their now much eroded state are over 14,000 feet high. Stew investigated further, perhaps well over 17,000 feet. And, he pointed out that much of that eroded material possibly had gone west to settle into shallow sea basins.
After the din of the maggots died away – I started calling this road the Maggot Superhighway – and we were again alone up in this wonderful country, we enjoyed our final night here and with our buddy Stew.
A note to clarify the term maggot, it referrers to the atv (quad) and the utv (side by side), completely unnecessary machines invading our public lands. The first use of this term may come from a reference and comparison to sheep being called range maggots and atv’s were then called guadra-maggots. Currently I like to tie the term to quagga mussel, like the atv, a destructive invasive species. The National Park Service has the most appropriate approach, limiting use of backroads to street legal and street licensed vehicles only. This should be adopted by all our public lands agencies. It is a shame that the local communities in this area have sold their souls to the devil and promote this invasion, appearing to be desperately wanting tourist dollars from any source. The long term detriments will soon outweigh the short term perceived monetary gain. This is why our evenings were so special, it was so noticeable when the noise and exhaust fumes were gone.
Stew was heading home to the east Thursday morning. We were heading west over Cinnamon Pass. To enjoy the drive and area in peace, we were on our way at 6:30 am. Clouds were low and heavy, the mare’s tails were correct, it was going to rain again.
It was a nice drive to the top.
We were the only ones on the road. Our plan was working.
Again without meeting another vehicle we dropped down the west side to the ghost town far below.
This new storm front had chilled the idea of making another try for Sneffels. Where should we head? We needed to tend to some domestic chores – resupply food and do laundry. We decided to head down the Animas River Canyon to Silverton.
Under cloudy skies we passed by the old site of Eureka.
It was time to start toward home but we soon discovered that many more adventures were ahead for the ski3pinners……………………………………………………………………….
The story continues in Part Six - Click Here