Sunshine Peak
Descent Route: Northeast Face
April 3-4, 2006
Ski Descent #17

After an all too brief night of recovery and family time after our big adventure on Snowmass Mountain, we unpacked, repacked, shopped for food, bought more film, and hit the road. Twenty-four hours after skiing a fourteener in the Elk Range (Snowmass) we found ourselves camped out at a road closure in the eastern San Juan Mountains, outside the town of Lake City. The goal was to climb and ski Redcloud Peak and Sunshine Peak, two low fourteeners that can be easily linked together in a day.

Mike Cuseo, Jon Hagman, and I woke at 5:30 Tuesday morning, brewed coffee and ate oatmeal. The skies were clear when we got out of the tent, but by the time we had out packs on our backs, the weather had turned and snow was falling. It?s really hard to motivate for a big day in the mountains and get your butt out of a warm sleeping bag when its snowing out, but we motivated and hit the road at 6:45 a.m. The road from the old town site of Sherman, at 9500?, to the Silver Creek Trailhead 9called the Shelf Road) was closed but dry for the most part. So today we walked up in our hiking shoes, skis and boots slung on our packs. For three and a half miles we trudged along, slowly gaining elevation, until we reached the summer parking lot at Silver Creek. Here the snow had obviously been melting during the days, and freezing at nights. Jon and I were able to walk gently on the surface of the snow, but curses flew out of Mike?s mouth as he kept breaking through the frozen crust and sinking up to his thigh.

By 9:00 a.m. we were skinning up the trail to the peaks. The approach is really quite straightforward, just a long climb up a valley. The weather had stabilized and was actually showing signs of clearing as we hit tree line at 11,800?. After a quick lunch break, we continued the climb up to our first summit, Sunshine Peak. Our ascent route took us up the west side of the mountain, and, as with most other fourteeners this winter, the west side was pretty devoid of snow. I hoped that we would find the east and north east aspects filled in with good, solid snowpack. We hit the summit ridge only 200? below the top and immediately saw that the snow on the northeast face of Sunshine looked awesome. The easiest way to climb or ski these two peaks together would be to tag the summit of Sunshine, ski down the connecting ridge, and then hike back up to the summit of Redcloud, which is only 300? vertical feet above the low point on the saddle (a mile away however). But since my mission involved trying to ski the most interesting or challenging lines I can find on the peaks, we chose to descend the complete northeast face, a move which would require a big climb out of the bowl to hit the ridge to Redcloud.

The photos pretty much tell the story. The sun came out and the skiing was amazing. Our line was steep, continuous, and covered by buttery powder snow. I dropped in off the summit first, while Mike filmed from a great angle down the ridge, and Jon filmed from the summit. At the bottom of the face I cut skier?s left and caught a sweet 200? couloir that led into the bottom of the bowl. Jon skied the line next, carving big, easy tele turns down the face. This was the kind of run that definitely required a high-five at the bottom. We threw the skis on our packs and booted straight up out of the bowl, climbing a steep 1000? feet back to the Redcloud/ Sunshine connecting ridge. It was 2:00 p.m. already, time to eat and move on to the next objective, Redcloud Peak.

*** Please click on the Redcloud Peak link for the rest of the trip report.

Thanks,
Chris




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