Peak(s):  San Luis Peak  -  14,014 feet
Redcloud Peak  -  14,034 feet
Sunshine Peak  -  14,001 feet
Date Posted:  06/02/2020
Modified:  09/18/2020
Date Climbed:   05/18/2020
Author:  hogantheepic
Additional Members:   gfwarlock
 A Trip to the San Juans   

A Trip to the San Juans

Hogan Warlock

11/58 in 2020

Another week of 14er's! My summer project of summiting the 58 CO 14er's is moving along nicely. This week, I broke into the double digits for the year, my Dad and I both summited our first 14ers in the San Juan's, my Dad finally climbed a 14er the day after climbing a 14er, and we checked off 3 more 14ers.

We originally planned for a 5-day trip (2 of which are driving days since the San Juans are a solid 6 hours plus from where we live) with 4 14er's to climb. We would drive down to the Stewart Creek trailhead on Saturday, May 16, and backpack in a few miles to make the next day a little easier. Then on Sunday, May 17, we would summit San Luis Peak, hike back to the car, drive the ~2 hours to the Silver Creek/Grizzly Gulch Trailhead, and camp. On Monday, May 18, we would summit Redcloud Peak and Sunshine Peak and camp again at the same trailhead. On Tuesday, May 19, we would climb Handies Peak and camp one last night at this trailhead. Then, on Wednesday, May 20, we would make the long drive back home.

All the trip reports I am writing for the summer is simply a byproduct of my thoughts, reactions, and experiences from my summer mountaineering project of climbing the 58 CO 14ers before I head back to CU in August. I hope that these trip reports help me to learn from mistakes, to document my experiences, and to help me to think and become a better person and mountaineer. Thank you for reading and for your support!

As I said, we only summited 3 14er's instead of the planned 4. Here's the story.

Earlier this Season:

So far, before this trip, I had summited 8 14er's already on my journey towards summiting all 58 this year before I head back to school in mid-August. The previous week, I had summited 5 14er's, nearly all of which were in pretty close summer conditions for hiking. I did Mt Princeton on Monday, Mt Democrat on Tuesday, Mt Yale on Wednesday, and Shavano+Tabeguache on Thursday.

On Monday night, I camped at the winter closure for the Kite Lake trailhead. It ended up snowing about 8 inches overnight, which we were prepared for (luckily) with our backcountry setup. However, I knew that it was supposed to snow and that there was still enough snow on the mountain to ski it, so I was prepared.

However, I hardly needed flotation or anything on any of the other days. The temperatures were skyrocketing, the snow was almost nonexistent, and the entire range was having more and more reports about trailheads and peak conditions being in near-summer hiking conditions.

Though there were far fewer reports rolling in about the San Juan peaks, I knew that this was most likely due to the fact that they are much further from Denver than the northern peaks so they would have fewer hikers this time of year. Therefore, I was hoping that the San Juans would have similar conditions to the northern peaks because they have similar weather patterns. I was about to find out the hard way.

Saturday, May 16, 2020:

This was largely a preparation day. I was still trying to use it as a rest day from the previous 14er trip (which ended only 2 days earlier) so I needed it to be rather chill. However, we were still planning on backpacking about 3 miles that evening.

We left Erie (my hometown) around 2 in the afternoon, got gas, swung by the grocery to get food, and hit the road. My dad and I (the only 2 people on this whole trip) were super excited and eager to get to the San Juans and start hiking.

After 6 hours of driving with a couple of quick pit stops for food, we reached the trailhead. It was dusk. We were ready to get hiking. We were expecting to be the only people out there, completely alone in the mountains, the way we like it. But when we reached the trailhead, there was another car! The guy got out of his car and walked over and started chatting. We talked a little while my dad and I were gathering up the last of our gear (we had mostly packed our bags at home). The guy's name was Mike. He said he had summited around 30 14er's over the last 8-9 years, most solo (we assume). He was also attempting San Luis Peak the next day, but he was camping at the trailhead that night. He seemed like he wanted a partner to hike with. Mike, if you're reading this, email me and we can meet up this summer for a 14er! I need partners and so do you, and I have a lot of peaks left!

We said bye, and set off down the trail. After about an hour, we put on our headlamps and then hiked for another hour. We made it about 3 miles up the trail. According to the sign at the trailhead, it was 5.7 miles from trailhead to summit, so we were more than halfway to the top. We decided to pitch camp real quick and go to sleep.

Sunday, May 17, 2020:

We woke up late, around 7:30. Oops. Luckily, we had hiked a bit already the night before and were closer to treeline, so it wasn't a big deal. We fired up the stove, boiled some water, and ate breakfast. My dad had some instant coffee and I had hot cocoa (I don't drink coffee). We had brought some backpacker's breakfast packs we got at Costco, which ended up being pretty good but not quite enough. After we packed our bags for the summit hike, we tossed everything else in the tent and set off. It was 8:30. Late starts any time of year is bad, but at this time of year, the avalanche conditions continually worsen as the day progresses because the snowpack warms under the sun and melts. Water percolates through the layers, weakening the snowpack, and wet slide danger increases. Basically, if you start and end your day early, you should be pretty safe (thanks CAIC!). We started a little too late for what this theory suggests.

Anyways, after setting off at 8:30, the trail gradually degraded. There began to be more and more downed trees and brush and such covering the trail making me grateful that I didn't have skis on my back to navigate. Besides this, the trail transformed from a well-marked trail into a snow-covered nightmare. There was a point where we ended up having to climb up some strange sideways gully-thing that actually looked a little bit avalanche prone but extremely low consequence. The snow was strong enough to walk on in the morning so we didn't have too big of problems with the snow, but there was always a random post-hole that would throw us off. We tried to use the brush that covered a lot of the snowy area as much as possible by stepping on it like snowshoes. It worked pretty well most of the time.


^^Left: walking across the snow portion of the hike. Middle: looking up at the summit from a saddle. Right: me relaxing near the summit.^^

Eventually, we made it past all the snow, and it was easy walking from there to the summit. In fact, it was the easiest 14er I had done yet. There was hardly any talus that we had to pick through since the entire trail to the summit (besides the snowy portion) was a well made dirt-rock trail. When we reached the summit pitch, we thought that we surely were coming up on a false summit, but we were pleasantly surprised that we had indeed just summited. We made it to the top!


^^Left: Summit picture! Right: the first USGS Marker I've seen so far this season.^^

On the hike down, my dad lost a basket on his trekking pole. We didn't feel like going back to look for a snow basket, so we kept moving. On the way, we passed by Mike, the only other person out there. We talked for a few minutes, we told him about the snow basket, he said he'd keep his eye out for it. We parted ways and continued back to our tent.

Before long we made it back to our tent. After breaking down camp and getting a move on back to the car, we finally gained sight of the car across the meadow that you emerge upon on the hike back. We thought we were nearly back to the car, but this meadow is deceivingly long. It took us like 30-40 minutes to walk across the meadow and actually get back to the car!

It had been a great day. Weather was nice, the isolation was pleasant, we had summited our 1st 14er in the San Juans. Success!

A week or so later, Mike had found me on and messaged me telling me that he had found my dad's snow basket. We hadn't exchanged numbers or usernames or anything, but he found me from watching the trailhead and peak conditions reports. It was pretty cool to see this happen!

We drove out a good 2-3 hours to the Recloud-Sunshine-Handies trailhead that afternoon and set up camp. This was the first time I had been to Lake City. I had even more proof of the isolation of the San Juans when we found deer roaming the streets! I know that if there was somewhere else in Colorado I'd want to move to in the future, it would be Silverton, because it's right in the heart of the San Juans, with amazing skiing and hiking and climbing to be had.

Monday, May 18, 2020:

We woke up at 5, got ready, ate breakfast, etc etc. I had blisters on my heels from the last week, so I put some moleskin on them. I'm still trying to learn how to use it best since it's tricky to put it on without it coming off. I need to figure that out.

We began hiking at 6:50 (the magic number for some reason, if you've read some of my other trip reports). The weather was nice, no clouds and hopefully a bluebird day. It had gotten really cold that night, so we were glad to be moving.

Our plan was to head up the trail and hook a right across the main creek (or should I say raging river) and follow a smaller creek up the valley. We would ascend Sunshine via the northwest face snow couloirs. I was hoping that most of the snow would be pretty much gone from the couloirs and it would be a regular summer hike.

Well, before we could even see the couloir wall, the route was foreshadowing what would come. We tried following the river, but there was too much snow and we were worried about falling through the snow into the river. We hitched left up the hill to where there looked to be a talus field without snow that we could pick our way across. To get up there, we did something that I never thought would ever be necessary on a hike: we climbed a tree. It was completely vertical, mind you, but it was in fact a downed tree that was pointing directly up the mountain. We climbed up the tree to reach a snow-less area to hike.


^^Left: we checked out a massive avalanche path on the hike up. Right: climbing the tree.^^

Well, this was a good idea, but unfortunately, the snow-less area didn't last very long. We were soon dealing with snow again. According to the map, we were pretty much on the trail, which we were able to vaguely follow when it would pop out of the snow. The snow seemed to be strong enough to support our weight if we weren't near any trees. As soon as we got near a tree, it seemed like the melt-freeze crust wasn't as stable and we would post-hole.

The trail headed straight through a patch of woods.

I led, trying to find spots where it was strong enough to actually walk a good distance, or trying to go directly to trees that had a totally melted out base around it so you were walking on ground and not snow. This section was probably less than half a mile, but it took us about an hour to make it through this because of the almost chest-deep post-holing we were doing.

After we got out of the trees, the snow became very strong, almost icy strong, and we walked up to the head of the valley. We saw a Ptarmigan! This was a very beautiful bird and I'm happy that I finally got to see one.

The whole walk up, I was looking at the snow-filled couloirs that were on the wall we were to climb. We didn't have crampons or axes with us, so I knew that my dad wasn't going to feel ok with climbing it. I was hoping that it wouldn't be as steep as it appeared from far away.


^^Left: Looking up at the wall we were to climb. Our route ended up being to the left of the big cliffs underneath the ridge. Right: me hiking on the snowfields mostly covering the valley.^^

When we finally got close up to it, it still seemed pretty steep, so we took an alternate route. We went up a scree field on the West face of the ridge between Redcloud and Sunshine. This proved to be very challenging, as it was super loose. Every step you take, your foot sinks back a bunch and you are basically trying to swim your way up a scree field.

Luckily, there was a snow field going up the slope right next to where we were climbing. I opted to climb up the edge of this snowfield, using my Nepal Evo's to kick in steps and holding onto the edge of the snow. It worked very well, but I was still extremely cautious because although the snow seemed pretty strong, it could still fracture at any moment. We made quick work of this snowfield, and before long, we were at the crux of our route.

At moments, we had been scrambling up some spines that didn't consist of actual scree but rock that was ready to fall off the mountain. We had to use much care to not fall with some big boulders, and to protect each other from falling debris. At the crux, I would say that we ended up climbing a V0, 10 ft boulder problem that was full of rock ready to release from the mountain. It was very sketchy. It was also partly what made this my favorite 14er so far this year.


^^Left: my dad, just before the crux. Right: looking down the slope we were climbing.^^


^^Left: Wetterhorn on the left and Matterhorn on the right. Right: Uncompahgre Peak calling to us.^^

Before long, we were at the saddle. We were glad to be out of the scree field. We hiked the last half mile up to Sunshine and summited. 10/58 for the year for me!

It took us a good hour to walk the ridge from Sunshine over the Redcloud. It was an easy hike, though. We summited Redcloud at around 1. 11/58 for the year for me!


^^Left and right: looking up at Sunshine Peak from the saddle.^^


^Left: on the saddle. Right: Redcloud Peak summit. I can't seem to find my picture for the Sunshine summit.^^

It's after the summit of Redcloud that the drama heightens. We continued down the trail, where it is mostly easy to hike on until we reached the top of the snowfields. After this, we decided to aim straight for swaths of bare ground. While it was steep, it was ok to walk on, as it was still strong enough that we weren't post-holing and it was accepting our steps into the snow.

However, as the slope flattened out, the hike became more and more of a nightmare. We were starting to post-hole more and more, and eventually, the snow became so soft that we were wading through slush up past our waists. I tried rolling across the snow, which sort of helped, but the snow was so wet that my clothes got soaked pretty quickly. We didn't really have extra clothing, nor did we have the stuff to camp overnight up there, so the situation was becoming a little more dire. We needed to make it back to the car or else we would potentially be spending the night out there in soaking wet clothes in well below freezing temperatures. Our situation was not ideal.

Someone had previously post-holed a little bit through the snow, so we followed these tracks, but they had probably passed through here a few hours at least before us, so they were able to still mostly walk on top of the snow without it collapsing. The snow was too soft to support our weight now, so we had no choice but to take step after strenuous step through the depths of the mountain snow.

After about an hour and a half, we had pretty much made it through the worst of the post-holing, and we were able to hop between islands of bare ground. The snowfields shallowed out, became more sparse, and we were finally at treeline. Thinking back, we had to avoid a rushing creek lower down where there wasn't as much snow. There were some snow bridges over sections that completely muffled the roar of the water. The water wasn't super deep but was plenty dangerous enough to knock you off your feet. If we had been unfortunate enough to fall through the snow into the creek that was hiding under the melting snow, we could have been swept under the snow and suffocated. Looking back, we were pretty lucky to have made it out of there.

We made it back to the car. In retrospect, we realized that we did not bring the equipment we should have for the challenges we faced today, and we were lucky to have had the success we had. Because of this, and because we were able to see our route up Handies quite clearly, we decided to bail on the hike tomorrow. We felt that it would be unwise and unsafe to climb with all the snow that we could see on Handies. I would have to come back later in the summer to check that peak off, but that's ok. I'm already gonna be back here later.


^^Handies Peak peeking out from the valley.^^

As always,

Risk is for managing, not for chance.

~Hogan Warlock~

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
Your sign?
06/02/2020 16:05
Please tell me you didn't make that sharpie sign on the rock, right? In the scheme of things it's maybe not the biggest thing in the world, but most on this site would probably object, it's sort of like carving your initials in a tree. Multiply those signs by the hundreds that hike those peaks each year and all of a sudden a summit would look like an inner city graffiti target. Maybe you just found it up there?

sharpie rocks
06/02/2020 16:13
Whoever writes on the rocks isn't very sharp nor care. Please don't graffiti the mountains.
Seems like there was another recent report with a summit Shavano, I believe, with a sharpie'd rock.
Edit: no, it was Tabeguache. Same author as here wrote the report. epic.

Sharpens pitchfork...
06/02/2020 17:05
Yeah, going from the caption on the Tab photo, I believe Hogan has got some 'splaining to do. It didn't go well for the last person that did this,

ok really guys?
06/02/2020 17:07
It was not me who wrote on those rocks. I personally don't like it very much, and as I pointed out in this trip report, I am looking for the USGS markers. Not to mention, I also bring my own paper signs with me on every 14er I do, so why would I need to write on the rocks?

I feel quite attacked and honestly a little ashamed of both of you guys for being so quick to jump to conclusions. I practice Leave No Trace Principles like they're sacred, because they in fact are sacred.

Now we have all spoken our minds. Let this be the end of this conversation.

@TomPierce @d_baker @HikerGuy

Edit: I see what you guys mean from my other trip report, and how you would think that it could be me that did that. I assure you, I was trying to crack a joke and was not serious when I said "the new USGS peak markers." This is not me who did this, nor was it anyone in my hiking party.

Remove the photo
06/02/2020 17:10
You'd be doing a public service if you removed the photo from your report. Folks see it and think it is okay. Thanks for your response! We are just passionate about this issue here. Apologies for the rude welcome to

06/02/2020 17:08
Make a statement about the rocks then, may I suggest, and don't promote them.

Good luck!
06/02/2020 17:20
Also, good luck on your 14ers project, all 58 in single season is not an easy feat.

Not a Problem
06/02/2020 17:21
I have fixed the problem and will help you all in the future with this problem. If I see these rocks again I'm not sure what to do but I will not post about them or promote them as you think I was doing here.

@d_baker @HikerGuy

06/02/2020 17:23
So far it's been exhausting but the long slogs are already getting way easier. I'm gaining more and more confidence that I'll be able to complete my goal for the season!


here's your sign
06/02/2020 17:37
Next didn't leave your sign up there for the next person, did you? hahaha...just fuckin with ya.

I realize now that you were not 'promoting' the rocks, but just by having them in a report without some sort of public service (as hikerguy pointed out) such as, "kids, don't do this" or whatever, would be a good thing to do, imo.
Also destroying or turning over and cover with more rocks so others don't see it could help the spread of bad ideas among the sharpie carriers, or future carriers.

I wouldn't suggest shaming someone so far as it went a couple of years ago though, with the topic hikerguy is referring to.

Brush it off
06/04/2020 13:57
Ignore the guys who linger on this website. Something about this hobby attracts high and mighty soap boxers who are quick to jump to conclusions. It's all about social justice these days and some people have such an itchy trigger finger to be the online police and get the praises of the other justice warriors. I didn't see the picture, but I see the pictures of you holding a paper sign. Doesn't take a genius to think that one through...

Anyway, awesome report. I plan on heading to San Luis soon and appreciate your detail. I'm currently at 31 14ers and this will be my 10th season (haven't done any yet this season .. I'm a fair weather bagger xD). Doing all of them in one year is a hell of a feat and I applaud you for even attempting it! Good luck my friend!!

Thank you!
06/05/2020 13:00
Thank you for the support! I'm glad that someone else agree's about the jumping to conclusions.


Moleskin sucks
06/05/2020 15:47
Use Rock tape or Kt tape.
I carry a small kit with me in a plastic baggie: a few pieces various sizes of tape I've precut with rounded corners (doesn't grab things and come off as easily)
A few alcohol swabs to clean the affected area and they dry quickly
A few skin-tac wipes for extra adhesion
A little plastic retracting utility knife to cut any potential blisters (bigger than a pencil eraser= pop them) or modify the tape to fit.
All available on Amazon and 40 bucks will get you enough of everything to last you for years. My whole kit weighs maybe an ounce.
For reference, the longest I've gone with tape like that on my feet is 122 miles/33,000 ft climbing/42 hours. So I'm confident it'll get you through a 14er if you get a blister or hot spot here or there.

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