Peak(s):  Sunshine Peak  -  14,004 feet
Date Posted:  03/11/2008
Date Climbed:   03/08/2008
Author:  shanahan96
 Slaying a Nightmare   

Sunshine in her winter coat

Sunshine. Don‘t be fooled by the inviting name, this "bright" peak is really a dangerous, sleeping monster, awakening every so often to do battle with the unsuspecting mountaineer. In March 2005 we had an encounter which left me questioning everything I knew about winter mountaineering, and wanting another go-around with the demons that live in this place. It wouldn‘t come soon.

The winters of 2006 and 2007 brought more frustration. Windows of opportunity would open just wide enough to raise my spirits before those pesky mountain gods would crush any glimmer of hope I had. February 2008, the games resumed. Another shot for a winter San Juans trip? No, the sunny forecast held false hope. The snow never stopped, going on for one more day and one more day. Our lovely weather window was blocked, once again, by inaccessible, snow covered roads. Frustration reached a boiling point. I threw thoughts of Sunshine aside for another year and began to focus on closer endeavors. Despite my best efforts, the thought lurked in the back of my mind.

Wednesday morning, I began making plans for a weekend Sawatch climb but found a less than desirable forecast in several places. While poking around the NOAA site, I discovered gorgeous weather forecasted for the Lake City area this weekend. Let‘s keep an eye on that. Thursday brought more of the same. Hope returned as Jamie and I made plans with Sarah and Prakash for a Sunshine attempt, and hopefully Redcloud, on Saturday. Is this what you‘ve been waiting for all this time? There‘s only one way to find out.

As the Saturday morning alarm sounds at 5am, anticipation rushes in. A quick check out the window reveals no fresh snow outside and a dark, cloudless sky floating overhead. Hope appears. Leaving the Alpine Moose, we make our through quiet Lake City towards Lake San Cristobal and the canyon of the Lake Fork Gunnison River.

Driving up the canyon, the sky began to lighten up with multiple, beautiful colors. Sunshine, wrapped in her white cloak, rises above a sea of peaks to dominate the skyline and lures us towards the starting point, Mill Creek Campground.

Early morning colors from Mill Creek Campground

Pulling into the campground our attention is quickly diverted to the dominating cliffs lording over us. Oh boy that looks like one heckuva maze; thankfully I‘ve been through this part before! Here my nerves kick in and concentrating on a simple thing becomes somewhat comical. After fumbling around gearing up for way too long, we begin the ascent at 6:55am.

Partially dry, south facing slopes greet us immediately as we begin to climb, and climb we did!

Slogging up the steep slopes towards the East Ridge

As we progress forward, weaving in and out of cliff bands, alternating between solid snowfields and dry San Juan crumble scree, the canyon floor quickly drops behind us.

Sarah and Jamie with the Lake Fork of the Gunnison Drainage below

After an hour and 1000‘ vertical we reach the final cliff band. Scooting around its left, Sarah leads Prakash up a fourth-class exit while Jamie and I climb the snowbank to reach the terrain above. Fifteen minutes later, after one final steep grunt, we reach flatter ground at 10,870‘ and decide to take a break.

Jamie Nellis making her way past one of Sunshine‘s infamous cliff bands

Rugged Point 13,674 rises over lower Cataract Gulch

Yes, flatter terrain! Well, it comes with a price as we remove the snowshoes from our backs to begin to break 3-6" through the woods. Pine trees prove to be our nemesis so we stick close to the leopard aspens. An hour of switching leads and steady breaking bring us out at treeline just below the lower sections of the East Ridge.

The wide open expanse above treeline looks spooky.

Treeline with Sunshine‘s East Ridge looming above

Fortunately, the snow is solid and we cruise towards the ridge. I stop to change a layer and fall behind the group. As they cruise along higher up, I keep a steady pace and soak in the views of 13,832 and 13,811 to our northwest. Higher up, they reach the ridgecrest and disappear out of sight.

Point 13,832 from low on Sunshine‘s East Ridge

Upon arriving at the spot where they disappeared, I am excited to see we‘d reached the flat plateau at 12,540‘. They had a spot near the center to rest while we regroup. From this vantage point, the summit of Sunshine is visible poking its head out from behind the triangle. Finally it felt close; we‘re going to make it! Excitement is in the air, even the Snickers Bars taste better!

Approaching the triangle slope with Sunshine behind

With a bit of a breeze in the air we decide it‘s time to resume our climb. My legs ware tiring so I slow the pace and quickly fall behind the group as they begin to engage the triangle slope. Up, up and further up we hike. Wow, this didn‘t look that big from its base! Oh well, left, left....left, right, left.

Jamie is waiting for me at the top of the slope. From here, Sunshine dominates the view. It almost feels like we could touch it.

Me high on the East Ridge as we near Sunshine

Follow Jamie, she knows the way towards Sunshine

As we cross the narrowing ridge, the air from the North Face couloirs(there‘s gotta be an interesting line through there) roars up to greet us. There are two thin sections along the way, but nothing spooky enough to consider an ice axe. Glancing ahead we notice Sarah and Prakash beginning to ascend the summit ridge.

Reaching the bend in the East Ridge

That‘s when the wind decides to make its presence known.

Throwing down our packs we quickly grab our windbreakers. Jamie throws on her balaclava and proceeds onwards. After negotiating a rock band on its north side, we begin the summit ridge ourselves. Sarah waves to let us know they‘ve reached the summit as she sits down.

Looking back down the East Ridge

Focusing on our progress we make our way up to them until there is no further to climb. The summit of Sunshine! I look around at soaked in peaks, smile and feel three years of frustration rip itself away from me.

The summit of Sunshine Peak in winter!

Now we had a decision to make. Redcloud? We figure the roundtrip will take 2.5-3 hours. Right now its 12:40pm, we have a 5-hour drive home and I have to work in the morning after losing an hour of sleep. Ugh! I guess we have to head back baby. We say our goodbyes to Sarah and Prakash before they leave for the Redcloud.

Redcloud hiding in the storm

Fifteen minutes later, we begin our descent. Snowshoes(yes, none of us have taken them off) help with traction higher up. While crossing the narrower sections we take a final glance down the North Face couloirs and ponder a possible route through there for a future spring climb. A short time later we‘re back at treeline.

Socked in Sunshine on the way out

Our quads begin to tire as the slope steepens once again. Back down near our first break area snowshoes become a hindrance and we add them to the load. In open areas we use short glissades through the soft, wet snow to momentarily relieve our quads and the canyon floor rushes up to greet us. It‘s 4:40pm when we reach the Subaru. Less than 9 hours roundtrip, what a pleasant surprise! Hopefully we‘ll be home around 10pm.

not really, drive home sucked. we were in a snowstorm the entire way driving 30-35mph and finally returned home around 1:20am. a little present from the mountain gods....

so, 25 out of the top-100 in winter. why do i have this feeling that i‘m not really a quarter of the way done?


Comments or Questions
03/12/2008 02:07
That ridge reminds me a bit of Quandary‘s never ending spine slope. Congrats on snagging Sunshine!

03/12/2008 02:29
Always feels good to knock off a nemesis peak, nice work. Winter‘s still not over yet, though...

Jamie, I have to admit...
03/12/2008 23:16 do make this route look awfully tempting, and the San Juans are always beckoning.

03/13/2008 21:37
dcbates- yeah, winter is fun. make sure you find partners who are smart, strong and willing to change the plan at a minute‘s notice on the mountain. people/plans who are unwilling to change can get you into lots of trouble. be safe, have fun!

stevie junior- did you get your something 14,000‘+ this week? we‘re still waiting on your first winter fourteener and the door‘s shutting quickly. the mountain gods are throwing a block party this weekend!

prakash- you meant right snowshoe slaves, correct? nevermind, please get back to breaking

milburn- we need to talk ice soon. i think sarah is interested in joining us too....but not 100% sure there yet.

keith- if you‘re planning on going high(over 14K) in the san juan snow, this will be your best choice. once it melts off above 10,500‘ or so(late april), avoid it. it‘ll be a horrid scree slog after that.....and it‘s easy to deposit youself in bent creek drainage, home of bushwhacking nightmares.


Strong work
03/14/2008 21:33
Jamie - Congrats on getting this done. Very nice trip report. I have to agree with KeithK -- you make this route look very tempting. I am hoping to head down there next week, weather permitting.

Tah Dah!
03/16/2008 06:04
Now you can pick another peak to suffer over! Don‘t you feel relieved? Good job, eveyone!!

03/16/2008 22:49
you said weeks kiefer? how about 3 years!.....well, i guess that is 156 weeks

steve- they find me, not the other way around. i do have some interesting ideas set for winter 2009 already! how about your week? word on the street says you have interesting information that we‘d enjoy hearing about.


03/17/2008 07:17
That first shot of Sunshine seems to be screaming avalanche!

Great trip report, by the way!

03/17/2008 21:29
yeah, i‘d agree with that. thanks for mentioning that as more people than you‘d like to imagine would climb it without knowing any better if it was ”more accessible”.

the face looks beautiful and would make a great climb(and glissade!) in late spring, but it‘s probably deadly now despite the snow beginning to consolidate nicely in the san juans. our route followed the ridge in the right half of the picture, staying out of harm‘s way.


Well done!
08/28/2008 00:37
Congrats on another winter ticker! Nice pictures!

10/22/2008 10:35
After weeks of postponing this bugger you finally made it!
The summit still looks impossibly far away from the triangle plateau area though.
Congrats on this one Jamie AND Jamie!

11/30/2010 17:28
just needed to find the right climbin' partners . Way to stick it to da mound...

Great Report
02/05/2011 00:22
I am really liking this winter stuff and your trip reports make me want more.

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