REDCLOUD PEAK – 14,034' / SUNSHINE PEAK – 14,001'

I got out late last night en route to the Redcloud-Sunshine trailhead. Megan and I had planned to climb it together but as the hour got late, she lost interest. I didn’t hit the road until about 10p, which meant that I didn’t arrive until 2a. Unfortunately going directly up and over Cinnamon Pass isn’t an option in my little Camry. Having a sedan is often inconvenient in the world of climbing 14ers, as it frequently means longer hikes and in this case a longer driving route to and from the trailhead.

I parked about 4 miles below the trailhead, as I wasn’t sure of the quality of the road ahead. It got narrow at that point and according to the beta that’s where the road ¨began to get rough.¨ I figured I’d rather do some extra miles than have a car issue. It turned out to be an unnecessarily conservative, overly cautious plan that added 8 miles to my already long trek.

I took an hour long power nap and was hiking by 330a. (You really gotta love this stuff to enjoy doing it the way I did today.) As I donned my headlamp at the start of my 20-mile day, I felt excited to be back at it. I’ve been chomping at the bit for weeks with my eye on the high country. It’s been nearly three years since my last 14er climb.

After an hour, I picked up the trail at the parking lot. Lots of cars and tents there but hardly anyone was stirring at 430a. I was totally cruising, totally stoked. I passed two folks as we breached treeline and the high silhouettes of the surrounding ridgelines came into view. I didn’t pass another soul until I was on my way back. Having both Redcloud and Sunshine to myself, it felt like I was the only person on earth.

The views were sensational. The clouds were thick and foreboding in the distance, ominous but not to the point of being threatening. It wasn’t raining. There was no thunder, and I couldn’t see any lightning. As I topped out on Redcloud, I ignored the allure of summit fever and considered my situation objectively. I was laboring so intensely by that point that I briefly considered turning around and skipping Sunshine. The bulk of the impending storm seemed stagnant over the distant peaks and the peripheral clouds were mostly moving laterally. I hadn’t come all that way to turn around unnecessarily, so I resigned to pace myself as I inched my way toward the lowest of the 14er peaks.

I was having trouble breathing for much of the latter half of the ascent. I haven’t struggled with altitude for a long, long time. It was humbling. I imagine I’ll have a few more experiences like that before I hit my stride. I remember with longing the feeling of invincibility that I felt while climbing the high peaks in 2012. I was doing heavy rock work for 40 hrs/wk at 13,000 feet. Not surprisingly I was in perhaps the best shape I’ve ever been that summer. I’m shamefully out of shape by comparison. Reaching Sunshine’s summit felt like an accomplishment of epic proportions. The views of the San Juans, including lovely Uncompahgre and Wetterhorn silhouetted against the distant sky was awe-inspiring.

Yes, this is why I endure thin air and biting wind. This.

As I picked my way down, a familiar sting bit at my knee with each step. I’m so hard on my body. And with so many adventures yet to live, I imagine this poor vessel will be thoroughly used up by the time I’m done with it. It seems to me all is as it should be.

As I approached my car, rain began to fall lightly. So close. I might have complained had I not felt so much gratitude for the gorgeous climb. Besides, a fellow climber picked me up and shuttled me the last mile to my car. Thanks, Xavier!

All told, I covered just over 19 miles in 7.5 hours. Not my best work, but not bad considering my sabbatical.