Red Cloud and Sunshine at 14,000 feet

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Mountain towns always seem to foster interesting people and meetings of interesting people. Durango, CO is one of those towns.

After a run in Lightner Canyon, I was having breakfast at a local diner in Durango. I was sitting at the counter when another bearded, disheveled fellow sat on the stool next to me. His disheveledniss set him apart slightly from the normal local, clad in outdoor wear and scruffy hair. His name was Ryan or Dirtmonger on the trails. Turns out he’d just finished hiking the Colorado Trail, in fifteen days! Before that he’d down a loop he’d named the Vagabond loop after the long lost Everett Ruess. This is a linkup of the Arizona trail, Hey Duke Trail, Grand Enchantment Trail and some other connectors to make a spectacular southwestern loop thru hike. I had just been thinking of this route a few days earlier.

I had nothing going on and was eager to chat about hiking adventures, so I gave Ryan a ride up to Silverton. He was staying in Lake City for a while and was ticking off the fourteen thousand foot peaks in the San Juans. We made tentative plans to meet up in a few days and run the peaks in the Handies Group (Handies, Red Cloud and Sunshine).

A couple days after I ran Wham Ridge, I got a message from Ryan to run the peaks. I drove over from Silverton on the Alpine Loop road. Although this is a fairly commonly traveled road, it is a little hairy in spots and definitely requires high clearance and 4×4. I started going over in the dark but quickly decided to sleep below the first rough section. The road is much better to drive in the day light.

After a longer and rougher than expected drive, I got to the trailhead just in time to catch Ryan before he took off. The trailhead was packed with cars, thus the trail was packed with people. We filled up our bottles and took off up the trail hiking and running when we could. Most of the trail is runnable but it is a pretty steady, long climb. The hike/run combination felt good. After passing a lot of people with heavy packs, I was really enjoying our light and fast approach. We just had one handheld bottle, a jacket and a little bit of fuel. Ryan was hiking fast up the climbs (over 3000 miles of practice over the summer!) but I was able to catch up on the descents and runnable sections.

I stopped on top of Red Cloud for a picture and Ryan was already way down the trail to Sunshine. In the mean time, a hiker on the summit realized that there were four red heads on top of Red Cloud this morning. I posed with them for a picture. Pretty rare occurrence I imagine. The trail over to Sunshine was runnable but really rocky. Ryan and I hung out on Sunshine to eat and enjoy the views before descending another long, rocky scree field. It was steep and slow at first but cut out some miles and back tracking. We had to help a dog down the steepest section. It did not want to down climb, so Ryan handed it down to it’s owner. At the base of the scree was a spring where we filled up our bottles again with fresh, cold mountain water. From here back the trailhead was good, fast, runnable single track and we got back pretty quick.

More storm clouds were moving in when we reached the bottom and we decided we didn’t really need to do Handies Peak today. The loop we did was about 10 miles with good elevation gain, view and two 14,000 ft summits. We rolled on down to Lake City and re-fueled with a big pizza at the local pizza joint. A good ending to a fun outing with a new friend. Thanks mountains, you amaze me once again.

Check out Ryan’s site here: http://freedirtmonger.blogspot.com/

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