11 August 2007
We drove through the night to reach the Sunshine/Redcloud trailhead in time for a 4 a.m. start. We were treated to about a couple dozen bright and beautiful Perseids along the drive, thanks to gloriously clear skies.
We arrived at the trailhead about an hour early. I had slept for three hours while The Lizard drove the last leg, so we decided to try to get a short nap before taking off.
Good thing! If we'd immediately left our car, I'm not sure what we'd have come back to at the end of our hike.
About 20 minutes after we parked, The Lizard was fast asleep, and I was watching for meteors. All of a sudden, I heard what sounded like a band saw being used on the bottom of our car!!!
I woke The Lizard, and he stomped on the floorboard. The noise stopped, but only for a few seconds. I grabbed my headlamp and jumped out of the car to scare off the critter before my brain kicked into gear. What if it had been a skunk?!?
Fortunately, it was just an over-sized porcupine, and my headlamp did what The Lizard's stomping didn't. Porky cowered underneath the far side of the car. The Lizard turned the car on and stomped again. I got back into the car to give Porky space to flee, and that he did in record time.
We moved the car anyway.
The unplanned excitement combined with the darkness to hamper our preparations. We forgot to put on sunscreen before we headed out.
I wanted to watch for shooting stars during the hike, but someone littered almost the entire trail with pea-sized to softball-sized rocks (ha ha), so I had to watch the ground instead of the stars.
Sunrise on Whitecross from the tarn at the head of Silver Creek provided a delightful breakfast break.
We thought we were first on the trail because all the tents and car campers were still dark and silent. But a solo hiker and a pair of hikers passed us in the opposite direction before we reached the summit of Redcloud. So we were not first.
Three years ago we'd made this same trek, but Sunshine had eluded us, thanks to storms, and the view wasn't as grand as what we could see this time. Three years ago, smoke from distant fires was so hazy, we couldn't see Half Peak and the Grenadiers. This time, we had picture perfect views in every direction, crystal clear sky for the first few hours and a second successful summit.
To date, the only dual peaks I've managed to climb in just one trip are Uncompahgre/Pt. 13,091 and Castle/Conundrum, both before my back surgery. Tabegauche has held me at bay twice since. So Sunshine will hold special sentimental value for me and hopefully will help me build confidence for tougher challenges ahead.
We shared Redcloud's summit with four other hikers both times, and Sunshine's summit with just one other person. The guy on Sunshine had just arrived in Colorado the day before from Indiana via the Pacific and had spent one day acclimating before trying his first double summit. He asked us to snap some photos of him, and we enjoyed telling him the names of the surrounding peaks. I'm continually impressed by the people who come to Colorado once a year to climb 14ers, and meeting such adventurers helps me remember how grateful I am to live here. I can play in this huge backyard almost every weekend.
All but two of the sky pilots on the Sunshine/Redcloud saddle had gone to seed. Darkness camouflaged wildflowers on the way up, but on the way down, arnica, mules ear and groundsel painted the basin above the tarn golden yellow. Paintbrush dabbed speckles of bright pink, magenta, white and greenish yellow.
Fingertip-sized blue sulfurs favored the arnica but also formed colonies along the trail where water crossed. I saw one colony of about 30 tiny blue and silver butterflies resting/drinking water. All the butterflies I saw on this trip must be wary of predators eating them. I had a very difficult time photographing them.
I saw my first black swallowtail ever. The mostly black wings sport a bright yellow, orange and red stripe along the bottom edge, making it look like afterburners on a pint-sized Stealth.
Almost all of the columbine had gone to seed, but a few plants still flourished by the tarn, providing nectar for a lone camera-shy hummingbird moth.
Back inside treeline, grassy slopes radiated with vivid clusters of purple asters and harebells. Raspberry blossoms were plentiful and should provide a tasty harvest in about a week or two.
I usually carry single serving packets of sunscreen everywhere I go, just in case, but apparently I'd used up my stash without replenishing. I searched my camera bag and my pack with no success. So Sunshine left its mark upon our faces today.