Slipping Away Into the San Juans

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Our next day, Labor Day, was spent on the 65-mile Alpine Loop. The Alpine Loop is one of the most scenic Jeep roads in Colorado and accesses four of Colorado’s fourteeners. Be sure to pick up an “Alpine Loop – Pocket Guide to the San Juan Mountains” in the local bookstore for a mere five dollars. It is well worth the price as it gives you a mile-by-mile description of everything remotely interesting on the loop. Follow the loop and you will find yourself on top of some of the more remote passes in this part of the country.

On top of Engineer Pass, elevation 12,800’, you have a view of any number of Colorado’s fourteen-thousand foot mountains. Along the way, we had a wonderful picnic lunch at an abandoned mine. We decided to make a side trip to Ouray off of Engineer Pass and were surprised on the trail by several co-workers from Oklahoma who were making their way up the trail from the Ouray side. Neither of us had discussed our plans to drive on the Alpine Loop on Labor Day and it really gives you an idea of how small the off-highway world is when you run into someone 800 miles and 12 hours away from home in such a remote area.

Our Alpine Loop ride was capped by a trip through Silverton where we stopped for some much needed coffee and then drove over Cinnamon Pass, elevation 12,640’, which has equally mouth dropping views. From the top of this pass, you can marvel at the engineering feats of the early miners. The rain began as we started our descent down towards Lake City, and Alan and I both agreed it had been a very good day.

On Tuesday morning, we were up at 3:00am to attempt a hike of two summits: Redcloud Peak at an elevation 14,034 ft., and Sunshine Peak with an elevation 14,001 ft. The early start was necessary because of the eleven- mile roundtrip distance and 4,700 ft. of elevation gain.

Scout’s paws were a little sore from our hike on Sunday, so we slipped on some booties to protect his feet from the rocks, and then were on the trail by 5:00am in the pitch black. Scout eagerly bounded up the trail and we made quick work of the lower part of the hike. A short climb up a steep ridge and we were on the summit of Redcloud Peak by 8:30am. We didn’t linger because the clouds were building faster than on our climb two days before. A short descent to the ridge on the other side of the summit put us a mile away from Sunshine Peak. The views were spectacular, and while the ridge was wide and very safe, we still had the illusion of exposure as either side of the ridge dropped away over 2,000 ft.

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