Climbing 14,001ft Sunshine Peak with Kids

Around 4:30 on Thursday after work Pumpkin, Julia and I picked up Jon and Allison and hit the road West. I drove the first leg then we stopped for McDonalds and gas and Jon took the next leg.

I and I think the kids got to sleep pretty well. I woke up in Colorado Springs and got coffee and gas and Jon went to sleep and I drove and listened to my book. I enjoyed this drive, saw lots of deer, my book was good and ended up arriving over an hour earlier then google and the van’s GPS was guessing. It was still totally dark when I parked at the trailhead at Mill Creek Campground. Julia and I got out to pee and she went back to sleep with the rest of the car. I changed into my hiking clothes and explored around until I found the trail and then did some warm up stretching, high knees etc. until 5:30 when I woke up everyone and got them moving. We got all ready, had a little breakfast and then hit the trail in the predawn twilight.

We had a few switchbacks going up the hill at first but for the most part we were headed straight up hill. We had not been hiking long when we looked down at the campground where we parked and saw a moose walking across an open part of the campgound.

It’s always a little surprising how quickly you are out of breath at the start of a hike. We were all breathing really hard. We would stop for a break and catch our breaths really quick but as soon as we started back hiking we were breathing hard again. We tried to keep a steady slow pace and keep climbing.

For the most part we were on dry slick dirt and we were a little worried it would be really hard to come down on. We started scheming of going up and over the peak and continuing on the other side. There was another trailhead on the other side that was 7 miles on the road from where we parked. Eventually we got to a few talus fields to cross and it was a nice change of pace.

We hiked on and eventually got to the edge of the tree line. It was only 9:30am but we were ready for lunch and had been hiking straight up for about 4 hours. We decided we would not take our packs over the mountain and instead plan to camp here.

We didn’t want to take the time to setup camp so we just hung our food and smellables to keep critters out and piled up our packs under a tarp. We were nervous the weather would turn bad and I was having a bit of trouble with my knee so we tried to go quick and light and only carried water, snacks and rain gear as we continued on up a seeming endless grassy hill.

It was nice having our packs off and to be on a little more gradual incline with great views but it was getting hot and windy and it seemed like such a long way now.

Just as we got through all the trees, we eventually got past all the grass and started in on the rocks.

There were a couple steep sections and a couple areas it leveled off pretty good and surprisingly a short time later we went over a little rise and found ourselves on the top.

I was surprised it was actually really pleasant up top. The wind was not bad at all and we took time for drinks, snacks and lots of pictures.

There were lots of big clouds in the sky and some dark ones that were concerning so we did head down and shortly later got a few drops of rain and saw it falling harder around us.

We took fewer breaks on the way down but it was still a long way and we had to rest some.

We made it through the grass hill and to our packs. We quickly took down our food and started repacking our packs. We decided we were too low on water to camp there and needed to go down some and find a stream and a flat spot for tents. While getting our packs ready one of the dark clouds reached us and unloaded rain, hail and little flakes of wet ice on us. It was the worst timing as we had packs open and were in the middle of repacking and putting on our covers. We got covered up and packs on and headed down the mountain.

It was a weird and rough couple hours once we reached the tree line. At times it was raining or hailing, at times it was super sunny and hot. We were all pretty exhausted with bits of altitude headaches and ready to camp. The problem was we could not find water or flat spots for tents. We saw a few flatish spots early on that may have worked for a tent but they were still a long way from water. We saw some creeks on the map and left the trail to find one but when Jon reached it he could hear it under a bunch of rock. He moved some rock but could not get to the water. We debated following the underground creek until it resurfaced but decided it was too dangerous on our weary legs and headed back to the trail.

The group was really worn out and started debating stopping in some pretty rough spots where we knew water could flow through or on top of lumpy rocks but we kept deciding to power on down and keep looking. Eventually we reached the van, 13hrs after leaving it early that morning. We drove it across the road and paid $20 for a campsite at a public camp ground. \

The $20 got us a big shaded flat area for our tents, drinking water, pit toilets, a bear box, trash dumpsters and a picknick table that really came in handy.

The on and off rain was back right as we started cooking dinner so we cooked and ate under the table. My family cooked instant mashed potatoes with lots of cheese and bacon in it. They were not really seasoned but otherwise alright. We were really hungry and got into van snacks since we had the van. Oh also the van had our pillows from sleeping on the way down so that was a really nice treat. We didn’t even make it to dusk before climbing into our sleeping bags and having an amazing night of sleep.

Jon was first up Saturday morning and then I joined him and we walked a little ways out of camp to sit by a stream and have breakfast.

A camp pot of coffee, some pumpkin seeds and granola bars.

The kids got up and we leisurely packed up camp and loaded up the van. We never had a cell signal anywhere on the mountain or in camp but had some maps downloaded and made a plan for the day. We were going to drive to the other trailhead (Grizzley Gulch) 7 miles down the road and head west from there planning to hike to a lake on the way to Handies Peak. We quickly found the nice gravel road we were on became rougher and rougher and after watching a truck bounce all over coming toward us we decided not to risk the minivan and find something else.

We backtracked to the last fork in the road and then found an accessible trailhead farther south called the Cataract Gulch Trail. As we were getting on our packs some ladies parked near us and mentioned this is their all time favorite hike and recommended checking out the waterfall. It was a good start to a hike. We immediately started crossing streams on really nice bridges.

We didn’t like that the previous day we carried our packs way up the mountain and then way down the mountain for no good reason so 5-10 min into the hike we left the trail and setup camp. We hung our smellables and setup tents and a tarp since it was looking like rain off and on all day.

So we did carry a few packs but just with the necessities so they were super light. The trail was super nice, a more gradual incline with great trees and gentle switchbacks. Also finding water was no problem since the trail basically followed a stream the whole way.

There were a ton of wildflowers all along the trail.

There were a ton of stream crossings.

And we were constantly putting on rain jackets and pack covers and taking them off again.

We saw a lot of little waterfalls and we made it to the main one.

It was great and we took a break there on the way up and on the way down. We hiked on and the trail stayed really good. We really wanted to make it to the lake but did not want to get back to camp super late again so set a deadline. We made it to the edge of the tree line when we ran out of time. It got colder and windy and we were not too upset to turn around.

The hike down was more alternating rain and sun but otherwise uneventful and it was really nice to walk into a mostly setup camp at the end.

We took off our shoes, got out some cards and victory drinks and sat in a circle. We talked a bunch about all sorts of silly stuff and had a really nice time until it was time for dinner. Then it started raining hard and we escaped to the tarp.

My family made refried beans from dehydrated beans and added lots of cheese and frito chips.

It didn’t stop raining this time and after a while it let up slightly and we rushed off to the tents and got ready for bed. For some odd reason we all got a terrible night of sleep. It rained most of the night and it got hot at points and we were all kind of glad when our 5:30am alarm went off and we could get out of the tents and get going.

We packed up and hiked back to the van really quick. We changed clothes in a pit toilet by the car and headed home. I drove the first shift and I think everyone fell asleep. We drove all day Sunday and got home right around bedtime.

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