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Sunrise from Sunshine Peak

Sunrise from Sunshine Peak, Redcloud Peak Wilderness Study Area, Colorado

Sunrise from Sunshine Peak, Redcloud Peak Wilderness Study Area, Colorado

The only feasible route to Sunshine Peak leads first to the summit of 14,034-foot Redcloud Peak, down 500 vertical feet to the Sunshine/Redcloud saddle, then back up 500 feet to the summit of Sunshine. I decided to make a virtue out of grinding necessity and see if I could get some photos of the Milky Way from the summit of Redcloud before I began the mile-and-a-half-long traverse from Redcloud to the summit of Sunshine. Astronomical dawn, the time when the sky would begin to brighten and the Milky Way begin to fade, would occur at 4:10 a.m. That meant I should arrive on the summit of Redcloud around 3:00 a.m. so I could shoot the Milky Way before I headed for Sunshine, arriving there in time to shoot sunrise from the summit at 6:01 a.m.

Partly cloudy skies greeted me when I emerged from my tent just before midnight. I arrived on the summit of Redcloud around 3 a.m., right on time, and switched off my headlamp. A few lonely stars gleamed through holes in the clouds that were closing rapidly. Mist began swirling up from the valleys below. After waiting for an hour, I gave up and resumed my nighttime walk in the clouds to the summit of Sunshine.

A foreboding scene confronted me as dawn began to break. Through a hole in the clouds I caught a glimpse of clear sky to the east for a few fleeting seconds, but the hole soon closed and I became immersed in a whiteout. I waited nervously for an hour, hoping for a photogenic break in the clouds, then headed back along the ridge toward Redcloud.

I crested Redcloud for the second time an hour after leaving Sunshine and started descending in earnest. As soon as I reached camp, I began packing up, concerned that the sun’s warmth working on the obviously abundant moisture would soon trigger a fearsome thunderstorm. A family heading up Redcloud spotted my tiny tent and stopped by to chat. They asked where I’d been, and I explained what I had just done. They seemed in awe and asked first if they could take a photo of me. After snapping a picture, they left, then returned a minute later and asked if I would pose with them for a photo. I’ve never thought of myself as a hero, but I obliged, and they wisely decided to descend. I followed as soon as possible, keeping a wary eye on the clouds, but managed to reach my truck before the skies opened.

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