Alpine Loop

By Phillips, Jeff | Sunset, May 1998 | Go to article overview

Alpine Loop


Phillips, Jeff, Sunset


The American Basin and Redcloud Peak are two of Colorado's hidden treasures

Distant thunder convinces us that this is not the day to climb Redcloud and Sunshine, two 14,000-foot summits at the heart of the BLM's Redcloud Peak Wilderness Study Area. I kick our fourwheeler into low and, with my wife, Jill, opt for a leisurely drive on the Alpine Loop National Back Country Byway, which encircles Redcloud.

We bump our way to the top of 12,800foot Engineer Pass. Though the grand views are obscured by driving rain, before us lie expansive meadows of alpine wildflowers and ample evidence of the region's gold- and silver-mining history.

Ongoing mining, and the possibility of more, threatens the future of the 37,000 acres of alpine valleys surrounding Redcloud Peak. A 1983 proposal to remove the top 1,500 feet of neighboring Red Mountain was shelved because of environmental concerns, but mineral wealth also stalled Redcloud's wilderness designation. In the meantime, the community has been thinking.

"Back in the early '80s, there were still a lot of folks who felt mining should happen," says the local BLM manager, Arden Anderson. "Now more folks recognize the value of tourism." Even so, mining is a tradition that lingers, and talk of another boom dies hard.

The clouds break the next morning, so we head up the southern leg of the Alpine Loop past Lake San Cristobal to the Silver Creek trailhead.

After tracing a wooded stream into a high, treeless amphitheater, the trail switchbacks to the cindery summit of 14,034-foot Redcloud Peak. Although Redcloud and the 14,001-foot knob of Sunshine Peak a mile beyond are considered among the easiest of Colorado's "fourteeners" to climb, we are scratching for air on the last steep scrabble. …

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