Elevation: 14,037 feet
Range: San Juan
Redcloud Peak was named by surveyor J.C. Spiller, who thought the moniker fitting due to the mountain's color and form.
The hike up Redcloud is a journey of color. It begins at Silver Creek, which is supplied by rainwater that seeps through volcanic rock, becoming acidic. The water subsequently dissolves aluminum found in the rocks and dirt. As the water flows into the creek and mixes with water from other sources, the acidity level drops and the aluminum then is deposited on the rocks, making them brilliant white. Some of the tributaries that flow into Silver Creek bring high levels of iron, which leaves some rocks with a rust color. Where these waters meet, one side of the creek is red and the other white. It's beautiful artwork.
The Silver Creek Valley is full of wildflowers and aspens. So whether you hike in spring or summer, even the flora adds splashes of color.
Once above treeline, the trail opens up to a spectacular meadow where hikers often will see wildlife.
The most impressive color awaits on the summit of Redcloud. The dirt and rocks contain high concentrations of iron and, as they've weathered, have turned yellow, orange and red. As soon as you reach the ridge that leads to the summit, you will be hiking on yellow rock.
The yellow gradually gives way to orange and then red. The summit features the deepest red dirt on the mountain. It looks similar to the images of the surface of Mars, and standing on the top has an other worldly feel.
Try to hike this peak early so that you can see the summit as the alpenglow strikes it, or even better be standing at the top when it happens. The red light added to the red summit gives off a stunning glow. Don't bother trying to photograph it. The memories will do it much more justice than any photograph.