Sunshine Peak Northwest Face
ElevationAscent: 2,631' 802 m
Descent: -10' -3 m
High: 13,968' 4,257 m
Low: 11,337' 3,456 m
GradeAvg Grade: 20% (11°)
Max Grade: 68% (34°)
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“A tougher, but shorter, alternative to the standard route.”— Caroline Cordsen
The scree is very loose once you get above treeline, so you may want to bring a helmet along, especially if running with a partner. This scree also masks the trail, making it much more difficult to keep track of than the standard route.
During the spring runoff when the creeks are at their fullest, the lack of a bridge may make it difficult or dangerous to cross Silver Creek.
In the thick of the woods, the trail follows South Fork Silver Creek at a gradual grade. Soon after entering a meadow bursting with wildflowers, the views of the coming basin open up briefly. As the drainage walls steepen, switchbacks pull the trail higher up the mountainside, and back into the trees. In this second thicket, watch for the remains of an old mining cabin.
Just shy of 12,000 feet, an abrupt exit from treeline at 0.8 miles leads into a grassy patch. From this small shelf sandwiched between the creek and the sheer slopes of Redcloud Peak's rugged western face, you may spot climbers on the standard route, 2,000 feet higher. The next 0.5 mile is easy to follow until reaching the rougher talus-covered slopes at about 12,300 feet. At this point, sporadic cairns and trail segments lead up onto a rock glacier.
Nearing the end of the basin, you'll see a ridgeline and a series of small gendarmes. Aim for the gully pictured, as the others are steeper and more unstable. Be careful if running with a partner as the scree is very loose.
Having climbed out of the basin, your task now is to continue south along a wide shoulder to find the correct route up Sunshine's more exposed west ridge. While the trail is still faint across here, the terrain is much easier to navigate. And again use caution as the scree is very loose.
Locating the trail, the final 0.25 mile summits the grueling class-2 switchbacks to the summit.
The area encompassing both peaks has been designated a wilderness study area. This means the land isn't listed as a protected wilderness yet, but it contains the key characteristics which may warrant a designation in the future. This is a heavily traveled backcountry area, so play your part in preserving this fragile landscape.
You might stumble across deer in the thick forests on the lower half of the trail, and maybe elk or moose. Once above treeline, you're likely to spot the high-elevation critters, like marmots, pika, and maybe a mountain goat or bighorn sheep if you're lucky.
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Land Manager: USFS - Gunnison National Forest
Oct 27, 2019: GMUG Lifts Cow Creek Closures
Oct 24, 2019: GMUG Announces Pile Burning for North Zone