OverviewThis is the easiest route to climb, but the hardest trailhead to get to because the access road is so rough. One Crescent Lake is reaches, either by driving or walking, the South Derby Trail is followed north to a saddle west of Sheep Mountain. From the saddle, the long and gentle west ridge of Sheep Mountain is followed to the summit. If you can drive to the trailhead, the round trip distance is only six miles or so, but few vehicles can make it to the trailhead.
Getting ThereThe access road is very rough. This road is for high clearance 4wds with a low range, and not for Subarus, Rav4s, or Explorers, et al. I made it to above Still Water (not to be confused with Stillwater Reservoir which is farther north and on a good road) in our old Pathfinder, but we wearied of the punishing ride. If you can make it to Stillwater, you can probably make it to Crescent Lake, but the road is very slow and is used more by ATV’s than 4wds.
To get to the access road, you first want to make your way to the community of Burns, which is one of the few communities in Colorado with no paved roads leading to it. Burns is along the Colorado River Road between McCoy on Highway 131 and Dotsero on I-70. If coming from the east or north, driving in by way of Highway 131 and McCoy is more expedient, but if driving in from the south or west, then coming in from Dotsero and I-70 is faster.
It is recommended that you have a map, such as the White River National Forest Map or a Colorado Atlas to find the trailhead. From Burns, you want to take the Derby Mesa Loop Road. You can catch the north end of this right at Burns, but it is faster to catch the south end of the loop road just southwest of Burns and at Burns Junction.
From Burns Junction, take the Derby Mesa Loop road to the west and follow this good road for 6.3 miles to FR 613. Passenger cars can make it here with no problem. Turn left (west) on FR 613 and follow the increasingly rough road to another junction at mile 10.05 (from Burns Junction). Turn right, still following FR 613. Signs say that it is 7 miles to the trailhead.
The road gets increasingly rough and gets even rougher at the stream crossing of South Derby Creek. The road from here on is rough and punishing on your vehicle and there are big rocks and usually big mudholes as well. Drive as far as you dare and don’t get stuck. This area is out in the middle of nowhere and towing a vehicle would be a costly affair.
Route DescriptionFrom the trailhead at Crescent Lake, continue along the extremely rough 4wd track to the west side of the lake and to Mackinaw Lake which is just above Crescent Lake. There is a trail junction between the lakes. Take the trail to the north (right).
Follow the trail up the slope. The trail is in surprisingly good condition considering that it doesn’t see much use. There are logs to climb over and the trail fades in places as well, but it’s a pretty good trail. Once near and above treeline, look for rock cairns.
Follow the trail to the saddle west of Sheep Mountain. Alternately, you can head east before the saddle and avoid one up and down on the ridge.
From the saddle (or just before it), the long and gentle west ridge of Sheep Mountain is followed to the summit. The ridge is mostly gentle, but has one interesting narrow section. Along the way, the Northwest Summit of Sheep Mountain makes a recommended side trip since it has a spectacular view and a vertical north face.
After following the ridge for about four miles, and over a few false summits, the true summit is reached. Enjoy the beautiful views. The East Summit also makes a worthy side trip.
We descended the south face, but this is not a recommended route. There is much loose scree and cliff bands to find your way around. It isn’t a good route and returning the same way is highly recommended. The West Ridge is a very pleasant route.