Sunshine is the 54th highest of the 54 Colorado 14'ers. It has the distinction of being the lowest 14'er in the United States. Be careful to not disturb the summit lest the mountain could become a 13'er! Luckily it gained 5 feet of elevation in the last survey so it is no longer the lowest of the 14ers. It is usually climbed in conjunction with Redcloud as it is only about a mile from Redcloud. After climbing Redcloud most people just follow the summit ridge trail over to Sunshine. A saddle between the two mountains descends about 500 feet. It took us right at 1 hour to reach the summit of Sunshine from the Redcloud summit. The Redcloud/ Sunshine combo is rated Class2. Also see the Redcloud page for related information.
There are 2 main trailheads, Mill Creek Trailhead and Silver Creek- Grizzly Gulch Trailhead. I chose the Silver Creek -Grizzly Gulch Trailhead to climb from because you can also climb Handies Peak from the same trailhead. To get to the Silver Creek-Grizzly Gulch trailhead start at the Henson Creek Bridge in Lake City. Proceed south on Highway 149 for 2.2 miles and turn right at the San Cristobol Lake Road. Continue past the beautiful lake and proceed up the Lake Fork of the Gunnnison River. At 14.3 miles the road forks- take the right fork up the Cinnamon Pass Road. The trailhead is at mile 18.3 on the Cinnamon Pass Road. Ample parking is available and there is a toilet at the trailhead.
If you prefer to make the climb from the Mill Creek Trailhead, proceed as above but before you get to the Cinnamon Pass Road you will pass the Williams Creek Campground at mile 9.1 and then you will see the Mill Creek Campground at mile 13.1. Park here and camping is readily available here also. The Mill Creek Trailhead is about .3 miles east of the Mill Creek Camp Ground at the road closed sign.
I climbed this mountain after summiting Redcloud by way of the South Ridge. It was a very easy climb, as it only involved a climb down the trail from Redcloud summit to the Redcloud/ Sunshine saddle and then back up the trail to the Sunshine summit. It took right at 1 hour to go from peak to peak. The "approved" descent calls for going back over the Redcloud summit and descending Redcloud by the same Northeast Ridge route as the ascent to Redcloud. However, weather can be a factor and a more rapid descent may be necessary or desired to get off the summit ridge between the summits. This is what we elected to do, and we descended Sunshine by the North Slopes route. The descent begins from the saddle between Redcloud and Sunshine and there is a warning sign at the top of the descent that says "Danger- This is NOT a Trail- Return to Redcloud." There actually is an ill defined trail that switchbacks down the slope. The descent is QUITE steep and covered with scree and gravel, and as the sign says it can be dangerous. Once at the bottom of the cirque continue to descend to the South fork of the Silver Creek and follow it to the junction of Silver Creek. Then pick up the trail back to the trailhead. This descent route cut about 3 hours from the climb, and is a handy descent if necesssary to get off the mountain quickly... just be careful- it is a steep scree covered descent.
In most of the route descriptions I have read, there is a rough trail that leads from the saddle between Redcloud and Sunshine to the drainage below. We actually followed the northwest ridge down and eventually southward to hook up with South Fork Basin. I believe this route to be shorter, however, is very rocky.
Conditions on this mountain, like all Colorado 14ers, are subject to change rapidly- especially during the prime climbing summer season. The mountains are their own weather system, and weather forecasts from nearby towns often have little to do with actual mountain conditions. You can generally count on clear to partly cloudy in the morning, and heavy clouds and thunderstorms in the afternoon during the summer.
The following weather forecast is included as a guide and should not be used as a substitute for good judgement. Expect mountain conditions to be no better than forecast and possibly much worse. NOTE: The weather site is temporaily unavailable due to technical difficulties.
There is no substitute for getting an early start, and getting as much of the mountain "behind you" as early in the day as possible. Keep a good eye on the sky as weather conditions can deteriorate rapidly. The greatest weather danger is from lightning strikes, and climbers are killed almost every summer in Colorado by lightning strikes. July seems to be the most deadly month for lightning.
Two climbers were killed by lightning in Colorado within a couple days of each other in the summer of 2003. I think the following important information from Gerry Roach's book "Colorado's Fourteeners From Hikes to Climbs" bears repeating. Added here with permission from Gerry Roach:
Colorado is famous for apocalyptic lightning storms that threaten not just your life, but your soul as well. This section will have special meaning if you have ever been trapped by a storm that endures for more than an hour and leaves no gap between one peal of thunder and the next. The term simultaneous flash-boom has a very personal meaning for many Colorado Climbers
1. Lightning is dangerous!
2. Lightning is the greatest external hazard to summer mountaineering in Colorado.
3. Lightning kills people every year in Colorado's mountains.
4. Direct hits are usually fatal.
1. Start early! Be off summits by noon and back in the valley by early afternoon.
2. Observe thunderhead buildup carefully, noting speed and direction; towering thunderheads with black bottoms are bad.
3. When lightning begins nearby, count the seconds between flash and thunder, then divide by 5 to calculate the distance to the flash in miles. Repeat to determine if lightning is approaching.
4. Try to determine if the lightning activity is cloud-to-cloud or ground strikes.
5. Get off summits and ridges.
1. You cannot outrun a storm; physics wins.
2. When caught, seek a safe zone in the 45-degree cone around an object 5 to 10 times your height.
3. Be aware of ground currents; the current from a ground strike disperses along the ground or cliff, especially in wet cracks.
4. Wet ropes are good conductors.
5. Snow is not a good conductor.
6. Separate yourself from metal objects.
7. Avoid sheltering in spark gaps under boulders and trees.
8. Disperse the group. Survivors can revive one who is hit.
9. Crouch on boot soles, ideally on dry, insulating material such as moss or grass. Dirt is better than rock. Avoid water.
The following link is also helpful: Lightning Safety and Crouch
Also see this report by nchenkin It will make you really think about lightning safety: Struck By Lightning!
Camping is readily available at the trailhead and there is adequate parking and toilet facilities. There is no charge for camping or parking.
Summer is easiest and most popular. July and August tend to be peak season. Try to climb during the week if possible to avoid the crowds. This is a popular climb in the San Juan mountain range because you can climb 3 mountains from the same trailhead ( Redcloud Peak, Sunshine Peak, and Handies Peak). Colorado mountains are famous for afternoon storms. Try to climb early and as a rule of thumb be off the summit by noon.
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wayne flick adds: As an escape from Sunshine after climbing Redcloud, the East Slope Route will get you off the summit fast. Its a good trail to the broad grassy east slope, but there's no trail across the slope. Just proceed to the north edge and proceed down to the creek and follow it to the road. Some minor bush whacking required. Stay away from the south side of the Sunshine's east slope as there are cliffs below.
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