I hate giving up hard-earned elevation gain. So when I saw the normal route to Sunshine is from-Redcloud/return-over-Redcloud, I groaned. I figured this is another Belford/Oxford or Shavano/Tab. So my wife and I looked for an alternative route that would save us some time and be a little more challenging. We decided to give the little-used Northwest Face route a shot.
I won’t bore you with a bunch of photos that duplicate Bill Middlebrook’s route description. His description is spot on. Here are a few things I would add:
Bill’s photo three shows the spot where you turn off the Silver Creek trail, cross Silver Creek and head up the South Fork trail. This spot is very easy to miss. The cairn is only a half dozen rocks and I walked right past it. Eagle-eye wifey spotted it. (I long ago accepted that my wife is a much better route finder).
Once you come out of the trees you are on talus/scree to the gendarme on Bill’s photo nine. There are some cairns and trail segments but they will do you little good. This section of the route, and in fact most of the route above tree line, is a total talus hop & scree skate.
First view of Sunshine
Here’s the important part. Bill’s route description advises taking a line to the left of the gendarme. When you are at the base of the gendarme you might look at the gully to the right of the gendarme and think it’s a better line. Especially now when it looks like it might be a fun snow climb. The problem is you end up in a pit surrounded by very steep sides. So stick with a line to the left of the gendarme.
Gully to right of gendarme - view from above
The line on the left of the gendarme is no piece of cake. It’s a lot steeper than it looks and it’s very loose. We ended up climbing the rocks toward the right and it was sketchy. A lot of the handholds for which you would naturally reach were loose. Be very careful. If you go this way it will change the rating from a 2+ to a 2.99.
Once you reach the area above the gendarme (Bill’s photo 12) you are back to a talus hop/scree skate but the remainder of the route should be uneventful.
From the summit of Sunlight you can see the route to Redcloud.
Route from Sunshine to Redcloud
The Sunlight to Redcloud route was fairly easy and we summited about 11:30. Here's the Redcould to Sunlight route.
Route from Redcloud to Sunshine
Uncompahgre from Redcloud
Uncompahgre from Redcloud summit
... and the happy couple
We decended the normal Silver Creek trail.
In summary, this is an OK route. But if you’re trying to save some time (we were trying to get back to Springs and pick up our dogs before the kennel closed) don’t count on it. Dealing with the talus and scree will chew up a lot of time. We probably spent more time doing it our way than if we had simply used the “Return Over Redcloud” method. But the calves got a major workout, we had a good time, and we’ll count the day as a success.