This excellent introduction to Colorado fourteeners includes two classic peaks and a dramatic approach up the South Fork of the Silver Creek, which provides views of a quintessential Rocky Mountain landscape.
From the 10,400-foot Silver Creek Trailhead, the first few miles of the route ascend gently through a robust forest that includes quaking aspen, Colorado blue spruce, subalpine fir, and ponderosa pine trees. Arriving at milepost 3, the terrain opens up to a vast rocky basin at 11,400 feet. Look for the spur trail that leaves to the right; this is the where the loop ends after the descent from Sunshine Peak. Or, if you prefer to do the loop in a counter-clockwise direction, this is where you will branch off to climb Sunshine Peak first. Be aware that this basin can often be covered in snow well into July. Looking southeast from this junction, climbers will get their first glimpse of Redcloud Peak.
The trail continues northeast through the basin, where you will find an abundance of wildflowers. Watch for fairy trumpets, Indian paintbrush, longleaf phlox, lupine, and Colorado columbine. The trail begins to steadily climb out of the basin toward the 13,000-foot saddle. This proves to be a well-earned first vista, and you’ll get views to the east of Pagosa Springs and to the north of the captivating, 14,321-foot Uncompaghre Peak.
From the saddle, turn west to see the northeast ridge and summit of Redcloud Peak. The trail follows a series of short, steep switchbacks that ascend to 13,900 feet. The final pitch is a steep climb to the 14,034 summit. Soak in the views of the surrounding landscape once you reach the top, and rest up for the traverse to Sunshine Peak. This traverse looks a little shorter and a little easier than it is; give yourself another hour or so to traverse the saddle and summit. Note that the last section of Sunshine Peak requires minor route finding and some gentle scrambling on loose shale.
Once you have enjoyed the view from Sunshine Peak, prepare for the thrilling and somewhat difficult Class II descent down the peak’s northeast scree field. Of course, if this doesn’t look appealing to you, you can always retrace your steps and return via Redcloud Peak. The Sunshine Peak descent is unmarked and requires a few sections of downclimbing on the scree, so use caution. Once you are off of the peak, find the cairns that indicate the route back to the Silver Creek basin and snow fields. You will see a trail once the boulder field turns to high tundra vegetation. Once on the Silver Creek Trail, turn left to return to the trailhead.
Climbers should try to depart in the early morning to avoid the infamous afternoon Colorado thunderstorms. Bring various layers of clothing. The weather can change very quickly in the mountains, and the temperature on the summit can be windy and cold. Watch for wildlife, including moose, mule deer, and marmots. Note that, while the road into the trailhead may not require four-wheel drive, a high-clearance vehicle is highly recommended.