Most people probably climb Sugarloaf Mountain from the saddle between it and Medicine Bow Peak, but the peak's east-side couloir presents a shorter and, in season, more enjoyable and challenging, route to the top.
When conditions are right, this route offers a short snow climb on moderate slopes. Under the best circumstances, you will only get to climb on about 500' of snow, including the snowfield at the base of the couloir; in early July in 2009, it was more like 400' because the top of the couloir had already melted out.
Still, it's a great route if you want to learn or practice on snow without investing a lot of time in an approach. It's also great if you want something quick because you have plans for other things that day or if the weather is threatening. One could also climb this route, descend to the saddle between Sugarloaf Mountain and Medicine Bow Peak, and then hike up the latter.
This is a good climb for late spring or early summer. The photos displayed on this page are all from the same year; all but one are from early July, and the one from early August shows all the snow gone. The route is still climbable when melted out, of course, but it will be a talus hike and nothing more special than that.
About 8 miles south of Saratoga, WY 130 intersects WY 230, which goes south. Drive WY 130 to the turnoff for the Sugarloaf Recreation Area, which is 29 miles east of the WY 230 intersection. The other end of WY 130 is in Laramie, and those approaching from Laramie will find the Sugarloaf turnoff 12 miles west of Centennial. Drive one mile to the end of the road at Lewis Lake, which sits at about 10,700’. There is a fee of $5 per vehicle. The main road may not open until June, and snow may block the road to Lewis Lake into late July or even August.
If the road is blocked, just park and hike to Lewis Lake. It is an easy walk.
There really isn't much to describe. You can preview the entire route, including the approach, from Lewis Lake.
It is less than a mile from the lake to the summit; actual RT dostance will be around 1.5 mi, with about 700' of elevation gain. You are starting from nearly 10,800' altitude, so make sure you are ready for that.
Hike a short distance along the trail to Medicine Bow Peak. Leave the trail and gain the east ridge of Sugarloaf, and then approach the base of the couloir. It is likely that you will encounter some easy scrambling and/or bushwhacking through the dense, low-growing trees. On the trail, if you go too far and end up north of the ridge, you will face cliffs that require moderate to difficult scrambling to climb.
Head straight up the short, narrow couloir. Near the very top, it narrows dramatically to the point of being only 2 or 3 yards wide. The couloir is steeper than it looks from the approach, and, not surprisingly, it is steepest at the top. From the top of the couloir, hike a short distance west to the summit.
Sugarloaf is dwarfed by its neighbors Medicine Bow Peak and Browns Peak, but it is a small summit that has an excellent view of the surrounding peaks and lakes. On a nice day, you can sit up here and count all the people heading up and down Medicine Bow Peak while you probably have Sugarloaf all to yourself.
Route Map and Diagram
Ice axe, though trekking poles will cut it when the snow is soft (which you won't know until you're on the route). I climbed this with neither, thinking the route was less steep than it truly was, and I had a tough time in places until I put on my gloves and started digging my fingers into the snow.
Crampons may be necessary early in the morning or in late spring.
Rockfall is a possibility near the top of the couloir, so wearing a helmet is a good idea.