Between Boulder and Escalante, the landscape both north and south of UT 12, one of the most scenic byways in America, is dominated by a sprawling city of slickrock domes both large and small, and this terrain dominates the first ten miles or so of the Burr Trail as well as one heads east on this now-paved, once-rugged road (it is still unpaved, and passable to passenger vehicles, from the border of Capitol Reef National Park to the road’s intersection with the (also unpaved) Notom-Bullfrog Road).
The vast majority of these domes have no official names. Actually, “vast majority” is an understatement; only a few among probably hundreds have official names. Locals may have their own appellations for more of these crags, but topo maps will just show peak after nameless peak; many lack officially recorded elevations as well.
One that does have an official name, and it is very close to Boulder and easily accessible, is Sugarloaf. (Yes, world, now there is another Sugarloaf on SP.) Sugarloaf is not the highest dome in the area. It is not the most rugged or the most difficult to climb. It is not the wildest or the most spectacular or the most pristine (sadly, it is graced with much broken glass and other litter near its base, which is mere yards from the road as the Burr Trail enters Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument). From the summit, there are fine views of sandstone wilderness, but there are also not-so-fine views of power lines, roads, and homes.
So why climb it?
* The first answer matches some immortal words from none other than George Mallory.
* The second is that it is short and non-technical, and thus a great choice for an introduction to this terrain, a gentle day, a family outing, or, as I can attest personally, a day when you are dealing with what likely is a torn meniscus from two days before but are going stir-crazy being a windshield tourist. (I’ll be damned if I’m going to let a healthy future interfere with a climb today!)
* Also, it’s fun.
South of the peak, and all connected by saddles, are a false summit and then Durffey Mesa, a much longer summit that has fairly extensive tree cover on top. That does not mean the views from the rims are not worth seeing, though.
Next to a cafe in Boulder, take the signed road for the Burr Trail, passing another cafe and some ranches until you reach the signed border of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The drive is not even five minutes. When you reach this point, Sugarloaf is on the right side of the road, and there is ample room for parking on the left.
There isn't too much to say about the route up. Simply head up and find the path of least resistance. It is not a mere hike; you will encounter at least a few sections of Class 3 terrain, possibly harder depending on your exact way. I found myself in one spot that felt like Class 4, but maybe that was the bad knee talking. Anyway, I found an easier way on the descent.
The summit plateau itself is guarded by two sets of short cliff bands. It may take a little time, but traversing the base of each band will enable you to find breaks that are no harder than Class 3 to climb. You might want to make (temporary) markers at the top of each to help you locate them for the return. The breaks that I found were on the eastern face of the peak.
The summit cairn is a somewhat interesting one. There is a benchmark up there as well. I did not look for a register.
It is less than a mile from the road to the summit. The elevation gain is approximately 600'.
Time of Day
Climb this peak at the crack of dawn or during the last hour of daylight in order to see the rock simply come to life with color. The magic typically lasts only about fifteen minutes, and then everything reverts to being just spectacular. But while the spell lasts, it is, well...words fail. Please see the pictures below to get an idea of the forms and colors revealed in low light.
Red tape? No, not really. I can't imagine why someone might want to place bolts on this one, but that someone should know that placing new bolts is illegal.
Camping and Lodging
There is a developed campground some miles east along the Burr Trail, and dispersed camping is widely available throughout the monument. There are campgrounds both north and south along UT 12, the closest of which is probably the one at Calf Creek, a highly popular location that does live up to the raves.
There are a few lodging options in Boulder itself. The one that stands out is Boulder Mountain Lodge. The rooms at this resort-type setting are not cheap (in October 2010, high-season rates started at $120 per night), but they are very comfortable and the location is pretty unbeatable. There is an excellent restaurant on the property, and there are at least two other good dining options in town.