Overview-Colorado's Forgotten Mountain Range
Sugar Loaf Mountain is a highly visible and somewhat conspicuous peak (at least when viewed from the south along Highway 40) in the Elkhead Mountains, but despite this fact it seems to be one of the least visited of the higher peaks in the Elkhead Mountains. With the exception of Columbus Mountain and Buck Point
, Sugarloaf is probably the least climbed of the 10,000 foot peaks in the Elkhead Mountains. I was the first person to sign the new register since it was placed five years ago. Apparently the old register had three signatures since 1980, making a total of five signatures in 30 years.
The peak takes on a different appearance depending on which direction you are looking at it from. From the South, the peak looks like a curious, narrow, nipple like butte. From the east or west the peak appears to be a long mesa surrounded by cliffs. From the north, a rugged and narrow ridge ends just before the summit block. The summit is rather flat on top, but with rocky outcrops and you must visit several points on the summit rim to take on all the views.
Some maps label Sugar Loaf Mountain as 10,054 feet elevation, but this is for the southern most point on the peak rather than for the highest point on the mountain (which is located on the NW side of the peak). On the topo maps, there is no fixed elevation for the highest point.
Several aspects of the Elkhead Mountains make this a rather unique mountain range in Colorado. It is certainly possible that the Elkhead Mountains are the least known of the major mountain ranges in Colorado. This is partially because the range is a long way from any metropolitan area, and partially because the Elkhead Mountains are fairly low by Colorado standards, as there are no peaks reaching 11,000 feet. There are also few lakes, so the range isn’t visited by fishermen. Despite their low altitude, the Elkhead Mountains receive much snow, and snow lasts into July or later on the higher peaks. Most of the peaks in the Elkhead Mountains see very few ascents, but Hahns Peak
, the eastern-most peak in the range is a popular climb for residents of Steamboat Springs. The Bears Ears
see quite a few ascents by Elkhead standards, because of their prominent shape and visibility from the Yampa River Valley. Black Mountain
is also climbed fairly often because it is the highest point in Moffat County, and the popularity is on the increase with more county highpointing interest. Sand Mountain
must be a fairly popular (by Elkhead standards) climb as well, as there is a trail to the top, and as it is the first mountain in the range where I have ever met anyone. This was on Labor Day weekend, 2005, when we saw 3 other hikers. I met two hikers on Saddle Mountain on July 5 2010. Other than those two exceptions and on Hahns Peak, I have never met other climbers while climbing any of the peaks in the Elkhead Mountains. Most of the rest of the peaks see few ascents, and one ranger has told me some of the peaks only have a few names in the registers since 1980. So, there are few hikers around, but hunting is another story. The Elkhead Mountains are very popular for hunting in the fall and contain large populations of deer, elk, bear, etc.
One thing unique about the range is that hiker use is overall actually decreasing, rather than increasing as it is in most places in Colorado. The summit registers (which the Forest Service keeps record of) on most peaks indicate that they have had more ascents in the 1960’s and 1970’s than they do now. Even before that, there were many summit logs from the 1930’s and 1940’s from sheepherders.
The Elkhead Mountains are made of old volcanic rocks 17-25 million years old. One thing unusual is that the Elkhead Mountains run west to east as opposed to north and south as most of the ranges run in North America. It is impossible to describe the general forms of the peaks because they are all so different, but most of the peaks are isolated rises from a huge plateau which forms the bulk of the Elkhead Mountains.
Elkhead Mountains-10,000+ Foot Peaks with 300+ feet of Prominence
Sugarloaf as viewed from the SE Ridge of Saddle Mountain.
The topo maps available don’t show the roads or trails around this mountain accurately. The closest one that bears resemblance to reality is the Forest Service Map-Routt National Forest
, but it is of a small scale. The USGS maps don’t show many of the roads in the areas, but seem to show roads and trails that don’t exist; at least not any more.
The USGS has (finally) updated the 7.5 minute maps. They were scheduled to be produced for Colorado last year, but I’m not sure when they will hit all the stores. Right now you can get/see/print/buy the new 7.5 minute maps on My Topo.
The good news is that all the roads and trails are FINALLY accurate for the Elkhead Mountains (and undoubtedly other areas as well). After receiving the new maps, I am very pleased to see that the roads and trails are in the right places. I am also very pleased that the USGS has a new agreement with the US Forest Service and within the national forest service areas, the private land holdings are shaded (but only in USFS areas, land ownership is not shown outside FS lands) on the 7.5 minute scale maps.
Getting ThereVia the West
For most Coloradans, the route from the west is longer (driving wise), but this is the route I took on this climb, if simply because I had already climbed Saddle Mountain from the California Park area a few weeks previous and I hadn’t ever seen the area west of Sugarloaf Mountain.
From the junction of Highway 40 and 13 in Craig, turn north on Highway 13. Drive north for about 13 miles to north of mile marker 102 until you see a sign posted for County Road 27. The road is posted for “Forest Service Access” and “Black Mountain”. Drive County Road 27 through private lands for 10 miles which is where you reach the Routt National Forest boundary. The road becomes FR 110. From the Forest Boundary, follow FR 110 for 9.7 miles to FR 116. Turn right on FR 116 and follow it for 6.4 miles to the junction of FR 116 and FR 118. Stay right on FR 116 and follow it somewhere to near its end. There is no trailhead, so there are many places to park. I parked at the drainage not long before the end of the road that comes down from the saddle between Sugarloaf and Point 9460. The reason for choosing this location is that I thought it would be an easy place to find the vehicle on the return trip. Not far west of this parking area, you can park when the road starts descending the hill in order to save some elevation gain.
As of August 2010, the road was in good condition and was good for all vehicles.
Sugarloaf Mountain as seen from the west trailhead.
Via the South and California Park
From Walnut Street in Hayden (on Highway 40 between Craig and Steamboat Springs), turn north on Walnut, a.k.a. County Road 76, and follow it north for 0.7 miles to County Road 80. Turn right on (gravel) County Road 80 and follow it to the Routt National Forest boundary. Continue for about 7 miles beyond the Routt National Forest boundary to the signed trailhead for Trail 1144. Park here. If you reach the ranger station, you overshot the trailhead and must backtrack.
Sugarloaf Mountain from the SE and from California Park.
Sugar Loaf Mountain is surrounded by cliffs of varying height, but since there are many breads in the cliffs, several route possibilities are available.
This is the route I used to climb the peak, but it may or may not be the easiest route. Briefly put the route accesses the saddle between Point 9460 and Sugar Loaf Mountain at which point the route climbs the west face. The route difficulty varies between class 2 and class 3, depending on variations.
See the route page for details.
This log was part of my descent route of the west face of Sugarloaf Mountain.
There are other routes available on the peak. There is a class 2 route on the south side from Trail 1144 (Joseph Kramarsic information). The north ridge is class 3.
There is some somewhat reasonable rock on the east side of the peak, but most of the rock on Sugarloaf Mountain is loose and fractured. The east side of the peak may offer some somewhat reasonable rock climbs of a short nature.
This is the North Ridge of Sugarloaf Mountain.
There is no red tape here (other than the area around California Park is closed to visitation between May 1 and July 1 each year), so make sure to tread lightly.
There are some nice views, but no red tape.
There are many informal campsites along the road to the west trailhead after you reach the forest boundary. The Sawmill Campground is quite a ways west of the trailhead and now cost $10. It is the only official campground in the area.
When to Climb
July through early September could be considered the normal season to climb the mountain. The access road from the west does not open until late June or early July. The access road to California Park doesn’t open until July 1, but this road could certainly be walked, snowshoed, or skied before then (the road is always closed to all travel between May 1 and July 1), though it would be a two day trip or more. A snowmobile would make this a one day climb in the winter, though the routes would be quite tedious then. The Elkhead Mountains are a very popular hunting destination in September and October (until snow closes the road), so use extreme caution at this time of year.
Bears Ears as viewed from the summit of Sugarloaf Mountain as seen in August.
Mountain ConditionsCLICK HERE FOR THE SUGARLOAF MOUNTAIN WEATHER FORECAST
Below is the National Weather Service Climate Summary of Craig, southwest of Black Mountain. The data is from 1928-2010. This is the closest long term weather station, but be aware that higher elevations will be much wetter and colder. Craig is at 6300 feet elevation, so expect the temperatures on Sugarloaf Mountain to be 10-20 degrees colder on Black Mountain than in Craig.
|MONTH||AVE HIGH||AVE LOW||REC HIGH||REC LOW||AVE PREC (in)|