Here in the Midwestern United States, climbing destinations are so few and far between that I felt certain that all possible excuses for a climbing destination would long ago have been noted on SummitPost. However, over a Labor Day vacation this year I stumbled across a summit in middle America that somehow had not made it onto SummitPost. It offers fine views at the Tower’s base after a short but steep hike, but the rock tower itself is for technical climbers only.
I want to introduce you to Sugarloaf, in Minnesota, rising 500 feet (150 m) above the town of Winona. It is one of several beautiful bluffs that line this part of the upper Mississippi river. It is distinguished by an 85 foot (25 m) chunk of rock that caps the bluff, a remnant of an unusual history.
According to the Winona Daily News, the original half dome like limestone bluff was originally known as Wapasha’s Cap to the Dakotas and the first white settlers. Wapasha was an elder of the Mdewakanton Sioux, and was given by the British a red scotch cap of similar shape to the rounded summit.
However, in 1878 an ambitious building materials supplier bought the bluff and aggressively mined it for stone used on Winona’s buildings and sidewalks. By the time he was done ten years later, the bluff had been reduced to a flat plateau with a remaining limestone tower. In 1950, the local Daughters of the American Revolution bought he bluff and gave the deed to the city of Winona.
Winona is a Mississippi River town about 2.5 hours south of Minneapolis or 45 Minutes northwest of LaCrosse Wisconsin. The trailhead is a bit hard to find. Just south of the intersection of route 61/14 and route 43 is a small side street on the west side of route 43 called Lake Boulevard. Turn onto it and stay right until you reach Edina Realty. Park on the side of Lake Boulevard across from the realtor – not in any business parking lots. Trailhead is up a grassy slope next to the realty. Or use GPS for Edina Realty in Winona.
The route up is a very beautiful forest trail that is a short but strenuous 0.6 miles. After winding your way up to a saddle you turn left along a ridge that soon takes you to views south of the bluff, then to the base of the rock tower.
Views from various points around the base of the tower the tower base are quite scenic. The town of Winona is spread out beneath you, between the Mississippi and Lake Winona, a cutoff former section of the river.
The rock tower itself is for technical climbing only. Routes exist 5.3 through 5.11. This is not my forte, so I will hand the baton off to this page which seems a very good catalog of routes. Mountain Project Page on Routes
Because I am not a technical climber - I will gladly hand this page off to those who can do it and its routes justice.
No cost or fees - but please stay on the street and do not park in any business lots.