Sugarloaf Peak is a long and challenging peak hike to a rugged summit with incredible views overlooking Wingate Wash, the northern Owlsheads, and the Anvil Spring Canyon area stretching into Butte Valley. Difficulties encountered on the hike include having the proper high-clearance (or better yet 4WD) vehicle to reach the starting point, route finding to use either of the two routes described, and climbing a very steep slope if using the Standard Ridge Route. Google Earth maps of the hiking route (turned to the northwest for better viewing) can be found by clicking on the buttons above. GPS coordinates for the parking area are 35° 56.908'N, 116° 52.176'W. GPS coordinates for the pass leading to the Front Face Route are 35° 53.763'N, 116° 53.289'W. GPS coordinates for the gorge entrance on the Front Face Route are 35° 52.869'N, 116° 55.459'W.
Sugarloaf Peak is a Death Valley summit which has been of interest to me for quite a long time. It first caught my attention when I did my backpacking loop of Lost Spring Canyon and Anvil Spring Canyon in March of 2010. During that backpacking trip, I passed by the beginning of the Standard Ridge Route to the summit. A couple of years later in December of 2012, I was studying satellite imagery and happened to figure out a previously unknown route to the summit. I named this new route the Front Face Route. In describing why Sugarloaf Peak and the new route I had created interested me, I wrote: "I like the remoteness of Sugarloaf Peak and the fact that it is not visited that often. And also the fact that there are no summit hiking reports online (except for a few minor ones on the DPS). For this hike, I came up with a new route which has never been documented before. Instead of following the logical ridge route up Lost Spring Canyon, my route cuts over an earlier ridge and approaches the face of the mountain from the east. This allows for incredible views of the peak and mountain during a couple miles of the hike. None of these views are seen on the standard route. And the route goes up a few minor unexplored canyons in route to the summit. On the way back, I can loop out via the standard hiking route, or I can retrace my steps and visit the interesting colorful hills below Sugarloaf Peak." As I explained, the centerpiece of the Sugarloaf Peak Front Face Route is the approach which has views of the front of the mountain. And these views did not disappoint when I finally had the chance to carry out the hike about two years later. Because I had posted my hiking plans for the new route a couple of years before actually attempting it, I figured that maybe someone would borrow my plans and do the route first. This has actually happened to me a couple of times before with other hikes. But this time, nobody did. Most likely this is because Sugarloaf Peak is not a popular peak hike. As the summit register revealed, the hike is only done on average about once every 1 1/2 years. This can be partially attributed to the difficulty, as Sugarloaf Peak is the 3rd most difficult peak hike in Death Valley behind only Dry Mountain and Mount Palmer. Another factor limiting visitation is the remoteness of the starting point. The best parking area is on the rough Panamint Mines Road. And without 4WD, you will need to park a little farther away and do extra hiking. One thing I had realized, though, during my backpacking trip down Wingate Wash two months earlier, is that if Wingate Wash Road had remained open, Sugarloaf Peak would hold a much higher position in peak hiking popularity. The peak is very prominent during a significant portion of Wingate Wash and almost beckons you to hike to the summit. In fact, that's probably the main reason that my first hike after the Wingate Wash trip was this hike to Sugarloaf Peak.
Our hike started out the night before when we picked up a Farabee's Jeep Rental, drove out West Side Road, up Warm Springs Road, and turned off to the left onto Panamint Mines Road. With the Jeep, we easily drove down to the ideal parking spot and camped for the night. The next morning, we woke up early and began the hike. We followed an old closed road over a small hill and down into Anvil Spring Canyon, where we headed up canyon. A short time later, we turned off to the left into Lost Spring Canyon. During this time, I was essentially retracing my steps from my backpacking trip five years earlier. This was also the same route which is used by those hiking the Standard Ridge Route to the summit of Sugarloaf Peak. But that changed when we turned off to the left into the 1st major side canyon of Lost Spring Canyon. Taking the Front Face Route requires turning off at this junction which is located exactly 3 miles from the parking spot. Once in the side canyon, we had to hike another 1 3/4 miles up to a pass that is a steep 1,000 foot climb in elevation. We took a break on top of the pass and enjoyed the views back down the side canyon and over the other side into the Owlsheads. For the next portion of the hike, we had to hike down from the pass, navigate across a very long series of drainages, and make our way to the entrance of a boulder gorge which wraps around to Sugarloaf Peak. This portion is the true essence of the Front Face Route, as you hike about 3 miles while drawing ever closer to the front face of Sugarloaf Peak. The views looking up at the summit block were incredible. We finally entered the boulder gorge after having already hiked 7 3/4 miles with a cumulative elevation gain of 2,400 feet. The final portion of the hike up the boulder gorge would be 1 1/4 miles with an elevation gain of 1,500 feet. The boulder gorge contained a continuous series of giant boulders which had to be climbed or navigated around on steep terrain. There were no obstacles that we couldn't overcome and the climb through the gorge was quite beautiful. There was one especially prominent large cone-shaped hill off to the left which looked like it was covered with tan powder. At the end of the gorge, the scenery opened up and we were walking through a small enclosed valley. The flat wash led us around in a semi-circle before the terrain changed and became very steep again. From there, we endured our final climb to the summit. Finally, after hiking 9 miles one-way for 6 1/2 hours with an elevation gain of 3,900 feet, we reached the 4,819 foot summit of Sugarloaf Peak. My favorite views from the peak included Lost Lake, Wingate Dry Lake, Needle Peak, and a very special view of Striped Butte. You will see pictures of those highlights plus others in the included full set of pictures linked to below.
For the hike back, we decided to take the Standard Ridge Route. Doing this would allow us to carry out the hike as a loop, as you can see on our included maps above. There was only one big problem with using the Standard Ridge Route to get back to our Jeep. And that problem was that we would have to pass directly through Lost Spring. About one week before our hike, I was stunned to hear about what could have been a potentially dangerous mountain lion encounter at Lost Spring. A couple of park botanists had hiked out to Lost Spring to study some of the plant growth there. If you haven't hiked to Lost Spring before, one thing to keep in mind about the area is that there is a lot of high brush within the portion of the canyon near the spring. It was this high brush which concealed a sleeping mountain lion as the botanists approached the spring. When the botanists had come within 10 feet of the sleeping mountain lion, it was startled by their presence and suddenly woke up. The mountain lion reacted by leaping out the brush and then jumping up to the top of the canyon wall. After that, it was not seen again. But that definitely had been a close encounter. When I first heard about the mountain lion incident, I considered calling off the Sugarloaf Peak hike. But then I thought about the fact that I was not going to be hiking alone, I would be carrying bear repellant pepper spray with me, and I had been planning this hike for over two years. Thus, we decided to go ahead with the hike despite having some reservations. But we did make one critical error. The Front Face Route took longer than expected and then we had spent a fair amount of time on the summit. Because of this, as we hiked down the somewhat treacherous and steep Standard Ridge Route, we realized we would be passing through Lost Spring just after dusk. That wasn't the best idea to be hiking through confirmed mountain lion territory as darkness overtook the canyon. To deal with this, while hiking through areas of high brush near Lost Spring, we did continuous scanning to the front and back with our flashlights. Still, if a mountain lion had wanted to suddenly pounce on us, it would have had plenty of cover to do so. We made it through without incident and were relieved once we got past all the brushy areas. A few notes about the Standard Ridge Route to Sugarloaf Peak. First, it's definitely a lot less enjoyable and scenic in comparison to the new Front Face Route. Second, the terrain is simply awful for about half of the route in between the canyon and summit. It is very steep, areas must be navigated around to stay safe, and there are sections of loose rocks which make for bad footing. I really didn't like it at all. Third, it is shorter by about 1.5 miles each way (4.5 miles in comparison to 6.0 miles when using the Front Face Route between the junction and summit). In summary, our loop hike had a cumulative elevation gain of 4,150 feet over a total of 16 1/2 miles. Our hike took place on January 23, 2015.
Many more photographs taken during our visit are available for viewing for this destination. To see all of them, choose one of the two options presented below. The two options are Slideshow viewing and Trip Report viewing. The Slideshow option allows for viewing larger images with an autoplay option and a full screen option (available on most browsers). This option works very well for large computer screens and tablets. The Trip Report option allows for viewing smaller pictures in a standard scroll-down format and enlarging of any panoramic photos taken during our visit. Click on the option of your choice to view all of our photos from this destination. The Slideshow format opens in a new browser window and the Trip Report format uses the same browser window for viewing.
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