Sugarloaf Mountain (The Sphinx)

Summit Elevation (m): 2500
Trip Date: Saturday, September 16, 2017
Elevation Gain (m): 2000
Round Trip Time (hr): 10
Total Trip Distance (km): 30
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you sprain your wrist
Difficulty Notes: The difficulty here is having the energy to go up this minor summit as part of a 38km, 2500m day with the Pharaoh Peaks!
Technical Rating: SC5; RE3
GPS Track: Download

After completing the long approach trek up Healy Pass and then Whistling Pass and the subsequent ascent of Lesser Pharaoh Peak (don’t forget about “Tiny” Pharaoh), Phil and I grunted our way back up Whistling Pass and set our now-tiring bodies towards Scarab Lake and the diminutive and unofficial Sugarloaf Mountain. I haven’t been able to find out where “Sugarloaf” comes from, but it’s on enough references to be official enough for me to bag and claim it. We noticed quite a few people on the main Pharaoh Peak above us as we passed under it on our way back to the Scarab Lake turnoff.

Lesser Pharaoh and Sugarloaf Route Map

As we descended the side trail towards Scarab Lake I found myself hoping that there was another trail descending to Egypt Lakes below. The reason I was hoping this, was that we’d otherwise have to reascend this side trail back to the main one after completing Sugarloaf. And I was slowly getting tired of all the elevation gains – they were now adding up significantly! You might expect that the shoreline of Scarab Lake would be another highlight of our day, but it was a little uninspiring from it’s shore, especially when compared against the views of it from Greater Pharaoh that I’d enjoyed a year previous. We continued past the lake, still on a good trail, before crossing the outlet stream on a shaky log “bridge” and starting yet another ascent towards Mummy Lake and Sugarloaf Mountain.

Originally my plan for Sugarloaf included descending an alternate line to Talc Lake before returning on the Redearth Pass trail down Pharaoh Creek and then up to Healy Pass. Thanks to fire closures in the area this was no longer feasible for us. We were going to be flirting with the extreme edge of the closure area just by going up Sugarloaf from the Mummy Lake side as it was. Thankfully the closure split right up the summit so as long as we stayed on climber’s left of the “line” we would be fine. 

Interesting meadows just under Mummy Lake and Sugarloaf which is out of sight to the left here.

After going through a small meadow we left the Mummy Lake trail and started up bouldery terrain to the Sugarloaf / Unnamed col above. I wasn’t feeling great at this point, having only had about 500ml of water all day thanks to the cool weather and me not paying enough attention to hydration. At this point we were approaching the 21km mark and were over 8.5 hours into our day. I slowed down a bit and stuffed a granola bar down my throat before continuing upward on the loose, but easy terrain. At the col with the impressive unnamed peak to the south of Sugarloaf, we had our first views of The Monarch, clearly showing it’s burnt west aspect. Talc Lake also showed up as a tiny gem in the foreground. The views over Mummy and Scarab lakes helped dull our pain as we continued the steep grunt upwards, following the path of least resistance up the SW slopes. The route was fairly obvious, made even more so by a shallow, ledge gully with a cairn sitting high above it. Once we exited the shallow gully we were left with some bouldery scrambling to the rounded summit.

Looking over Scarab Lake towards Greater Pharaoh Peak.
Looking over the scared west aspect of the Monarch Ramparts towards Fatigue, Naswald, Golden and Citadel Peak.
An interesting angle from the top of Sugarloaf’s north face looking down at Egypt Lake with Scarab Lake at left and even part of Mummy Lake at far left. Scarab Peak at left and Greater Pharaoh at center.

The views from Sugarloaf were pretty sweet, save for the fact that clouds had now rolled in and refused to let the sun shine on either Mummy or Scarab Lake below! We traversed north to the top of the impressive north face of Sugarloaf and managed to get some neat shots of Egypt Lake with the Pharaoh Peaks in the background. We enjoyed a short break at the top before descending back to the col and our packs.

With both objectives done for the day, we decided on a brief detour to Mummy Lake which would get us back on trail for the rest of our (long) exit. We carefully descended loose bouldery terrain to the trail before reluctantly ascending towards Mummy Lake. At this point I was ready to turn and head back. When I saw that we’d have to lose height to the shores of Mummy Lake, only to sit in a cold wind with no sunshine, I suggested we turn back. Phil agreed and we descended to Scarab Lake. At the crossing of the outlet stream I brewed up a long overdue coffee as we chilled out for 30 minutes, hydrating and replenishing ourselves for the long hike back over Healy Pass and down to the Sunshine parking lot. After checking out the interesting waterfall to Egypt Lake far below, we ascended the branch trail back to the Whistling Pass trail and proceeded down the headwall towards the Egypt Lake campground and shelter.

Standing on top of the waterfall from the Scarab Lake outlet stream into Egypt Lake below.

Our descent went quickly and we enjoyed the terrain we’d come up earlier in the day. Once again, we were amused (and not) to see a fire clearly burning in the shelter despite several signs declaring a total and complete FIRE BAN – including one right on the shelter door! Apparently if the fire is in a woodstove it doesn’t count? Many people were setting up their tents as we hiked past. I’m sure several of them wondered where the heck we were headed at 18:15 with sunset in an hour and a half. We took a last deep drink at the Pharaoh Creek bridge before continuing along the trail to the warden cabin. After snapping a few pics there, we reluctantly turned from the Pharaoh Creek Valley and started the grind up towards Healy Pass. Amazingly the climb up to the pass went much better than the climb to Sugarloaf had been! I think refueling at Scarab Lake had done the trick. We chatted most of the way up to the pass and time went by quickly. At the pass we enjoyed the evening sun on The Monarch before starting the last long section of downhill hiking to the parking lot.

The Egypt Lake warden cabin.

Within an hour of the pass we were donning toques and gloves as darkness settled in around us. Our headlamps were on about 20 minutes later. I love hiking at night – especially when it’s clear and calm. A few birds were making themselves known while the sighing of tired trees filtered through the darkness around us. Other than that it was total silence. We marched on and on like this until we could once again hear Healy Creek. It’s funny how long a few kms can seem after 14 hours of steady hiking! Neither of us felt that bad as we marched on pavement towards the truck waiting beneath the lights in the empty, quiet parking lot.

I hope my trip report didn’t come across too negative for either Lesser Pharaoh or Sugarloaf Mountain. As I reflect on it a few days later, the trip keeps getting better and better.  I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t initially a bit disappointed in the 1/3 larch turn when we first realized it in the Healy Meadows, but as the day progressed and we experienced moment after excellent moment, it became harder and harder to hold onto that disappointment. At the end of the day it was a perfect late summer hiking trip with gorgeous scenes at every turn without smoky haze or bad weather. What more could we ask for? A few more yellow larches? I suppose – but that’s what next weekend is for!

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