Summit Elevation (m): 2451
Trip Date: Sunday, June 02, 2019
Elevation Gain (m): 1150
Round Trip Time (hr): 6
Total Trip Distance (km): 15
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2/3 – you fall, you sprain or break something
Difficulty Notes: Some routefinding to avoid upper moderate to difficult scrambling but pretty easy otherwise.
Technical Rating: SC6; RE2
GPS Track: Download
Map: Google Maps
It’s hard to believe that of all the peaks I’ve done over the last 20 years or so, Sulphur Mountain wasn’t one of them. There’s a few reasons for that, not the least of which is the gondola and subsequent crowds visiting the lower north end of the mountain known as “Sanson Peak”. I’d also heard rumors and read reports that the true summit was a pretty long and non-exciting trudge up the SE ridge over many intervening bumps and it never seemed that appealing to me.
On Saturday, June 1 2019 I was at home getting texts from a bored Wietse who was sitting on the summit of Sulphur waiting for the rest of his hiking group. He indicated that the rumored true summit on the fourth peak clearly looked lower and after seeing his photos I agreed. (I have no idea why So and Steven insist on calling the 4th peak higher despite all the maps I could find referencing the 3rd peak as the true summit and the view over the 4th from the 3rd verifying this. At the very least they’re the same height.) This moved Sulphur into the realm of an after work, or at least pretty easy and short day trip from an interminable ridge traverse. Phil and I originally had other plans for Sunday June 2, but due to a pending house sale I had to ensure I was in cell range. Obviously Sulphur Mountain suited that bill so we made plans. We’d be joined by a group of friends including Robin, Andrea and Alan for this easy outing.
The parking lot was pretty empty at 08:00 and soon we were hiking up the wide and easy gondola trail. Thanks to a very stressful few weeks (moving for the first time in 20 years!) I wasn’t really in the chatting mood – I needed to get my heart rate going. I set off at my own pace and was soon enjoying the pumping blood in my veins and the songbirds all around me in the quiet mountain morning air. Within about an hour of leaving the parking lot I was at the top of the gondola, having only passed two or three runners coming down the trail. I waited for the group before setting my own pace along the SE ridge towards the summit. (Note that I use the same naming as Steven for the peaks, i.e. “Peak 1, 2, 3 and 4”.)
There are two options for Peak #1. You can ascend the ridge directly which is what I recommend if you are OK with upper moderate / difficult scrambling. There’s even some options on climber’s right of the nose to make things a bit easier. If you’re more into hiking or easier scrambling the peak can be bypassed on a cool ledge on the west (climber’s right) side by following trails and the terrain carefully. Scrambling is exposed along the ledge but pretty easy otherwise. After the ledge traverse I descended slightly before heading back up to the SE ridge above me to my left.
From just past Peak #1, Peak #2 looks much fiercer than it is. As I got closer the terrain backed off until it was just easy scrambling / hiking. I pulled my first tick off my pants at this point too. The day was gorgeous and I was alone again and feeling the stress slip off my shoulders as I wandered along the ridge to the 3rd summit.
Other than few easy scrambling moves, the 3rd summit was also easy and within 3 hours of leaving the parking lot I was enjoying the surprisingly good views from Sulphur Mountain, including looking OVER the 4th summit – it clearly looked lower to me and certainly not worth the extra wood ticks and distance (not to mention every source I looked at seems to agree that the 3rd peak is the true summit).
After waiting for the group to join and taking lots of pics we descended the same way we came. The descent was straightforward other than the ridge just after Peak #1 which looked to be difficult scrambling for Phil and Alan (I was lazy and just took the easy bypass). The gondola trail was a gongshow of tourists but everyone was happy and friendly and it was a beautiful summery day so why not?
I enjoyed Sulphur and think that with runners and a light pack it could be done in 5-5.5 hours after work. Views up the Spray River on one side and the Sundance Creek on the other are unexpectedly decent and definitely worth the effort.