Sundial Peak is the prominent peak sitting directly behind popular Lake Blanche in Big Cottonwood Canyon. It can be debated whether Sundial is really a true "peak" or not. It is really a low point on a ridge leading up to a nameless 11,033 foot peak, and it rises a mere 150 feet from the low point along the saddle. But it's prominence above Lake Blanche and the rugged climb required to get to the top seem to justify it as it's own peak to most hikers and climbers. Sundial's north face is a technical climb.
I climbed Sundial with the Wasatch Mountain Club. Myself and three other hikers met at 8:30 at the Big Cottonwood park and ride, and we hit the trail just before 9am. The first part of the hike is the standard 3 mile, 2700 foot trek up to scenic Lake Blanche. While I am a fairly fast hiker, I must say this group really moved! Fortunately I was able to keep the brisk pace to the lake. The biggest threat on this day was the persistant afternoon thunderstorms that had been plaguing the entire state for the past week. By the time we got to the lake, around 10:30, some dark clouds were already starting to build.
After about 10 minutes of rest we decided to continue up. The hike continues south around the dam on Lake Blanche, and then a faint trail climbs towards the Sundial. The track fades and we made a steep climb up grassy slopes and broken cliff bands. No place was particularly dangerous, but I expect route finding could be challenging if you were not very familiar with the area. Soon we were out of the steep area (a relief as I was really huffing and puffing now), and began a much more gentle ascent up a wide, grassy valley. The Sundial ridge rose above us in rugged fashion. We could see and hear two climbers just starting their descent from the summit.
The climb to the ridge isn't too difficult except for a short talus crossing and a steep final 20 feet to the ridge, but there are excellent hand and foot holds all the way. Once on the ridge you get a great view of how rugged an area you are in. The ridge is narrow and exposed on both sides. After a short break I continued with Jim (the leader) towards the summit. The other two hikers were slightly ahead of us. A steep initial rock was one of the most challenging parts of the climb. Careful climbing was required as there were plenty of sharp cliffs below. One section required a tricky crossing of a narrow, loose rock ledge on the east with a big rock jutting out forcing you to turn your body somewhat away from the mountain...not confidence filling! Soon we finished a few easier parts (somewhat like sidewalks, just with exposure) and arrived on the summit.
I was somewhat relieved to reach the peak, as much of the way I didn't feel I was up to it on this day. Part of that might have been the fast pace however. We weren't on the summit long when we heard thunder echo in the distance. Not wanting to be caught on this ridge during a lightning storm we only stayed on the peak for about five minutes. I clicked pictures of the supreme views, in particular the rugged west face of the Mt. Superior/Monte Cristo massif. Having had close calls with lightning in the past I must admit to a feeling of urgency to get off of the peak. I scrambled quickly but carefully hoping to get off the dangerous part before a storm broke. Fortunately for us it never did. Just as we got off the most difficult part it started to clear up. Here we took a longer break and enjoyed the beautiful scenery.
On the trip down we took a longer route that travels a more gentle valley (seasonal waterfall) to the west. Along the way we saw many mountain goats on the rugged slopes above, and numerous marmots. This route down was in my opinion much easier (save a few short talus slopes) than the way we took up. We took a nice break just before reaching Lake Blanche and the maintained trail back down. We made quick time of the trail and were back at the car just before 4pm, making it a roundtrip time of about seven hours. The stats for the climb are nine miles roundtrip roughly with a elevation gain of about 4,150 feet. Sundial Peak is an outstanding climb, and similar in difficulty to nearby Superior via Alta (probably not as difficult as Dromedary, Sunrise or Broads Fork Twins).