Sunrise Peak

Elevation: 11,275
Location: Wasatch Range, Utah

Sunrise Peak sits in the shadow of the higher and more popular Broads Fork Twin Peaks. In difficulty however, I think Sunrise takes a back seat to's the toughest peak I've climbed yet. Many older maps show Sunrise as "O'Sullivan Peak", but the name Sunrise seems to be the more accepted name now.

The peak can be climbed from a variety of ways, all are serious scrambling or flat out mountaineering. Perhaps the most common way it is climbed is in spring via the snowclimb up Tanners Gulch in Little Cottonwood Canyon. This is not an easy climb, and only serious climbers do this route. By later in the season it is possible to climb the peak from Broads Fork via the Twin Peaks route, then going east from the saddle. It would also be possible to climb the peak via it's east ridge, but again, that is no picnic. I climbed the peak in September of 1998 via Broads Fork with John. John had tried three times and failed on the peak in 1996 before finding a way to it's summit, so he led the way.

Broads Fork meadow in April, Sunrise Peak in center
1998 hadn't been good to me in climbing, I'd failed on Whitney earlier in the summer due to the excessive snow, and just a week before Allen and I got rained out in the tetons on an attempt to hike to Lake Solitude. So when John called asking if I wanted to climb Sunrise I saw it as a chance to "redeem" my summer of climbing.

We started early as all the peaks in this area require. By early morning we were at the meadow in Broads Fork looking at Sunrise towering above. Broads Fork meadow is one of my favorite places in all the Wasatch, as I've hiked there nearly 20 times. From the meadow, the trail crosses the stream on some shaky logs and heads up past some swampy areas into rockier terrain towards the "upper meadow" at 9,600 feet. The hike to the upper meadow is pleasant as you'll rarely encounter hikers beyond the first meadow. Now Dromedary and Sunrise Peak loom over you in dramatic fashion.

View of Sunrise and Dromedary from saddle near summit
At the upper meadow the "easy" hiking is over and you've got your work cut out for you the rest of the way. Just hiking to the upper meadow is 3,400 feet in about 3.5 miles. Ascending to the saddle between Sunrise and Twins is always an adventure. It looks easy, but once you get climbing it, it never amazes me how much steeper is than it looked from below. John was lagging after being out in the low elevations of the midwest for much of the summer, and upon reaching the saddle at about 10,800 feet I slammed my knee into a sharp rock.

We took a rest at the saddle and contomplated our options. A man from Minnesota was climbing near us much of the way who'd recently climbed Colorado's famous Longs Peak, and was headed for Twin Peaks, which he reminded us has more elevation gain than the Colorado fourteener. I realized looking at the view of Sunrise (and Dromedary) from this saddle that if John couldn't continue, there was no way I was going to attempt Sunrise solo, so I started thinking I might just be doing a trip up Twins instead, which I was much more familiar with.

Fortunately after a rest, John was ready to go and we began the adventure of getting from this saddle to Sunrise Peak. We dropped down about 50 feet on the Little Cottonwood side and traversed around two sides of the mountain fairly easily. From here it got rocky and cliffy in a hurry. To remember the details would be impossible. John was on the lookout for a lone tree that they used in '96 to mark the route of ascent.

Looking down Broads Fork towards distant Salt Lake valley
After traversing some small cliffs and loose rock bands the peak finally came into view now quite a few hundred feet above. We ascended a steep gully of loose talus to the ridgecrest hoping we were now close enough to follow the ridge to the summit. That hope ended within ten feet. We dropped again to the Little Cottonwood side where we were able to climb up angled rock bands towards the summit. I was more exhausted than anything upon reaching the summit, and my summit stay was clouded with the fear of the downclimbing ahead. We signed in the logbook found in the mailbox in the summit cairn...we were the 11th and 12th people to climb this peak in September by a city of well over a million people.

The views were great to be sure. To the south was the dramatic drop into Little Cottonwood and all the peaks of the Alpine Ridge. To the west I could see the nearly perfectly matched Twin Peaks. Further north was the valley far below, with Mount Olympus inbetween - also far below. Directly below was a nearly sheer drop of several hundred feet back into Broads Fork. Nearby Dromedary Peak looked equally menacing from here, but lower. Skies were turning darker as a snowstorm was forecasted for the next day. It took us two hours to cross from the saddle to the peak of Sunrise. The trip back to the saddle would take two more hours!

Myself on the summit of Sunrise Peak
The trip down was worse than up. After sliding down a few loose rock gullies on my butt, we began tracking back thru those miscellaneous cliff bands. We got stuck on more than one occasion, and at one point we had to climb over a large rock about five or six feet high while perched on a ledge about a foot wide. When we finally made it back to the first two "gentle" slopes near the saddle I was relieved. By now my knee was shaking from all the time spent balancing myself on the precarious terrain.

We went quickly down from the saddle. I am a terrible downclimber of loose and steep rocks and John was getting ahead of me regularly. Two climber who'd been on Twins were also coming down, and one of them took a nasty tumble in the rocks but fortunately was ok. We hurried knowing time was getting late. We had reached the summit at 2pm, been back at the saddle at 4pm, and were back at the main Broads Fork meadow around 7pm. By the final mile or so we were in darkness, and we staggered down the trail with John's flashlight. I was probably more relieved than maybe I've ever been when we staggered onto the pavement of the parking lot. I took John to 7-11 and bought him a drink for his help in climbing this monster of a peak.

Sunrise was a "one-timer". Nearby Twins are higher and more fun to climb I feel, but as an avid climber in the Wasatch, Sunrise was a must-do for me. I have as much pride in climbing Sunrise as any peak I've climbed including fourteeners in Colorado and California.