| Utah "Ultra" Marathon - Part 1 of 2
Where to even begin? This was a huge trip, in the end it really was a "marathon" of sorts, 23 ranked summits plus an additional 3 unranked ones. About 70 miles of hiking, and nearly 29,000 vertical feet. 3 "Ultra Prominence" peaks, and 5 Utah County High Points. In 6 days. I thought this was supposed to be a vacation? I probably shouldn't even post this, nobody is ever going to want to go on vacation with me
I guess I need to step back a little bit to get this adventure primed for you all. Originally my vacation was supposed to be in August, and it was going to be for Rainier. After losing my partners for various reasons beyond their control, I was left pondering what to do with my time. August being monsoon, I decided to push the vacation back to September in favor of more stable weather and try and find partners for either the Weminuche to finish the Centennials, or the High Uintah to get started on the Utah 13ers. After finding no partners, plan B (or was it C by this point?) began in its infancy.
The plan was to find Ultras, peaks with at least 5000' of prominence, and lots of them that could be done with minimal driving between. Not an easy task as by nature Ultra-Prominence peaks are generally isolated from each other. Soon I realized that Salt Lake City is a mecca for Ultras, 4 of them within a few hours drive of the city! I was sold...
September 9, 2010
East Mtn (10,743') - High Point for Emery County, Utah
7 miles RT, 3170' vertical
(Note: Summit reached in 3 miles and 2900' vertical)
After work on the 8th I packed up the car and headed out to Utah, it was going to be a week of mobile campsites with the trunk as my tent. Extra clothes, extra food, extra water, all loaded up and ready to go. I was already trying to figure out where I could climb on the drive there and upon realizing there were a couple of county high points near my driving route, I made plans for East Mtn and Monument Peak. I wasn't sure how far I was going to get the first night, but it worked out that I would head up towards Price and just poke around and find a place to camp. I found a good spot on the side of UT 31 near East Mountain. The vacation had officially begun.
The trailhead is located above the Crandall Canyon Mine off Road 248, which is paved to the gravel parking area. There is a short trail to a memorial honoring several miners who died in a collapse back in 2007.
For the peak, I hiked from the parking area along a faint dirt trail next to a no fishing sign. The trail is faint, but workable. I followed the trail for about 3/4 of a mile until a clearing below a steep treed slope to the north (right) that ascends between some rock outcroppings. I bushwhacked up this slope. At first it wasn't bad, but soon became steeper and more overgrown with some rocky bands. There were a few pricker bushes in here as well, so be careful where you put your hands! Once above this initial steep push, the slope relented as it approached the east ridge. The view back down to Crandall Canyon shows just how lush the area is:
Crandall Canyon area
I reached the ridge at a clearing and had my first view of East Mtn. There is a slight descent and I headed back into the trees where the bushwhacking was a little easier. Before the slopes steepen to the summit, the trees give way to grassy slopes and the final 400 or so feet of climbing were quite pleasant.
Ridge to East Mtn
The summit dome rounds off and there is a rocky area with a benchmark and and fabric "X". The highpoint, however, was back to the east a little bit in a dirt mound next to a bush.
East Mtn view to Tent Mtns
I decided to descend a different way, but would recommend against it, it would have been better to just retrace my ascent route. My descent went down some steep bushwhacking with lots of deadfall, more prickers and then into a creek wash with a few short 3rd class drop offs along the way.
It started to become a creek and I scrambled up the side walls and side-hilled my way back to the faint trail. Along the way getting covered in houndstongue seeds at least 3 times. The mileage was longer by about a mile, and the bushwhacking worse than my ascent, hence why I don't recommend this way. Definitely best to descent the ascent route and save the mile and headache. This is actually not the normal ascent route which comes up the west and is much shorter, but I was interested in a longer hike and thought this would work well to combine with Monument later, which is only 10 miles line of sight away.
Monument Peak (10,452') - High Point for Carbon County, Utah
1 1/4 miles round trip, 450' gain
This is actually about the easiest county highpoint in Utah, with the exception of maybe Brian Head. Both have roads to their summit, but this one is a little more remote with gravel/dirt roads to access. I wanted to make this one more sporting by hiking from Electric Lake, but the lake was signed private property and no trespassing except to allow limited fishing access to the lake. Not wanting to get busted for trespassing out of state, I wisely chose to go the standard access.
Monument from the road
The main access point is to turn south on Skyline Drive at the Emery/Carbon County line off of UT 264. From here its about 7 miles on graded gravel to reach Monument Peak. I still wanted to get out and stretch my legs at least a little bit, so instead of driving to the summit, I parked in a pullout at 10,000' a little over 1/2 mile away from the summit. To drive to the top, you actually pass the peak and turn on a doubletrack access road. Another option to make a short hike is to park there.
Anyway, I hiked along the road and then up grassy slopes to the highest point near some antennae that is marked with a rock cairn.
On the drive back I went over nearby PT 10040, 2 miles north on the road which passes within 1/4 mile of the summit and is an easy add on. Maybe 2/3 of a mile and 220 vertical feet.
In order to get back to US 6 I could have gone east on pavement, but there was another road that went north called the Skyline Drive which is a graded gravel scenic byway. A while back I downloaded every mountain and some maps to my GPS for Utah (and Colorado, and several other western states), so as I was driving I kept finding points along the road that made for some really easy ascents, one the road practically went over the summit of, and others had no more than 100' feet or so of gain. So 3 more ranked and 1 unranked summits with minimal effort along my scenic drive and I finally made it back to pavement and on towards civilization. The Skyline Drive did have some nice views of Mount Nebo though, which I would climb later in the trip:
I made it to Provo/Orem and enjoyed dinner at Del Taco before finding a gear shop and picking up the Wasatch Front Trails Illustrated to get ready for the next day...
September 10, 2010
Mt Timpanogos (11,749') - "Ultra"
"South Timp" (11,722')
Roberts Horn (10,993')
17.3 miles RT, 5950' gain, appx 8 hours
(7.1 miles and 4430' one-way to Timpanogos Summit)
via Timpanooke Trail (appx elevation 7360')
This was one of the main objectives for my Utah trip, as Timpanogos is one of the 57 "Ultra Prominence" peaks of the lower 48. For those unfamiliar, an "ultra" is a peak with over 5000' of prominence. Timpanogos, or "Timp" as its more commonly referred to locally, has 5,289' of prominence. While an imposing cliff wall presents itself to the east of the peak, there is a trail all the way to the top, and the peak is hugely popular with local hikers. Its like a front range 14er is to Denver. The peak towers 7000' above the cities or Orem and Provo below, and is a major icon to the area.
Knowing of its popularity, I decided to tackle this peak on a Friday. There is a $6 recreation fee for the area, and camping is only allowed in orgainized campgrounds. I stayed at the Timpanooke Campground which is $16/ night and offers easy access to the Timpanooke Trailhead, which is actually located within the campground right next to sites 4 and 5. From the trailhead the summit is only 2.8 miles line of sight but over 4400' above you. The trail winds its way for 7.1 miles to the summit, however, and makes the going much quicker than if you had to find your own route. It actually rained a little overnight which was a dusting of snow up high, as you will see on some of the photos. The clouds lingered all morning.
The trail starts mellow as it approaches a lower meadow then the cliff strewn cirque around you is navigated by the trail switchbacking past Scout Falls and onto a higher bench. It then takes a turn left to avoid another cliff, and then swings back right along the top to a talus field below a steep slope. From here it heads left again to navigate another cliff, the top of which is roughly half of the trail mileage. These dramatic cliff bands and lush hanging basins surrounded by steep peaks sort of reminded me of the Ice Lakes area in Colorado, its a very dramatic and impressive basin.
Early part of Timpanooke Trail
Watch the cliffs above the trail for mountain goats, especially due to the loose rock, these guys knocked some rocks on to the trail.
Utah goats are daredevils too
Once above the cliff bands the view of the northeast face of Timp dominates and you wonder where exactly a trail can manage to slip through.
Here a trail splits to Emerald Lakes, but you want to head right and stay on the summit bound trail. The trail crosses some gently rolling meadows before rearing up again on a steep slope with switchbacks and cliff bands that heads towards a notch in the ridge. This is where you usually get your first dramatic views of Orem and Provo below, but unfortunately the morning's inversion had not yet burned off.
Gaining the Ridge
The trail continues along the rough ridge staying below the crest before reaching a cliff band. Here the trail switchbacks up steeply through a staircase of rock. Its steep by trail standards, but provides easy passage through what would otherwise be a challenging scramble of the headwall. Above this the trail continues to work back up the west slopes before gaining the ridge just below the summit.
The summit is marked with a metal lookout structure with a pyramid roof that is visible from town if you look closely enough, or have binoculars. I spent some time on the summit hoping the fog would break, but it didn't really. To the east it was actually clear, the fog was literally rising along the western face and towering above the peak. It was also billowing out of the Aspen Grove area below Emerald Lake and combined with looking straight down Timp's cliffs made quite a breathtaking summit view in its own right.
After a snack I headed on to PT 11722 or "South Timp". Surprisingly there is a good trail the whole way to the saddle. The trail traverses below a lovely quartzite ridge crest with some exposure and easy scrambling. Some scenes from the ridge traverse below:
Ridge to South Timp
I stayed above the trail most of the way, then dropped when I reached a false summit to follow the trail around. Here there was an upper and lower trail, the lower is easier. The upper trail cliffed out and required a 10' 4th class downclimb on solid rock.
Off Route: Class 4 Downclimb
From the saddle, PT 11722 is a steep 422' feet up loose class 2 talus to the highest point. Not sure what the percentage of people who do both peaks is, but its probably less than 10%, solitude is almost guaranteed on this overlooked summit, despite being the 3rd highest ranked peak of the Wasatch behind Nebo (1) and Timpanogos (2).
Timpanogos from Saddle
I decided to traverse back over Timp, partly to give the fog some time to burn off, and partly to avoid loose scree around the icy late season remnants of the snowfield known as Timpanogos Glacier. The fog still lingered, but I did manage a brief view of Utah Lake from this point! The fog unfortunately didn't break any more than this, but I did have an enjoyable summit lunch!
Finally! Orem and Utah Lake
I made the descent back to the point where the trail reached the ridge crest, and split towards Emerald Lake and the saddle with Roberts Horn. From there I left the trail and went up the rocky class 2 ridge of Roberts Horn.
If "South Timp" sees 10% of the traffic as Timp, then Roberts Horn sees maybe 1%. Its rarely climbed, but a worthy summit with stunning views of the east facing Timpanogos Cirque.
Timpanogos from Roberts Horn
I descended back to the trail and took the fork back to the earlier signed junction with the Timpanooke Trail and followed it back to the trailhead.
This is a justifiably popular local hike, its a gorgeous mountain and a gorgeous basin. Supposedly the views are spectacular, but alas, the fog never lifted from the summit and I never got the full view of Provo, Orem and Utah Lake. That's okay though, this one is worth repeating!
Upper Bench on the way down
I headed to town for dinner, which was a burger from Crown Burgers (one of the pre-challenge stops for "Man vs Food" in Salt Lake City). They are famous for a burger that is topped with pastrami. Yes, pastrami on a burger. It was awesome, especially after a 17 mile hike. I then found REI in Sandy and raided their library picking up Utah maps and guidebooks you can't find in Colorado. Then it was off to dispersed camping on the way to the next day's objective...
September 11, 2010
Deseret Peak (11,031') - High Point of Tooele County, Utah
11.2 miles RT, 5250' gain, appx 5 1/2 hours
Deseret Peak is not only the highest point of Tooele County, but it is also one of Utah's 8 "Ultra Prominence" peaks, clocking in with 5,812' of prominence. The views from its summit are outstanding in every direction, including aerial views of Great Salt Lake, the surrounding deserts, and the Wasatch Front. The peak's name comes from the original proposal for statehood in 1849 for a large area that included nearly all of Utah and Nevada as well as parts of several other states. Instead in 1851 roughly half of the proposal area for the State of Deseret became Utah Territory, and ultimately less than half of that became the State of Utah in 1896. The word comes from the Book of Mormon word for Honeybee, and of course Utah is known as the Beehive State. Anyway, onto the climbing!
The trailhead is easy to reach from Salt Lake City by heading west along I-80. Leave at exit 99, head south on UT 36, then west on UT 138 to the town of Grantsville. There are several signs for something called "Deseret Peak Complex", but it has nothing to do with climbing the peak, ignore them all. UT 138 becomes main street in Grantsville, follow to the west end of town and head south on West Street which is signed with forest access. Follow the road roughly 6 miles to the signed turn-off for South Willow Canyon. The road starts out as paved, then turns to gravel and eventually ends at the loop campground. The trailhead is at the back end of the campground next to the bathrooms. There is a sign for a camping fee and a picnic fee, but nothing about a hiking fee. Three other cars arrived while I was getting my gear together and none of us paid a fee and it does not appear to be required for hiking the trail.
The trail is relentless, 4 miles to the summit with 3600' of vertical gain. The earlier part of the trail is the most gentle, only gaining 600' in the first 3/4 of a mile. At this point follow the signed turn-off to the left for "Deseret Peak", the trail steepens gradually as it rises through forests and meadows towards the ridge. I couldn't really take pics here because of the glare, none of them came out. The last bit to the ridge is the steepest part of the trail and reaches the ridge at about 10,000'. The ridge offers good views of the 10ers to the north I would add on to my descent (stupid custom points of interest in the GPS kept adding peaks all week!)
From here the trail turns right (north) and follows west facing slopes and the ridge crest as it rises 1000' in a mile to the highest point.
Ascent to Deseret
The summit is a flat rocky quartzite plateau with no cairn and no register. The views are of course incredible in every direction, and the peak has a really remote feel despite being so close to Salt Lake City.
"I Can See For Miles..."
"... and Miles and Miles...."
To make the most of the experience, I descended to the north via the Pockets Fork trail which follows along the west side of the ridge for 2 miles, through the saddle with PT 10685 and climbs about 200' to a higher saddle where it drops to the east into the basin. Great views back at Deseret from here.
Deseret from North Ridge
From here I left the trail and headed north through a burn area and talus to the summit of PT 10685, which had a talus covered tree-less summit, that's right, an alpine 10er! The first part of the ridge was steep, but near the summit it relented.
Again the views were great, especially back towards Deseret's cliff strewn east face. From here I continued north to PT 10521, the downclimb was a little annoying through the burned out deadfall and loose talus, but the climb of PT 10521 was not too bad. I then returned over PT 10685 to the trail and descended via Pockets Fork basin back to the South Willow trail and the trailhead.
The trail was in excellent condition the whole way, and if Deseret is your only goal, I highly recommend doing the hike as a loop, ascending the South Willow trail and descending the Pockets Fork trail. It doesn't add much extra in mileage or elevation gain and offers great views of Deseret's east face. Even if this was not an "Ultra" or a county high point, this would be a worthwhile hike.
Deseret from Pockets Fork Trail
On the drive back to Salt Lake City I just had to stop and check out Great Salt Lake. I parked at Saltair and walked out to the shoreline. This is by far the weirdest lake I have ever been too. For starters there isn't really a beach, the sand is rock hard, you leave no footprints when you walk, its flat and has no dunes, and nobody hangs out on it. Even on a beautiful sunny weekend day, there were no beach chairs or volleyball games or picnics. The shoreline itself is covered in little bugs and the water is flat and smooth like glass. The lake is also huge and the sky and water meet in a mirage-like horizon that makes the distant hills seems to float. Oh, and its REALLY salty, I just had to taste it, and wow, its incredibly salty, if you want to know what it tastes like take a glass of water and add a tablespoon of salt. When my hand dried it had a white film on it and I could taste salt on my lips for hours.
Great Salt Lake
This was effectively my halfway point of the trip, and I went to town and stayed in a hotel, cleaned up and went into town. Hope you have enjoyed reading, I will post Part 2 a little late on this evening...
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):