Lone Peak, UT




New snow on a stunning peak leaves us short of the summit.

Note: click images to see a larger version in a new window

Tommy was going to be in Salt Lake with his family visiting the grandparents, so I arranged to meet him. In looking for a goal on SummitPost, I noticed that a group was planning on trying Lone Peak via the Big Willow route. It was sort of an open invitation, and they said everyone was welcome. Because several in this group had climbed it in snow conditions, this seemed like a perfect first outing in the Wasatch (not really our first, we had skied Patsey Marley a few years ago).

The group was leaving at a leisurely 7am, and we were even more leisurely, assuming we were going to be following a bunch of strong youngsters who had experience on the route. So I wasn't even carrying a map, just a few paragraphs printed off the SP page, mostly to get us to the starting point.

We got to the trailhead a few minutes early to allow time for introductions and to be sure we didn't slow anyone down. When we got there, there were a few cars but no people. We peered into the windows, trying to determine if they were climbers (but trying to NOT look like car thieves). We got geared up, and finally at a few minutes past 7 we departed, feeling alone and abandoned. What the hell?

So we started up the poorly-marked trail, working our way through a few intersections by deduction and trial and error. There were no signs for either Little Willow or Big Willow, both of which we needed to walk through. The only sign we found was on the trail we needed, but the instructions did not name the trail nor say there was a sign.

The trail with a sign (what did it say? can't remember...) was the right one, bringing us into Little Willow canyon, seen here at about 7:45.This is looking sort of east.

You walk up the canyon a ways, switch backing up the left side and eventually over the left shoulder and into the next canyon to the north (left), which is Big Willow.

Little Willow trail

Once you enter Big Willow, you traverse through the trees (you are now on the north side of a ridge, so you are in the trees and there is a lot more snow). The trail gradually climbs as it moves toward the creek. By the time you get back to the bottom of the canyon, the snow is a couple feet deep and you see these cliffs above you. Head for the center of the canyon and keep climbing, much more steeply now.

We occasionally found red ribbon nailed to trees, but largely just followed our noses up the canyon.

Cliffs north of the canyon

Looking back behind us after about 3000' of gain, we had awesome views of the valley. One of the points I forgot to explain is that this climb starts from a city park, about 20 minutes from Tommy's grandparents place. It is SO weird to be climbing into such wild country right on the edge of a large city. But kinda cool. It's like Boise's Table Rock, but a bit bigger ;-)

And I should point out, we were breaking trail in fresh snow, with no previous tracks. The place was empty.


The canyon sort of rolls as it climbs; there are gentler slopes and a few headwalls. For the most part, it is very safe terrain.

Looking down from 3k

One exception (just above this point) had me stare and calculate for a few minutes. Tom and I discussed the potential hazard , which we agreed existed but I thought was without sufficient snow load to be a real hazard. On our descent, that slope had slid at the top but did not have the energy to cross our tracks. hmmmm

The real reason I included this shot is the "icing" on the tree.

On Thursday it had snowed here on an old crust, and possibly on Friday as well. And Friday had definitely been a wind event. Then it got warm, so the snow in the tree had melted and formed little icicles all over. This same weather had left a few inches of snow (probably closer to 9" up high) that had then crusted over. Our snowshoes were sliding in the fresh-on-crust, which had our avy antennae in full ON mode.

Tinsel on the tree

We hit 4000' gain at about 11:15. We had been moving steadily and climbing fairly fast, despite the difficult snowshoeing. It had been more difficult for Tom on his borrowed snowshoes, which didn't quite have the grip mine did.

So anyway, we had been at it for four hours, so we stopped here and had some needed lunch. We weren't sure, but it looked like we were getting close to the cirque, with our summit in view (note the red hash mark)?

Summit of Lone Peak

After lunch, it was only another 15 minutes and we recognized the upper cirque from a picture I had carried. You may have to click the bigger version to see it, but I put a little red dot at the bottom of the rock rib. The route goes up the right side of the rib to gain the ridge.

We saw some dark areas in the snow, which our hopeful brains were thinking was where the wind had swept the old crust bare of snow. Excellent!

The cirque

Here's our tracks up to the rib. As we headed up the bowl, we were seeking safe areas. And the previously-mentioned dark snow. But it turned out the dark stuff was simply snow shadowed by wind-rippling, and even more slabby then the lighter-colored snow. So much for the "safe" line we thought we had spotted.

We got to the rib at about 12:15, with 5000' done and just 1000' left. But Tom remarked that he could see cracks emanating from my snowshoe tracks. I dug an avy pit and concluded that the slab had potential. And as the temperature continued to rise, any instability now was only going to get worse before we had a chance to descend.

With that, we were done climbing for the day.

Tracks to our high point

But from that vantage point, the scenery was spectacular.

Below, a pano from high on the route showing the view out of the cirque. Too bad the weather couldn't have been better.

Cliffs i the cirqueTom Martin photo
Salt Lake panorama

Here's a view looking down our descent at Tom, and showing the other side of this marvelous cirque.


Tom in the cirque
We puttered around for a bit, then decided it was time to head down. Despite the rapidly-warming snow, on the way home we got in a afew sloppy glissades. The second guy down was much faster after a groove had been excavated.
GlissadeTom Martin photo
And this is from near where we left Big Willow Canyon. Lone Peak is visible just right of center, although I don't think you can see the summit.
John and Lone PeakTom Martin photo

Mr. Natural Home | 2010 | Back to top of page | Questions :: e-mail to splattski