Lone Peak

Lone Peak is a peak I had been intimidated by for a number of years now and so I always managed to avoid it because of both the distance, the gain, the lack of shade and water, and the exposure along the final stretch up to it.  With my goal to summit all seven most prominent peaks of Utah Valley, I couldn't avoid it any longer.  It was now time to put it in the bag.  While it can certainly be done as a brutally long day hike, I took the opportunity to turn it into another overnight backpacking trip.
- Day 1 -
Friday - July 7, 2017

 The most popular routes up to Lone Peak are Jacobs Ladder and the Cherry Canyon Logging Trail.  Both ways are long, very steep with lots of gain and offer little to no shade early on.  Jacobs Ladder saves you a mile each way, making it 2 miles shorter round trip if you choose that route, but also requires some driving up a dirt road to reach its trailhead.  Cherry Canyon Logging Trail is much easier to access via the Orson Smith Park and trailhead in Draper.

I chose the Cherry Canyon Logging trail, both because it was easier to access, and it promised some shade sooner along its course up to Lone Peak.  However, my plan up high was to alter the course and leave the Cherry Canyon Logging trail in favor of the Jacobs Ladder trail by Enniss Peak and then setup camp up in the cirque beneath Lone Peak.

Heading up the Cherry Canyon Logging Trail

Looking northward over the Salt Lake Valley

Hazy Salt Lake City skyline

While my original plan was to start up the trail much earlier in the afternoon so as to reach the cirque before sunset, that did not happen.  I had a setback with my car not wanting to start, finally tracing it to a short and a fuse gone bad.  Once I had that resolved, I was able to get up to the trailhead, but much later than I had wanted.  With as hot as it was that day (temperatures reached triple digits in the valley), despite being prepared with frozen water bottles and gatorade, an umbrella for shade, and some cooling towels around my neck, I found myself thankful for the set back.  I ended up not starting up the trail until about 7:30 that evening and it was still quite hot starting out.  I ended up witnessing the sunset only a couple miles up the trail.

Sunset from along Cherry Canyon Logging Trail

Cherry Canyon Logging Trail

As dusk settled in, the sky grew darker, but not too dark. On this night, I'd have the luxury of hiking with the aid of a full moon.  Still, with a lack of light, pictures would be minimal.

Full Moon rising

Salt Lake Valley at dusk

Due to not being familiar with the trail and route, some snow obstacles up high in the cirque, and several points where I stopped to check my location and make sure I was navigating the terrain in the right direction, I did not arrive to where I wanted to camp until it was almost midnight.

Camp in the cirque beneath Lone Peak

Camp in the cirque

The full moon continued to light up the surrounding cirque as I slipped into bed to rest up before making the attempt to summit the high peak sitting high up just to the east of my camp.  Even with just the light of the moon, the cirque was absolutely beautiful.  It all made me more excited to partake of its beauty with the light of full sun the following day.

- Day 2 -
Saturday - July 8, 2017
The site I had settled into would ultimately prove well worth its pursuit late in the evening prior to the light of dawn the following morning.

Wake-up view of Lone Peak

Waiting for sunlight

First glimpses of the sun over Lone Peak

With the flood of light filling in from the sun, Lone Peak's cirque and surrounding wilderness proved to be every bit as stunning, if not more so, as I had hoped, just like other sections of the same designated wilderness area I had visited in past years.  After topping off my water supply and eating a quick breakfast, I packed up my summit pack and set off for the summit, making my way up through the cirque en route to the ridge.

Leaving camp

Heading up the cirque toward Lone Peak

At the edge of the Lone Peak cirque

At the edge of the cirque

Looking back across the cirque

Once I reached the greater saddle along the ridge, I sat down for a good rest and enjoyed some views out into the Salt Lake Valley to the northwest and the Cottonwood ridge separating Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons to the northeast.

Cottonwood Ridge from the saddle along ridge to Lone Peak

Salt Lake Valley from the saddle along ridge to Lone Peak

Downtown Salt Lake City

It was also here that I must have knocked the lens in my Panasonic out of alignment.  I had set it up on a mini tripod I carry with me and must have knocked it over after zooming in on the SLC skyline for the shot above.  Apparently only a few inches was enough to knock it out because from there on out, no matter what I did with the camera, the images and video it took were very blurry, even after doing a factory reset on its menu settings.  From here on out, I was back to using my phone as a primary camera with no ability to zoom in on anything real well.

But the trip must go on.

As I was resting, another couple of hikers appeared on the saddle and when I found out that one of them had prior experience with the summit, I asked if I could join them and follow along.  Soon, another Lone Peak veteran caught up as well and we all scrambled the ridge together.  I was grateful to have some veterans of the peak to follow so I could watch and follow their moves around the crux and a couple other tricky and exposed spots.

Lone Peak (right) and its accompanying ridge

Much sooner than anticipated, I found myself standing atop Lone Peak at 11,251 feet.  It certainly isn't the highest mountain of the Wasatch, but when considering the gain from the valley and the exposed Class 3 scrambling required over the last few hundred feet, it certainly is one of the most demanding peaks of the Wasatch Range.  It was certainly the most demanding for me to date.

Me, on top of the summit

USGS marker

View east into Bells Canyon from Lone Peak

View northeast down Bells Canyon from Lone Peak

Satisfied with my summit experience, I bid the others adieux and made my way back down the ridge.  By now a group of runners had gathered up on the summit block to join us and a host of others were on their way up too.  It was turning into quite a party.

Looking back at the party I left on top of Lone Peak

Back down at the saddle, I made the decision to loop out to Outlaw Cabin, so I picked up the route out and over to the top of Little Willow Creek.  Along the way, I'd enjoy some more incredible views both out to the valley and back into the cirque.

Looking west from the saddle

Looking north from the edge of the saddle

Looking back up at Lone Peak from across the cirque

 I also found myself in awe of a section of granite formations that reminded me of being down in Southern Utah.  It was as if what should have been reddish sandstone slickrock had its color stripped out and ultimately transformed into grey granite.  There was even an arch to go along with the landscape.

Granite slickrock

Looking back at Lone Peak through a notch in granite slickrock

"Double" arch

Once at Little Willow Creek, I meandered my way downhill along the creek until I reached what is known as Outlaw Cabin.

Heading down Little Willow Creek drainage

Natural granite staircase along Little Willow Creek

Cascading Little Willow Creek

Outlaw Cabin

According to what I could find out about the cabin, from 1960 through 1967, a couple of brothers who shared the surname, Allen and Alan Summerhays would come up by horseback into what is now the Lone Peak Wilderness, bringing with them supplies to construct what is now known as 'Outlaw Cabin' using down timber abundant in the area.

You could tell it was quite the hangout as there was a large group with their camp set up all around it.  Unfortunately, as is often the case with places like this, the inside was quite a mess from all sorts of abuse and misuse, flooded with litter, and so on.

From the cabin, I closed out the loop by hiking up a lesser used trail behind it and followed it as far as I could until I reached a point where I had to route-find the rest of the way to my camp.

Following the trail behind Outlaw Cabin

Granite pillars above the meadows

Perhaps the most dramatic view of the whole trip was encountered along this route.  For a moment, I questioned if I was still in Utah. I've never yet been in the Sierras of California, but in this moment, based on pictures and video I've seen of the Sierras, I thought I had stumbled into some secret portal that somehow transported me into the infamous "Range of Light".  My jaw literally dropped at the beauty of the Lone Peak massif and all the granite piled up between it and where I was standing, dotted with conifers and patches of surviving snow.  And that's saying something given how impressed I was with all the beauty I had witnessed up to this point.

Utah's Wasatch or California's Sierras?

Alas, I found my way back to camp, where I packed up and began the long descent back down to the trailhead.

Back at camp

Fortunately, with the high amount of snow we had this past winter, water was still plentiful all throughout the cirque and all along Fort Creek in the basin between Lone Peak and Enniss Peak.  This provided cold refreshing water to top off my water containers with and provided for a few nice pictures.

Small cascade in Fort Creek

Small waterfall along Fort Creek

Fort Creek

Granite ramp below Lone Peak cirque

Familiar wildflowers also dotted the landscape.

Indian Paintbrush


Along Jacobs Ladder trail

Lone Peak from Jacobs Ladder trail

Leaving Jacobs Ladder trail in favor of Cherry Canyon Logging Trail

Once back off the Jacobs Ladder trail, I hastily made my way back over to the Cherry Canyon Logging trail to get on my way back down to my car.  Because skies were hazy and I was pushing the pace to get back down in time to pick up some dinner for my family on my way back home, I did not stop to take any more pictures.  I did shoot a bit more video, but unfortunately, much of that was lost when I ended up bushwhacking through some dense vegetation, losing my action camera in the process, all as a result of experimenting with an alternate way of connecting Jacobs Ladder with the Cherry Canyon Logging Trail.  Fortunately that action camera that the trees and bushes ate from me was a budget brand and not a real Go Pro.  The biggest loss wasn't so much money invested in it, but the footage I had captured along the ridge scramble up to the summit of Lone Peak and elsewhere along the trail.  

Yes, this was a trip that not only cost me one camera, but TWO different cameras.  At least the first camera was still physically present with me, allowing me to keep the pictures and video I had captured with it before its lens was misaligned. 

Still, I was happy to have arrived back at my car all in once piece and despite the loss of my cameras, It had been a good trip.  I'd love to return up into the Lone Peak Cirque ever few years, but I'd probably be just as content to take it easy and hang out in the cirque and enjoy the beauty of the peak from below as much as I would enjoy the ridge scramble and summit views.  I'd also be sure to start my hike early in the morning, or later in the evening, again with the aid of a full moon.

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