Getting Above the Gunk on Deseret Peak
We spent a few days in Erda visiting family prior to Christmas. With the well-below-normal snowpack thus far in Utah, I figured it was a great time to get a winter climb in with minimal avalanche danger. Another advantage of going to the mountains was to get out of the gunky valley inversion that had besieged much of the Wasatch Front and West Desert.
I ultra-climbed Deseret Peak a couple of summers ago for the first time and had a blast. It turns out that Deseret Peak is a somewhat popular winter climb, especially for backcountry skiers who enjoy skiing down Deseret's Twin Couloirs on its southeast flank.
With my sights set on Deseret, I arranged to have my dad drop me and my road bike off near the mouth of South Willow Canyon at the crack of dawn. My plan was to stash my bike, walk up the road and to the normal summer-time trailhead, hike up to the summit, return to my bike and coast back to Erda some 12 miles away.
The South Willow Guard Station is in the process of getting a new roof.
It's an easy 4-mile walk up the canyon road to the Deseret Peak trailhead from where the road is gated in winter time. The winter gate is just past a couple of private cabins near the canyon mouth.
Within 5 minutes of walking, the air cleared up, my eye's contact lenses stopped itching, and I could breath easy. Before long, I got my first glimpse of my destination lit up with the day's first light.
The Upper Narrows of South Willow Canyon. These sturdy limestone walls are popular in the summer time amongst local rock climbers.
The canyon road was plowed all the way up to the Lower Narrows where crews had been working on repairs to the road. For the last couple of years, a washout at the Lower Narrows forced the Forest Service to close the road at Medina Flat even in the summer time. With the new repairs the road should be good to go this spring.
Near the Upper Narrows, the snow deepened and I strapped on my snowshoes. I followed tracks from a x-country skier that, from the looks of his/her tracks, had passed though about a week earlier.
Just as in summer, the hike gets really exciting once the trail gains some serious altitude in Mill Fork and you can see some of the higher peaks to the north.
About halfway up Mill Fork, the ski tracks disappeared and I was breaking virgin trail in the deepening snow. Throughout most of the hike up this north-facing slope, the snow was about mid-calf to knee deep even with snowshoes on. At Mill Fork's steep head wall, things suddenly got icy and I was forced to put on crampons. The crampons stayed on for only about 10 minutes because as soon as I reached the saddle on top, I had exposed rock.
At the top pf Mill Fork.
From the saddle it's a moderately steep climb up a broad and treeless slope to reach the summit ridge. The snow was soft enough here to require snowshoes, but once on the summit ridge it was all either exposed rock or packed snow. From there, it's a straightforward climb up the ridge and past a few false summits to the top.
The southeast flank of Deseret Peak.
Almost to the top. Note the wide cornices riding the lee side of the ridge top behind me. These are unstable and should be avoided--walk on the adjacent rock instead.
Looking west toward Skull Valley.
View to the southeast toward the Oquirrh Mountains (mid distance) and the Wasatch (far distance) Range. Mount Timpanogos is the high peak in the upper right of the photo.
Looking south toward the Onaqui (mid distance) and Sheeprock (far distance) Mountains. Black Crook Peak (elev-9274 ft.) is the high point of the Sheeprocks and it's been on my to-do list for some time.
I made it to the summit at about 1:30 pm, had lunch, snapped photos, and then retraced my steps. With an 8:00 am start, it took 5.5 hours to summit.
The return trip was of course much quicker and I was back at my bike and changing into biking shoes by 5 pm.
This is where I fubbed a bit and was not wholly prepared. The sun had set, temps were dropping, and it is a long and fast downhill out of the canyon and on to Grantsville. All I packed for light was a wimpy 3-LED headlamp that is not sufficient for illuminating a pot-holed road at speed. Plus, I couldn't get it positioned right on my helmet in order to throw the light where I wanted it.
The windchill was off the charts. Within minutes, I lost feeling in my fingers. The highway into Grantsville doesn't get a lot of traffic but when cars do come, they're typically going 60-65 mph and there's not much of a shoulder. Also, oncoming cars either didn't see me at all, or they didn't think a cyclist would mind bright lights, because no one was using their dimmers. It was a little scary to say the least.
By the time I got to Grantsville, I'd had enough and called my dad for a ride.
It sure was great to get out of the muck for a day and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine--just like we have pretty much every day down here in southern Utah.