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Deseret Peak

June 29, 2009

So I head to bed early last night, before nightfall, with my body pretty exhausted from yesterday’s ultra.  I’m shuffling in my hotel room and, though I’ve stuffed my body with food, I expect to barely be able to move when I wake up.

I sleep in until almost 7 (ten hours rest!), take a few tender steps… and feel absolutely fine.  I’m sure if I did some deep knee bends my body would protest, but I’m completely mobile, hooray!  So the first order of business is – what the heck do I do with my day?  I had been planning on a six mile hike up at Tony Grove, a nifty little area NE of Logan, which a fellow runner had recommended to me yesterday.  But, I feel great. So, where to go?

The first thought is to head to the other side of the valley, and climb the Wellsville Mountains.  However, these have a reputation as the steepest mountains in the world and, while I have some doubts about that, they do have an incredible rise above the valley floor, and do not appear to be very wide at all.  So I decide maybe that’s not one for me – mainly because I’m worried about my quads coming back down more than anything.

So, what does that leave?  I decide to go a bit farther afield – I’ve been south of SLC to Orem (Nebo, Timpanogos) and well to the northeast (Logan), so I decide to head west (the direction that always pulls me) and head to Deseret Peak.  This also allows me to get a good look at the Great Salt Lake, which I’ve mainly avoided (heading south first away from it, then east and north).

Hooray for sage brush!

Hooray for sage brush!

Deseret Peak is a nifty 11,000 foot peak in the Stansbury Mountains, about 40 miles west of Salt Lake City.  It rises fairly quickly from the valley floor but has a pretty good moat of foothills to the east.  The true peak is almost dead center, with snow on it.  The route I’m following goes up towards the basin in center, then cuts to the left (south) and cuts up a different ravine hidden by the shoulder I traverse around.  The East face is pretty darned impressive, though unfortunately I angle away from it and never get to see it up close.

Getting to the trailhead is an adventure that my mom would have hated.  The road is barely big enough for two vehicles (you eke by anyone you pass by), the crown is incredibly large (I felt like I’d drag the bottom of my rental car if I straddled it) and, oh yeah, there’s a nice 300-400 foot dropoff on the one side, with no guard rail.  Fun.  (I find it ironic that I eschew driving in Chicago, but have no problem putting 600 miles on a rental car in four days).

My Hiking Utah (Falcon Guide) gets me about two miles from the trailhead – no fault of Falcon’s, though.  Between publication in 2005 and now, the Forest Service has had to close off the last two miles or so of the road to the trailhead, giving me about 4 more miles and I’m guessing 500-600 foot elevation gain.  Now, why did they close the road, you might ask?

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OK, this is the road.  As you can see, it passes between two giant rocks.  It’s not very wide, and yeah, kind of a recipe for disaster.  Oh, and then there is this:

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To make it completely insane – the main drainage for the wide cirque you saw above also goes right through this.  And there isn’t one section like this – there are two!

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So, ultimately, good decision on behalf of the Forest Service.  What’s weird though is that the lower campgrounds are completely packed with people, and the upper ones are populated mainly by mule deer and elk (at least based on a few bounding forms I saw as I hiked up). Actually, that’s not entirely true – the upper campground is absolutely COVERD in cottonwood seeds.

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So any rate, I’m already sweating and out of breath by the time I get to the trailhead I was planning on driving to.  Ah well.

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The trail is wonderful at first – nice easy single track trail, and only see one person on the way up despite my late start.  I run into a guy on three horses with two dogs.  Being a hiker, I step off and below the trail to allow him to pass. I come quickly to a place where the trail splits – the left hand side is the more direct route to the summit, while the right hand side is longer, less steep, but also (gauging from looking at the mountains on the approach) has a very heavily corniced patch of ice on the summit ridge that is probably impassable.  So, I head left, which quickly starts going DOWNHILL.  Agh!  This is short though as it quickly starts climbing in earnest, and soon I’m out of the lower elevation conifers and aspen and up into more sturdy trees.  The trail begins to enter some nice open meadows and then starts REALLY getting steep – rising 1800 feet in a mile and a half.

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After a lungbusting climb, the trail evens off some and I’m able to see blue sky above me, so I know I’m coming up onto the ridge.  Unfortunately, it’s still in trees, and I realize that the rest of the way is not going to be easy.  Why?  Well, snow.

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The snowpack isn’t bad, but it’s a lot slower going – imagine running up a 17% grade in sand. If you’ve ever ran on sand dunes, you have an idea on how tiring that can be.  I manage to make it up and over and around a dozen or so of these, including some that are a couple hundred feet in length, when I switch back and see the following:

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That’s the summit ridge above (or the start of it – there’s still a good 0.5 miles and 1000 feet (!) of climb beyond that!) but as you can see, it’s nothing but snow, and I just can’t muster the energy to climb the final 200 foot in elevation to the 10,000 foot saddle.

Turning around, the view back to the north of the great salt lake is pretty impressive though:

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The Salt Lake is difficult to photograph, and even really to look at – there’s a weird haze that always seems to play with the light that radiates off it.  Up close, it looks blue, but in the middle distance, it looks white.  I’m not a water person, so it doesn’t hold much interest for me, but it definitely has a mystical quality to it.

I’m heading home tomorrow, and while I’ve received condolensces for not being able to successfully bag peaks, I’ve had a lot of fun and accomplished the only thing I really came to do – finish the Logan Peak run.  All of the rest of the hiking is just gravy, and happy trails are happy trails. 🙂

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