Deseret Peak

11,030′
3600′ gain
8 miles RT
4.5 hours up, 2 down
 

Deseret Peak is a high mountain located on the border of the Great Salt Lake desert, the highest point in Tooele County. A fun fact about Deseret Peak is that it is the 31st most prominent mountain in the lower 48, with over 5,800′ of prominence. The coolest thing about Deseret Peak is that few people from the Salt Lake area even know that it exists, let alone go climb it. Two coworkers, Simon and Tyler, and I set out to do just that at about 6:00 this morning.

Deseret Peak (credit: ericwillhite)

Deseret Peak is located only about an hour west of Salt Lake City, making it reasonably accessible for day trips. The mountain is located in the Wasatch NF, and is accessed through Tooele and Grantsville by the South Willow Canyon road. The last 8 miles of the road are rough and narrow gravel.

Deseret Peak

The hike starts out through a forest that seems much lusher than any Utah forest should be. It reminded me of home. This seems to be an effect of the large snowfall experienced by Deseret Peak and the elevation – much like a “sky island”, the Stansbury range is isolated from the desert below by elevation.

Desert “sky island” forest along the approach hike

The approach hike quickly took us to the snow line in the canyon (at about 8300′). We lost the trail but headed up to the mouth of the canyon where we knew the route lead.

South Willow Canyon

The peak is hidden for most of the approach but an impressive view of the summit is afforded for a few minutes while hiking in the canyon.

Deseret Peak summit from the canyon

We didn’t have snowshoes, which would have made the hike so much easier. We managed to find firm snow for most of the ascent but post holed badly a few times. In search of firmer ground, we hugged the west side of the canyon, and almost drifted into the next one over a saddle by the Twin Couloirs (a mistake that would be hard to make if following the trail in the summer). After a typical snow slog straight up the mouth of the canyon we reached the saddle that would take us along a ridge to the summit.

From the saddle looking back at the canyon and Salt Lake to the northeast

South of the saddle, the snow was shallower due to the greater sun exposure, but there were still patches of soft snow to avoid. We elected to scramble on loose rock instead to avoid extending the slog.

Scrambling on the back side of the summit ridge

Soon the wind really started to pick up. As we reached a false summit, the winds reached 20 or 30 mph in gusts, which made the 57 degree day feel a lot colder. After taking in some views, we continued down the summit ridge, now with a clear view of our objective (past some lingering cornices). We stayed to the south (left) to avoid the cornices and stay on more rock.

Summit ridge with cornices

The trail was sometimes melted out, sometimes not. We basically ignored it and pressed on along the ridge. Within a few hundred feet of the true summit, we reached a high point with a steep snow slope between us and the goal. We were ready to turn around when I spotted a thin strip of exposed rock leading to the summit. We were able to reach it, and used it to avoid putting ourselves in a potentially dangerous slide with no ice axes to arrest.

Finally, we were on the summit (at about 12:15). It was cold and very windy but we stayed around for maybe 20 minutes enjoying the sights.

Summit group

To the West, we could see the great expanse of the Salt Lake Desert. Beyond, we could barely make out Ibapah Peak, another county high point, 80 miles away.

West view to the desert
Ibapah Peak

To the north and east, across the Tooele Valley, was a great view of the Great Salt Lake, and the two mountain ranges which bound Salt Lake City – the Oquirrhs and the Wasatch.

Great Salt Lake with Antelope Island
The Oquirrh range in front, with the Wasatch peeking above

To the South was the rest of the surprisingly green Stansbury Range, alone in the desert

Stansbury Range looking south

Deseret Peak had unusually good views. After soaking them in for a while, it was time to descend, which involved carefully negotiating the snowy ridge and avoiding cornices…

and glissading down some perfect snow slopes to reach the saddle.

Glissade tracks

The descent to the trail was a pain because of the even softer snow. We were dropping to our hips in snow before just deciding to boot-ski and slide down the rest of the way (where we could) and generally slog it out. We learned that this peak needs another month to melt out for it to really be in prime shape.

Deseret Peak would be a straightforward hike when dry, but it turns into more of a mountaineering trip when snowy. Use caution and wait until later in June and this peak would be a great day hike. Our trip was still a great trip, but we would have preferred not to waddle around in the soft snow when there’s a nice trail right underneath. We made it back to SLC with soggy boots by 3:30 or so.

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