Brighton Ridge Traverse

Brighton Ridge (Clayton Peak to Sunset Peak)
8.5 miles RT
3200′ gain
3:46 for the loop
Route map

After Lone Peak the previous day, I took out my map of the Wasatch to find something not too remote that I could hike safely on my own, without too much elevation gain. Brighton Ridge fit the bill nicely.

Rolling up to Brighton at 7am, I was surprised by a bull moose in the parking lot!

Bull moose at the lodge

I started up the mountain on the main trail until reaching the turnoff right around Dog Lake – I took the trail toward Clayton Peak instead of continuing on to the lakes. I saw two more moose in the woods here – a calf and a cow. They ran off down the hill silently. For as awkward as moose are they are graceful and fast when in motion.

Barely visible cow and calf

After not too much longer I gained the saddle and saw a great view down the Wasatch Back over to the Park City side.

From the saddle below Clayton Peak

From here I followed the obvious cat track along the base of Clayton Peak until I found a climber’s trail marked by a cairn (a very nice trail at that). From there it was a breeze to my first peak of the day.

Lake on the backside of Clayton Peak
Looking over the pass to Little Cottonwood
Heber Valley

From here I continued back down the ridge until reaching the saddle and continuing very close to the ridge line the other direction toward Preston Peak. Sometimes there is a use trail, sometimes it is not obvious. Just keep following the ridge. Soon you’ll come to the very indistinct peak that is Preston Peak, although there is a plaque on top for some reason. I didn’t stay long and continued down the ridge.

Coming off Preston Peak

From here, the rest of the route is very scenic but not very challenging.

Moderate south slopes of Brighton Ridge

You’ll reach a saddle with another ski lift, then follow a use trail down the other side to Pioneer Ridge highpoint. Continue down one more saddle to reach the foot of Pioneer Peak. I ascended steeply following a climber’s trail to the top of Pioneer. To the north, Catherine Lake is clearly visible and you can hear the hikers below.

Lake Catherine, Lake Martha, Lake Mary, Dog Lake
Sunset (I think) from Pioneer

From there I just followed the west side of Pioneer down to Sunset Peak and scrambled up crappy, sandy rock to the top where I was surprised to see no one. Usually this peak is packed. This was my third visit to Sunset Peak and I enjoy the view for how little it is. I didn’t like the look of clouds forming to the West so I headed down without delay. I would have liked to have hit Tuscarora, Wolverine, and Millicent and then head back down that way, but I had already climbed Tuscarora and Wolverine and since the weather looked like it could turn it didn’t seem like a good idea today.

The lakes from Sunset Peak
Pioneer Peak above (I think) Lake Catherine

I dropped down the normal trail to Catherine Pass and headed down to the car at a quick pace. I saw my next moose of the day in the meadow below Lake Catherine – a big bull moose!

Bull moose below Lake Catherine

He wouldn’t leave the trail so I walked far around him and continued on my way. The rest of the trail down to the car was actually really nice. Lake Mary is scenic with Mount Millicent behind.

Lake Mary with Mount Millicent
Lake Mary
Wildflowers on the way down

The lower trail was quite crowded. Overall it was a nice quick, moderate hike. I didn’t see a soul from the turnoff near Dog Lake all the way until Catherine Pass, so expect to get away from the crowds on this route, particularly from the Clayton saddle to the summer of Pioneer Peak.

Lone Peak

Lone Peak
12.5 miles RT
5650′ gain
Class 3
3:40 up

Simon and I climbed Lone Peak today via the Jacob’s Ladder route from Draper, UT. It was a cloudy and unsettled morning as we set out, raining for the first few minutes of the hike and then on-and-off during the day. We weren’t sure we would summit but we gave it a shot.

I’ll be honest, the Jacobs Ladder trail is not a “fun” hike. The trail is pretty darn ugly. The first part climbs slowly out of the trailhead with scrub oak and dry dirt surrounding.

Low on the Jacob’s Ladder trail
My standard for “good views” is spoiled by Utah. This is pretty nice.

After that, it only got worse. The trail climbs basically straight up in loose dirt and scrub with few views to speak of, gaining thousands of feet over a couple of miles. Eventually we broke out onto Draper Ridge, strolled through a pine forest, and things got nicer.

Breaking out onto Draper Ridge
Lone Peak Cirque in view
Cool sunbeams
Good campsite in the forest

There was another boulder field and a bunch more elevation gain, and eventually we entered Lone Pine Cirque. The route here is completely off trail, marked by cairns.

Entering Lone Pine Cirque

The granite cliffs are spectacular – like something out of the Canadian Rockies. Amazing crack and chimney climbing can be found here.

Lone Peak Cirque (click to expand)

We crossed the granite bowl following the cairns and gained the ridge via a well-trod gully.

Gaining the ridge
View of the cirque from the low spot on the ridge

The ridge is not too steep or knife-edge until right next to the summit, so it was pretty much a boulder hop following the cairns and some use trails until the short section of real scrambling.

Boulder hopping on prime Alpine Ridge granite
Summit in all its glory with raindrop on the lens

The scrambling was definitely not as hard as advertised. Some sites were saying that it was a Class 4 scramble; that’s a joke. It was straightforward except for one awkward boulder. The exposure is not as bad in my mind as the knife edge on Pfeifferhorn or the east ridge of American Fork Twins.

Nearing the summit

The summit, on the other hand, is spectacularly exposed on three sides. More on this later.

Simon on the summit
Oh yes

The clouds meant disappointing views but I was able to see parts of the Wasatch in literally a new light. Also, the lack of sun meant it wasn’t 100 degrees which was a plus.

South panorama (click to expand)
Awesome view of SLC
Utah Lake
Excellent climbing routes
Alpine Ridge (click to expand)
Draper and West Jordan
Exposure into Bell’s Canyon

Back to the exposure issue. At this time I asked my buddy to take a photo of me on a particularly exposed ledge. I casually handed over the camera but you could say that we fumbled the snap. The camera goes tumbling over the edge, bouncing at least two times and shooting out of sight. I was positive that it had fallen down 600 feet to the bottom of the cliff face. Simon pointed out that it was sitting on a ledge about 10 feet below the summit. I climbed down to retrieve it, made an awkward chimney move to get back up, and the screen was dead. But I noticed signs of life – the lens seemed to be focusing and the shutter still made noise. I took a few photos on the way down and it managed to get good exposure and focus! The thing is a tank.

Post mortem

Simon and I had an uneventful trip down, getting back to the car less than 7 hours after leaving. It was a great hike, in a scenic spot, but the difficulty didn’t live up to all the hype in my opinion. I would love to do a winter summit attempt at some point.

Mt. Timpanogos

Mt. Timpanogos via Timpooneke Trail
14.2 miles RT
4650′ gain
3:15 up
Class 2

Mt. Timpanogos is the king of the southern Wasatch range, rising high over Lehi and Provo, UT. The area is a wilderness, yet the summit lies within clear sight of probably a million people and an interstate highway.

My college friend Nick and I headed up the Timpooneke trail early on a Saturday morning. The parking lot was recently expanded so even on our July weekend there was plenty of space.

Low on the trail

We saw a nice mule deer about a mile in, then continued to climb through the lower canyons and benches through the next few miles. The views of the Wasatch Alpine Ridge to the south were amazing. There is a lot of water low on the trail this time of year.

Scout Falls
False summit over one of the lower benches
South down the lower canyon

Soon we caught sight of the true summit as we neared the Timpanogos Basin, about 4.5 miles in.

First sight of the true summit
Timpanogos basin. Wow. (Click to expand)

Views in the basin were stunning. Wildflowers stole the show from the rugged alpine scenery. A flat walk across the basin gets you to the ridge hike but we were in no hurry.

That’s nice
Bomber Peak and the hike to the ridge from the basin
Timpanogos’s NE face

After the meadow hike, switchbacks bring the trail to the ridge on rocky terrain.

Looking back down into the basin
Nearing the end of the switchbacks

At this point, the trail reaches a saddle and the town below is visible. There is still a mile and several hundred vertical feet to go.

Timp’s West side (click to expand)
Final bit of the trail

After hiking some gnarly looking steep switchbacks we summited after 3:15 hiking

Summit shot with the Alpine ridge in the background
East summit pano (click to expand)
Alpine ridge from the summit (click to expand)
Emerald Lake
South towards Nebo on a hazy day

The summit was not too crowded considering it was a prime summer weekend! We stayed and ate for a bit then headed down, where we found more people. I guess we were just fast?

Upper slopes from the summit
Basin from upper switchbacks
Basin panorama (click to expand)

I cannot get over how outstanding the wildflowers were in the basin. Go now.

Lower basin trail
The Sound of Music was shot here in Utah. Or so I like to think
Sad to leave

Not a lot of shots from the lower trail. It seems a lot longer on the way down than on the way up for some reason. My La Sportiva Thunder hiking boots also completely exploded on the way down which was a sad day. I am planning on replacing them with two pairs of footwear: a pair of trail running shoes for summer and mountaineering boots for winter/spring snow hikes. Hopefully that will work better and will be a more survivable solution than my do-it-all heavy boots.This is probably the best hike in the area for people who are not looking to do anything technical or scary. Highly recommended, especially when the wildflowers are in bloom.

Lake Blanche / Sundial Peak

Sundial Peak


4300′ gain

10.5 miles round trip (my circuitous route)

Class 3


I was looking for another hike to do to kill time today, so I pulled out the trusty Tri-Canyon topo map and zeroed in on Big Cottonwood Canyon. Lake Blanche looked nice and had a peak nearby (Sundial Peak) so that’s what I chose to do.

I got a later-than-usual start on the trail, starting at around 8:20. The Lake Blanche trail is rocky but fairly well graded for a Wasatch trail – I saw lots of people and families enjoying themselves on the moderate trail.

Wildcat Ridge in the morning
Climbing up to the lake

Morning is a really good time to do this trail. It does get hot in the afternoon, even in the shade, but in the morning the canyon wall darkens the trail the entire length up to the lake. Soon enough I came up on a waterfall.

Waterfall: big by Wasatch standards

Finally, Sundial Peak comes into view, indicating that the lake is close.

First glimpse of Sundial Peak

The lake was beautiful as expected. I reached the lake in 1:15 then headed West towards the other two smaller lakes to try to find my way to Sundial.

Lake Blanche from the northeast corner

On the east end of the lake, there are great beds of wildflowers. I love this time of year in Utah!

Sundial with wildflowers below
Lake Blanche from the southeast corner

The correct way to get to Sundial Peak is to follow the trail to the man-made wall on the west end of Lake Blanche, then walk across via a trail just on the west side of the dam which crosses the outlet of the lake. Then bushwhack south, heading for the right (west) side of the base of Sundial. There is slabby rock with some cairns, then a set of cliff bands which gets you to a hanging canyon with scree on the left and more slabs and a meadow on the right. Do not cross to the left too early! The routes are cliffy and dangerous. Instead, continue south along the canyon bottom until you reach a low point in the ridge which is easily (ish) negotiated.

Reaching the base of sundial just before the cliff bands
Climbing up to the ridge (in the wrong spot!)

Once on the ridge, there is exposure left (and especially right) but the routefinding is fairly obvious, even if an occasional move is a bit “exciting.” After 300 yards or so you are standing on top!

Knife edge ridge
East Panorama (click to expand)
Northwest panorama (click to expand)
South and West Panorama with Sunrise and Dromedary peaks on the right
The hanging meadow and scree slope I came up
Dromedary and Sunrise Peaks
Monte Cristo Peak

I ate lunch then headed back down the ridge which was a blast. I took pics this time to give an idea of the scrambling. Not hard, but exposed.

Looking northeast off the ridge
The knife-edge
Coming off the ridge at the saddle

Coming off the ridge in the correct spot was much easier than gaining the ridge in a random gully. I headed to the meadow and found a shady spot to read a magazine. I was in no hurry to go back down where it would be a 100+ degree day in the valley.

From my shady hide out
Coming down the cliff bands looking at the three lakes

I was in the wrong spot coming down the cliff bands so that was sketchier than anticipated. I found the cairns again and made my way down to the south side of Lake Blanche, where I found a shaded rock and read for another couple of hours. It was breezy and I actually felt a little chill there for a bit which was great.

View from my perch

I headed down across the dam at the outlet to the lake and hike out quickly back to the trailhead.

Crossing the outlet of Lake Blanche
Sundial from the West end of Lake Blanche
Sundial reflected in Lake Blanche

Can’t really top that photo. The hike down was quick and uneventful (and hot) but I was glad to have escaped the heat for a little while.

Mt. Nebo

Mt. Nebo
9.5 miles round trip
3,870′ gain
2:20 up

Mt. Nebo is the highest point in the Wasatch Mountains and generally marks the southern extent of the range. Located between Payson and Nephi UT, the trailhead for Mt. Nebo’s north ridge is almost 2 hours away from downtown SLC by car. Luckily, the scenic drive around Mt. Nebo is worthy as a destination in itself, so I didn’t mind.

I hit the trail around 8:20 AM and hiked through an open meadow with cattle fence bordering to the left. The flat bench is splendid, with flowers everywhere among the sage and a great view of Mt. Nebo to the northwest.

Trail through the sage
Mt. Nebo from the Nebo Bench Trail

The vegetation on this trail was unlike most other places in Utah that I’ve hiked. It felt more lush; I’m sure this area must get more snow and rain than most other areas in Utah although it lies on the border of the west desert.

Lush hills and valleys in Nebo’s shadow
Mt. Nebo vista

The true summit soon drops out of view but a great vista of the North Peak is visible soon after. The trail then climbs up a grassy gully until reaching the north ridge of Nebo. To the immediate south is North Peak. I took a quick break here to fix my boots and a hummingbird snuck up behind me – the buzz of its wings startled me before I turned around and saw it fly away to some flower. Very cool.

The trail contours around to the East. I chose to hike North Peak since it was only a couple hundred feet of extra gain, but it’s way more efficient to tag it heading south than returning from Nebo.

On the east side of the first saddle
North Peak and Nebo Ridge

North Peak, at 11,100′, counts on the Eleveners List for some because it has a prominent gap to the saddle with Nebo, but I count it as a subsidiary of Nebo. It’s not the most exciting peak, but there are good views of Nebo itself so it’s worth the easy trip. I descended down the gentle scree slope back to Wolf Pass to begin the main ascent.

Wolf Pass

South of the pass, the climber’s trail is obvious as it winds through the vegetation on the hillside. Top-notch wildflowers can be found here along with a million bees. Soon a false summit is reached before beginning the final “knife edge” traverse to the true summit.

Nebo summit block

Here, the “trail” becomes indistinct. You cannot go wrong by sticking exactly to the top of the ridge.

The terrain falls steeply away to the East and West – here is Hellhole Basin

The scrambling at this point is mostly easy class 2 with an occasional sketchy class 3 step on loose rock. Please be cautious!

Final summit scramble on the scree

After a bit more scrambling I was on top of the highest point in the Wasatch Mountains with amazing views in every direction on this particularly clear day. It only took me 2:20 time including breaks to summit which was a great pace for me.

West and South panorama
Eastern view across the hills
Loafer Peak, Santaquin Peak, and Timp behind
Summit shot to the North
West Desert view all the way to Nevada
The central Wasatch: Alpine ridge, Timpanogos, Provo Peak from left to right
Looking down the north ridge
North Panorama

On the way down I caught sight of some mountain goats!

Goats on the hillside
Mountain goats
Looking back at the north ridge

On the way down I took my time to enjoy the wildflowers in bloom

And all too soon I was back at the car. Mt. Nebo brought back great memories of being at Philmont in northern New Mexico – the alpine meadow at the saddle with flowers, sage, and blue skies reminded me of Mt. Baldy. I would be happy to revisit this one in the fall for a different set of colors.