For 25 years, I have gazed at an incredible peak that is one of the most prominent on the Wasatch Mountain skyline from Salt Lake City. It had always been a dream of mine to climb it, and finally on July 6, I got my chance. World-class outdoor adventure is available on this peak, and it’s within easy travel distance from Tooele Valley.
Lone Peak stands at 11,253 feet high and is quite possibly the most difficult summit to attain in the Wasatch Mountains. Several different, rough trails provide access into the 30,088- acre Lone Peak Wilderness Area on the Wasatch-Cache National Forest, and get you in the vicinity of the peak. There are no trails to the summit, and it takes some route finding and stamina to hike and climb cross-country to attain the summit.
The shortest of all the routes is still over 10 miles round trip. There is also considerable exposure near the summit, which turns many hikers away. While the hike is excruciating, if you tackle Lone Peak, you enter some of the most wild terrain in Utah only a few miles from Salt Lake City. You will also accomplish something that you will remember for the rest of your life.
My friend, Paul, and I started our hike from the Schoolhouse Springs or Alpine Trailhead, which starts at the Lehi City water tank in Alpine. The trail here begins as a city road and climbs steeply via switchbacks until a Hammongog. This is a grassy meadow in the trees that has a small stream flowing through it. The meadow was lush, but I imagine it dries up in the summer time. The trail eventually crosses the wilderness boundary and the road turns into a trail and climbs on top of another bench to a second Hammongog at about 8,100 feet. Hammongog incidentally means “meadow” in Biblical terms.
We carried full packs to the second Hammongog, and by the time we reached that point, we were tired, so we dropped our packs and made camp. Our camp was located near some large boulders in a grove of pine trees next to the meadow. We rested for about an hour and then we grabbed whatever we would need for the ascent and headed for the peak around 3:30 p.m.
The trail cuts right through the second Hammongog with fine views of 10,877 foot-high Upper Bells Peak. The trail passes through some trees past the meadow and then emerges as it steeply climbs the spine of Upper Bells Peak. The trail gets high on this mountain and then heads due east around the ridge and eventually winds up at Lake Hardy below Chipman Peak.
We attained maximum elevation above the treeline using this rocky, steep trail but when it broke east, we left it and pioneered our way north into a large, boulder strewn drainage between Lone Peak on the left and Upper Bells Peak on the right.
Paul took off directly across and up the drainage, but I was low on water, so I climbed to the base of Upper Bells Peak. Under its west cliff face was a large snow bank. I took out my K-bar knife and dug down about six inches in the snow and chiseled out some shaved ice to fill my canteen. No ice cream in the world tasted better than that old frozen snow on a hot summer day.
I knew I was taking a chance getting giardia, but I didn’t care. It was either risk the runs later, or die of thirst now, so I ate the snow and drank the water when it melted in my canteen. By this time Paul was across the drainage. I cut from my snow bank direct across the basin and over and around some really large boulders and a few old snow piles. It was so amazing up there in that glacial bowl. Small rivulets of water were running down slick rock granite faces straight from snow banks and then forming small waterfall showers as they cascaded over boulders and cliffs.
The views of 11,101 foot-high Box Elder Peak and 11,749 foot-high Mount Timpanogos to the southk, were spectacular. Utah Valley and Utah Lake were laid out like a map far below and the second Hammongog looked thousands of feet below on our back trail — a bright green spot surrounded by dark green pines with the city laid out behind it. I was separated now from Paul, but I didn’t care because I often hike alone and enjoy it. I finally topped the intervening ridge between Lone Peak and Upper Bells Peak and got my first glimpse down into Bells Canyon to the north. It was amazing with its glacial moraine rock gardens and deep blue lakes.
The ridge traverse proved ridiculous, so I descended a bit to the south and then dragged my body up to the top of the south summit where I discovered the actual highpoint was the north peak. A frightening ridge of granite connects the two towers that comprise the North and South Peak.
I noticed Paul on top of the north peak, so I descended the peak I was on about 100 feet on the Bells Canyon side to drop below the impossible knife ridge and then I climbed using all fours up the chimney of the North peak. The final obstacle was a tilted square boulder that you had to climb over with drops of nearly 1,000 feet on either side. But I could see the summit marker disc, so I gathered my courage and climbed over the boulder and I was on the summit of Lone Peak.
In next week’s article I will detail the rest of the summit, the descent, and a dark, restless night in the pines where bears were on my mind.
Jessop grew up exploring the mountains and deserts of Utah. He has a bachelor’s degree in Geography from the University of Utah, and has traveled to all 50 states, U.S. Territories and a dozen foreign countries. He, his wife and daughter live in Stansbury Park. Follow him on (JD Jessop) for more hikes and travels.