Last week I began to describe my adventure looking for Old Forest Service Trail 034 that on the maps appears as though it goes up and over the top of the Stansbury Mountains from North Willow Canyon and then down Pass Canyon to Skull Valley.
We left off where I had just scratched the heck out of my legs with thorns fighting through thick vegetation south of the hairpin turn of FR 539 beyond the O.P. Miller Trailhead.
At the top of that ridge I stumbled out of dense vegetation onto a good trail and discovered the old trail does exist after all! The trail continues west on the top of this rounded ridge until it reaches the foot of the mountain and then veers left into a small drainage, crosses it and heads southeast in a sharp turn. At this point the trail enters a deep fir forest with a thick mat of pine needles, pine cones and other forest litter underfoot, which has kind of a spongy feel as you walk over it. I spooked out a doe and a tiny spotted fawn here.
The ancient trail is recognizable and easy to follow, but there are several downed fir trees that you will have to negotiate. It has literally been years since the U.S. Forest Service or anyone else for that matter has done any maintenance on this trail. Due to the clear visibility of some of the switchbacks, it seems as though there must have been a lot of horse traffic on this trail at some point. Perhaps it was when people from Iosepa had to come over the mountain for supplies back in the day.
The trail emerges from the pines on an open south facing slope and it is clear that you are now in a different vegetation zone as numerous low growing green plants and mountain flowers cover the open slope to knee height. I noticed the moon rising above Miners Mountain far across North Willow Canyon to the south. The sky was clear and the night birds began to sing as the shadows grew long in the drainage. Looking back down the canyon from this vantage point you can see all the way to the O.P. Miller Trailhead and out the canyon to Tooele Valley beyond.
To the southwest across the draw I could see towering rock faces rising from deep a evergreen forest. Old Trail 034, which is faint but discernible, and really in remarkable condition, follows this open steep south facing slope up towards the pass between North Willow Canyon and Pass Canyon. This old trail was first followed by the Bryant Russell Party. Accounts from the pioneer journals talk of Indian Wigwams along North Willow Creek and encounters with Native Americans.
I find it very interesting to think about these mountains being inhabited long before white man ever came west. It is similarly saddening to think about how all of those people are now gone from their mountain home. Such things I ponder while walking through the forest. Along this stretch of the trail I noticed several patches of cactus that were flowering with the most brilliant pink blooms I have ever seen.
There were also small scree slides of broken rock that descended to the drainage bottom. There were numerous different kinds of wildflowers, rabbit brush, and sage brush as well as strange trees, probably mountain mahogany and cliff rose — several of which the trail passes under while they arch over it forming a sort of bough to a height of about 12 feet. After awhile you can see the pass to the west and the trail makes a long switch back in a hidden bowl and then passes between two large pine trees in the otherwise treeless bowl and climbs to the pass.
With a little bit of maintenance on the lower stretches, this could be one of the most accessible and rewarding trails in the range as you can hike clear from the O.P. Miller Trailhead on the east side, all the way over to the Delle Ranch Road on the west side of the range via this trail. Once in the pass you can see all the way down Pass Canyon to the Iosepa area of Skull Valley, and out across that valley to the Cedar Mountains in the distance.
The pass is an open, pleasant place where I have stopped many times and ate lunch while observing the view back out across Tooele Valley. A good trail continues west from here, down into Pass Canyon and eventually to the Delle Ranch Road. There is an old wooden gate here and some cut logs that were stockpiled there many years ago for a job that was never completed. There are only small, low growing patches of grass in the pass separated by rocks. No doubt the winter winds blow through here with a vengeance and create great drifts on the eastern slope.
To the north and south of this pass you have two extremes. To the north is the relatively treeless slope up to the ridgeline to Iosepa Peak and Davenport Peak beyond. To the south the ridge is covered with a dense forest of burned out conifers that were torched in the Timpie fire of 2009. There old skeletons thickly cloak the ridges all the way to the summit of the higher peaks. If you head south from this point you will venture into some of the roughest and most challenging terrain in the range. This could be a difficult alternate route to North Willow Peak.
On this day I headed north following a faint trail up the ridge to its crest and I emerged on the windswept tundra type summit back of Iosepa peak. It is a pleasurable meander along a clearly defined trail once you attain this summit ridge. You are above the tree line and you can look down into the burned forest of conifer skeletons in Chokecherry Canyon and out on the wastes of Skull Valley far below. I startled a large pheasant and to be honest, it startled me along this trail and I noticed several chukars as well.
I walked to the summit of Iosepa Peak, which is completely windswept and gives one the idea that they have attained a much higher peak. I then ridge walked north and attained another prominent summit where I found several patches of pink blooming cactus. I then continued north and up to the pointed summit of Davenport Peak. It was 8:35 p.m. now and I was just in time to watch the sun set behind the Cedar Mountains to the west. The entire landscape to the west was bathed in a strange pale yellow glow that faded gradually as the sun sank deeper.
I could see far down into Monument Canyon and I remembered the time I climbed this peak from the west on a snowy December day in 2005. Amazingly, I had cell service so I called my wife at home and described the view to her wishing she was there with me to see it. I now had a dilemma. It was nearly dark and I knew I didn’t want to go back the way I came because it was long and there was no way I was going to go through the tangle of stinging nettle and thorns in the dark where I lost the trail earlier. In next week’s article we will wrap up Davenport Peak with a description of a night time descent of the peak’s face.