“Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve; they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion.” —Anatoli Boukreev
A fall chill is in the air and many kids are back in school, yet there’s still time to climb a high alpine peak in the Wasatch Mountains before winter snow socks them in.
One such peak is 10,795-foot-high Mount Wolverine, the highest peak visible from Brighton Ski Resort in Big Cottonwood Canyon. Its bulk separates the towns of Brighton and Alta and looms over a glacial cirque to the west and a chain of lakes to the east.
Several sub-peaks around the main summit — Mount Tuscarora (10,645 feet), Mount Millicent (10,452 feet) and Grizzly Ridge (10,544 feet) — can be easily climbed along with Mount Wolverine depending on which route you take.
Unfortunately, wolverines and many other creatures, such grizzly bears and wolves, have not lived in the Wasatch since the pioneers exterminated them in the late 1800s and early 1900s because they were a nuisance to livestock. There are, however, giant moose that frequent the marshy areas around Brighton and other lakes in the area.
Shaggy, white mountain goats also clamber over the rocks of the higher elevations and mule deer may be seen in the forests. As you cross rocks on this hike, you will encounter small creatures such as squirrels, chipmunks, marmots and pika. Pika are gray rodents with large mouse ears whose sole purpose in summer is to stash enough food in the rocks to survive the winter.
Wildflowers like bluebell, Indian paintbrush, coneflower, fireweed, showy daisy and numerous others line the paths and fill the meadows. Yellow, green, orange and gray lichens are seemingly painted on the rocks in intricate designs. The rocks are pale, smooth gray granites with flecks of mica imbedded in them. There are also different, dark rock faces that have quartz veins running through them for great distances.
Engelmann spruce and aspen line the trail in various places. The spruce provide shade and the aspen contrast, and the characteristic flutter of its leaves in the breeze is so pleasant to observe and hear. Higher up, sub-alpine fir and limber pine eke out an existence on summit ridges. In some places, the branches of these trees trend in the direction of the prevailing winds. These wind-shaped trees are known as wind timber or banner trees. Some of the fir trees are matted on the alpine ridges, growing no higher than a foot or two and taking the shape of a neatly manicured bush.
All of these sights can be enjoyed during an ascent of Mount Wolverine. This is not a long hike. In fact, the summit is less than two miles from the start. You will, however, begin at around 9,400 feet elevation and gain roughly 1,395 feet along that distance, so it’s a nice workout.
To get to the most reasonable starting point, follow Interstate 215 to the 6200 South exit. Follow signs for the Alta/Snowbird ski areas, which will lead you over to Little Cottonwood Canyon and State Route 210. Follow the canyon road to the top where there is a little guard shack that may or may not be manned.
On busy summer weekends, the town of Alta operates a free shuttle service from this point to Catherine Pass and Secret Lake trailheads to decrease vehicle traffic in and out of Albion Basin. If it is unmanned, continue up the canyon road but realize the pavement ends at the shack and the road beyond can be bumpy. This is a good, passable road, but if you are not paying attention, a large pothole can sneak up on you and potentially damage your car.
Catherine Pass trailhead is the start point you want and it is obvious on a knoll where there is a good parking area and some vault toilets. Park your vehicle and head east up the mountain under the ski lifts and the trail will follow an old two track past several mines, bend east through a beautiful meadow below the south face of Mount Wolverine and climb through timber to Catherine Pass.
From the pass you have an amazing view of Lake Catherine with the white cliff faces of 10,440-foot-high Pioneer Peak rising behind it. You also have a decision to make here: If you go straight, in just over 3 miles you will arrive at the Brighton Ski Resort parking lot. If you turn right, you will arrive at the summit of 10,648-foot-high Sunset Peak. For the purposes of this hike, turn left and scale the steep back slope of Mount Tuscarora, a summit that you must pass over in order to reach the summit of Mount Wolverine.
As you climb Tuscarora, the views along your back trail of Lake Catherine bowl and Sunset Peak get better with every step. This is the steepest and most difficult part of the trail, but a footpath has been created by the dozens of people who climb these peaks every year. Once on top of Tuscarora, you have a fine view down onto little Lake Martha with its tiny island that looks like a pirate ship.
Continue west from Tuscarora up the east slope of Mount Wolverine to the summit. Along this stretch you will have fine views north of pointed Mount Millicent and the intervening rock glaciers. Once you are on the Wolverine summit, you will have a 360-degree view of Wasatch Mountain splendor. You can also look over the edge of the cliffs down into the rock glaciers of Grizzly Cirque. Just be careful that the wind does not take you over the edge.
This is a relatively easy, short hike that allows people to attain a serious summit and escape the summer heat of the day. Once you climb Wolverine, you will be filled with a sense of achievement and appreciation of the beautiful mountains that surround us in Utah.
Make sure you check the weather before you go and avoid the high barren ridges if there is a possibility of lightning. Take a jacket no matter how warm it is in the valley, because the winds can be chilly up there year-round. For more information, contact the Wasatch National Forest supervisor’s office at 801-999-2103 or the Public Lands Information Center at 801-466-6411.
Jessop grew up exploring the mountains and deserts of Utah and has traveled to all 50 states, U.S. Territories and a dozen foreign countries. He and his family live in Stansbury Park.