“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” —John Muir
The canyons on the northwest side of the Oquirrh Mountains are difficult to reach, but if you put forth the effort, you will be rewarded with some beautiful scenery and a heck of a workout.
One of my favorite hikes is Pole Canyon. This canyon is due east of Stansbury Park and it takes some work to get there. Follow Bates Canyon Road east across the railroad tracks to the closed gate. Go through the gate and then be sure to close it to keep range cattle from getting out. It is important to observe this etiquette because the dirt roads beyond this point cross private lands before they reach the mountains. Be courteous so that we may be allowed to continue to use this right of way.
Once you are through the gate, follow your nose northeast up the bench through a tight eroded notch and onto the higher bench. This road is rough and will require a 4×4 vehicle and someone behind the wheel who knows how to handle it. If it’s raining, don’t try it! Continue east to the most obvious canyon entrance directly before you. It’s easy because the sorry excuse for a road goes straight to it, albeit over a bunch of boulders, eroded crevasses and mud holes.
If your vehicle can make it you will arrive at a gate that marks the boundary of Bureau of Land Management Property. Park your vehicle here because from this point you will proceed on foot. Go through the gate and walk up the road. As you enter the canyon the road dips down a ways, crosses an intermittent stream and continues east through an oak forest. You will hike a good mile and a half before it gets interesting, but along the way note the orange lichens that cover some of the tree trunks so completely that it looks as if they were painted on.
Depending on the time of season, you will find a small pond or reservoir several miles up that has a waterfall. This waterfall comes out of a decent boulder field on the north side of the canyon. Just before this small pond is an old watering trough that is usually full of nasty water, and the trail has deteriorated from a two-track rocky road, to a single footpath in moist black dirt. The trail passes the pond and in a short distance begins to steeply switchback up the head of the canyon. The scenery is interesting at this point as you will be in mixed aspen and fir forest.
If you look at your back trail down the canyon, as you begin to quickly gain some serious elevation, you will have fine views of the communities of northern Tooele Valley. You will also gain an appreciation for the vast Douglas fir forest that covers the north facing slopes of Pole Canyon and the large aspen communities that thrive in this area.
After a long sweaty haul, you will arrive at the crest of the Oquirrh Mountains and have a good view down into Harker Canyon with the skyline of Salt Lake City in the far distance. Do not proceed down into Harker Canyon because everything east of the crest of the Oquirrh Range is private property owned by Kennecott Utah Copper. Respect the rights of private property owners and keep out of that area.
If you really want to punish yourself, you can head south along the ridgetop to one of my favorite peaks in the Oquirrh Mountains: Peak 9,175 feet. This prominent un-named peak with its windswept summit, looms over Stansbury Park and is a worthy destination of any peak bagger. The ascent of that peak will be covered in another article.
My favorite part of the Pole Canyon hike is the aspen forest. It is other worldly to walk off the trail among the white columns, especially during early season when there are no leaves on the trees and there is a foot or two of consolidated snow on the ground — or the black matted leaves of many seasons. The trunks stand out starkly white and it is quiet and still in that match stick forest. When you look up at these mountains from the valley to the west, there is little indication of the wonderful areas the canyons contain, but the strong and hearty hiker will find solitude and serenity up in the breaks.
This hike is not for beginners as the rocky road you will follow for miles in the canyon bottom will wear you out quick and then the headwall switchback climb slams you with a double whammy. The hike is hard, but often times, getting there in your vehicle is harder. If you can’t drive past the gate at Bates Canyon, add another two miles onto the whole trip.
If you do put forth the effort to go up there, Pole Canyon will not disappoint. If you are looking for a good long hike that is a challenge, you will have found it. Take plenty of water as the springs in the canyon are undependable and fouled by livestock.
As John Muir once said, “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.” If you take Muir’s advice, you will be in a totally different universe from the valley below.
For more information on access to the West Slope of the Northern Oquirrh Mountains, contact the BLM Salt Lake City Office at 801-539-4001 email: firstname.lastname@example.org.