The Stansbury Mountain’s 11,031 foot-high Deseret Peak receives the most attention of any peak in the range, but there are some other high summits that are noteworthy in their own right and worth a visit.
The second highest peak in the range at 10,685 feet is un-named, so I refer to it as “Stansbury Peak.” It is an amazing sight from any direction but mainly from Tooele Valley as its bold 1,500 foot east facing escarpment is one of the county’s most recognizable features. South Willow Lake is tucked up at the eastern base of these giant cliffs and there are old snow slides hiding in the shadows terminating in the lake well into July most years.
Even though this peak is extremely rugged, it is surprisingly accessible from the east. It is extremely in-accessible from the west but it can be done if someone has enough determination. I will describe the eastern aspect ascent here.
To begin, follow the Mormon Trail south out of Grantsville to the South Willow Canyon road. Turn right and follow this road west for eight miles to where it ends at the Loop Campground. There is a good parking area and some clean vault toilets. This is also the starting point for the Deseret Peak climb so most readers will be familiar with the directions to the trailhead.
Start hiking up the trail and in short order you will see a brown forest service sign stating that you have crossed into the Deseret Peak Wilderness Area. The trail will switchback a few times up through aspen and then you will arrive at a creek crossing and trail junction. Some years the creek is swollen and difficult to cross—depending on time of season. In drought years it is dry. Just after you cross the creek you can either turn left and follow the Mill Fork Trail up to the summit of Deseret Peak, or you can turn right and follow the South Willow Lake Trail.
Turn right and follow the South Willow Lake Trail up some steep and often times dusty switchbacks and then through a few lush draws that contain several streams with banks that are covered with water loving plants of many kinds. The scenery here is great as the headwall of Deseret Peak is before you to the southwest. The trail heads west and then bends sharply around to the northeast as it climbs up and over a ridge and out of South Willow Canyon.
This slope is covered with bluebell, Indian paintbrush, and golden Arrow Leaf Balsam root. Several tiny streams cascade down through these plants in this area. Make sure that you check your back trail because the view of Deseret Peak to the south is the best in the entire range along this stretch in my opinion.
Once you cross over the ridge you will be in Pockets Fork. The trail will make its way to the middle of the drainage where there will be another trail junction. For South Willow Lake, stay straight and you will wind northeast, up and over another ridge and then drop down to South Willow Lake below the massive headwall of Stansbury Peak. For the summit, turn left here and head west up a steep and scenic little canyon that gets ravaged on a regular basis by avalanches in the winter. Snow lingers up in this notch until July most years and the old snow is strewn with broken trees, pine needles and all other avalanche debris you can imagine. The poor trees are twisted, broke off crumpled and bent in this area as they try to survive the annual onslaught.
If you hear a loud, high pitched “Chirp” noise, it is probably the voice of a yellow bellied Marmot sitting in the rocks below the prominent round rock face of 10,129 foot-high Pockets Fork Peak. Again, I took liberty to name it because a name does not currently exist and it is a prominent landmark for discussion. The trail switches back up to the pass and you may have to figure out how to get around a large snowdrift here well into midsummer. Once you are in the pass you will have a fine view of Skull Valley to the west and the sorry remains of the burned out Wasatch National Forest down in Big Canyon.
From the pass, you can either turn left and head south up an alternate approach to the summit of Deseret Peak, or you can turn right and follow the defined path up the ridge to the top of Stansbury Peak. This is a steep but relatively easy ascent. With every step the view behind you of the north face of Deseret Peak becomes more incredible.
Once you are on top of the peak, you will have a commanding view of Deseret Peak to the south, Skull Valley to the west, the Northern Stansbury Mountains and the Great Salt Lake to the north and the communities of Tooele Valley to the east and the craggy Wasatch Mountains sticking up behind the Oquirrh Mountains in the foreground. Venture to the edge of the cliffs—keeping a safe distance so the wind doesn’t blow you off. You can look almost straight down on South Willow Lake.
The top of this peak is above the tree line and the summit area is made up of a beautiful type of pale white quartz that sparkles in the sun. This type of rock is uncommon anywhere else in the range. There are also alpine/tundra type plants in areas so tread lightly. They occur on this peak roughly from the elevation of 10,480 feet up to the summit. No open fires are allowed in wilderness. Just look upon the dreary scene down to the west. Where once stood a dense dark mixed fir forest of evergreens, there is now a bleak skeleton forest as the fire that occurred on the west side of the range was complete in its destruction. This fire was caused by lightning but you get the picture.
For more information, contact the Wasatch National Forest and obtain a forest map. As always, be prepared as the weather changes quickly up there. Avoid this peak if lightning is a possibility. On one occasion as I sat on the summit, I watched clouds form out of nowhere and roll up the cliff sure sign that it was time to get out of there. Take plenty of water and food. This is not a long hike. Roughly three miles one way from the Loop Campground Trailhead to the summit, but you will gain 3,627 feet in elevation and it is steep! So, when Mill Fork is still clogged with snow, now you have another option for an ascent of a fine and incredible peak in the Deseret Peak Wilderness Area of the Stansbury Mountains.