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[TR] Wasatch Mountains, UT - Bullion Divide Traverse 9/24/2007

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Trip: Wasatch Mountains, UT - Bullion Divide Traverse


Date: 9/24/2007


Trip Report:

I have taken my family down to Utah, or gone by myself, as many times as possible since my buddy Stu moved there. He lives in West Valley and is just a short drive from some of the best hiking and riding I've ever seen. I have tried to take the family in the fall for some hiking and then I like to get down there in February for some snowboarding.


This year, we stayed at Snowbird for the week of our 10th anniversary. It was a couple weeks earlier than we had been there last year, so I thought we might avoid the snow that dumped the previous year, see a bit more of the fall colors, and we would make it to Oktoberfest at Snowbird (which we had missed by a week in '06).


Last year, I had planned on climbing Timp and Nebo, but had been weathered off of Nebo. So, this year, I planned on Nebo and this traverse that I had read about that is right along a ridge above Snowbird. I thought I would do the traverse on Monday, and then do Nebo on Wednesday. So, of course, it dumped six inches of snow on Sunday!! But, about 8:00 am I looked up at the hills and it looked doable.


So. I had Paula drop me off up above Alta at the Cecret Lake Trailhead in the Albion Basin. I took off at about 9:00 am - a much later start than I had intended. It was snowing and blowing, but every now and then I could see my target - the saddle between Devil's Castle and Sugarloaf. I started out trying to follow the trail to the Lake, but ended up way off course. I actually headed straight at Devil's Castle, and then traversed under it and up to the saddle. I got up to the saddle and ran into a really cool little rock shelter, where I huddled out of the wind and had a granola bar. I then followed the east ridge up to the top of Sugarloaf at 11,057 feet. It was cold and blowing so damn hard (maybe 30 mph) I could barely take my obligatory summit pic. So much for a nice fall hike.


Needlessly to say, I did not stay long. I headed down the north ridge of Sugarloaf. I headed down to a saddle between ski lifts that come up from Alta and Mineral Basin. Here I stopped to give Paula a call. Interestingly, I had no service from AT&T, but T-Mobile was perfect. I headed up the ridge and arrived at the peak of Mt. Baldy (11,068 feet) a short time later. There is an antenna and a sled up top, which I thought was kinda weird. Anyway, I took a few more pics and headed down the southwest ridge toward Hidden Peak.


I hit the saddle, and kept to the ridgeline as I climbed. There is a cat track from the saddle to the top, which I would normally call cheating, but in those conditions... Still, as I said, I kept to the ridge! It's only about three-quarters of a mile to Hidden Peak, so I was there before I knew it. Hidden Peak, at 11,000 feet (though the topo says 10,992), is the top of the Tram from Snowbird and apparently has a pay phone, running water, and bathrooms. This year, it will have a nice warming hut (which is currently being worked on).


By this time, it was about 12:30 pm. Conditions had not improved at all. Views were non-existent. I took a look at the topo and some trip reports that I brought, which mentioned some decent scrambling between Hidden Peak and American Forks Twin Peaks. Then, I chatted with the Tram operator, Randy, a bit. I was surprised that it was even running, and he said they had brought up about five people so far. He asked me if I wanted a ride down and I accepted! We were chatting so much that I made him a couple minutes late starting down. He was a great guy, who works at the Mountain School during the season. If you are down that way and want a lesson, look him up.


Anyways, I was in the hot tub, cocktail in hand, by 1:00pm.


I started feeling kinda shitty that evening - but it could not have been due to my incessant beer-drinking followed by 7&7's in the hot tub. Just one of those damn colds where the back of your nose burns and you're totally stuffed up.


Although I didn't feel 100 percent, the next day dawned clear and beautiful. I decided to finish off the traverse. So, my wife, daughter and mother-in-law took the tram ride with me up top. We caught the noon tram - I did not know that it started at 11:00 am that day. We got up top, took some photos, and took in the views a bit, and then I started out. Interestingly, it was about the time I finished the day before.


I headed down the road, and then took this dragon-tail ridge to what becomes the northeast ridge of American Fork Twin Peaks. In retrospect, I think the easier course might be to stay on the track to the right toward Gad Valley, then climb right at the base of the ridge proper. You would avoid a lot of up and down, and some interesting scrambling. There was a bit of exposure and, in this case, quite a bit of snow and ice. And, it always gives one pause, when you're scrambling around and come across multiple permanent anchors. The hill looks significantly steeper from a distance than it turns out to be. Regardless, I was glad I waited till a sunny day with very little wind!


I hit the east peak (11,443 feet) pretty quickly and drank in some great views! It was just a hop, skip and a jump over to the taller west peak (11,489 feet).


I descended the west side of American Fork Twin Peaks. From here, it was just a quarter-mile to the top of Red Top (sometimes called Red Stack). I've read that this elevation is 11,370 feet. It has to be somewhere in that area. I called Paula from here to give her an update on my progress. I told her that I was gonna head down the west ridge of Red Top to the saddle, and then see what I thought of the east ridge of Red Baldy. It would have been really simple to bail down the drainage from the saddle and have her pick me up, but I definitely wanted at least one more peak.


I got down to the saddle and took a look. It looked to me like one could summit Red Baldy and bail down the north ridge if the next peak (White Baldy) was out. So, I climbed on. Now, the TR that I was reading described the route from Red Top to Red Baldy as "ascending a small buttress, and then up a nice but loose scramble up a knife-edge ridge to the summit." Class 3? Maybe in summer with perfect knowledge of the route. I saw plenty of Class 4 and a couple 5.easy moves. It started out with some easy scrambling, with just a bit of exposure. The crux was this little notch that would have been simple if it had not been filled with snow and ice. I was standing there trying to figure out what the hell to do. Going across and up would have been difficult at best. So, I descended slightly to the south and contoured around trying about three different lines before I hit the right one. This is the spot where I would have turned around if the last one hadn't panned out.


Fortunately, on that third one, I was able to move up a couple of spots and get back onto the ridgeline. From there, it was indeed a "nice but loose scramble up a knife-edge ridge to the summit." Well, to be honest, it wasn't really loose. They don't know Oregon's definition of "loose" down there!


I made it to the top of Red Baldy at about 3:30 pm and I knew that White Baldy would have to wait. I needed to get back in time for dinner, and it was still 5 miles, including some rocky, snowy ridgeline, to the White Pine trailhead. I called Paula and told her to pick me up, and that I would be at the trailhead no later than 6:00 pm.


I boogied down the ridgeline till I met the trail (which was more like a road in places). I met a few folks - more as I got closer to trailhead. I got down at about 5:45 to find Paula waiting for me.


Because I was so late (and would be later after a shower) we decided to postpone the Park City dinner plans until the next day. We substituted with Mikado at the base of the Canyon. We had eaten there before and the sushi was once again excellent!


All in all, I think this traverse was great! I would recommend it in good weather, because the views are what it's all about. The changing fall colors are spectacular. The trip would be a lot faster with no snow. Moving over boulder fields covered with snow was difficult as I almost had to check every step to keep from losing a leg. Still, the way I did it was fine. I just think of it as a two-day hike with a really swanky bivy!


Here are a few photos. See if you can tell which ones are from which day!


Devil's Castle



The Saddle between Devil's Castle and Sugarloaf



Summit of Sugarloaf in a stiff breeze



American Fork Twin Peaks from Hidden Peak



Looking back down the ridge from American Fork Twin Peaks



The Timp and Nebo complexes



White Baldy and Pfeifferhorn over White Pine Lake



The "scramble" up Red Baldy



A closer view of White Pine Lake



Down the valley to the trailhead



Gear Notes:

I took an axe but did not use it. I understand water is usually the main essential during the summer!


Approach Notes:

An easy drive up Little Cottonwood Canyon past Snowbird and Alta. Three miles of dirt road to the Cecret Lake Trailhead at the end of the road.

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They have Oktoberfest in Utah? :brew: :brew: :brew: It taste so good when it hits you lips.....

Edited by Ishmael

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Interstingly, Oktoberfest at Snowbird is a long-standing celebration. Of course, they sell "Utah" beer - less than 4.0% alcohol by volume.


You just have to make sure to stop by the liquor store for some "real" beer and get your drink on beforehand!!

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Good stuff young man, although I seem to have read this story elsewhere.

And, I also hear you "like goats". :noway:


Of course, they sell "Utah" beer - less than 4.0% alcohol by volume

...and so what the hell is the point?

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Damn, look at all that skiiable terrain!!



If you haven't gone do yourself a favor and plan a trip! I love that area for skiing.

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