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Utah County

Wasatch Winter Mountaineers

Through each season, the peaks of the Wasatch transform with the elements to take on a radically different façade,

Courtesy of Jonathan Scott.

and during the period of snowfall and cold, this range is an entirely different beast. While the notion of climbing to the apex of one of the many cloud-carving goliaths seems intimidating and prohibitive to most in the valley during the summer, doing so while the Wasatch is encased in snow is downright unimaginable. For some impetuous local mountaineers, however, the endeavor is exhilarating, sublime, and worth the struggle and risk. If you’re an individual with a bit of cardio, grit, and interest in learning, surmounting one of the glistening peaks in the winter is merely a matter of will and determination.

Sports like this, of course, are contingent upon connecting with a community; knowledge is often best passed-down by a mentor, as it is not wise to approach these expeditions alone (particularly on one’s first attempt). While social media may be among the modern practices keeping people either indoors or buried in their smartphones, it has served as an incredible mechanism for bringing together like-minded folk from all walks of life. This sport is no exception.

Courtesy of Tanner Maxwell.

While many local groups have existed long before the induction of social media in contemporary consciousness, platforms like Facebook have played an essential role in uniting and organizing mountain junkies and their activities. The most prominent and active among them include the longstanding Wasatch Mountain Club and the accurately named Wasatch Mountain Wranglers, collectively comprised of 7,375 members (the latter having the most at 5,502). Each group routinely organizes a variety of expeditions into these mountains throughout the year, serving as an inclusive environment in which locals at any level of practice can get connected with exhilarating trips, as well as experienced, knowledgeable, and passionate mentors.

Over the course of the past few weeks, I reached out to some of the impetuous Utahns to determine just why they do it, what it takes, and what advice they may have for newcomers. At every level of expertise, these determined individuals all have something that drives them to these peaks.

Nicole Frazier Condie is a lifelong Mapleton local, mother, self-proclaimed mountain-lover, and is relatively new to winter mountaineering. She explains that while she has spent her entire life treading the slopes of the Wasatch, she has found recently that “the winter brings a gift: a quiet extreme. You experience this rush while at the same time you feel so at peace —  safe but not safe at all. It is an absolute juxtaposing experience. Its beauty is truly something straight from Narnia.”

Courtesy of Nicole Frazier Condie.

This quiet extreme is something Condie came to learn most profoundly on her perilous group expedition up South Thunder Mountain (11,154 feet) last March. While the weather had fared well for her group throughout the day, Condie says “the wind changed dramatically up after 10,500 feet to 50-60 mph gusts. One smaller woman on the team was actually lifted and fell from the wind during the last push to the summit. As sharp ice flurries burned past my face I worried that the wind would pick up one of those large pieces, sending me over the edge. But I pressed on, unable to see or hear the others in my party.” Despite the treacherous conditions, including — at one point —  making a wrong turn  toward a precarious ravine and later having to learn how to glissade with an ice axe on-the-spot. Condie persevered nonetheless, leaving her with the sense of accomplishment.

Courtesy of Nicole Frazier Condie.

“I really had done something. I really lived in that moment. Something beautiful truly awoke in me,” she says.

Each individual capable and driven in winter mountaineering seems to develop their own intimate relationships with the mountains and motivations for climbing them. Joe Butcher, an experienced mountaineer and Kaysville native, affirms his motivation for climbing “really is spiritual.”

“I enjoy being reminded how small I am in the grand scheme of things. I also enjoy the difficulty, and training my mind with the fortitude to overcome some of the most difficult obstacles I have ever encountered. My experiences in the mountains have provided me with the wherewithal to endure many other trials in my personal life,” he says.

Jonathan Scott, a Utah County native and active all-season mountaineer in the Wasatch Mountain Club, finds himself drawn to these peaks in winter due to the sublime challenge they hold.

Courtesy of Jonathan Scott.

“[In the winter] there are more variables that make it more difficult, but also more rewarding, like solving a 1,000-piece puzzle as opposed to a 100-piece puzzle. I like challenges, and the winter offers that for me,” Scott says.

Scott urges newcomers not to shy away from the challenge, however daunting it may seem.

“Don’t be so afraid of a winter objective that you don’t try it,” he says. “Just like when you project a boulder problem or climbing route outside of your current abilities, start at the bottom and work your way up the mountain, even if it takes you 10 times.”

Tanner Maxwell is an avid Wasatch Mountain Wrangler and photographer. He finds a sublime aesthetic and self-actualizing potential on these ridges.

“Solitude and incredible beauty that can only be found in high places in the winter is what drives me to the Wasatch in the winter months,” Maxwell explains. “Challenging myself and setting summit goals is what keeps me sane. There is no place like the mountains, and seeing them firsthand in all types of weather and seasons is what makes it worth undertaking. I feel like I better myself when I am up there.”

Courtesy of Tanner Maxwell.

Each of these practicing winter mountaineers had their own perspectives on the greatest risks associated with the mystifying sport and tips to ensure a safe and positive experience, but one thing that remained consistent in their responses was that avalanches are among the greatest possible dangers. One must always be mindful of conditions on the mountain — to “know before you go,” if you will.

Mike Gibby, a well-seasoned climber and mentor figure in the Wasatch Mountain Club with dynamic experiences both domestic and international, claims that the ideal conditions to keep an eye out for are “low avalanche danger, snow consolidation, cold weather — to help stabilize the snow — good visibility, and no wind.” It is ultimately best to pick a cold, clear day and push-off as early as 2 or 3 a.m. This is such common practice in the sport that it has been named an “Alpine Start.”

Gibby also advises aspiring winter mountaineers to recognize that safety must be taken as the primary objective, and to always “be prepared to turn around if conditions change.”

Other potential dangers associated with this sport are dehydration, exposure to the elements, snow and ice hazards, like melting cornices and snow bridges, and, of course, involuntary sliding and falling.

Regardless of outdoor experience level, potential newcomers to winter mountaineering are encouraged to 1) begin by practicing in shorter and less precarious winter hiking locations to familiarize themselves with the equipment and conditions, 2) take at least one avalanche course, 3) develop a habit of assessing snow-levels on the Utah Avalanche Center site, and 4) acquaint themselves with people well-experienced in the practice, like the Wasatch Mountain Club and Wasatch Mountain Wranglers. It is also important to 5) be transparent with yourself to ensure you have the composure to lead your body up such an icy mountaintop. Aside from a firmly level and clear head, the essential equipment for winter mountaineering largely depends upon conditions, but the basics include:

Courtesy of Jonathan Scott.

>ice axes

>crampons

>full-shank boots

>many layers (top and bottom) for varied conditions

>multiple glove layers

>water with freezing prevention methods

>helmet

>sunglasses/goggles

>gaiters

>trekking poles with snow-baskets

>snowshoes or skis with climbing skins for the approach

>short, mountaineering, or climbing rope depending on route

>avalanche safety equipment (like a beacon, shovel, and probe)

>knowledge of weather and avalanche conditions

Courtesy of Tanner Maxwell.

While you don’t necessarily need to break the bank when attaining equipment, particularly while you are still uncertain whether or not the sport is for you, you should always err on the side of quality equipment, since cheap and unreliable gear can either ruin your day or even cost you your life. It is a general rule of thumb that any gear you will trust your life with — this includes ropes, harnesses, carabiners, etc.— should not be bought for just this reason.

Though virtually any snow-covered peak or route can be taken on with sufficient gusto and preparation, some of the most popular and appraised are the Pfeifferhorn, the Everest Ridge, and Timpanooke routes on Mount Timpanogos, South Thunder Mountain, White and Red Baldy, Lone Peak, Mount Olympus, and the Tripe-Traverse goliaths: Dromedary Peak, Sunrise Peak, and the Broadsfork Twins.

Stay safe out there.

Title photo courtesy of Tanner Maxwell.

d.rees@wasatchmag.com

 

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Adventures to Get Over Your Post-Ski Blues

Even though this year record-breaking storms have been pummeling California endlessly, ski season here in the Wasatch is coming to an end. It’s always hard to say goodbye to the best snow on earth, but the ‘Satch still provides plenty of opportunities for adventure if you get out and look for it. Here are just a few.

Boulder Little Cottonwood

Switch from stuffing your feet in ski boots, to climbing shoes. Both Cottonwoods boast no shortage of trad, sport, and even top rope routes to work on. However, Little Cottonwood holds the crown when it comes to bouldering. Follow the road up the canyon for about 1.3 miles before reaching a parking turnout on your left to reach Gates Bouldering. Most of the routes are just a short walk from the car. If you’re not a serious climber, then bouldering is a great place to start. Check out Mountain Project to find a few problems for your skill level. Plus, Outdoor Adventures rents crash pads for $6 a day.

Longboard Provo Canyon

Provo Canyon is the Goldilocks of roads to longboard. It’s mellow enough to keep control the whole way down, but steep enough to keep you going. The best way to do it is to set up a car shuttle. Park one down canyon at Nuns Park and pile into the other to shuttle up to Vivian Park. Hop out and enjoy the 25-minute coast back down to the bottom car. Repeat if desired. Beware that there is a 15 mph speed limit for all riders. Local authorities have considered banning boarding altogether here from the number of people breaking this, so please keep it in control.

Shoot the Tube

Nearly every Salt Laker drove over this adventure all winter long during their hurried dashes to catch some pow at the resorts. Located literally underneath I-215, Shoot the Tube offers an adult version of those classic, inflatable water slides. Finding it is not hard, just head down Foothill until you can see Suicide Rock (the one off to the left covered in graffiti). The tube starts in the bottom of that little canyon. Grab some inflatable tubes, a GoPro, and a couple friends to welcome in the hot desert summer. Be careful to pay attention to water levels.

Climb the Pfeifferhorn

In winter, the Pfeifferhorn (known as The Little Matterhorn), offers one of the best technical mountaineering experiences in the Wasatch. Most of us do not have the skills, gear, or know-how to not end up swept away in an avalanche. That’s why summer is the perfect time to tackle this most iconic peak. Drive your car up to White Pine Trailhead in Little Cottonwood Canyon and enjoy the climb. Plenty of people tackle the peak in a single day, an out and back trip of about nine miles, but you can also camp at Red Pine Lake for a more mellow day. Either way, the view from the ridge is amazing.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

Photo courtesy of Hannah McGuire

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Take Your Running to the Hills

Concrete grids and treadmills may rule the winter months, but it’s spring and it’s time to hit the trails. Fresh air in your lungs, ups and downs, winding paths, and scenic views atop mountains — these are the moments runners live for. Convenience and flat terrain attract runners to the roads, but nothing compares to an escape to fields of pine boughs and wildflowers in Salt Lake’s foothills.

Joey Campanelli, a local trail runner, lives for those sights. The first time I saw him, I was skiing down a run at Alta. I saw a flash of florescent pink and turned to identify the shorts over leopard leggings running up the ski slope. Soon, I saw his big, goofy grin. Campenelli wasn’t going to let snow deny him his passion for trail running. He used it as a tool to train harder. In his books, trail running is the only way to run. The freedom, the peace and quiet, and the beauty are hard to beat.

“The trails take you to the most amazing places,” he said. “You also meet a lot of cool people if you do it enough.”

It’s easy to lose touch with the natural beauty of the world when you’re accustomed to staring at a sunrise in Yosemite National Park on a computer monitor. Escape the chaos of city life and burn off the stress and strains of the day by running in the hills.

Trail running offers a mix of challenges: one moment you’re running uphill with your heart pounding and the next you have time to relax after you crest the peak and jog along a stream. But this isn’t a bad thing. In fact, variation means a wide range of muscles get exercise. You can also be distracted by the beautiful scenery and stimulated by what’s around the next bend.

Strap on some running shoes and hit the trail. The Bonneville Shoreline Trail along the Salt Lake foothills and Pipeline Trail in Millcreek Canyon are great for beginners. *Warning* Trail running can be highly addictive and make you want to sign up for a race — so here’s a list for you:

 

April 29, Amasa Trail Runs, 15.5M, 9.5M, 6.5M, Moab, Utah

June 3, Vigor Solitude Trail Series Races, 13.1M, 8M, 5M, 3M, Cottonwood Heights, Utah

June 10, Park City Trail series 5K, Park City, Utah

June 17, Wasatch Steeplechase 17M, Salt Lake City, Utah

s.guirguis@wasatchmag.com

Photo by Carolyn Webber

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Find Your Pitch, Ice Climbing close to home

Climbers have three options in the winter: drive south, go indoors, or layer up and get on some ice. If you haven’t yet tried option number three, there is still time, the season isn’t over yet. Yes, attaching metal spikes to your feet and holding on by the tip of an ice axe can be a little intimidating, but there are few epic adventures more brag-worthy than standing atop a pillar of ice. Try it once, and you’ll be hooked.

Most people have their baptism by ice at Ouray Ice Park in Colorado: the perfect launch pad for an ice climbing career. The man-made ice is reliable and thick, while in the Wasatch, fluctuating weather patterns and avalanches make route finding a little more fickle.  For those sick of following a Candy Lane trail of colored, chalked-up holds in the gym, put your gloves on instead and try these ice climbing routes.

PROVO CANYON

After driving up this canyon, park at the Bridal Veils parking lot, and you will find another vehicle full of climbers. Accessibility and consistent ice make this place a little crowded, but there is a high concentration of climbs here. Access the famous Stairway to Heaven just off the trail, a multi-pitch climb that can reach up to 10 pitches during a good ice season. The first pitch, lovingly called The Apron because of its width, is easy to set up a top-rope on and do laps. There are a few bolts at the top, so you can hop between routes if you are in a bigger group.

If you keep walking up the trail before turning toward the Stairway area, you will come to the breathtaking Bridal Veil Falls. While it rarely freezes, there are a few fantastic climbs to the right of it. Ice leading experience is required.

LITTLE COTTONWOOD CANYON

You really can’t call yourself an ice climber and live in Utah without climbing the Great White Icicle. It’s a classic multi-pitch easily accessible off the freeway. The views get better and better at the end of each of the four pitches, but don’t get distracted and forget to watch for falling ice. Because of high traffic, you will get hit with ice, so always wear a helmet. Once you’ve done this classic, you might as well hike over to Scruffy Band, a collection of ice dripping off granite slabs. You can switch easily between routes of easy grades.

MAPLE CANYON

When avalanche dangers are high in the Wasatch, Maple Canyon is the perfect alternative. Around every winding cobblestone corner, ice pours into perfect climbing routes. There are several routes accessible off the Main Road, but Box Canyon and Left Fork also reveal hidden treasures. Tennis Shoe Slab is long but sustained, and the intimidating Dagger is just around the corner, suspended over an easy first pitch that has set chains. The Wet Itchies and Bowling Ball Head are a little more steep, but fun if you are ready to push yourself.

JOE’S VALLEY

This famous bouldering destination also has stellar ice in the winter months. The CCC and Donoricicle are both breathtaking pillars of thick ice that just taunt you to climb them. A top rope can easily be set up at the Donoricicle, but leading experience is necessary for the two pitches of the CCC. A plus here is the belayer isn’t stuck with a bad view, the frozen Joe’s Reservoir and surrounding mountainous landscape are visible below.

**If you are going ice climbing in Utah, purchase the detailed guide “Beehive Ice” by Nathan Smith and Andrew Burr. Also, check avalanche conditions prior to the climb and check equipment constantly throughout.

c.webber@wasatchmag.com

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