Guess I’m a junkie — I couldn’t even make it ’til July without doing another long mountaineering route here in the Wasatch.
On June 29 Mark and I met up at the LCC park ‘n ride at 2am and car-pooled to the Bells Canyon trailhead. I had been excited for quite a while to do a climb with him since he has provided most of the route descriptions and photos for all the mountaineering I’ve done via SummitPost.
Not five minutes into the hike we walked by a residential area and were blasted by someone’s automatic sprinklers. Though the forecast called for 90+ in the valley that day it was still a cool desert evening; 12 hours later and it would’ve been real nice.
As it was we scurried up Bells Canyon with Mark setting a torrid pace. I’m in decent shape so it was nice climbing with someone at least as fast as myself — By 330 am we were well up the canyon with the stream roaring at our side.
Somewhere around here things turned sour. I considered Mark to be the crusty old veteran and trusted his routefinding decisions, but regrettably we got off the main trail and ran into some heinous bushwhacking. Two miles and much blood later we found ourselves traversing snow slopes on the west side of Bells Canyon as the sun peeked over the ridgeline.
Lone Peak’s NE Face in winter. My line was right below the leftmost summit.
The original goal was to start the climb at sunrise so as to catch the snow in ideal conditions. Though it was nearly July there was still a ton of snow in upper Bells, and a surprising lot on Lone Peak’s NE Face itself. By around seven we were at the base of the face scoping out potential lines. While Mark had his eyes on the couloir directly beneath the summit I was eyeing the adjacent South Summit Couloir.
After gearing up with crampons, ice tools, harnesses and some snow pickets we headed up to the climb. The idea was to simul-solo the rock sections and place pickets in the snow to protect the couloirs. After about 30 feet of class four scrambling (with crampons no less) Mark decided to cut right to attempt the direct couloir while I continued up where I was. We agreed to meet farther up the face where it looked like the two couloirs convened.
It was the best climbing I’ve experienced on a mountaineering route in Utah: surprisingly solid granite mixed with snow pitches just compact enough to hold your weight. The scrambling never got more difficult than 5.3 or so and except for a couple sections it didn’t feel too exposed. Mixed climbing is quite fun; though I only used my ice tools in the actual snow I was making rock moves with my hands and standing on my crampon points. I had had a taste of this on Timpanogos but this time the climbing continued for hundreds of feet.
By nine AM I was on the most spectacular summit of the Wasatch: a 10×10′ block of granite overlooking all of the Salt Lake and Provo Valleys as well as the four hundred foot cliffs directly below the peak in the Lone Peak Cirque. It was truly mesmerizing. After taking it in for a while I took a nap while waiting for Mark to come up. After an hour, though, I started to get a bit worried and sent him a text message (yeah, yeah, pretty lame I know, but I had four bars up there). Surprisingly, I got a response pretty quickly. Apparently he had encountered poorer snow conditions than myself and decided to bail on the climb about halfway up the face.
Right before I geared back up for the descent I heard the unmistakable BAAAAA of a baby mountain goat. No more than 50 yards away was a family of the beautiful white beasts traversing the summit ridge. The smallest one would get stuck behind her parents and jump around haphazardly on granite slabs blissfully unaware (?) of the sheer four-hundred-foot drop awaiting a slight slip. On the other end of the summit ridge, just past the South Summit, was another family of goats making their way South. Lounging on the summit, I had a clear view of no less than fifteen mountain goats going about their business. What a day to forget my camera.
The descent was thankfully straightforward, safe and quick, and well before 10 I was waking up Mark in the middle of his own snooze. We hung out for a bit then packed up to make the eight-mile trek back down to the valley.