When I first moved out here last year the Wasatch Mountains were my church spires — I would drive by and admire them longingly without really exploring their sanctuaries. Hiking in their vicinity would only fuel an urge for more tactile encounters — the huge rock walls looming in so many crannies and canyons.

One such rock wall stands out; the North Star in a sea of celestial stone. A lighthouse, visible from anywhere in the Wasatch Valley, separating the harem of the North from the sheep to the South — always there keeping watch. It’s called the Lone Peak Cirque, and it holds the single greatest bounty of rock in hundreds of miles of mountains in either direction.

“Did you hear something?” The glow from an oblate moon illuminates Tom’s head crooked to the side.
“Relax, dude, it’s nothing. You’re hearing things.” We continue on the steep trail. Within twenty minutes the crackles of campfires eases our collective unease. Ten minutes later our own blaze adds to the soothing familiarity of the wilderness campground — we are at 8000 feet and a mere three miles from civilization, yet we might as well be in the Yukon. Lulled conversation yields to sleep.

By seven AM we’re psyched again — it’s only a few miles to the Cirque, the weather is beautiful, and we’ve got a full day of stellar climbing ahead. Two thousand vertical feet with 55-pound packs later the psychness wanes. We hike around a ridge and the first two-hundred foot (completely undeveloped) wall of perfect granite emerges. It’s gonna be a great weekend.

“Climb on!” Tom makes the first of many foot jams in a crack and leads into the unknown. We are on the Lowe Route (5.8), the most classic 5.8 in the Wasatch put up by the inimitable George and Jeff Lowe. Tom glides up the perfect hand crack, jamming in cams and feet and hands for 100 feet to a two-piton anchor. It’s on.

The Cirque at Dusk
The Lone Peak Cirque near dusk

The third pitch is phenomenal, a surprisingly well-protected 120′ of face climbing by a finger crack. We top out to a sprawling view of the Provo Valley, flanked by Box Elder Peak and the gigantic Mt. Timpanogos. After a Clif Bar we scramble down, make a couple rappels and hike back to camp.

The main impetus for making the grueling hike up to the cirque was to climb one of the three classic routes on the Summit Wall. It doesn’t get any better than five pitches of perfect rock leading to a 11,000+ foot summit topout, at least in Utah. By 10 am we were at the base of the wall, ready to climb to the summit.

It’s all Vertical Smiles for us as Tom heads off to lead the fourth pitch.
“Are you sure this is the right way?” Tom shouts from a stance at a bolt. We’re six hundred feet above the cirque and quite confused. Maybe it’s the altitude.
“Yeah, just go straight up to the right of that block”
“All I see is roofs!”
“Yeah buddy!” For once I’m happy to be belaying.

The Cirque at Dusk
Tom leading the fourth pitch of Vertical Smile (5.10a II) — the green trapezoid in the incut photo is our position

After a quick hang on a #2 Camalot Tom makes short work of the six-foot horizontal roof. It looms closer and closer as I follow on top-rope. Seven hundred feet off the deck I throw in a hand jam above my head and pull with all my might. What a rad pitch.

We don’t top out right on the summit, but a ten-minute scramble puts us right there on the North Star herself. We bask in the panorama, snap a few shots and head back to Earth.