Lone Peak: Remote monolith oversees two valleys

The massive summit cliffs of Lone Peak, as viewed from the cirque below.

Standing as a sentinel between Salt Lake and Utah valleys, at an elevation of 11,253 feet, Lone Peak is not even in the top 10 peaks of the Wasatch in altitude. But it has other unique aspects that make it a spectacular and enjoyable target for Utah hikers.

Lone Peak's name is at least partially accurate. It is the last and most prominent mountain along the ridge that separates Little Cottonwood Canyon, at the southeast corner of the Salt Lake Valley, from American Fork Canyon in Utah Valley. If you know where to look, the peak is visible from many parts of the Salt Lake and Utah valleys, far up on the ridge above the "Point of the Mountain" between the two valleys.

It's not completely alone, however; there are many other peaks further up the ridge, including the Pfeifferhorn, White and Red Baldy, and the American Fork Twin Peaks. But Lone Peak is unique in its placement and its remarkable summit. The stunning cliffs of the peak, facing west in a massive cirque or bowl, are a mecca for skilled rock climbers, who find countless challenges on the faces. Hikers have several options for reaching the peak that don't require ropes and pitons. Be warned, however, that there is considerable exposure in the actual summit; it is not for the faint of heart!

Lone Peak is also somewhat of a remote summit, requiring a significant hike to access the area near the peak. In fact, the mountain is the centerpiece of the Lone Peak Wilderness area, the first to be established in Utah (1977), encompassing over 30,000 acres of beautiful and rugged terrain. There are at least half a dozen well-used routes to get near the summit; in this article, we will describe the one known as Jacob's Ladder.

Though this route climbs up the southern face of the ridge, on the Utah Valley side, the trailhead is accessed via the Corner Canyon road starting in Draper (See the sidebar for instructions on finding it). This trail is one of the shorter routes to the summit, but also one of the more challenging. It climbs about 5,650 feet in elevation over about six miles of trail. Strong hikers may cover the distance to the summit in 3-4 hours; but most hikers will take 5-6. And that's one-way. Don't underestimate this hike; it is slow and challenging.

From the trailhead, you initially follow a 4-wheel drive track on the north side of the road to the top of a steep hill. There the road will fork; turn right (east) and follow the ridge upward through scrub oaks and brush. You'll pass near Lone Rock, a large outcropping with steep drop-offs to the south and east. Now follow the trail more to the north up the steeper parts of the "ladder." See the online version of this article for maps and photos of the trail.

Eventually you reach an open ridge and a junction with the Draper Ridge Trail at an elevation of about 9,200 feet, about 3.3 miles from the trailhead. Pay attention to this junction, so you know where to return if you plan to come back down the same route. It's also possible to descend via Draper Ridge or one of the other routes, if you left a car at the other trailheads.

The next portion of the hike is easier and very scenic, and you have wonderful views of your destination far ahead. Follow the trail east to a meadow (known to some as "Cowboy Camp"), then down and across the meadow, across a streambed (usually dry in the late summer), and climbing again. Continue mostly east and upward toward a small saddle, and you'll soon be entering the cirque below the massive cliffs of Lone Peak. Take note of your location here to make sure you return to the same spot on the return.

There are a number of routes across the cirque; pick the one that looks best, heading mostly north toward an obvious saddle in the ridge. You'll climb up through a narrow chute called "the chimney" to reach the ridge, where you'll have your first views over the top to Draper and the Salt Lake Valley. Then, just turn right and follow the trail along the ridge to the top! The trail passes on the outside (north) of the cirque for a while before crossing back in.

The last quarter mile leading to the summit is the thrilling or frightening section, depending on your experience. You cross a relatively narrow "knife edge" that requires some scrambling (use of hands) over the piles of granite boulders. Put your trekking poles away so your hands are free; gloves can help. The summit itself will be obvious -- a small, flat rock at the end of the ridge with cliffs that plummet many hundreds of feet down on all sides. Use caution, but enjoy the thrill of having achieved this stunning summit. See the online photos and a summit panorama video at UtahAdventurer.com

You are now exactly halfway done with your hike. It's a long and challenging return to the valley some 7,000 feet below, and you're likely now approaching the heat of the afternoon. Be sure you are prepared with lots of water (none is available along this trail in the summer) and protection from the sun. Many hikers find that trekking poles are more helpful on the descent than on the ascent to take some pressure off knees and help keep your balance on the steep slopes.

David Kenison has been hiking the Wasatch Mountains since he was a Boy Scout in Payson. He currently lives in Orem and posts reports of his hiking adventures to the “Wasatch Peak Baggers” group on Facebook. Contact him at HikeUtah@kenison.net