Lone Peak- Winter ascent 1/24/15

In early January Matt Van Horn posted his plans to make a winter attempt on Lone Peak. MVH has been climbing Lone in winter for several years now and knows the mountain very well. In summer Lone peak is one of the more challenging peaks to climb in the Wasatch, gaining 7400 feet of elevation, crossing some very rugged terrain and finishing off with an exposed summit ridge scramble. In winter the peak becomes much more technical and provides more of a mountaineering challenge, as the rocks on the summit ridge become icy and the risks of a fall are significantly increased. The winter difficulty varies depending on conditions, so it is advised to make this attempt with someone that has experience navigating the sketchy sections, as well as mountaineering experience to make judgements on conditions.

Craig at sunrise

Craig and Jennilyn both expressed an interest in joining the group, but they had commitments later in the afternoon, so the 3 of us decided to start early ahead of the others, hoping we could make it up and back a little faster. We met at the Orson Smith trailhead and set off at 4:50 AM. We made quick work of the first few miles of Cherry Canyon until we reached the snow. It had been 5-6 years since I had been on this route and a few years for Craig as well. We took a wrong turn and ended up on the wrong side of the ridge. We post-holed for a while and finally got fed up and put on the snowshoes. We had to navigate some pretty awful terrain and it was quite cold. We were on a steep snow slope with a hard crust on top and then sugary powder below, making it difficult to move even with the snowshoes. After negotiating some boulders on the snowshoes and then getting into more bad snow our stoke for the summit was quickly dying. Getting off route slowed us down a lot and the mood wasn’t great.

Jennilyn on Enniss Peak

Eventually we made it back to our route and started climbing the frozen slopes of Draper Ridge. The climbing was much faster and my attitude started to change, but it was very cold and now we had a stinging cold breeze to contend with. About a half mile from the top Craig started having issues with his new snowshoes. Jennilyn made a stop to change her socks and I started to get very cold. We got moving again and topped out on the ridge where Craig’s foot came completely out of the snowshoe squashing any hope of a summit bid. Jennilyn was running out of time and both of them decided they were going to turn back. I was pretty bummed because I was really looking forward to getting to the summit, but I was hopeful that I could possibly meet up with the other group. After a long stop for Craig to mess with the snowshoe we started up to Enniss Peak. About half way up we saw the front-runners from MVH group traversing the slope up to Enniss and my mood quickly changed because now the summit was back on for me.

Travis A. ans Steve B. with Lone Peak

MVH had started with over 30 people at 6:00 AM and now a group of about 20 remained for the summit push. After tagging Enniss Peak we went down to the cowboy camp and then up and into the cirque, traversing high on the western wall to the shoulder of the mountain. The sun was out, the sky was blue and I thought we were going to have great weather for the summit bid, but as soon as we reached the shoulder a large cloud quickly moved in and enveloped the upper mountain. The wind picked up, the temps dropped and we were treated to a rare snow rainbow to the northwest. Incredible.

Navigating the cirque. Photo by: Kendall Wimmer

MVH gave everyone the ‘don’t die’ speech and warned those without mountaineering experience to stop at the safe spot and not attempt the summit. Most of the group dropped their snowshoes here and started to head up the slope. I needed to take care of some ‘business’ in the trees and got behind the group, so I tried to quickly catch up. High up on the shoulder the wind was really whipping around and I stopped to put on my crampons and get out my ice axe. It was nasty trying to get geared up and my hands went numb making what should have been simple adjustments more time consuming. I finally got geared up about the same time as Sam and we both went up to tackle the ridge. The wind was really blowing over the ridge adding to the challenge. It no longer felt like a typical group run up a foothill peak, this was real winter mountaineering and climbers started turning back as the comfort level just wasn’t there.

Starting the ridge. Photo by Sam Jewkes

The last time I was up there in winter the conditions allowed you to get very close to the summit without getting into the serious terrain, but this year the angle of the snow required the use of my axe a lot sooner and Sam decided to stop there because he didn’t have an axe. It was a smart decision and he snapped a few pics of me as I ascended up higher on the ridge. The wind had really picked up and that added some spice to the already challenging ridge.

The ridge. Photo by Sam Jewkes

After a few short knife-edge sections I came to the first technical rock. KalinaZ and another guy were there and decided to stop because they didn’t feel comfortable getting over the rock. This was one of the most sketchy moves to be made. In summer I think this is the crux of the whole ridge. There is a boulder you have to either climb over or around. The boulder was covered in snow/ice and the ledge to the left where I go in the summer was covered in ice. There isn’t a very good hold on the boulder, so I took my time and worked around on the ledge. At that point it is about 4 feet to the ridge and you have to jump down and land on the small step (with sheer drops on both sides) or down-climb the icy boulder. AaronW was there waiting for me and after taking some time I finally jumped down. From there you have to traverse a small knife edge section. The exposure is significant and I took my time on each step and used my ice axe as a self-belay.

MVH on the first technical rock. Photo by: Kendall Wimmer

After the knife edge you come to the Big Bad Rock. Depending on snow conditions this can sometimes be the crux of the route. This year there was a nice ledge to the left and it wasn’t too bad traversing around it. Another knife edge brings you to the ledges just below the summit boulders. The exposure is severe, but there were good holds and some decent snow piles that I could get purchase with my ice axe for protection. There was one scary move just below the summit that didn’t have a very good foot hold. You had kind of swing onto the slope and really trust that you could get your foot to stick in the snow. From there it was a short quick scramble to the summit boulder.

Making the final move before the top. Photo by: Stephen Lindsay

MVH, KendallW, TravisA, me, SteveB Aaron, and a few guys that I didn’t know were there on top. Stephen Lindsay had already summited and was on his way down. I think 10 of us made it to the summit. What an adrenaline rush. After some celebratory high fives, yells and pictures we made our way back across the ridge. After negotiating the first boulder I knew I was safe and could breathe a lot easier the rest of the way. Back at my pack the hose on my hydration bladder was completely frozen and I was starting to feel dehydrated. Kendall gave me some of his burrito, some nuts and some water and SteveB gave me some candy. I could immediately feel the energy boost and we quickly put on our snowshoes and made our way off of the shoulder and back down into the cirque.

On the summit with Aaron Williams and Brian Peterson

I spent about 15 minutes with the bite valve for my bladder in my mouth trying to thaw it out and eventually I was able to get some water flowing again. The descent back down the mountain was a slog. I was pretty tired and really wanted to get down. The views of the valley below were stunning as we had some really cool cloud formations forming. I stayed with MVH, Kendall and SteveB most of the way down. We finally took off the snowshoes with about 3.5 miles left and it felt great to get them off. The lower trail was now pretty icy which slowed us down some and then we had a little mud and I finally reached the trailhead about 10 hours after starting. It was definitely one of the most memorable days I’ve had in the Wasatch with old friends and new ones.

Going home. Photo by Kendall Wimmer

4 thoughts on “Lone Peak- Winter ascent 1/24/15

  1. Wow, I had no idea it was that rough out there. Way to inadvertently catch a bonus peak, too! Also, I’ve never seen you with a bad attitude before, just sayin’.

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