“I’m gonna do it sometime in the next three weeks”, I told some people in early June. No specific date yet was scheduled but that was a minor detail. Jennilyn also was planning to make a go at the WURL, her third attempt since last year. Timing for our individual plans happened to synchronize, so we settled on Friday June 26 as launch day. With Aaron Williams rounding out our Fellowship of the WURL, we began hiking/running up the Ferguson Canyon trail at 3 PM. It was hot and my pack was heavy; within a mile I began having doubts of how far I could go. In my mind’s eye I saw the way ahead – I knew it all fairly well from the last ten years of exploring the Wasatch – and tried not to look at it all at once. Taken in pieces, segments, individual peaks and connecting ridges – the Wasatch Ultimate Ridge Link-up was something I could do. If I could just keep crawling.
Early in Ferguson we turned right instead of left and detoured on a rapidly deteriorating climber’s trail. Aaron met up with an agitated rattler that I, with my hearing loss, never heard nor saw, but what was reported by Aaron to be only a step away from our steps. Shwacked back to the trail and we resumed our stride up toward the 11,000 foot peaks above. At the Meadow below Storm Mountain Jennilyn had a friendly debate about which of the visible peaks was in fact Storm Mountain. I insisted it was to the left and off route, she was certain it was up and to the right on our planned route. I don’t think it ever was resolved. No matter. Above Storm Mountain we found our first patch of snow. We greedily scooped handfuls to drop into our water packs for some blessed refreshing cold water to cool us for the remainder of the warm afternoon. The three of us navigated the rugged, angular slabs at the head of Stairs Gulch. No slips or falls, thank God. (It is a miracle not one of us fell onto any one of the skull-splitting rocks over the following 30 hours.)
We summited the Broad’s Fork Twins in…3.5 hours? 4? I can’t remember. We were being conservative in our pace. There was still a long way to go yet, so best not spend too much energy too early. I ran over to the West Twin as my partners continued down toward Upper Broad’s saddle. A group text from friends following our progress in the valley lit up with activity: “Do I see someone on the summit?” ‘Yes!” I began jumping in place on the West Twin. I caught up with the others at the saddle. I was feeling good but anxious for the big traverse of the Cottonwood Ridge ahead. I had completed the route several times but never in the dark. Having friends with me was an invaluable comfort. We laughed, sang, joked, and danced over the peaks above Broad’s Fork. When light from the setting sun lit up the quartzite ridge in fiery orange we received it as a gift.
At dusk on Dromedary Peak I surprised the others with their own bean and cheese burritos. I ate every last morsel of mine then finished half of Aaron’s. As we descended the East flank of Dromedary Jennilyn called out, “Hey, do you want your gift now or later?” “Now!” I shouted back. She handed me a silver dollar, bearing the year 1971 – my birth year. It took me several moments but then I recalled I gave this coin to Jennilyn the year previous to carry on her second [and second failed] attempt at the WURL. I had forgotten she had it. It was now back on my custody, the WURL coin. I was determined to carry it to the end.
In full dark we walked and crawled along a rocky knife edge. Below and to our left we saw headlamps at Lake Blanche blinking at us. I waved my hand in front of my light to blink back and they responded. Salt Lake City glowed behind us in a million orange pinpoints of artificial light. Overhead the sky was clear, and in the heavens Venus and the half-moon were lit brightly. It was a perfect Summer night. Up on the Cottonwood Ridge at 10,000 feet we found plenty snow patches to refill our water packs. Absurd jokes from Jennilyn and hearing stories from other adventures helped keep my mind occupied as we crawled up and down bumps along the ridge. We reached Monte Cristo summit in about 9.5 hours from our start in the valley. It was past midnight and I recall feeling the first waves of fatigue. Nevertheless we hiked down to Mt Superior toward Cardiff Pass, where two days previous I had stashed several beverages in a lingering snow bank. In the lead and anxious to get to the pass and the promise of cold drinks, I passed just below the small peak above the pass. Jennilyn called to me and insisted I hike back up to tag the small summit. I obeyed and circled the small electrical box shed, then sat for a minute to catch my breath. Finally down at the pass I led my partners down a couple hundred feet to the base of a small cliff where I found my cache of drinks. Who wants orange juice! Cold Coke! Chocolate milk! I lined up several cans and bottles on the snow and played bartender. I drank two of each.
Back up at the pass we took a five minute break, then had to get moving again to stay warm. We would be able to run much of the next segment to Twin Lakes Pass, but with several steep hikes. Jennilyn crashed on the way down from Flagstaff Peak but she dusted herself off and continued. Aaron was solid and doing well. We hiked up to summit the high point of Honeycomb Cliffs, then ran well down to the pass where Aaron had cached water and Gatorade. We were all feeling fatigued at this point; conversation between us was minimal. I hiked alone from Patsy Marley to Point Supreme, immersed in my thoughts. Further on over Mt Tuscarora I walked slowly with my attention turned out over the Brighton Lakes. I saw pale traces of dawn indicated on the horizon to the East. A layered band of deep red and hazy yellow, topped by blended shades of blue and finally capped by a dome of stars spanned left to right. I had a view down Little Cottonwood Canyon’s glacier-carved U-shape, of the city, still aglow and hazy. Twilight. That moment I was listening to a song called “Freeze: Part 4 of Fear”, the words by lyricist and drummer Neil Peart:
The city crouches, steaming In the early morning half light The sun is still a rumor And the night is still a threat Sometimes I freeze…until the light comes Sometimes I fly…into the night Sometimes I fight…against the darkness Sometimes I’m wrong…sometimes I’m right
The others had gone from my view, probably down at Catherine’s pass by that time. No matter, I would catch up. It was a beautiful sunrise. I said a prayer of thanks and jumped down the steep, rocky trail. Singing.