- CJ Wolf
Lone Peak Summit
Updated: Sep 23, 2020
Base Elevation: 4,780
Summit Elevation: 11,253
Elevation Gain: 6,473
Round Trip Distance: 14.7 miles
Moving Time: 7:01
Date: September 20, 2020
Although Lone Peak is considered one of 7 iconic Wasatch peaks that line the SLC valley, I feel as if this peak doesn’t get the respect that it truly deserves. I have hiked most of the major peaks in the Wasatch and I can definitively say that this peak is the most challenging from a technical perspective. Ropes are not required to reach the summit but there were times that being roped in would have been comforting. All of the summit routes on this peak are rated class 4 by the YDS (Yosemite decimal system) and grade IV (full day hike). On top of being very technical, you have to throw in the elevation gain of almost 6,500 feet. There are few hikes that start from the valley floor and climb to over 11,000 feet.
There are several lower routes that you can take to access Lone Peak but they all merge at one point or another because you can only summit this peak from the eastern side. The route options are: Jacob’s Ladder, Trail of the Eagle and Cherry Canyon (CC). Sean and I planned on taking Jacob’s Ladder which is the shortest and it is considered the ”classic” route. The Jacob’s and Cherry Canyon junction is only 3.6 miles from the Jacob’s trailhead compared to 6.1 from the Orson Smith parking lot that gives you access to Cherry Canyon. We plugged in the directions into All Trails and they directed us to the Orson Smith parking lot and then it directed us to take the Draper Alpine Rd dirt road but the gate was closed. I had read that the gate to Jacob’s Ladder was also closed from the Alpine side (S. Canyon Pointe Rd) so instead of driving around, which would take about 45 min, we pulled an audible and decided to take the Cherry Canyon route. Cherry Canyon is a newer trail and is considered to be more scenic than Jacob’s but since they merger at around 9,100 feet - I would have preferred to take the shorter route as the more scenic stuff is above 9,000 feet.
We arrived at the Orson Smith parking lot at 6:30 AM and headed out the Orson Smith trail under headlamps. As hard as it getting out of bed before sunrise, I really enjoy hiking in the dark. It adds another level of adventure and you are almost guaranteed solitude. The Orson Smith trail traverses for .3 miles before it crosses over the Aqueduct Trail. At this intersection, you turn left on Aqueduct for a brief section and then you take a right turn back on Orson Smith for .4 miles until you get to the Cherry Canyon Logging Trail.
Once you are on CC, you starting gaining elevation quickly. In the first 3 miles, you gain over 3,000 vertical feet through numerous steep switch backs. The leaves on the lower section were just starting to turn colors which added a nice element to the hike. The trail takes you up the southern part of the ridge and at around 7,200 the trail starts to flatten out from the 1000 feet of elevation gain per mile to about 600 feet per mile for the 5th and 6th mile.
At ~7,800, there is split in the trail and we headed right (south) and then turned left and headed up the hill which proved to be a shortcut. There was a faint trail but that soon disappeared but we felt confident because we were still going up and we were paralleling the trail on our AllTrails app. As you crest this small knoll, the trail mergers with the Jacob’s Ladder trail and the mighty Lone Peak summit comes into view which is exciting on one hand and disappoint on another because you realize how much farther you have to go.
After about another mile or so of hiking, you start to enter the granite section as the path changes from dirt to stone. You now feel like you are starting to get into the high country.
At roughly 9,800 feet, you enter your first boulder section. We stayed along the ridge during this section which becomes more challenging as you progress. I recommend staying to the left of this section (northeast) as it is smoother. We took this path on the descent and it was far more manageable.
Once you get through this section, you are at the base of the Lone Peak cirque and it is nothing short of amazing. These massive cliff walls feel out of place in the Wasatch Range and you feel as if you are in the southern Sierras or the Tetons. In fact, these big walls reminded me of the spires adjacent to Mt. Whitney in California.
The trail takes you to the north side of the summit and there is a small meadow before the arduous climb up the rocky summit. This shoulder definitely requires bouldering but it is not that challenging or exposed at the beginning.
As you march up, the trail wraps around the back (west/northwest) which offer exceptional views of Broad Fork Twin Peaks and as you progress up the mountain, Pfeifferhorn comes into view. But there is no time for sightseeing as you have a goal to accomplish and the hard part is yet to come.
You wrap back around to the east and there is short reprieve before the narrow knife-edge section.
If you are afraid of heights- this section is going to be problematic. I have become more comfortable with ledges/drop-offs/exposure over the years and my strategy is not to focus on what is below you but to remain fixated on the very next step. I also imagine that I am on a flat sidewalk as sidewalks are about 3 feet wide but you are never concerned about falling off a sidewalk.
This knife-edge section is relatively short (100 yards) but there are major consequences with drops on both sides of several hundred feet. There is one move that requires you to hug a big boulder as you walk around it and there is a small ledge about a foot wide on the other side that you have shimmy along. As you continue to move up the peak, it remains narrow and precarious but you just take it one move at a time.
I would like to say the summit offers some relaxation but the summit itself consist of 2 table size rocks with 270 degree drops. I stood on the first summit rock which had the geological plaque and I felt like that was sufficient as the 2nd rock felt even more exposed. Sean has hiked every major peak in the Wasatch and is very competent but even he got a little vertigo at the top and had to steep off the summit rather quickly.