July 20, 2011 4:30 AM, I rise from my comfortable bed, dress myself, grab my day pack and head out the door. I am headed for the trailhead on Suncrest Rd. leading to the Jacobs Ladder route on Lone Peak.
I arrive at the trailhead before the sun rises, anxious to get started on what would turn out to be a very long day on Lone Peak.
Lone Peak is the centerpiece of Utah’s first congressionally designated Wilderness Area. The Lone Peak Wilderness was established in 1977 as part of the Endangered American Wilderness Act and includes 30,088 acres in the Wasatch Range. The mountain is a beautifully huge massif visible from Salt Lake City to Provo. The rugged terrain, narrow canyons and alpine cirque are dominated by the high peak.
The Jacobs Ladder route on Lone peak starts at an elevation of 5,600′ and the summit of Lone Peak is at 11,253′. Making for a grueling elevation gain of 5,650′! From Suncrest it takes the better part of an hour just to reach the base of the mountain! Therefore, for those considering Jacobs Ladder, it is recommended to start from the Corner Canyon trailhead which is much closer.
Once reaching the base, the route starts moderately enough on a spur ridge leading to some rock outcroppings. At this point the route steepens significantly as it climbs to an elevation near 10,000′ at the top of a ridge. From here the angle eases off as you leave the scrub oak and sage and enter an alpine meadow with a beautiful little stream running through.
In this area, I ran into a young man who had a camp set up in the trees next to the stream. He eagerly approached me asking, “So…how did you like Jacobs Ladder?”. I replied, “That is one exhausting and brutal bugger of a climb!”. Then he grinned, chuckled and stated that yes, Jacobs Ladder is probably the toughest ascent on any mountain along the Wasatch Range.
As I continued to follow the stream up, the trail became less defined, and was only marked by sparsely spaced cairns. As the steepening gully I was following began to lead to the south, I thought back to all the route descriptions I had read, this did not seem right to me. It should be primarily a northeast approach. I thought I must have missed a turn somewhere and that I needed to be on the north side of the ridge on my left.
This ridge was very steep and rimmed with tall cliffs and rock towers. It was necessary to back track a 1/4 mile or so in order to find a spot where I could cross the ridge to the north through the cliffs. Once on the north side of the ridge, I began to make my way following as close as possible to the crest. On this shaded sideof the ridge, the slopes still held the previous winters snow, and progress became very difficult.
After struggling up 500 feet or so next to the rock towers in the snow, I was spent. It was an honorable attempt, but 9 hours into the climb, off route and exhausted I decided to turn back. When I made it back to the lovely alpine meadow, I ran into the young gentleman again. I had forgotten my water filter and just about out of water, I asked if he had one I could borrow to refill my hydration bladder. He went ahead and refilled it for me as he listened to my story of struggle off route on the ridge.
I stayed for a bit for pleasant conversation, rest and to refuel my body with some food. Then it was time for the 4,000 knee grinding feet of descent back to the car. Fortunately, I had decided to bring my ski poles along to use as trekking poles. These became very handy as I slid my way down the steepest portions of Jacobs Ladder. Even with the poles, my feet slid out from underneath me a couple of times. Resulting in painful falls on my bottom.
After 15 hours hard work, I was back at the car. Even though I had not reached the summit, I felt it was a great achievement to get as high on the mountain as I did. Probably physically the hardest thing I have ever done!