Pictures to follow soonThis whole business of hiking, climbing and mountaineering started for me back in September of 1990. My good friend Jackson had been pestering me to join him on a climb of Lone Peak for the better part of a year, knowing that I loved adventure and the two of us had spent hours together exploring caves, 4X4 trails and other remote wilderness locations, he knew I was a sucker for some adventure. I was a little nervous, because while I had done quite a bit of hiking, I had never really climbed to the summit of a mountain before and really I had no clue what to expect, so whenever Jax would look up at Lone and say “He we need to go climb Lone Peak!” I would respond with the when, where, why and how?? He said “Don’t worry, I have a map and it has some directions on it.” That sounded pretty good to me, but I was not all that convinced.
We decided to make our first attempt in September of 1990. Looking back we definitely were not prepared and had absolutely NO CLUE what we were doing. Our plan was to hike through Bells Canyon up to Upper Bells Reservoir and camp over night, make a summit attempt in the morning and race back down so that Jackson could make a dentist appointment at 12:30 the next afternoon. The hike up to the reservoir was a new and somewhat entertaining experience for me. I was in great shape, so it was not extremely difficult, but I was definitely not used to this uphill hiking business. We were definitely not mountaineering experts by any means, but the hike to the reservoir taught me one thing and that was there was NO WAY we could make it to the summit and back by 12:30 the next day. Jackson still wanted to give it a try, but I soon convinced him that we would barely make it back in time for his appointment by getting an early start and heading back. He agreed and we decided our quest for Lone would have to wait one more year. We spent a cold night at the reservoir and had to make a fire to warm up the next morning and after a quick breakfast, we hiked back down.
July 3 1991
We were now a year older, but not necessarily a year wiser in terms of mountaineering knowledge. Before the days of the internet, it was tough to get good information about the summit climb, but we had been there before, knew the general “trail” to the top and besides, Jackson had a map with some instructions, so we both figured we were “money” and the summit would be in the bag. We planned for three days and two nights and we figured we should not have any problems reaching the top of this peak that had been on my mind for almost a year now. We recruited another friend of ours, Scott (Snack) because he seemed really interested in some adventure and really liked the idea of making a summit climb, something he had never done before either. Looking back on this attempt now, I laugh every time I think of the gear that we used and the lack of knowledge that we had at the time. For entertainment purposes, here is a list of some the gear and supplies that I had:
- External frame pack that was broken and had been buried in my parents garage for years
- The heaviest orange Coleman sleeping bag I have ever seen. Not sure what the temperature rating on this bad boy was, but I wasn’t getting cold.
- All Cotton clothing. Nothing but 100% pure!
- No sunscreen
- No water filter
- 48 ounces of water for three days
- Canned Chili and ravioli.(It’s all about going light.)
- Cans of Dr. Pepper and other various Coke products
Jackson’s mom dropped us off at the Bells Canyon trailhead on the morning of July 3rd and we told her to pick us up in three days at the same place and we were off. It was a hot day in the valley, well over 95 degrees, but it was early enough in the morning and was not all bad scampering up to the lower reservoir. We had one minor bushwack and both Snack and I started something that would repeat itself multiple times during our little adventure. We got off route into some scrub oak and both Snack and I said rather irritated, “Jackson! I thought you knew were the trail was!” We were only half joking and had to rib Jackson, as he repeatedly assured us time and again before the hike that he knew exactly where we were going all the way to the top of Lone Peak, so whenever we got off route, Snack and I would both yell “Jackson!! I thought you knew where the trail was.”
Even though I did not have a lot of experience, I knew that this trail was a gem and with all of the green plants and trees, waterfalls and wildlife, it was a much needed reprieve from the dry hot valley below. We took a short break at one of the better waterfalls, taking some pictures and soaking ourselves in the cool water. I would have loved to hang out there all day, but we had more important business to take care of, so we continued on up the trail, stopping every 30 minutes or so to re-adjust our packs and gear.
By time we reached the reservoir I had made a couple of conclusions about this hike. First, I was definitely going to run out of water and second, there had to be a better way to do this sort of thing. My back was killing me and my feet were not much better, as I was wearing some leather “hiking” shoes that I had purchased a year before, more for their fashion appeal than hiking prowess. I was thinking to myself that I should have just worn one of the several pair of gym shoes that I owned, because at least my feet would have been comfy and looking back, that would have been a great idea.
After we made it to the lake, we decided to scout the area to find the “perfect” camp spot. We spent the next hour scouring the terrain and eventually we found what we thought at the time was the PERFECT spot. It was up above the lake near a large outcropping of boulders and had a nice ledge for our tents, a short walk to an amazing view of the Salt Lake Valley and a built in “rock toilet,” complete with a hole and back rest. We could not believe how great the spot was, so we quickly retrieved the gear and commenced setting up our tents.
There was still quite a lot of snow up high, as we had a banner year that winter for snowfall and there was still several feet of snow under the trees and in the shade, so I was not all that worried about the water situation. I packed both of my water bottles full of snow and set them on a rock in the sun to melt. This would be something I would repeat several times the next three days and the melted snow actually tasted quite good, although if I looked hard enough, I did see some little bugs and other assorted “mystery materials,” that had been in the snow, but I was not worried at all and I just chalked it up as being the life of a real “rugged mountaineer.”
We were all really tired that evening, so relaxed around camp, cooking our assorted canned food and spending several hours sitting on a rock outcrop that overlooked the city. I could not believe how impressive the view was and I was shocked at all of the pollution that was stuck in the valley below. After a celebratory can of our favorite soda, we decided we better call it a night, as an early start would be in our best interest.
We retired to Jackson’s “three man” tent that had probably been sitting in his parent’s garage for the last 20 years or so. It was a relic of the 70’s, probably purchased by his dad for a scout camp years ago, but it suited our needs fine, however I would not have trusted that thing in any sort of severe weather.
I awoke to the sound of Jackson’s alarm at 7:00 and there was a collective groan from the group, as we had all been used to sleeping in a little later. It took a few minutes to get everyone moving, but we were soon up getting our gear ready, while quickly munching on some breakfast. I had two water bottles that were mostly full, although there were still some chunks of snow that had not melted through the night. I wore cotton shorts, a cotton t-shirt, cotton socks and the aforementioned “hiking” shoes. I had a few granola bars, some crackers and a couple of candy bars and I was ready to go bag my first peak… or so I thought.
We started off on a faint “trail” on the South side of the lake, but it quickly petered out and for the next two or three hours we would alternate between snow, boulders and loose scree, as we made our way to the saddle above. The whole time we teased Jackson about the trail (or lack thereof) and his tremendous route finding and map reading skills. He took it all in good fun and assured us that we were going the right way. We passed a couple of tiny lakes that were still frozen over or had huge ice chunks floating in them and the rich blue color was just stunning. I kept looking for penguins to come running out at any minute to make the scene perfect, but that never happened. I could not believe what I was seeing on the 4th of July. Eventually, we reached the saddle and it provided stunning views of both Utah and Salt Lake counties and Timpanogos came into view as well. We all took out our cameras and tried to capture the stunning scenery, although we had no idea what the names of the mountains were, but we just knew that we had to get around this big one in front of us, so that we could get to Lone.
The whole back side of the mountain was covered in snow and we started to traverse across, so that we could find an area without snow. The slope soon became very steep and looking back now, we were crazy not to have ice axes and crampons, as the slope was about 35 degrees, but the snow was hard as a rock, so a fall would have been very hard to stop and we could not even see what was below, probably some cliffs or boulders I am sure. We kicked steps into the snow and slowly made our way up and around, heading for some rocks that we could see a little higher up. We made our way up and what we saw on the lip of the snow still haunts me to this day. There was about 2 feet between the snow and the rock at the top, exposing an enormous gaping crevasse that only got wider as it went deeper. I would say that it dropped about 30 feet and if the very snow we were standing on had collapsed, we would have been trapped far below in an icy dungeon. I felt chills run down my spine as I quickly lunged for the rocks, knowing that if the snow broke away we were goners for sure. We all made it onto the rock, where we gazed down into the gaping chasm for several minutes, our hearts and adrenaline still pumping with full force. I said something like “shit that was close guys! We need to be more careful.” Everyone agreed and we continued to traverse on the shoulder of the unknown mountain, desperately trying to find some sort of a trail that would take us to Lone Peak.
After about another hour we had made our way around the mountain and could now see Lone Peak, although it looked very far away and we had no idea how to even tackle the summit, so we were all rather discouraged. We trudged on for another 40 minutes or so, and decided to take a rest on some boulders to contemplate the situation. It was now 1:00 and I started thinking to myself that we better start heading back, because I figured we were still another 3 hours from the top and we still had to descend and make it all the way back to camp, so I voiced my concerns to the others and Snack agreed with me, but Jackson did not want to give up quite as easily. I told Jackson, it was purely a matter of not enough time. He tried to convince us to keep boulder hopping a few more hours just to see how close we could get, so we told him to go ahead, but we were going to stay right there, have some lunch, and then return back to camp. Jackson looking a little irritated, decided he was going to at least try and hike a little further to see what he could find. Snack and I found some nice boulders that were very comfy and both stretched out for a little nap. We woke up several minutes later and we could still see Jax meandering through the massive boulder field and both of us chuckled. I could not fault his determination, but he had to realize this mountain had beaten us again.
Snack and I enjoyed some food, water and the sun and it felt great to just relax and rest our feet. We continued to watch Jackson and after about 20 minutes, he realized that we were right and decided to come back. We decided to wait for him, so both of us stretched out on the rocks again to catch some more ZZZZZZZ’s. The sound of rocks being kicked and rolling woke us both up and Jackson had made it back and we could tell from his grunts and groans he was completely irritated with this whole mess we had created for ourselves. Snack and I said something like “ Jackson! Where is that trail?!” laughing the whole time. This did not seem to sooth him, but we enjoyed it immensely.
After allowing Jackson a few minutes to re-nourish himself, we decided to drop down a few hundred feet to get out of the boulder field we were in. Shortly after we dropped below the boulders we came across a trail, which we all assumed must go right to the top of Lone. Snack and I again chided Jackson for his route finding skills and we all decided we just needed to go back on the trail and the going would be much easier on our return. We were right that this trail was much better than hopping boulders, but we were quite far away from where we thought we should be going, but it was so much easier, that we just kept pushing along. Eventually we came to the most beautiful lake (Lake Hardy) that I had ever seen in my life to that point. It was just incredible! The only problem, was we were now in a basin and it was quite obvious that this trail was ending and we had not reached our camp or come anywhere close. We all decided where we thought the camp was and we felt pretty comfortable with our guess, so we just started hiking up to the nearest ridge in that direction. The hiking became steep again and we now found ourselves once more hopping boulders, moving over snow and generally picking our way up to the ridge in a slightly haphazard fashion. We were all certain that once on top we would be able to see our camp, but to our amazement, we reached the top and the only thing we could see was another ridge in front of us. “Jackson! Nice trail!” Snack and I chided, as we all tried to catch our breath.
Once again we repeated the same kind of sloppy off trail bushwhacking to the top of the next ridge, where once again, our hearts sank as the only thing we could see was another ridge and we had to go up once more. After several more minutes of rough hiking, cursing and Jackson bashing, we finally reached a saddle and to our amazement, we could finally see Upper Bells reservoir far below. I could not believe how far away it was and at this point we had about two hours of daylight left. The entire West face of the mountain was covered in snow, so we decided to ski down on our feet. This was actually one of the best parts of the day and it made the descent much faster and more enjoyable. We only had a few close calls with boulders and cliffs, but we were able to reach the bottom in what seemed like no time at all. We were all pretty exhausted at this point and all I could think about was eating a HUGE dinner and crawling into bed.
The rest of the hike back to camp was a total bushwhack through more snow and boulders and the sight of the lake was pure heaven. The last few hundred yards seemed to take FOREVER and we reached camp about 30 minutes before dark and all of us collapsed. We decided that we better get our dinner cooking, because our light was fading fast. I ate a can of chili and ravioli that night and it was probably the best meal I have ever eaten in my life. After we ate, we decided to go check out the valley, remembering that it was July 4th and hoping to catch some fireworks. We went to our scenic spot again, where we stayed for about two hours, watching fireworks go off from every corner of the valley and everywhere in between. It was actually one of the best experiences of my life, sitting there with my two good friends, knowing that we had the best view possible of the shows going on below and feeling fortunate to be alive, experiencing the rugged outdoors for the first time in my life and loving every minute of it.
At some point we decided to get some sleep and we all collapsed into the tent. We all slept like rocks for the next 12 hours straight. I have never slept that well in my entire life. We lounged around camp for a while, not really in that much of a hurry to get moving and it was nice to know that we would be going downhill today and there would not be any boulder hopping involved.
The hike down Bells Canyon was very enjoyable, although we did lose the trail a few times and had to give Jackson a hard time about it. About 3 miles from the bottom my body was aching everywhere and I had never been in this much collective pain, as almost every part of my body hurt in one way or another. The trail seemed to go on forever and when we finally reached the lower reservoir, I was elated.
We only had to wait about 40 minutes for Jackson’s mom to arrive, but those were hot painful minutes. While we were waiting I was adjusting my gear and I took off the bandana that I had been wearing for the last three days on my head. While taking it off, I rubbed the top of my ears and a severe pain shot through my ear and I almost yelled out in pain. The tops of both of my ears had been completely burned off by the sun exposure over the past three days. They were a mess of puss, blood and slime and each time I probed the area, a tremendous pain shot through my ear. I very rarely wore sunscreen in those days and I never even gave it much thought that I would get such a terrible sunburn, but because my hair was a bit longer then, the tops of my ears rarely saw the sun, so three days at altitude just fried them. It took weeks for them to heal and they were just a gross disgusting mess.
After Jackson’s mom dropped me off at my house, I sat on my front porch contemplating the last three days. My body hurt like crazy and I was saying to myself I am never going to do that again EVER, but I could not get the experience out of my head and the next day I had the strongest desire ever to get back to Lone and reach the summit. I thought about it every day for the next year and the following summer Jackson, Snack and my friend Brett all returned and reached the summit via Jacobs Ladder. While not as pretty as Bells Canyon, this hike was much easier and I can’t even tell you the elation I felt when I finally reached the summit. I was hooked and as I sat on top I looked around and started to see all of the other summits out there for me to climb..this was “the life” I thought and thus started me down the path of climbing mountains and to this day, Lone Peak is still my favorite.