Long Mountain 20-miler 3/4/06We hoped to do something longer and higher in Western Uintas this weekend, in the mold of the upcoming Kings tour. Earlier in the week, Rob suggested Long Mountain. But since it looked like only two of us are going this time, I made a plan for a slightly more accessible 11'er instead, thinking to go up Boulder Creek to "Cone" Peak. We moved the trip to Saturday hoping that a few inches of fresh powder over crust would provide the perfect conditions for the fast pace we'd need. From the forecast, it looked like the Sun will be mostly out on Saturday, but back with vengeance along with high temperatures on Sunday.
A sunrise view from Parleys on our drive in was not exactly as forecasted. Mostly blue skies all over Uintas. We ditched the Boulder Creek plan then. No South-facing drainages, no sun-softened snowbridges for today, please. Even though Smith-Morehouse tour to Long Mountain is a 20+ miler, it's got much more shade and North-facing terrain, and we're gonna give it a shot today.
Smith-Morehouse road was dusted with 2 or 3 inches of featherlight powder, and the snowmachines hasn't gone up that way yet. Amazingly, there were recent wet avalanches just to the right of the road through the summer homes area ... this recent warm spell was something! Well, for now we hoped that it formed supportive crusts even at North aspects above 9,000 ft ... otherwise too heavy trailbeaking for today would kill our plans.
Our speed was fairly good, we cut straight over the frozen reservoir and crossed the footbridge away from the 'bilers terrain before any snowmobiles showed up. In 2.5 hours we stopped for an early lunch at the Erickson Basin trail junction. 7 miles already covered and maybe 3 more to go, not too bad. But of course we still had 2500 ft to gain, and the snow was already sticking in the open spots. Luckily the trail continued in the shade of North-facing forested slopes for another mile. Beyond 9,200 ft elevation, we lost the trail, or maybe didn't care to look for it anymore since the woods were becoming widely open at this elevation. A ravine coming from the South made us swerve right maybe a bit too far, but at 9,400 ft we were rewarded by a great view of the trio of peaks 10,396, 10,533, and 10,931 to the South-West. Through the trees, we could also glimpse our goal - the North Saddle (10,779) of Long Mountain. A gentle upward traverse to ENE brought us to a little unnamed lake under our saddle. Sun-softened sticky snow was slowing us down quite a bit in this area, but we also enjoyed a balmy 2nd lunch spot near the lake. Then a steeper upward traverse below a beautiful band of red cliffs crowned by tall spruces at 10,500, and, finally, over steep slopes but in the protection of the trees, to the South side of the saddle.
The view was already great from this high perch, the entire Wasatch came into view at last, and Wall, Duke, and Hoyt in the foreground. To the North, the ridge of Hells Kitchen curved to the right, with cornices and avalanche paths on its East-facing side, and a lot of exposed rock on the West-facing side. And the wide taiga of upper Middle Fork Weber flats to the other side, with huge Watson and tame-looking Notch mountains close by, and Hayden, Reid, and Bald beyond. We still had to gain over 500 ft ft from here, and, as Mike predicted, we left the skis at the pass. A narrow strip of windcrusted snow on the ridge, with exposed rocks to the right and a cornice to the left, just didn't look like fun skiing :) It was easy booting, and it felt good to be above 11,000 at last. The summit still didn't have a good view South, so we proceeded a bit more. On the South ridge, the wind nearly died out, and we stopped for a drink and marvelled at Haystack and Iron Mine Mountain and far ridges beyond. Fire Lake and the Dell were clearly visible but we could only see a part of what was probably Island Lake, and it was not the part with the island. 6 hours and a quarter from the TH to this 11,342 ft giant ... called Long for a good reason.
A glide from the saddle was absolutely nice, nothing was sticking anymore between the wide-spaced trees, just nice light powder. We kept generally left but below our uptrack, which we rejoned at 9,200. Beyond Erickson junction, some sections of our track were iced and softened, but generally the crust was still holding great and the powder on top of it survived this sunny day OK. We crossed the reservoir again, this time on snowmobile tracks, and enjoyed the Windy Ridge alpenglow on the way down the road, which turned icy and bumpy by now. With a small detour to check Rob's cabin, we reached the car by 6:30, having spent 3 hours on the descent. Thanks to the snow spirits for amazing conditions, and thanks a lot Rob for insisting on this route, it worked superbly!
Trip stats: ca. 21 mi / 9.5 hr rt, 4,000 ft el gain, start elevation 7,400, max elevation 11,342 ft