First, this article is dedicated to Daniel Hohs, a vivacious young man who found personal redemption in the outdoors. Daniel died from a rattlesnake bite to the ankle in Colorado on the same day of the Lone Peak experience to which the below report refers.
Two weeks after my initial attempt of the Lone Peak summit, a strange thing occurred within me on the evening of Friday, October 6, 2017: I became absolutely fixated on getting back to the Jacob's Ladder trailhead. I could do tomorrow, Saturday, I thought to myself on that Friday, but the thought of an early drive didn't seem appealing. Sunday was booked. I seemed to have a rather small window of time that I would be able to do this this weekend. The weather looked to be clear at the peak, according to my favorite forecast site for popular peaks, Mountain-Forecast.com, and the next weekend I was planning on an outdoor adventure in Wyoming. To postpone a trip to the Lone Peak could mean I wouldn't be able to go again for several weeks, or longer. It certainly wasn't the end of the world if I put it off. Reasoning that there didn't need to be any hurry, that Lone Peak wasn't going anywhere, I told myself I'd wait for another time. But shortly after accepting such a reasoning, I thought of the potential adventure slipping through my fingers. I felt crazy, perhaps mad. I began packing my things and double-checking them. I was going. I was definitely going! What had overcome me? A spirit of the mountains, it seemed. Who knew? It didn't matter, I reasoned.
Given the snow I'd encountered priorly in the Lone Peak area, the crampons and ice axe were sure to come along this time. Then two quart-bottles of Gatorade and two liters of water. I'd leave a third Gatorade in my car for rehydration upon returning from the mountain. Iodine pills for purifying stream water, since my unreplaced Sawyer filter froze in the Medicine Bows a few weeks earlier. Two energy fruit snacks of one brand, and two of another. A chili and macaroni MRE. A few Clif Bars, of course. My vest. A fleece jacket. A balaclava, a beanie. The wool mittens. The non-wool gloves. Another pair of very thin gloves for if it got cold enough. A top and bottom of thick thermals--I'd wear the thin thermals to begin with. Two pairs of socks. Compass, altimeter, knife, bear spray, multi-tool. 550 cord. Stove. A full propane and another I'd used quite a bit. Lighter. Eating utensils. The first-aid kit with backup batteries for headlamp. Headlamp. A nasty freeze-dried breakfast I hopefully wouldn't eat. And some green tea. The sleeping bag and pad wouldn't leave the car since I'd only sleep in there prior to beginning the hike up. The tent would stay at home.
I let a buddy know of the journey to come. If he didn't hear from me by Monday, etc.--he had a relative's phone number to contact.
To the trail at once!
Getting into my car, a full moon floated overhead in all its glory. At approximately 11:15 p.m. I arrived at the trailhead parking lot. The coffee from the road, and the excitement of getting to finally see the Lone Peak cirque had me psyched out. Sleep was out of the question, at least for several hours. I was crazy. I was most certainly crazy to be doing this. But maybe not. Plenty of people wouldn't consider me crazy. Either way, we're all a little crazy in one way or another. Certainly if something didn't seem safe, I wouldn't do it. Of course we all have our individual risk tolerances. I got my gear together, put my headlamp on, and at approximately 11:35 p.m. I began up the mountain.
Breaking out of the brush between the trailhead and the first part of the trail that's out in the open, I turned off my headlamp. The full moon shone brightly upon the city and the wilderness alike. Amazing. There simply weren't words to describe it. For the sun to be hitting the moon, which then hits us and helps people in the dark is simply magnificent. As a matter of fact, this was one of the more rare full moons known as a "harvest moon," which farmers apparently used while gathering the rest of their harvests before winter. The moon for the hike would be out all night, to later set at 9:30 a.m.
I finished the first stretch of open path relatively quickly, and by midnight I was somewhere near 6500 feet in thick brush on the mountainside. I was sure to talk to myself aloud and make grunting sounds from time to time to let the animals know I was around. These thermal bottoms, I thought, are burning me up! But I kept them on since it would surely get cooler as I got higher up, and as it got later in the night. In a way they helped me harness my energy--instead of storming up the first stretch of mountain, I was forced to take it slowly because otherwise I'd feel a sensation of overheating coming on.
One way to cool down some was to take pictures from time to time, and so I experimented some more with the "Pro" settings on my phone's camera.
A first nighttime shot in the Lone Peak Wilderness.
Finally the thick-brush section ended, and I reached the area I'd turned around at due to snow a fortnight before. After proceeding a little farther up into a peaceful meadow-like area, it was completely thrilling to see Lone Peak in the distance for the very first time, and under a harvest moon.
Lone Peak in the distance illuminated by a harvest moon.
Traversing terrain on the trail, I soon found myself walking on snow in a forest of conifers. After needing to change my headlamp's batteries, I did my best to follow the trail, and soon enough I was wandering around aimlessly. Some footsteps in the snow went one way and some went another. A cairn was in one spot, but I didn't see another in the distance. After coming to some steep rocks that overlooked the Lehi area, I ping-ponged around for some time until I found some cairns on the north side of the basin against a rock face. I checked to see if Google would show me where I was. It did, but only vaguely. I thought of turning around. It was near 3:00 a.m. I could at least bivvy here until the sun comes up, I thought. It certainly wasn't too cold. Then I realized I should check the AllTrails app on my phone. Despite me not being a paying member, the app revealed my location in relation to the trail. Instead of going along the north side of the basin area that Lone Peak overlooks, I really needed to stay on the south side for some time until swinging back to the north in order to access the summit ridge. Presently I went down some steep terrain in the direction of that Lehi overlook I'd been at earlier. Some cairns came into view. Soon thereafter, I came across approximately six sets of eyes! Presumably it was a family of deer, but I couldn't tell. The eyes were silent. One set blinked. They were all looking at me, motionless. Mountain lions? I had no idea. If mountain lions were around, I wouldn't think deer would sleep out in the open like that. And mountain lions usually stay on the prowl when awake, I thought, not just flopped down on some rocks in the middle of the night.
The eyes of the night!
Fortunately the creatures weren't in my line of travel, so I kept moving somewhere in the middle of the basin area without disturbing them further. For some time afterward, I seemed to become better at finding the cairns. Then came what seemed to be a half-pipe of stone. Continuing on, the half-pipe ended at what seemed like a cave entrance. Then I realized it only looked that way because slabs of stone lay on top of it. For a moment it seemed like I was supposed to go to the end of it, and then up and out to the right, but then I realized that popping out on my left, the north side, was possible. Snow became present enough to justify strapping on the crampons at this point. Perched up above the half-pipe, in the midst of the snow and what seemed to be some evergreens on a slope, the situation intensified. The stakes felt higher because now if I fell backwards while ascending this area, it wouldn't end well. For perhaps 20 yards, I crawled up this area with my ice axe in my right hand while lightly grabbing the base of the evergreens in the other. It made sense to trust the trees more than the snow. Soon enough I was back on foot, and someone's tracks became a guide for which I was extremely grateful. The tracks switchbacked up the slope to the beginning of the summit ridge. Though the summit seemed far in the distance, the horizon was getting brighter. It was approximately 6:45. Where had the time gone? I took a break to have some water and caffeinated gummies. My stomach felt somewhat empty, but somehow I was not as tired as I thought I'd be. I thought of Steve House and Vince Anderson doing their Nanga Parbat route, and I imagined how they'd felt. I imagined how many others must've felt on the great routes they'd paved into the history of mountaineering. This was most certainly child's play to them! Nonetheless, the sense of adventure was outstanding, real, fulfilling.
The summit ridge
The summit still looked far off, but one could most certainly reach out and touch it at the same time. Now to get there safely. The temperature was perhaps in the high 20's or low 30's. I put the thicker thermal shirt on top of the other one that I'd been wearing since the beginning. Wind blew regularly, seemingly from the northwest, bringing with it the smell of a chilly fall morning. Above was a perfectly clear sky, and the moon now had assistance in brightening the night as the sun approached the eastern horizon.
The unknown but helpful hiker who'd taken this path perhaps a day before was my guide for a while. Most of the time I stayed on his trail. Other times I would stab the end of my ice axe ahead of me into the snow to feel its depth, taking a route that seemed easier. Luckily only some stretches of snow required post-holing, though a couple of those areas seemed especially dangerous. Sneaking beside some of the tall boulders of the ridge, I sunk deep into a couple of snowy spots that seemed especially hazardous. From my recollection, these areas all seemed to be on the northernmost side of the ridge (or the left side while heading to the summit). Fortunately a good opportunity came to videotape a segment of this adventure on the ridge.
My route up the ridge went something like this: Right side of ridge to left side of ridge, to right to left once more. That is how I recall it until the final, knife-edge section that leads to the last couple of steps up. Presumably my traverse took perhaps three, four, five or more times longer than a more experienced persons' would've. Wind gusts of perhaps 20 mph now came intermittently. Suddenly, from the east, beams of warming light poured over the glowing, jagged horizon.
Sunrise near the Lone Peak summit on October 7, 2017.
The Lone Peak summit from the ridge at dawn. Only a little ways to go.
I sat my pack on top of the boulder nearest to the knife-edge ridge. From there, dropping down to the ridge, and crossing it, and climbing up the last boulders before the top, in a quite uneventful manner, I summitted, taking a break immediately thereafter.
On the Lone Peak summit!
A state of disbelief seemed to immediately follow upon sitting down on the summit to take a break and enjoy the view. A feeling of accomplishment circulated throughout my being as I dreamily scanned the distant landscapes. But my next thought was that I could still end up dead if I'm not careful. It didn't look that far down in a way, but simultaneously, I imagined how anyone could freely slide down unscathed in any direction to safety. Impossible.
I finally rose and began slowly descending the ridge. Upon realizing that I'd accidentally passed my pack, the 27 hours or so now awake seemed to be affecting performance. A perfect time to be going down. Just prior to stepping off the ridge line at perhaps 8:00 a.m., two hikers went by on their way to the summit. Neither had gear on as I did, though they each had ice axes on their packs. Later after descending enough to see the peak, I saw them high up near the summit. The way they quickly moved brought me to realize my sluggish state. Had anyone been watching me from down here, I thought, they'd be quick to expect me a senior citizen!
This particular descent firmly convinced me that going down was not my strong point. Trekking poles would surely have to help in the future. The feeling of overheating came on strongly. This warranted removal of the thermals near the chimney-like formation that leads to the summit ridge. What a relief. How warm would it get, I wondered. A little farther down, in the middle of the basin, sprawled out on the rock, I then hydrated some and ate the last of my food. I filled another bottle with stream water, adding iodine tablets to it. At this point I'd drunken two 1-quart Gatorades and a little more than 1.5 liters of water.
Departing Lone Peak on a warming October Saturday.
Continuing onward, the heat intensified. Good Lord would that cold from earlier be nice! Soon enough I was without a shirt. My final break came after crossing the meadow and seeing what I believed to be the Orson-Smith trail to the north. This called for some tea and a change of socks. The time was nearly 1:00 p.m.
The remainder of the descent down the switchbacks involved painstaking foot placement to avoid jarring. Then came the last couple of easier miles before the parking lot.
Looking up at the mountain as I was departing it, the scene surely depicted fall. The leaves' changing colors revealed a similar beauty of those back home throughout the mountains of North Carolina in the fall.
A fall scene while departing Lone Peak via Jacob's Ladder.
Now totting along steadily and more quickly than on the steeper ground, I noticed a tiny creature move from plain sight to behind a rock. It was a little lizard like the ones I'd seen back east--perhaps the eastern fence lizard. Then, just when the sound of my crunching steps and the sight of the passing ground had me nearly hypnotized, there was another lizard scurrying away silently. This was the first time I'd seen lizards in Utah, I thought to myself. Then came another first. All of a sudden, only a few quick steps from the lizard, the middle of the trail came to life, slithering away while rattling all the while. I'd nearly stepped on a rattlesnake of perhaps two feet in length.
Rattlesnake on Jacob's Ladder trail in October, a couple miles from trailhead, on Saturday afternoon, October 7, 2017, Saturday.
After this near-miss, I fell into a trance while hiking the remainder of the trail, and while also scanning the ground much more mindfully than before. How did I not step on that, and why did it not strike me? I pondered the role of luck and chance in life.
Gratefully reaching base camp, i.e., my vehicle, 80-degree Gatorade went down quickly. It was 3:30 p.m. After calculating, it had taken me nearly an hour longer to descend. The total time on the mountain: Approximately 16 hours. The sleepless Lone Peak solo ascent was now complete. And though I was pleased, I undoubtedly needed to get better at knowing my directions in the wild. The compass had been hardly helpful in finding the trail during the night. The phone and the AllTrails app was a crutch that I luckily had, for I had seriously considered turning back prior to seeing where the trail was with the app's assistance. Realizing and pondering my navigational weakness in this sense was therefore easily the most important part of the journey. Lone Peak had helped in this self-realization. Such tends to be the case with mountains and new life challenges alike. To digest the lessons from these experiences meant improving within myself while realizing nature's beauty, stillness, challenges, and its effects on me. As I continued driving home in a highly caffeinated state of mind, I knew that this was really the point of it all.