Overview.Red Top Mountain is a portion of the Bullion Divide, a high traverse over some of Salt Lake County's highest summits. It resides directly west from American Fork Twin Peaks, which is the highpoint of Salt Lake County at 11,489 feet. When viewed from the valley Red Top dominates much of the view, with American Fork Twin's summits standing out just above. Though Red Top may not be as entirely popular as it's surrounding juggernauts, it is within the top 15 of the Central Wasatch summits in terms of altitude at 11,378 feet. A list of the Wasatch 11,000 foot summits can be seen here. The entire summit area of Red Top is a deep red quartzite, hence it's name, with large broken quartzite slabs making up almost the entire mountain above Gad Valley and White Pine Canyon.
The summit of Red Top is primarily reached during the Bullion Divide Traverse, a popular trek across the ridge from Albion Basin to White Pine Canyon. The summit is also traversed by many making their way to American Fork Twin Peaks, by way of the Gad Valley/White Pine Ridge approach.
Views provided from Red Top are very impressive, looking east at the west face of American Fork Twin Peaks, north at the Cottonwood Ridge with Little Cottonwood Canyon below, west over White Pine Canyon and the Alpine Ridge, and south at Box Elder Peak, and Mt. Timpanogos.
Getting There.There are two access points available for Red Top, one being the White Pine Trailhead, the other is the Gad Valley approach from Snowbird Resort.
White Pine Trailhead directions:
From I-215, take the 6200 South Exit, (#6) and follow highway 190 curving around the gravel pit area south-east for 2 miles to the intersection at the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon. Continue straight through the intersection south up the hill and follow the road, gradually curving south-east for another 4 miles to Little Cottonwood Canyon. Continue heading east up Little Cottonwood Canyon just over 5 miles past intersection at the mouth of the Canyon to the White Pine Trailhead. Keep an eye out for the access to the trailhead, located on the south side of the road. It is easy to miss for those not familiar with Little Cottonwood Canyon. Once reaching the trailhead area, there is a large parking lot and a restroom. The trail starts just behind the restroom building at the south west side of the parking lot.
Snowbird Resort Directions:
From I-215, take the 6200 South Exit, (#6) and follow highway 190 curving around the gravel pit area south-east for 2 miles to the intersection at the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon. Continue straight through the intersection south up the hill and follow the road, gradually curving south-east for another 4 miles to Little Cottonwood Canyon. Continue heading east up Little Cottonwood Canyon just over 6 miles past intersection at the mouth of the Canyon to the first and second entry gates to Snowbird Resort. The first entry provides access to overflow parking, mainly during the popular winter season, if using this first entry continue roughly .3 miles, joining the second entry point. The starting point for the Gad Valley approach is near the Tram building.
Red Tape.Access to this peak, mainly in White Pine Canyon, is part of the Lone Peak Wilderness area. The following apply:
Little Cottonwood Canyon is a watershed area, enforcing rules such as:
- No pets or other livestock.
- Group sizes exceeding 10 persons.
- Camping within 200 feet of lakes, trails, or other sources of water.
- Camping for more than 3 days at one site.
- Short cutting a trail switchback.
- Disposing of garbage, debris, or other waste.
- Open fires in the Red Pine Fork and Maybird Gulch drainages.
The access portion from Snowbird Resort and Gad Valley is generally open to hikers and mountain bikers during the summer season, camping is not allowed.
Camping.Back country campsites are abundant in the upper portions of White Pine Canyon, Red Pine Canyon, Maybird Gulch and Hogum Fork. For those wanting solitude these sites are suggested.
There are several improved Campsite locations in Little Cottonwood Canyon, the closest being Tanners Flat Campground. More information for this campground below. Plan on booking this one well ahead of time!
Description: Elevation 7200 feet. 39 developed campsites tucked away in the canyon walls. Group facilities available.
Location: 4.15 miles up Little Cottonwood Canyon on UT 210.
Address: Salt Lake Ranger District
Wasatch Cache National Forest
6944 South 3000 East
Salt Lake City, UT Phone: 801-733-2660
Season: late May or June- mid-October
Fee: $12/ individual; $75 group use
Reservations: tel: 1-877-444-6777
When to climb and gear.Red Top Mountain can be climbed year round. During the summer season a good set of hiking boots or shoes and trekking poles will really help, loose talus is everywhere on the upper reaches of the mountain, some of the larger blocks are fairly stable however there is plenty of unstable rock material as well. For winter ascents, the area is prone to avalanches and care should be taken when in the area with standard avy gear. During the spring and early seasons plenty of consolidated snow abounds, making for a great ascent with multiple options available. An ice axe and crampons will be needed, more so on some approach lines than others.
Mountain weather and conditions.The Wasatch has constantly changing weather conditions, especially at higher altitudes where this peak resides. Included is a link for the local weather information for Alta Ski Resort, near the summit at the head of Little Cottonwood Canyon:
Alta Weather Conditions.
For those choosing winter attempts, please check out the avalanche conditions before heading out. Included is a link:
Utah Avalanche Center Info.
Route information.Three routes can be used for Red Top.
The most challenging and popular route is the Bullion Divide, written by PellucidWombat. Check out his page for directions and info for that route.
White Pine Canyon approach:
Elevation gain: 3,728 feet.
One way mileage: 3.9 miles.
From the White Pine Trailhead, cross Little Cottonwood Canyon stream of a well built foot bridge, and continue up the trail (an old road) for roughly a mile into the White Pine drainage. Once at this location the trail splits, with the Red Pine trail heading west, and the White Pine trail turning east making a switchback. About .25 miles further is the start of another switchback, which also provides a great view of Little Cottonwood Canyon. After several more switchbacks and .75 miles a meadow is reached at 8,500 feet. Continue up the trail roughly another mile where White Pine Canyon is seperated by Red Baldy to the south. The trail starts making it's way in a south west direction, switchbacking up the lower flanks of Red Baldy, in the general direction of White Pine Lake. At the 9,600 foot level, the south east fork of upper White Pine is seen with the saddle above between Red Baldy and Red Top Peaks. The saddle's elevation is at 10,700 feet, prep yourself for some boulder hopping from the trail up the saddle, 1,100 feet above.
Once at the saddle, begin working your way in a north east direction up the ridge on talus, .4 miles up to the summit of Red Top. Stop once in a while to check out Red Baldy's rugged east ridge to the west as you get higher. Once reaching the summit American Fork Twin Peaks triangular summit stands impressively to the east.
Elevation Gain: 3,429 feet.
Mileage one way: 3.8 miles.
Once parked at the base of the Snowbird Tram area, cross Little Cottonwood Creek on a concrete bridge. Shorty you will reach Dick Bass Highway Ski Run area, begin making your way up the foot trail. The road to the Gad 2 lift turns right at roughly 9,100 feet, and begins heading west. Once reaching the top of the Gad 2 lift area, head for the saddle which is on the White Pine Ridge area about 400 feet above. Prepare for some minimal bushwacking on the approach to the saddle. The saddle is at 10,190 feet and 3 miles from the bridge. The remaining route up to Red Top follow the ridge for .8 miles, dropping occasionally into the White Pine side to avoid minor cliffbands and trees/vegetation. Minor boulder hopping and class 2 is involved up to the summit over talus closer to the peak.
Geology.Red Top Mountain was named after it's dark red quartzite which is very old. The formation it is from is commonly known as the "Big Cottonwood Formation," which is pre-cambrian in age, roughly 900+ million year old. The entire depth of the Big Cottonwood formation is about 16,000 feet thick, mainly quartzite with some shale. The formation contains interesting ripple marks and mud cracks evident from deposits in shallow water. The original sediment content is made of silt and coarse sand that was produced by ancient tides. Tidal rythms in the rock seen have indicated the rate of retreat of the lunar orbit and a change of length of the terrestrial day 900 million years ago. Tidal cycles in the rock show that the day was 18 hours long and there were 481 days per year. Massive pressure and heat from other rock beds deposited on top of the original silt and sand deposits crystallized into the rock we see today, completely metamorphic.
Other interesting geologic features in the area are along the White Pine/Gad Valley ridge, where igneous intrusive granite beneath the Big Cottonwood formation makes an abrupt transition from white to red. Another transition zone, perhaps even more dramatic, is located just west of the summit of Red Baldy.
Area history.The upper Little Cottonwood Canyon has a very rich past historically speaking. The area during the mid to late 1800's was first utilized for harvesting lumber, then mining made its mark throughout the area. The name, Gad Valley, was first used by Samuel A. Woolley as early as June 1869 when he was looking for a site for a new sawmill. The name "Gad" is a term used by miners, which is a pointed steel bar used to break up ore.
The nearby Emma Mine is another interesting part of the history. In 1869 a silver prospector made the Emma Claim, which eventually produced more than $3.8 million dollars in silver ore. The Emma was eventually sold to a company based out of England.
Alta, Utah has a brief summary as well. At its peak, 8,000 people lived and worked in the narrow canyon, which boasted two smelters, 138 homes, hotels, boarding houses, stores and even a railroad. The entire town was later destroyed by a series of avalanches.
More recent history primarily of what would become Snowbird:
While working at the Alta Lodge in 1965, Ted Johnson dreamed of a place that would become Snowbird. Having purchased the deed to the Blackjack mining claim at the base of Peruvian Gulch, Johnson hoped to build a lodging complex as an extension of the Alta community. Blackjack was situated such that skiers could not only ski Alta, but also the wide bowls and two-mile runs of Peruvian Gulch and Gad Valley.
Johnson had the opportunity to buy the Snowbird mining claim adjacent to Blackjack, and he soon realized that the canyon could handle an entirely new ski resort. However, he needed financial support to make his dream a reality.
In October of 1969, Johnson met Richard D. Bass at a party in Vail. Bass, a Texas oilman and rancher, was a member of the Board of Directors at Vail and Aspen and knew the ski industry.
The following week Bass came to Utah and the two hiked into Gad Valley. Bass immediately recognized the wisdom of Johnson’s dream. Soon, Bass and Johnson were touring European and American ski areas to get ideas of how to maximize Snowbird’s potential. In April of 1970, the project was underway. Dick Bass had a vision of what he hoped Snowbird would become.
Other information.Snowbird Resort:
Snowbird Resort website.
For Reservations or Cancellations:
For Resort Information:
Resort Switchboard: 801-933-2222
Snow Conditions: 801-933-2100
Road Conditions: 801-742-3403
Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort
P.O. Box 929000
Snowbird, UT 84092-9000
Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort
Highway 210, Little Cottonwood Canyon
Forest Service Information:
Wasatch-Cache National Forest
Salt Lake Ranger District
6944 South 3000 East
Salt Lake City, Utah 84121
Wasatch-Cache National Forest.
A great source of information for summits, routes, and general information is the book Wasatch Eleveners, written by Randy Winters.