ApproachStart at the Power Plant in LCC, cross the creek on the same bridge as you would use for Coalpits
Route DescriptionSam Thomas route, named AFAIK after an old Wasatch Mountain Club leader, is a little-used alternative to lower Coalpit Gulch. It is very briefly mentioned in Veranth's guidebook as an attractive but unpleasant route (???) and nothing short of a major routefinding and bushwhacking mess.
I am glad to report that the things are much nicer than it has been described. I would have checked it much sooner but the guidebook made me worry that I may have problems retracing my own route if backtracking is required; and knowing that GPS rarely gets a good lock in this steep-walled canyon area, I just wouldn't wouldn't venture up here without Jasmine's backtrack-by-the-smell ability :)). But actually it turned out to be a rather logical route, with the views far superior to those in the narrow fissure of the Coalpits, and possibly less bushwhacking that in the Coalpits too.
Detailed route description:
Cross the creek at the power plant, turn right (W) on the biking path. Within the next hundred ft, you cross two streams, a larger one on a wooden plank bridge and a smaller one in a pipe. A climbers' trail to the waterfall of Icicle Gulch (the site of the famous Great White Icicle in winter) follows the West bank of the smaller stream. The turn off the biking path may look indistinct, but 50 yards into the woods, the trail becomes very clear as it passes to the left of an old campsite.
Follow the well-worn climbers' trail to the granite slabs of the LCC canyon wall, and continue on a less distinct trail right and up along the lower edge of the slabs. The track enters tall firs with a stream. That's your intermediate destination, Sam Thomas Gulch. Cross the stream and continue up a track on its West side. A few hundred ft later the gulch narrows and it may seem that you will have to continue ascending in the streambed. But one doesn't have to (the gulch will cliff out very soon anyway, with the stream coming out of a fissure of a rockwall on the right, but it is much more pleasant to work around this wet section).
Notice a wide, gentle ramp-gully on your left, with a discernible track. Head up this ramp to the ridge separating Sam Thomas Gulch from the Icicle Gulch, and continue up the ridge. The trail skirts the overhanging rocks of this ridge on the left (E), gently ascending through the open conifers. This is perhaps the most enjoyable section of the route. You can continue straight up the Icicle Gullch from here, but we kind of dreaded what looked like 500 ft of steep creekside bushwhack, and chose instead to ascend on goat tracks through the conifers on the right. The tracks ascend steeply and it may seem that you angle away from the Icicle Creek, but it's always close by. Soon we reached a location where a low point of the ridge separating Icicle Creek from Upper Coalpits was clearly visible across the gully, and contoured into Icicle Creek. Snowy Y-coloir mountain loomed huge further to the South-East.
It turns out that at this elevation, there is not much bushwhacking in the creekbed (which was still full of pungent clusters of huge black currants), and even less so on its East bank. So an ideal route may not have to climb as far on the West side of the gully as ours.
On the East side of the creek, it was a virtual cakewalk to the ridge just South of a prominent rocky knob with a Y-shaped dead tree. The GPS showed alititude of 7,817 ft. There was a long steep drop to the Coalpits side of the ridge at this very spot, but as we ridgewalked a bit South, a prominent boulderfield terrace emerged barely 100 ft below the ridge on the East. We turned around at the saddle connecting a side gully of the Icicle Gulch with the boulderfield on the Coalpits side. The easiest route into Coalpits appeared to be some 200 ft N of the saddle.
The map appeared to show that there will be no further steep terrain if one continues up the boulderfield terrace into the cirque of Coalpits. The route converges with the standart Goalpit Gulch approach from this point, passing a saddle on the left side of the cirque and approaching the summit by its NE ridge. It is certainly possible to get to the LCC-Bells divide by continuing up the Icicle Gulch too, but the terrain there remains to be explored.
It took as about an hour and a quarter to the turnaround point, much of it spent very deliberately routefinding and divining the topo and the GPS. In hindsight, all this was largely unnecessary as the route is fairly logical. So it may be possible to reach the treshold of Upper Coalpit Cirque in about an hour this way.