The Cottonwood Ridge Traverse is one of the premier ridge scrambling routes in the Wasatch Mountains. This route traverses 5 named summits over 11,000 feet in elevation, in addition to several unnamed summits over 10,900 feet.
The route traverses the Cottonwood Ridge which divides Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons. There are outstanding views into both canyons throughout the hike, and occasionally breathtaking exposure. The majority of the ridge is very seldomly visited, so the route will provide hours of solitude and enjoyable scrambling.
Once on the ridge there are limited opportunities for aborting the hike, so ensure you have sufficient time, water, and stamina to complete the route.
The route can be done from west to east, or in the reverse direction. The west to east version will be described in this route.
The Cottonwood Ridge Viewed from Monte Cristo
Based on a round trip loop beginning/ending at the Broads Fork trailhead:
Round-Trip Hiking Distance: 11.6 miles
Total Elevation Gain/Loss: 7,450 ft.
Trailhead Elevation: 6,070 ft.
Maximum Elevation: 11,330 ft. (Broads Fork Twin, east summit)
Summits which will be climbed on the traverse include, from west to east :
Broads Fork Twin Peaks - 11,330 ft.
Sunrise Peak - 11,275 ft.
Dromedary Peak - 11,107 ft.
Monte Cristo - 11,132 ft.
Mount Superior - 11,050 ft.
Route DescriptionBroads Fork Twin Ascent
Begin the route from the summit of Broads Fork Twin Peaks. There are various routes which can be used to reach this summit, with the Broads Fork route being the most common. My personal preference is via the Robinson Variation, which ascends the north ridge to the summit of the east twin.
Broads Fork Twin → Sunrise Peak
Descend the south ridge from the summit of the east twin to the saddle between B.F. Twins and Sunrise Peak. From the saddle ascend the buttress which forms the west end of the Sunrise Peak summit ridge. Routes 'A' or 'B' shown in the photo are two possible lines for ascending this buttress, with Route A being the easier and recommended route. Alternatively, make a southward traverse along a ledge system (out of the photo), until a suitable location is reached to ascend to the ridge crest from the southwest.
At the top of the buttress continue scrambling upward to the summit of unnamed Peak 11,085 (known as Jepson's Folly). From this summit there will be a clear view of Sunrise Peak, approximately 0.2 miles along the ridge to the east. Descend to the saddle at the base of the Sunrise Peak summit block, then ascend the ridge staying very near the ridgetop, with the steep north face of Sunrise on the left.
From the summit of Sunrise Peak there will be a view of Dromedary Peak, which is the next summit along the ridge. The remainder of the Cottonwood ridge extending east to Monte Cristo and Mount Superior will also be visible.
Sunrise Peak → Dromedary Peak
Descend the east ridge of Sunrise Peak to the saddle between Sunrise and Dromedary Peak, which looks steeply down Tanners Gulch to the bottom of Little Cottonwood Canyon.
A 30-foot cliff blocks direct access to the Dromedary summit ridge. The easiest way to bypass this cliff is by carefully descending to the right (south) approximately 50 feet down Tanners Gulch, then begin contouring east up the south-facing slopes of Dromedary. After approximately 100 feet begin looking for a suitable route up to the ridgeline on the left (north). Once the ridgeline is reached it is a relatively easy scramble to the summit of Dromedary Peak.
Dromedary Peak → Peak 11,033
Descend the east ridge of Dromedary to the base of the summit block. From here the Cottonwood Ridge extends east approximately 2 miles to Monte Cristo and Mount Superior. If the weather is questionable or stamina is lacking, this is a good spot to abort the hike by descending left down the slopes back to the Lake Blanche basin.
If continuing eastward, begin scrambling along the ridge, occasionally dropping onto the north or south faces as necessary to avoid difficult blocks and obstacles. Follow the ridge for approximately 1/2 mile of enjoyable scrambling to the summit of Unnamed Peak 10,910, which is a relatively flat highpoint on the ridge.
Continue eastward for more enjoyable scrambling as you approach another unnamed summit, Peak 11,033. This peak marks the southern end of the Sundial Peak ridge, which extends south from the Lake Blanche area. From the summit is an excellent view looking down (north) the ridge to Sundial Peak.
Peak 11,033 is also another feasible location to escape from the ridge if there is a need to abort the hike. To do so, follow the ridge down to the north towards Sundial Peak, then descend the scree slopes on the west near the bottom of the ridge. You can then route find your way north to Lake Blanche, where the standard hiking trail can be picked up.
Peak 11,033 → Monte Cristo & Mount Superior
From the summit of Peak 11,033 there is ±0.5 mile of ridge remaining to the summit of Monte Cristo and Mount Superior, with another prominent but unnamed high point roughly midway along the ridge. From this final unnamed highpoint on the ridge there will be a clear view of the remaining ridge and the west face of Monte Cristo.
These final portions of the ridge present the most difficult scrambling to be found on the Cottonwood Ridge. Cross a short knife ridge made up of occasional loose and crumbly rock, then ascend steeply up a short but very exposed corner on the ridge. Moving slightly onto the south face of the ridge may reduce the difficulty somewhat, but the exposure will be greater.
Beyond this crux section the angle soon eases, followed by a drop to the base of the Monte Cristo summit block. From here scramble up the narrow chute on the west face of Monte Cristo. The chute is relatively steep and there is loose rock underfoot, but otherwise is not too difficult.
From the summit of Monte Cristo it is a short 0.25 mile scramble east along the ridge to the slightly lower (11,050 ft.) summit of Mount Superior.
Mount Superior → Trailhead
There are two options for descending Mount Superior. The shortest and easiest involves descending the Cardiff Pass route down to Alta. However, this option will require a shuttle back to the Broads Fork trailhead in Big Cottonwood Canyon.
The other option is to descend the north ridge of Superior to Cardiac Pass, then route find down to the Lake Blanche area where the Mill B South trail can be picked up and followed back to the Broads Fork trailhead. Although longer than the Cardiff Pass descent, this option has the advantage of returning to the Broads Fork trailhead, eliminating the need for a shuttle vehicle if this was the starting point for the Broads Fork Twins ascent.
Essential GearThere is much scrambling on this ridge, sometimes with significant exposure - a pair of boots or approach shoes with good grippy soles is recommended.
Once on the ridge there will be no water available, so carry a sufficient supply for at least several hours of scrambling.
There are a number of locations along the ridge with a high potential for rockfall, making climbing helmets a very wise idea.