Everything that could go wrong...did
I guess I’d like to start this report with a brief bio/history on Zac Bogstad and I (Cole Meierstein) to help better understand some of the decisions we made throughout our journey.
None of us have any formal training in mountaineering and virtually no experience when it comes to climbing mountains. Zac, being from Wisconsin, has only “flat” hiking experience, mostly at the Boundary Waters of northern MN. I grew up in the Bitterroot Mountains of western Montana where I spent a lot time outdoors. I even summited St. Mary’s mountain, around 9000’, but that was all in grade and early middle school. That summit experience ended up hurting us in our decision making. Since we live in Wisconsin there really isn’t anyway to replicate the altitude and steep terrain so we didn’t know what we were in for.
Just before we left Eau Claire, WI- Zac on right me on left
The decision to climb a mountain came along almost a year ago. “Everest: Beyond the Limits” was on the Discovery Channel along with “Survivor Man” and “Man vs. Wild”, shows that really peaked our interest. We wanted to experience that stuff first hand and I couldn’t wait to get back in the mountains. This is where St. Mary’s hindered our decision making. I didn’t want another “walk in the park.” We wanted rocky terrain, descent elevation, and it had to be close to Park City where my Dad lives. After looking at the area on Google Earth, Lone Peak caught my eye. I did lot’s of research about the peak on Climb-utah.com and Summitpost.org and to me it seemed perfect. I then convinced Zac it was the perfect mountain. Soon after, we had additional gear bought and travel plans made.
The plan was to leave Eau Claire, WI Friday afternoon July 20 and embark on the 1300mi road trip to Park City. We’d stop at our condo early afternoon Saturday the 21st to sort our gear and then go straight to Lone Peak. We would then park at the Orson Smith trail head and hike our gear to the meadow via the famed Jacob’s Ladder trail. After camping overnight at the meadow we’d make our summit attempt and descend via the Bear Canyon trail to have a chance to refill our water at the spring and visit outlaw cabin. This is what really happened…
We didn’t leave Eau Claire till 7pm. 24 hours later we were in Park City. Riding in Nissan 350z (two seater) for 24 hours was exhausting so we decided to hold off the hike until Sunday evening. With our Saturday night open we decided to check out the local watering holes. Stupid. We woke up with severe hangovers and badly dehydrated. After a few Monster energy drinks and some greasy burgers we felt good enough, we thought, to start the climb.
Jacob's Ladder trail head Yes, we still had a little Captain in us.
At about 6pm we arrived at the nicely paved parking facility of the Orson Smith trail head. We unloaded our gear and sorted it out at the picnic table. It’s amazing how fast your pack gains weight. Mine was stuffed, warm clothes, first aid, lights, batteries, sleeping bag, pad, pillow, tent, camera, tripod, power bars, and water, lots of water. We each brought about 6 liters that took the pack weight up to around 50-60lbs. Once we wrestled the packs on we were on our way. The 2.6mi hike up Corner Canyon road took us about 20 to 30min although the fatigue was felt almost as soon as we started. We felt better once we reached the Jacob’s Ladder trail head. After a brief rest we started the trail. It gets steep right away and the dirt is a bit loose so it was a little difficult but we were doing great. After a few hundred feet we got to a fork in the trail, you can go straight and down or right and up. This was where stuff started to go wrong. I was so worried about printing the maps at home that I forgot to print worded directions.
The hideous Movie Rocks road.
This is a excerpt from the directions I forgot to print: “At the top of the steep hill the road forks, with one road leading down into a deep gully and than climbing to the Movie Rocks where Devil's Brigade was filmed. The route that leads to Jacobs Ladder turns right (east) on top of the steep hill and follows the spur ridge.” –climb-utah.com
Looking at the map we thought there was no way we had gone far enough to take the right that was shown on the map. We didn’t even bother checking my gps. Big mistake. We did the natural thing and kept going straight. The trail turned to the right and then went vertical. It was hideous. The trail was sandy and nearly straight up. We knew this must be Jacob’s Ladder. Zac and I had to take 30 second breathers about every 5 minutes. 15 to 20 minutes into the climb we noticed a prominent trail to the south that ran parallel to us. Zac didn’t think much of it and we kept on. Meanwhile I just couldn’t keep my eyes off the southern trail and started to second guess or position. Once the trail leveled off for a few feet I dropped my pack and turned the gps on. The coordinates popped up and I quickly found us on the map. Our stomachs churned. We were on Movie Rocks road. A trail that runs parallel just a few hundred feet higher to Jacob’s Ladder. The worst part is that the trail dead ends at a place called Movie Rocks. We were so pissed! The wrong trail had just kicked our ass, it was getting late, and I could already feel blisters on my heels forming. We decided to get to Movie Rocks where we’ll reassess the situation.
The ridge in the middle of the pics is Jacob's Ladder, taken from Movie Rocks road.
At 7pm we made it to Movie Rocks. Decision time. We couldn’t intercept the trail by cutting straight south, it was too steep and too overgrown. Turning around wasn’t an option either, we’d already made a big gain in elevation and it would take too much time. Zac proposed we blaze our own trail by staying parallel to Jacob’s Ladder and keeping the same elevation until we intercept it where it starts heading north. I didn’t hop on board right away. All I could think about was rattle snakes and what does it look like beyond the ridge where we’re planning to blaze. With the sun getting low we went for it. It was actually pretty fun. We’d get to a ridge and plan a new route that would take us to the next ridge and so on. Two hours later we made it to Lone Rock, it’s where the Jacob’s Ladder trail makes the turn to the north. It felt so good to get there and it really lifted our downed spirits. Now that it was 9pm we knew we had a half hour of daylight left and we had to make another decision. Do we swallow our pride and set up camp at Lone Rock or try to press on to the meadow. Knowing for sure we were on Jacob’s Ladder and there isn’t any forks until the Draper Junction we put our headlights on and started to head north. It wasn’t more than 100 yards when we stopped and looked at each other out of breath, “lets camp at Lone Rock. In the morning we’ll just bring our day packs for the rest of hike and take Jacob’s Ladder on the way back down”, I pleaded.
Zac had the same idea and right at dark we had camp set up at Lone Rock. I took lots of photos, fooled around on some rocks, and ate half my sandwich (it tasted horrible). As we sat on top of a flat slab of rock over looking the city and Utah Lake I noticed some flashes to the southeast. Lightning. You’ve got to be kidding me. I told Zac the last known death on Lone Peak was from lightning. He didn’t appreciate that. He got a hold of his sister back in Wisconsin who checked the storm out on the internet. Sure enough there was a hefty cell headed right for us. I didn’t want to fool around with lightning while being at 7200’ and made the call to high tail it back to the car. We left camp set up and just wore our day packs back down to the car where we spent a very uncomfortable night. 5am came very quickly. Zac was very tired and cranky so I let him go back to sleep while I nursed my blisters. I’m still not sure if popping my blisters was a good idea or not. Anyway, I had to do some convincing to have Zac start the climb around 6am, he reluctantly agreed. We drove to the Jacob’s Ladder trail head this time. Since we were now coming back via Jacob’s Ladder we parked the car there, much much easier. We reached camp around 6:30am and again sorted our gear. I loaded my day pack with 3 liters of water, first aid, gps, map, and camera; much lighter than what we would have been packing up the steep trail. A couple of hikers passed us at our camp and we let them have about 30min head start.
The literal Jacob's Ladder
At 7am we started the major ascent of Jacob’s Ladder. It is literally like climbing a ladder, a ladder that’s 1200ft tall! It seemed to take forever. The kind hikers ahead of us circled a Mountain Lion track halfway up the trail. Thanks for the encouragement. Although the hike is very grueling it offers amazing views of the Salt Lake valley and surrounding mountains. We got the Draper Junction at about 10am. The feeling was amazing, especially when you get that classic view of the cirque. Seeing it was like seeing a movie star. We looked at so many pictures of it but to see it in person was awesome. All the fatigue we felt was gone, we couldn’t wait to get there.
Now everyone says that once you reach the Draper Junction the hike gets easier and more fun. It is pretty much flat all the way to the meadow and does offer a change in scenery but once get past the meadow it gets hard again. It gets steep and rocky as you pass over the ridges that lead down into a saddle. The cool thing is that people have made small rock piles along the way so you know you are on the right path. Once you get down into the saddle it is nothing but boulder fields until you reach the cirque. We would get towards the top of boulder field and think, “I hope this is the cirque…nope, another boulder field.”
One of the many boulder fields.
It was annoying. Maybe it’s not that bad; I think we were just so exhausted it wasn’t as enjoyable. It’s pretty cool once you get to the cirque though. You’re surrounded by shear 1000ft cliffs, an awesome sight. We took a good rest there and snapped away some pics; it was about 12:30pm. Then reality hits us, we have to get to the top of that! Zac pointed towards the northwestern ridge that drops into the cirque and said, “There’s our route.”
The route from the cirque to the summit ridge.
I thought no way, there has to be an easier way. He was pointing to a narrow alley of boulders that ascends the southern face. I thought he was crazy but never the less I agreed. I felt a little more comfortable once I saw some piles of rocks indicating that others have used this route. It actually wasn’t too bad until I’d look down and realize that if I slipped I would be severely hurt if not killed. Once we reached the ridge I thought it would get easier, wrong again. You have to scramble over and around boulders with surfaces ranging from a few feet to a few inches. The worst part is that its 1000’ drop on either side. There were several times that Zac would get to the next boulder obstacle and say something along the lines of, “oh shit.”
We’d sit there for about 5 minutes and think about how to get around or over it. Then I started to think that maybe we shouldn’t be doing this. I told Zac a few times that I’m content with where we’re at and can turn around if he wanted. But then we’d just do it. We’d had come too far to turn around now.
Reaching the summit surprised us. I was lifting myself over a boulder when I heard, “I’m on top of the world!”
Zac on the summit
As I look up I see Zac with both fists in the air standing on top of the summit. I got over the boulder and as I started to stand up I saw the shiny gold summit medallion. I was overcome with emotion. I just couldn’t believe I was on the summit of Lone Peak. I wish I could describe how I felt. The more vivid memory is when I gathered my thoughts and took in the amazing view. You can see for miles in all directions. It was just truly amazing.
After spending about 20 minutes on the summit we put our packs on headed back down at 1:45pm. We notice there was some very big dark clouds off in the distance and didn’t want to be out in the open if a storm did hit us. We took a much better way down the ridge. We picked the route out when we were on our way up. Zac had also noticed when we were on the summit that if we stayed west around the cirque we’d bypass the boulder fields. I thought he was nuts. All the info I’ve read about the mountain told me that to make well aware of where you enter the cirque because that’s how you’ll find the trail back. That’s also how everyone gets lost because they can’t find the trail and we didn’t need that. But again, I followed him. We stayed as far west as we could while still descending. After a while I knew we needed to immediately head south if we wanted any hopes of catching the trail. Luckily it paid off. We bypassed the boulder fields and as I stepped of a rock I noticed a boot print, my boot print. We found the trail we came in on, amazing. From there it seemed to take forever to make it to the meadow. Then once we got back to the Draper Junction I tapped into my reserve liter of water. We tried to ration our water knowing it was going to be close. The problem was that I don’t think we ever got properly hydrated after our night out in town. I had discovered that salt crystals form on your body when your dehydrated. That made for some very irritating chaffing in some places I’d rather not mention.
The hike down Jacob’s Ladder was just as bad as coming up. I felt pain in muscles I didn’t know I had. The pain in my feet was excruciating but the steepness of the trail took the friction off my blisters - that was nice. The trail just kept going on and on and on and on, it didn’t help that we could see the tent every so often. It was like it was taunting us, it never seemed to get any closer. The temperature got hotter and hotter as we descended in elevation too. It was hell.
Finally, we reach the tent around 7pm. All we wanted to do was chug water and fall to the ground but we couldn’t. The water that we had in the tent was about 90 to 100 degrees and tasted like shit. Also, that storm was well on its way. It’s was blowing 30mph wind, lightning, and the rain was getting close. We didn’t even have time to properly pack the tent, sleeping bags, or pads. We just wanted to get the hell out of there. We made it to the car and off the mountain before the rain came, sometime around 8pm.
Looking back at our journey it was definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done but it was also the greatest accomplishment. Lone Peak threw us some great challenges and I’m very glad we overcame them. Shane Burrows of Climb-utah.com warned us about the peak and suggested we climb other mountains. We should have listened. He was right but he still provided us with very helpful information. Randy Winters of Summipost.org also warned us of dehydration. He was right too. He also provided us with very detailed instructions on how to get the trail head. Dan Ransom of Danransom.com also provided us with some good info. If anyone reading this is thinking about climbing Lone Peak please read all you can and make a logical decision based on your ability. Lone Peak is not a first timer’s mountain.
I’d like to thank everyone who was in contact with me via email. Your help was invaluable in our completion. I hope to make it out there sometime soon again as I’m even hungrier to summit more mountains.
Here's a link to a video I made of the climb.SuperAdventureWeek 2007