My 12-year-old son and I set out for Ibapah Peak on August 21, 2009. We left our home in Salt Lake City at about 1.30 p.m., and we decided to take the Pony Express Road out to western Utah, and this proved to be a good choice. I am not sure it is very much longer than going around through Wendover, and it is surely much more scenic and has many historical and other points of interest to break up the long drive on the dirt road. The Simpson Springs Pony Express station, the Dugway geode beds, and the Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge all provide places to pull over and stop for a few minutes and see some pretty interesting stuff. The Pony Express Road itself is a very good road in most places; any car that can make it up Granite Creek Canyon to anywhere near the trailhead to Ibapah Peak can easily negotiate the Pony Express Road. We reached Callao at about 5.30 p.m., and turned south on the very good, well-maintained dirt road leading to Trout Creek and Partoun. We soon passed the primitive CCC campground on the left, and soon after that came to the turnoff for Granite Creek Canyon. I should mention here that this area is very
remote, and none of the little hamlets out this way (like Gold Hill, Callao, Trout Creek, or Partoun) have anything in the way of any services. There is no place to get gas or food anywhere around; indeed, I wondered where the few residents of these lonely villages get their
Anyway, the road up Granite Creek Canyon is quite good for the first few miles, until just before the first stream crossing. At this point the road becomes bumpier but still no big deal.
At one point past the first stream crossing there is a very good and very large campsite that I believe most cars could make it to. Right after this large campsite the road gets worse, past this point I would say that high clearance is a must. Soon we came to the second stream crossing; previous trip reports have described this crossing as pretty nasty, but in 2009 the crossing was a piece of cake. The worst part of the road was right before the second stream crossing, where there are some pretty big rocks, and then right after the second crossing, where the road gets pretty rutted and high-centering becomes the main worry. I was pretty easily able to get my Hyundai Tucson all the way to the "trailhead" at the Wilderness Study Area boundary. There is a good campsite there for at least one tent, although larger groups may have problems finding flat spots for tents there. We set up camp there and set about cooking dinner, and waited for my friend Ken and his friend Larry, who we expected to join us later that evening. Right as we were finishing some good steaks, Ken and Larry pulled up in their Jeep Cherokee, also able to make it all the way to the trailhead. A few hours later, we turned in for the night, while Ken and Larry serenaded us with very good guitar folk music as we drifted into sleep, imagining being atop Ibapah and knocking off our 26th and final Utah county highpoint.
We decided to get up early to start the hike, because we were a bit concerned about the weather. There had been a high pressure ridge over the area all week, but weather forecasters were predicting that the ridge would start moving out of the region and thunderstorms would become increasingly likely. One forecast predicted a 30% chance of thunderstorms in the area in the afternoon, so we wanted to be off the high ridges before noon. We were planning on about an 8-10 hour hike, so we set the alarm for 4.30. When it went off we were not at all happy about it, but we got up and set about getting some food in our bellies and our gear arranged. Ken and Larry were less concerned about the weather than I was, and they decided to sleep another couple hours. We got started at 5.15. a.m. The moon was new, and so it was fully dark with a full complement of stars out overhead as we began hiking up the (former) ATV trail past the WSA boundary.
The first mile or so of the hike is entirely on a two-track ATV trail, that looked like it had seen some recent use despite the WSA signs. The two-track finally melted into the mountainside after about an hour of hiking, in a clearing with a fire ring. The trail, single-track now, headed off to the left of the clearing, and soon got a lot steeper as it rose up the headwall of Granite Creek Canyon. Some spots were uncomfortably steep and covered with loose pebbles, making footing a bit dicey in spots. Trekking poles are nice to have in spots like this. As we grinded our way up the headwall, the sun rose behind us, backlighting the spiny West Desert mountain ranges and bathing Red Mountain, above us to our left, in a reddish morning glow. It was not difficult to see how that mountain got its name. The last half-mile or so before the large saddle meadow is quite enjoyable, as the trail levels out some and stays very close to the small creek during this stretch, and there are several small waterfalls and cool forested spots that make for very nice hiking. When we got to the small meadow containing the spring from whence the creek rises, we saw a large bull elk out enjoying the morning. He scampered away before I could get a picture of him, though. But as we crested the final rise into the larger saddle meadow, we saw three more large bull elk making their way through the meadow and over the ridge toward the Nevada side. Beautiful animals on a beautiful morning.
It took us 2+35 to get from the WSA boundary to the saddle meadow. We rested for a good 20 minutes there, enjoying the beautiful morning and scoping out where we had to go from there. From the meadow, you have great views of both Ibapah Peak itself as well as the smaller sub-peak that must be negotiated on the way to Ibapah. From where we sat, there looked like two good possibilities: either head straight for the sub-peak, or head left up to a low point on the ridge leading to the sub-peak and ridge-walk from there. We decided to just head for the sub-peak and try to contour around it on the right side; we found out later that Ken and Larry decided to go left and ridge-walk, and they said that this was quite difficult and not very quick. So I think we made the right call.
The forest leading to the subpeak is not dense and the going is not difficult.
The slope gets pretty steep in spots, though, and there is no trail to speak of, and the steepness of the slope, combined with the route-finding aspect of this portion of the hike, make this portion the least-enjoyable. As we neared the top of the sub-peak, we contoured around its right-hand side, and there we struck a faint use trail that became less faint the closer we got to Ibapah. In fact, this use trail is fairly easy to follow all the way from the right-hand (east) side of the sub-peak clear to the summit of Ibapah, and it is a godsend, as it makes hiking the steep last pitch of Ibapah actually quite mellow and pleasant.
We reached the top of Ibapah Peak at about 9.45 a.m., about 4+30 after we left the trailhead. The weather was fantastic--there was no wind, just a few high thin clouds, and it was actually on the warm side even on the peak. We couldn't have asked for anything better. We were pretty exhilarated as we crested the final rise and realized that we had finally done it, our five-year quest was over, and we had stood on the highest point in every county in the entire state of Utah. I gave my son a big hug and told him I was proud of him and proud to be his dad.
We started our exploration of the summit area on the west side of the large east-west-running summit ridge. It looked like the western edge of the summit zone was the actual high point, and it seemed others agreed with me, since the only place I could find a trail register was in a pile of rocks next to the tallest boulder on the west side. We both took turns standing on the boulder in victory pose, snapping each other's picture. We then made our way to the eastern side of the summit zone, where the big rock shelter is. There we found the benchmark, some pieces of broken mirror, and some nice places to sit and have a snack and take in the amazing 360 degree views.
Sitting up there, it again sunk in for me just how remote a place the Deep Creek Mountains are: from up there you can see for hundreds of miles in pretty much every direction, and there is not a town to be seen in any direction. We spent nearly an hour on the summit, just enjoying the morning. As it turned out, I was loathe to leave the summit, and not just because it was so nice up there. I had strange mixed feelings about finishing the Utah county highpoint quest. This quest had been one in which the joy is truly in the journey, and I knew that once I walked off that summit the quest would be over, and I really didn't want it to be. But eventually the time came to start the hike down, and we left the last of our 26 Utah summits. Our conversation on the way down was dominated by talk of what our next quest would be: prominence peaks, a new state highpoint quest, the high points of every county that touches Utah?? We made no final decision, but I am sure we will find a new quest soon.
We expected to encounter Ken and Larry on the way down, but we missed them entirely. Later we figured out that we had been contouring our way down around the east side of the sub-peak, at the same time as they had been ridge-walking up towards the west side of the sub-peak, and we missed each other while we were on opposite sides of the sub-peak. When we got back to the saddle meadow, we looked up to the summit and we could see two tiny specks moving around up there next to the rock shelter, and we were glad that Ken and Larry had made it. They told us later that they had seen our names in the trail register, and had been glad for us that we had made it. We took a long rest in the saddle meadow on the way down. There is a great tree in the eastern end of the saddle meadow that has a nice curved trunk, great for reclining and catching a few minutes of delicious shut-eye.
The remainder of the hike down was uneventful, and we reached the trailhead at 2.15 p.m., nine hours after we left it. We opened the cooler and pulled out a couple of cold drinks, and sat there in the shade and waited for Ken and Larry. We were flat-out exhausted, but in the best possible way.
It had been a perfect day, and Ibapah Peak and the Deep Creek Range are spectacular. Now that we have knocked off all of the Utah county highpoints, we are in a good position to say that Ibapah is the very best of all of them, just ahead of Utah classics like Deseret Peak, Mount Peale, Mount Ellen, and Mount Nebo.
Ken and Larry showed up at about 4.00 p.m., exhausted and exhilarated just like we were. By then we had packed up all our stuff and were ready to head out, but Ken and Larry decided to stay at the trailhead and camp another night. So we swapped stories of the trail for a few minutes, and then said our goodbyes. About three hours later, after dozens of miles of more lonely dirt roads, we treated ourselves to the buffet dinner at the Rainbow Casino in Wendover, feeling that we had earned the right to stuff ourselves. It was a great day and a great hike, one we will never forget.