Lone Peak, and the Stairway to Hell

Lone Peak, and the Stairway to Hell

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Aug 7, 2004
Activities Activities: Hiking
Seasons Season: Summer

The hike from hell....

I will simply let the journal entry immediately subsequent to this hike tell the story.


"...Yesterday morning I awoke in Boise. I left from the Sheets' home before any of them had woken up. After having written a thank you note, I was on my way, at rougly 8:00 am. I arrived in Utah at 2:45 after having made the conclusion that the stretch of road between Boise and Twin Falls is maybe the ugliest patch of land in God's creation. It's flat, dry, and completely devoid of any kind of life that could even be accidentally misconstrued as pleasant looking. Then again, there were the occasional melon-sized lava rocks to spruce up the scenery..."

"Anyway, I got to alpine at between 2:45 and 3:00 p.m. And Dave and I were hiking to the Jacob's Ladder trail by 4:00. The fact that I was hiking with Dave is the best explanation for speedy transition from driving to hiking.
Me on the trailOn the way up.... (this is the last known photo of the famous "moab hat")
He's pretty good at assuring things get done when he wants them to be. Anyhow, we were bound and detirmined to summit Lone Peak by sunset. It's a 5 1/2 mile hike, with an elevation gain of approx. 4200 feet, so to do that in 4 hours was going to require a pretty stiff pace. The summit itself is a giant column that, were it not for the approaches from the east and north, would have been an unthinkable mountaineering task for climbers so inexperienced as ourselves...We arrived at the peak just after the sun had dipped below the western horizon, and took a few minutes to regroup and plan our descent. We had dramatically underestimated the hike, and therefore underestimated the amount of food and water necessary to complete it. However, the fact that only moments before we had consumed the last of those supplies, we were relatively unconcerned due to the fact that descents are almost always much faster on hikes like that, and we planned to be back at my truck in about an hour and a half, Two on the outside. We totally knew that we would be climbing in the dark, and perhaps tried to compensate for our lack of judgement with the food and water by bringing five flashlights between us."
Salt Lake sunset from the topLooking west by northwest. Spectacular sunset. My first from a summit.

"We began our rapid descent down the northwestern ridge that leads to the summit, and soon made our way out of the bottom of the north chute that serves as access into and out of the cirque. By this time night had swept the remaining light from the sky, and we began to discover that routefinding takes on an interesting twist when done in pitch blackness. No amount of flashlights could have made this task any easier. The route through the cirque is basically a vague suggestion. There are a million ways to do it going up, since the target is pretty obvious, but the way going down requires much more precision. The route is "suggested" by cairns(piles of rocks that serve as landmarks). The cirque is quite stony, with much of its breadth made up of slabs and boulders. Looking for cairns in a place like this roughly amounts to searching for small piles of rocks in a much larger pile of rocks. We, in all of our ignorance and zeal, were not deterred by this and continued to press on, touting what we thought at the time to be remarkable mountaineering skills, and courage."
top of  question mark wall This is looking south from the summit toward Utah Lake and Provo. The very top of "question mark wall" is visible in this picture.

"Eventually fatigue and its accompanying depression set in. We weren't talking so much now as silently trudging along, fantasizing about various hiking rewards; a warm shower, a soft bed, water (in this case). Simple things like that. After having downclimbed a wash for about a half hour I looked up and thought 'Um.... I don't really recognize this place.' I consulted Dave and he agreed, but because we were such good orienteers, and our routefinding should never be questioned, We simply HAD to meet up with the trail eventually if we just kept pushing forward..."

"After having descended another half an hour, with the undergrowth and hinderances thickening with every step, we stopped to evaluate our situation. First, we confidently stated the things we knew for sure about our situation: we knew *about* where we were, and were totally confident that we would figure out a way down, and we, in our wisdom, had brought FIVE flashlights (not just spare batteries) so there was no way we would run out of light. Summary? We were lost and neither of us knew what the hell to do about it."

"We walked south to the edge of the ridge and looked down at Alpine. It looked SO CLOSE from up there. After a small deliberation, we concluded that it would be wisest to head straight down the south face of the mountain, and trailblaze the whole way. The thought of turning around and going back up the mountain to look for the trail was maybe the most unappealing thing ever right then, so with a nod of conviction we both turned south and headed toward the twinkling lights of Alpine."

"It wasn't long before we encountered the first of what would become our greatest impediment on the way down; scrub oak bushes. I discovered last night that they have a nasty habit of leaving all the dead little scratchy twigs on the interior of the bush, making them quite painful to negotiate, especially when one is wearing shorts and a tee shirt. Both of us happened to be wearing just that, so soon our limbs were raw from all the tiny scratches left behind. I could go on forever naming all the unexpected problems we encountered, but to name a few; giant ferns, steep gullies, extremely loose dirt, six foot tall stinging nettle patches (that somehow we managed to wade right into the middle of before noticing what was going on), knee deep mud, and continual thirst and hunger. To cap it off, we had lost our view of the city, and didn't have the first idea of how much longer we would have to hike to reach civilization. Things began to look bleak. It was the first time that a hike had ever made me seriously wonder if I was going to cry like a little girl. At least we had five damn flashlights...."

"In any case, we were able to muster enough motivation to keep going, and eventually made our way to a ridge from which we could once again see the city. It was nearly 3:30 a.m. at this point, and the city looked absolutely no closer than it had three+ hours before. In an effort to give ourselves some hope, I called my roommate and asked him to look out the window to look for our lights up on the mountain. 'Woah, I thought you guys were an airplane for a second, you're WAY up there!' This was not the response I had hoped to hear. I explained our situation to him, and asked him to do probably the biggest favor I have ever asked of anyone in my life- to start climbing the foothills with a whistle so we could hear where to go. Reluctantly he agreed."

"At this point it had become more of a vendetta between us and the mountain. Each painful step we took was done to spite Lone Peak's effort to keep us up there. It was about the only motivation that rose above our basic primal needs at that point. After forging our way through two more extremely steep and scrub-oak-laden gullies (where I am certain no other human has ever set foot) We made a breakthrough discovery. It was a fence! Complete with a "no trespassing" sign! The thought of being arrested at that point was maybe one of the most comforting things that the two of us could think of, so we brazenly hopped over and began tromping happily through someone elses property, hoping desperately that they happened to be up at 5:00 a.m. patrolling their little piece of godforsaken wilderness to catch us and take us anywhere but the places we had been."

"The eastern sky was starting to grow pale, and the aresenal of flashlights was retired. Pain was the prevailing sense at this point. Headaches due to dehydration, muscleaches due to over-exertion, Firey pain at every touch because of the hundred-scratches-per-limb the oak twigs had delt us. My entire right leg was covered in mud. All in all we were in pretty poor shape. Our spirits matched- until off in the distance we heard the whistle."

"Never before had such a ordinary sound given me such joy. We were close! We practically ran straight toward the direction it was coming from. We figured that there was no way that anything could be worse than what we had already experienced, so why not get there as soon as possible? We got to within shouting distance, which gave way to yelling, then speaking, and finally, after everything we had seen and done to get off that mountain, we emerged from the bush to see Justin standing there- with a gallon of water in his hand."

"....At 8:30 am we collapsed into our beds. As I lay there thinking about what had just happened, I realized that I had just learned a great deal about a great deal of things, such as: variations in terrain and foliage and what each meant; if at all possible, do not go uphill against dead scrub oak; it's always good to have someone you trust with you during hard times; and none of us can ever really be totally objective about our own personal capabilities and our capacity to overcome. Since we typically base our evaluations on the extremes that we have preiously faced, it could be said that we are only as capable as the greatest challenge that we have encountered up the present time, at least according to ourselves. Instead of measuring ourselves against the most difficult life experience we have presently encountered, perhaps we should base our awareness on our detirmination to overcome whatever we are faced with, and take each event one at a time. This experience, and this realization have forced me to re-evaluate my own limits of exertion, and I have concluded that I have much more stamina than I have previously given myself credit for. I would imagine that nearly everyone's personally estimated limits fall far short of extent of where their true capacities actually lie. There never were so brightly burning a fire as that of the human spirit, but I am afraid that we only realize this when someone or something attempts to extinguish it....."
Lone Peak summitMe at the summit on a more recent, and less eventful trip

In conclusion....

As I re-read my entry from so long ago, I can't help but laugh at how dramatic I made everything out to be, but in all seriousness the night sucked. What it did give me was a reference, something to compare situations to, and conclude that the present state of affairs isn't too bad. It seems that on every hike or climb I do, there comes a point when I seriously question my own judgement in making the decision to go. Nevertheless, after that first Lone Peak climb, I have been able to do away with those feelings almost entirely. Now, no matter how much any hike may suck temporarily, I know that when I get to the bottom, I'll already be planning my next trip. May it forever be so.



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Viewing: 1-11 of 11

aiadvisors - Sep 28, 2006 4:17 pm - Voted 10/10


All of the melodrama actually made a fun read. My son and I went up Jacob's Ladder three days after you did and stayed overnight in the meadow not far from where the Moab hat was last photographed. I was planning to post a trip report, but now, whoa, how can I top your amazing piece of literature. Our hike was fun and soo not extraordinary. Excellent report. I could see and visualize everything. It was almost as if I was there (without the pain). Thanks.

Matthew Van Horn

Matthew Van Horn - Apr 9, 2007 12:52 pm - Hasn't voted

laugh out loud

A few times I was laughing out loud at what you wrote, especially at the roomate who thought your lights (all five of them!) were airplane lights.


Kai - Oct 31, 2007 4:38 pm - Hasn't voted


I feel your pain. I got off-trail on my first shot at Lone Peak. We never made it to the cirque. Battled with evil scrub oak for hours on end.


aprovance - Jul 29, 2009 12:26 pm - Voted 10/10

Curse them darn scrub oak!

While I have had most of those things happen to me before on hikes... I have never had ALL of them happen on the SAME hike! I couldn't stop laughing when your roommate on the phone said, "Woah, I thought you guys were an airplane for a second, you're WAY up there!" I can only imagine what a discouraging feeling that must have been. Great read. Thank you for sharing your experience!

Ryan Borzea

Ryan Borzea - Sep 19, 2012 6:34 pm - Voted 10/10

Entertaining read!

Like aiadvisors said, the more drama the better with this report. Glad you guys made it out in one piece!


leslie78 - Sep 19, 2012 10:50 pm - Voted 10/10


I really enjoyed reading this. Sounds like a rough time, glad you made it out okay. I especially liked the reflection at the end. :)

enyalid - Oct 7, 2012 3:16 pm - Hasn't voted

I've gotten lost too.

I have been up lone peak on 4 different routes. I have gotten lost several times up there. You have to mark where you have been and be careful not to drop into the wrong drainage. Everytime I have hiked Lone Peak, it always seems it is farther away then the previous time I did it, but it is an accomplishment. It is the "Everest" of Salt Lake Valley.

enyalid - Oct 7, 2012 3:16 pm - Hasn't voted

I've gotten lost too.

I have been up lone peak on 4 different routes. I have gotten lost several times up there. You have to mark where you have been and be careful not to drop into the wrong drainage. Everytime I have hiked Lone Peak, it always seems it is farther away then the previous time I did it, but it is an accomplishment. It is the "Everest" of Salt Lake Valley.

timp47 - Jan 1, 2013 11:19 pm - Hasn't voted

lone peak

Done this hike twice. Once in October with snow at the top. Yes you do have to dig deep inside when the going gets tough


videospence - Jan 19, 2013 11:02 am - Voted 9/10

Great writing makes great reading

...cause for good laughs and serious reflection. Thanks for this. I'm not surprised by so many posts suggesting it's easy to get lost on Lone Peak. I too have been mixed up on this trail. But fortunately I was with someone who had already had his getting lost on Lone Peak experience, and he set me straight.


dave23 - May 6, 2017 11:46 am - Voted 10/10

Digging Deep.

Made it to the summit of Lone Peak with a friend who was familiar with the trail. Would have gotten completely lost without his route finding abilities. That said I would agree it is the 'Everest' of the Salt Lake valley.

Viewing: 1-11 of 11