My son and I had heard a lot of good things about the Mt. Peale hike and were excited to visit the mountain. We met a friend in Moab on Friday evening, and headed for the La Sals as the sun was setting. We drove south on 191 to SR-46, then east through the small town of La Sal, and then north on the dirt track heading for La Sal Pass. Two miles in on the dirt road we took a left fork heading for La Sal Pass. At this point we reset the odometer. After traveling 6.5 miles, we came to a rough but obvious two-track road heading right (north). This turnoff is about 0.6 miles short of La Sal Pass itself. Having read in many other trip reports that the best place to begin the hike was from this road, we turned up it. We were only able to travel another 0.5 miles on this very rough road. We camped here, in a small clearing beside this road, and we started the hike the next morning.
Because we had driven up after dusk, and because we had not actually traveled all the way to La Sal Pass, we did not have a chance, prior to beginning the hike, to view the mountain to scope out the couloir that we needed to travel up in order to hike Peale. What's more, the morning dawned a bit foggy, with a few high wispy clouds obscuring any good view of the higher mountain, and so we did not have a specific sense of where the couloir was.
We started out by heading up the two-track road. Our intent was to hike Mt. Peale for sure, since it is the county high point, and then, if we were feeling up to it, hike over and look at the Razor Fang and see if we felt like we could make it over to Tukuhnikivatz. We had read in other trip reports that we should leave the two-track road in the general vicinity of where the road takes a sharp turn to the left up a steep hill. After proceeding up the two-track a half mile or so, we came to the place where the road veered sharply left and up a hill. At this point we left the road and headed into the woods.
There are a couple of small obscure cairns here, but we did not see them (we only saw them later, on our way down). We just headed into the woods and immediately found the way blocked by an avalanche zone about 100 yards wide. In this avalanche zone there are so many fallen trees that hiking through it would be very laborious. It becomes necessary to skirt the avalanche zone on either the right (east) or the left (west). We chose left (west), and this proved a fateful choice. As it turns out, if you skirt it on the right (east), you will end up directly in the narrow rocky couloir heading up to Peale. If you skirt it on the left (west), you will end up in the rather wide, grassy, meadow-filled bowl that leads up to Tukuhnikivatz.
Not knowing exactly what the Peale couloir was supposed to look like, we continued upward on the left of the avalanche zone. We saw some cattle bones that someone had hung from trees, and figured those were as good as cairns, and that we were on the trail. After a half hour or so, we came to the meadow-filled bowl. Some cattle were grazing up there, and we commented on the physical fitness of cattle who graze at 11,000 feet. The back end of the bowl is steep but grassy and footing is strong all the way up to the saddle.
As we were hiking up the bowl to the saddle, the clouds cleared and the sun came out, making for a really beautiful day in the La Sals. When we reached the saddle and took a minute to get our bearings, we realized that we were a whole lot closer to Tuk than we were to Peale. We climbed a small rise and realized, to our dismay, that we were on the wrong side of the Razor Fang from Peale.
After considering the matter for a minute, we quickly decided that, since we were so close to Tuk, we should hike it first, and then worry about the Fang and Peale. So we walked up the gentle grassy ridge toward Tuk. The ridge is easy walking until the last 500 feet or so, where it gets rocky and very steep. We reached the summit of Tuk almost exactly 2 hours from when we left our car. The views from Tuk are unmatched by the views from any Utah mountain I have ever summitted, including Nebo and Ellen. As we sat there in the morning light, with the morning sun lighting up the Canyonlands, we wondered if there could be a better view anywhere in the world.
After soaking in Tuk's views for a while, we headed down and, after a bit of entirely pleasant ridge-walking, we came to the base of the Razor Fang. The first bit of the Fang is easily negotiable on the right-hand side. Soon we came to a sandy little clearing, sort of a mini-saddle, right below what looked like the main portion of the Fang. Here it started to look a little more menacing, and with an 11-year-old in tow, we decided that discretion was definitely the better part of valor, and we bailed out onto the southern slope to the right of the Fang. Other trip reports had warned us against this, and after completing the traverse of this rockfield, I can see why. It is steep, very steep, only a degree or two gentler than the very angle of repose of the rocks and dirt on it, and the bailout route calls for a traverse that heads gently upward toward a gap in the cliff-rock a quarter mile or so away. Nearly every step causes a mini-rockslide, and it is difficult to keep trending upward with the ground beneath you trending downward with each step. The three of us hiked 100 feet or so apart so that, in case one of us did trigger a rockslide, it would not affect the others. It was very slow going, and hard work, and we were quite tired when we finally reached the gap in the cliff-rock. This bailout route is a lot of work, and if you are a skilled climber, don't do it, do the Fang. If, however, you have someone in your group, like we did, that cannot do the Fang and you need a route without any exposure, this route provides a safer, albeit more physically exhausting, route around the Fang.
After circumventing the Fang, the rest of the hike up to Peale was easy by comparison. We soon entered the top of the couloir that we had been trying to find earlier that morning, and as soon as you get to this point there is a well-worn use trail through the rocks that leads straight toward Peale. The approach to Peale, from the saddle at the top of the couloir, is not even all that steep compared to the final approach to Tuk, and we reached the summit without any trouble. It took us about two and a half hours to get from the summit of Tuk to the summit of Peale, using the bailout route around the Fang.
Right on our final approach to the summit, less than a quarter mile from it, we ran into a couple of hikers descending from the summit. One of them was an older gentleman, likely around age 60, named John, slender with a longish beard. He told us that he had recently hiked all twelve of the La Sals' 12,000 foot peaks in a single 24-hour period!! Wow!
Anyway, the summit of Peale contains a rather tall lightning shelter. We could not locate either a trail register or a benchmark. The views from Peale down into Colorado are outstanding. The weather continued to hold, and so we spent quite a bit of time on the summit enjoying the views.
After a while we headed down, taking the couloir route back to the car. The couloir is narrow and rocky and longer than I expected. As the couloir ends and melts into the forest, there is a nice cairned use trail that picks its way between the avalanche zone (which is on the west side of the trail) and a rocky talus area (on the east side of the trail). If you want to hike Peale and not Tuk, just be sure to find these cairns right when the two-track heads left, and stay to the right (east) of the avalanche zone. If you want a good route for a Tuk-Peale loop, however, I don't think there is a better route than the one we (inadvertently) ended up doing. It took us 90 minutes to get from the summit of Peale back to the vehicle.
The La Sals are captivating, beautiful mountains that are a lot of fun to hike in. Walking along the saddles and ridges between the peaks is really a lot of fun, and the views are unparalleled. Our Tuk-Peale loop was a majestic hike in all respects. My son and I agreed that this hike rose to the top of the Utah county-highpointing list, even better than fantastic hikes like Ellen, Nebo, and Deseret.
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