After an unsuccessful attempt last fall (see trip report
), my friend Kent and I successfully climbed Santaquin Peak this spring on 27 April 2007. We started from near Maple Lake and headed east up the Loafer Mountain ridgeline. A little above the saddle where the Mud Hollow trail meets the Loafer ridgeline, we dropped into Loafer Canyon and traversed to the col between Loafer and Santaquin. From there it was a pretty straight shot up Santaquin's southeast ridge to the summit.
|Car-to-car time||14 hours, 25 minutes (starting at 5:30am)|
|Gross elevation gain||6630 feet|
|Net elevation gain||4630 feet|
|Water consumed||3L/person (barely enough)|
|Equipment||Gaiters, MSR snowshoes, ice ax, gloves|
Kent and I started the morning bright (er, dark) and early and left Provo at about 4:50 a.m. We headed to Payson and followed Nebo Loop Road up the canyon--or at least we tried to. There was some major construction on 600E, and there was a detour. However, the detour was poorly signed, and we weren't familiar with Payson, so we drove around for about 20 minutes, trying to find our way back to the scenic loop. After some fruitless driving, we went back and decided see how far we could make it past the "local access only" sign. After a few hundred feet of undulating dirt road, we emerged back onto the paved Nebo Loop Road. We discovered on the way back that the detour was better-signed in the other direction.
Ascent to Loafer Ridge
Kent climbing a ridge
The detour delayed our start, but not too much. Nebo Loop Road was closed at the gate near Maple Lake, so we parked there and at 5:30 a.m. left the car and walked about 1/2 mile further up the road. We left the pavement where the road makes a sharp (almost 90 degree) left turn due east of Maple Lake. From there we climbed a steep earth bank and started ascending the ridge toward the northeast.
We followed the ridge up, aiming to skirt just below the 8355-foot point on the south side of Rock Canyon, and from there planned to traverse to the saddle at 8000 feet just to the east. However, high and dense scrub oak made routefinding difficult, and we ended up a couple hundred feet higher than we needed to go.
The original plan was to follow the ridge on the south side of Rock Canyon until it joined the main Loafer Mountain ridge. However, from our unexpectedly high vantage point, it looked like the scrub oak would be much less trouble on the north side. Accordingly, we followed a game trail through the evergreen forest on the south side of the canyon for a few minutes, descended to the bottom of Rock Canyon, crossed, and zipped up the bank on the other side to the northern ridge. There was quite a bit of deep snow in the bottom that made crossing a little tricky, although we made it without putting on the snowshoes. There were lots of large game tracks through the bottom of the canyon.
I lost my GPS somewhere on the way to the bottom of the canyon. We spent about an hour backtracking and looking for it, but without success. If anyone finds a Garmin GPSMAP 60CSx around there, let me know. :) As things stand right now, this is one of the more expensive climbs I have done...
Loafer Ridge Traverse
Loafer Mountain ridge
Once we gained the ridge, the going got easier, thanks to the scrub oak thinning out considerably. The occasional patches grew to become a solid snowbank by the time we reached the top of Rock Canyon. It was a little after 10 a.m. by this point, and the snow on eastern slopes was starting to soften a little, but not enough to justify snowshoes yet.
We followed a faint trail part of the time, and just followed the top of the ridge other times. We reached the saddle at the top of Mud Hollow at about 11:30 a.m. Fifteen more minutes of hiking toward the Loafer summit brought us to a stopping point for a quick lunch.
Into the cirque
One of our fatal mistakes when I attempted Santaquin the previous November was entering the Loafer Canyon cirque at the wrong point. There are trees and rock bands on the north face of Loafer, and entering at the correct point makes the route a lot easier.
We were a little more careful this time. We got a good look at our possible routes from a point on the ridge to the southwest. We decided to head up the ridge until we got to a prominent brush patch by a large dead tree. From there we would enter the canyon and cross the western face of Loafer Mountain between two large rock bands (see diagrams).
Diagram of where to enter the cirque
Dead tree and brush marking cirque entrance
Our route worked out quite well. It was easy to follow, and the travel was fairly easy. The snow in the cirque was deeper than on the ridge, so we put on snowshoes when we "turned the corner" to the right to head toward the Santaquin-Loafer saddle.
Spontaneous snowballs on Loafer Mountain
The original plan was to go all the way to the saddle between Loafer and Santaquin and then ascend from there. However, to avoid an awkward traverse in snowshoes, we decided it would be easier to cross descend and then ascend straight up.
The slope on Loafer was about 40 degrees at this point, and there were spontaneous snowballs all over the place. There were no slides, but I was a bit concerned about point-release avalanches since it was then noon and the snow was warming considerably. We made our way down and back up the other side quickly to avoid staying long in the terrain trap of the canyon floor.
To the summit
Once we were across the canyon, all that we had left was a traverse and ascent of the ridge between Loafer and Santaquin. We were getting close to our turnaround time, but the goal was clearly in sight.
Ridge from Loafer to Santaquin's summit
There is a trail (visible on the left in red in the diagram above) that follows the ridge to Santaquin Peak's summit. Grateful for a (somewhat) flat place to put our feet, we followed the trail up the ridge. The views here were quite beautiful, with steep drops on either side. The path was quite passable, but I was certainly glad to have my ice ax at this point. At one point there was a beautiful chute that dropped almost straight down. We stayed well away from the top of the ridge to avoid a quick trip down the mountain on one of the cornices that were warming in the afternoon sun.
After passing under some cliff bands, all that remained between us and the summit was either a scurry up a talus field or a traverse of a snowfield. This was Kent's first time using an ice ax, and he preferred to avoid the exposure on the steep snowfield, especially since there were some small cornices hanging over it above. However, I thought that the snowfield looked easier. We decided that I would try the snowfield and that he would follow if it looked safe.
Talus field below the summit
I got about five feet onto the snowfield when I noticed a small crack running most of the way along the snow a couple feet above where I was standing--not good, not good at all. It looked like the snow was just waiting for a trigger to send it to the canyon floor below, and I certainly didn't want to be that trigger. I froze and gingerly stepped my way back to firm ground.
Me and Kent at the summit
We took the talus field after all. After scrambling for a few minutes (each of us being careful to not rain rock on the other below), we reached the top at about 1:30 p.m.! The second time was a charm on this mountain.
The views from the top were beautiful. It was a pretty clear day, and we could see a good chunk of the south end of the Wasatch Range. To the north were Lone Peak, Mount Timpanogos, and Provo Peak. Also visible were Spanish Fork Peak, Mt. Nebo, and even the Uintas to the east. In the valley we could see almost every city, including Santaquin, Payson, Springville, and Provo.
We rested for a few minutes, took some pictures, and made a couple phone calls. At about 2:10 p.m. we headed back down.
Cornices on the Loafer ridgeline at the top of Mud Hollow
We mostly took the same route that we followed on the way up. However, we went all the way back down to the Santaquin-Loafer saddle, arriving at 2:55 p.m., so that we could look over the other (northeast) side. From there we headed back up Loafer, and stayed a little higher than we did on the down. We actually climbed quite a bit higher than we thought, and had to descend a bit back down the ridge. We reached the Mud Hollow saddle at about 3:51 p.m.
Kent routefinding in the forest on the Loafer Mountain ridge
On the way up we switched from the north to the south side of Rock Canyon. However, on the way down we took the south ridge of Rock Canyon all the way down to avoid the possibility of going too far down Rock Canyon and having to climb back up a drainage. There were a few patches of bad scrub oak, but by staying in the trees we managed to avoid a lot of it.
The hike down was honestly not very fun. I really enjoyed the time on the top of the ridge and in the cirque, but once we were off the snow, it was just a long hike back to the car, punctuated by bouts of scrub oak. Have I mentioned that I don't like scrub oak?
If you look at the route map, you'll notice that we took a drainage, rather than a ridge, back down from the Loafer Ridge to Nebo Loop Road. We took the alternate route to avoid scrub oak and to avoid an unnecessary ascent back up to the ridge. I wouldn't recommend going up that way, though, because there is a lot of loose shale that would be miserable to try to hike up.
Almost to the car
We were both feeling a little sick to our stomaches on the way down, and we slowed down quite a bit. We started to worry a bit that we wouldn't be down before dark. Without the GPS, and with the dense scrub oak, it would have been difficult to find our way down in the dark. However, our strength seemed to pick back up after a while, and we narrowly averted an unplanned night of camping on Loafer Mountain by making it back to the car at about 8:15, just after the sun went down for the day.
Me on Loafer ridge
I enjoyed our climb. The weather was beautiful, snow conditions were good, and it was nice to get away from the city, especially since finals had just ended at school.
Not everything was rosy: the route we took was long, and most of the lower half wasn't particularly interesting or exciting. The scrub oak took most of the fun out of that section of the climb.
Once we passed the scrub oak and were on show, the views were great. I enjoyed the climb a lot once we passed the top of Mud Hollow entered Loafer Canyon. The climb up the last ridge was a lot of fun, with great views an a bit of exposure on both sides. The view from the top was perhaps the best (most expansive) that I have had from any Wasatch mountain.
Despite the long approach and the loss of my GPS, I count our climb of Santaquin among the better ones that I have done.