Stairs Gulch is a challenging and infrequently used route to the summit of Broads Fork Twin Peaks. The route climbs the Stairs Gulch drainage, which is the next drainage to the west of Broads Fork
, the most common approach to the summit of Broads Fork Twins. This is a steep route, climbing over 5,500 vertical feet in less than 3 miles.
The best time to attempt this route is during a relatively narrow window of opportunity during late spring and early summer, when consolidated snow will cover much of the loose rock and scree, and allows for easy cramponing up the steep slopes. Ascents are also possible later in the summer after all the snow has melted, but there will be significantly more routefinding through exposed cliff bands, as well as much loose rock and scree underfoot.
: Stairs Gulch is notorious for monstrous avalanches during winter and early spring. Two climbers were buried and killed in Stairs Gulch in April of 2001; an excellent report of the incident, including photos, can be found here
. Be ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN that all avalanche activity has ceased for the year before attempting this route.
This route begins across the road from the Storm Mountain Picnic Area in Big Cottonwood Canyon. Take the 6200 South exit (exit #6) off I-215 and follow highway 190 south-east approximately 2 miles to the intersection with Big Cottonwood Canyon road (State Highway 190).
Turn left (east) at the intersection and drive 2.8 miles up Big Cottonwood Canyon road. Just beyond the entrance to the Storm Mountain Picnic Area on the left (north) side of the road, pull over and park at a pullout on the right side of the road, which is where the route begins.
One-Way Hiking Distance: 2.7 miles
Elevation Gain: 5,540 ft.
Avg. Gain per Mile: 2,052 ft.
Trailhead Elevation: 5,790 ft.
Summit Elevation: 11,330 ft. (east Twin)
This route description assumes a late spring / early summer ascent, when the gulch will contain extended consolidated snow fields. This is the preferred time to attempt this route. Expect considerably differing conditions for later summer or autumn attempts, after all snow has melted.
From the pullout area on the south side of the road look for a well defined hikers trail heading south toward Stairs Gulch. The trail passes through a lightly forested area a short distance above the Stairs Gulch creek on the right. A number of popular rock climbing areas are located to the west on the other side of the creek.
The trail gradually shrinks as it continues up the drainage, then briefly crosses to the west side of the creek ±1/3 mile from the trailhead. Continue following the trail until it eventually reaches consolidated snow, at which point it will be necessary to utilize crampons and ice axe. Obviously, the location at which extended snow is reached will vary considerably depending on the time of year.
Continue up the snow as it climbs gradually at first but gradually becoming steeper. Depending on the amount of snow present, it may be necessary to scramble up short sections of cliff bands to bypass open pockets in the snow or short waterfalls.
At approximately 7,500 ft. elevation there is a distinct fork in the drainage. The right (west) fork may appear more promising, but the correct route is the left (east) fork. Continue climbing south up the left fork until it becomes necessary to leave the snow and routefind through a series of cliff bands. There are numerous possiblites for negotiating the scrambling through the cliff bands, but the best policy appears to be staying toward the left as much as possible.
From ±8,500 ft. elevation on, i.e. before the upper moderate-slope snowfield gives way to steeper slopes, pick your way up a partially wooded side gully / wide bench on the lower east side of the gulch. There is considerable loose and slippery rock underfoot so use extreme caution.
The exact location where the southern headwall ridge of Stairs Gulch is reached may vary depending on the line chosen. The best plan may be to aim for the low spot on the ridge towards the southeast rim of the gulch. This saddle overlooks the Bonkers (a.k.a. Robinson) couloir, located on the Broads Fork (east) side of the ridge. This will spare your both the unpleasant steep slabs making up the Southern - Southwestern headwall of Stairs, and some unnecessary altitude drop east of the triple divide of Broads Fork / Stairs Gulch / Deaf Smith Canyon.
The saddle is also the location where the route joins the Robinson Variation
route, with ±3/4 mile of ridge remaining to Broads Fork Twin. Follow the ridge as it continues southward, gaining little elevation until the ridge approaches the final climb of several hundred feet up to the east summit of Broads Fork Twin.
In late spring and early summer (the ideal time for this route) an ice axe and crampons will be necessary. There is also significant rockfall danger, so climbing helmets are strongly recommended.