The Hypodermic Needle (a.k.a. The Needle) is a superb snow climb on the east face of North Thunder Mountain, in the Central Wasatch Mountains of Utah. This is one of my favorite snow climbs in the Wasatch because of the stunning scenery and the wide variety of terrain you travel.
The Needle is a narrow couloir through granite cliffs with a sustained angle of 50 degrees for 1,100 vertical feet. The Needle is in a remote location for the Wasatch and is rarely visited, this nearly guarantees an adventure with complete solitude. We climbed this couloir on June 6th and the snow was adequate for good climbing, although the top 50 vertical feet were melted out. The best snow conditions for climbing are probably found in mid May.
The Hypodermic Needle (right, in the shadow).
Stream Crossings and Bushwhacking
There is no trail ascending Hogum Fork, so the first crux of the route is simply crossing the canyon stream and finding the mouth of the fork. We planned to begin our attempt at 5am, in the dark, so I did a short recon of the stream crossing two days before and found the famed logs that provide the only crossing over the roaring stream. After the crossing, we followed a dry creek bed up the granite slabs guarding the entrance to Hogum Fork. Our original plan was to follow the flowing stream up Hogum, but our eager anticipation to climb got the best of us and we ended up on a wild bushwhack through steep, treacherous terrain. We received a bit more adventure than we bargained for this early in the day, but made it out alive while unintentionally dislodging large rocks and boulders during our bushwhack / scramble.
Crossin' the streams.
This can't be the best way up Hogum Fork?!
Above our messy bushwhack we finally hit snow.
Hogum Fork and Route Finding
Entering Hogum Fork was a feast for the eyes. Dustin and I were giddy at the opportunity to travel through such stunning terrain. It was a fun sense of exploration as this was the first time for both of us in this corner of the Wastach. We gradually approached the apron of The Needle, but it was difficult to recognize the correct couloir from our perspective. We ended up hiking too far south toward the base of another couloir named "The Sliver". With thunderstorms forecasted for the afternoon, we were concerned we had wasted too much time hunting for The Needle, and that we should just climb The Sliver. Darker clouds were beginning to surface in the north, yet we had no ability to look west and view what was coming our direction. Dustin texted his girlfriend who advised us the sky was clear for our section of the mountains. With that news our decision was simple: back track to The Needle!
Entering the main terrain of Hogum Fork.
Ah, the possibilities (Thunderbolt Ridge, 5.4, on the right).
The Sliver. We've gone too far.
Backtracking to The Needle.
The Needle. This is what we came for.
The Needle and The Summit
The meat of the couloir and the subsequent scramble to the summit of North Thunder Mountain were phenomenal. The snow was great (maybe a little soft), the weather was perfect, and the scenery was stunning. This was fun!
Climbing the apron.
Reaching the couloir.
Scrambling along the summit ridge.
The view southeast (Thunderbolt Ridge visible).
The view east (Pfeifferhorn, White Baldy, Red Baldy).
The view west (Lone Peak).
The view north (Cottonwood Ridge and Little Cottonwood Canyon).
Words can't describe the satisfaction of enjoying the summit of North Thunder Mountain. It was simply too good! For the descent, our initial plan was to take a fast glissade down Coalpit Gulch. Unfortunately, from my prior recon it was evident that the lower waterfall of Coalpit Gulch was going to be a major obstacle. Not only would a roped rappel be mandatory with the raging water, but we would have to rappel down through the waterfall and downclimb some steep, wet rock. The safer option would be a glissade and hike down Bells Canyon. Although a Bells Canyon descent is much longer, we both felt more comfortable with that route.
Slide, baby slide.
One last uphill section near Bells Cleaver.
Almost home, with a light storm moving in.
We reached our car at 5pm, exactly 12 hours after our start. Just as we removed our packs, light rain began to fall. Could the timing be any better? Life can be awfully sweet when things go your way. This was a perfect day in the mountains.