Backpacking The Little Grand Canyon – San Rafael Swell, Utah

The Little Grand Canyon is an amazing overnight backpacking trip that is perfect for people looking for a fairly easy trip that wanders through one of Utah’s best scenes. The San Rafael River starting from Fuller Bottom is a popular spot for boaters to put in and typically do a single day float of the river, but we’re going to talk about backpacking the canyon in this post.

Below you’ll find some quick info on the best season to hike this, distance, and other important sources. Then you’ll read further to see a Day 1 and Day 2 explanation of the hike and what you can expect during your hike.

Season: Best done in early to late spring, and early fall. Avoid going June through August as temps are extreme and the river may be flowing at a rate that would be unsafe to ford.
Mileage/Time: Total miles to hike from the Fuller Bottom trailhead to the trailhead near the Swinging Bridge is 15.25 miles. You will split this in two, with day one being 7 miles or so, and day two being about 8 miles.
Where To Camp: Your best option for camping is at the mouth of Virgin Spring Canyon, located 7 miles from the Fuller Bottom trailhead. You’ll have to ford the river to get into Virgin Canyon, but there are two or three great, flat, established camp spots, big enough for groups of 6-8 people.
Waste Disposal: The Little Grand Canyon is located on BLM Land and does not have restrictions on human waste disposal. But please practice Leave No Trace principles and dig cat holes, carry out your toilet paper, and do your business 200 feet from any water source.
Water Availability: You can always filter water from the San Rafael as needed. It is typically murky water and will quickly plug up any filter. Your best water source is located at the end of Virgin Spring Canyon, where you’ll find a large pool and fresh water. Be sure as always to use a filter or chemical drops to treat the water. Cattle typically graze in these canyons or Utah.
Shuttle: Most people do this hike from point A to point B. Point A being Fuller Bottom, and then finishing at the trailhead below Swinging Bridge at the mouth of Buckhorn Wash. You will need to plan to leave a car at the Swinging Bridge Trailhead, then shuttle up to Fuller Bottom.

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Route Description:

Day 1: Plan to hike 7 miles this day to make it to Virgin Spring Canyon, so an early start is good to make sure you get the shuttle taken care of before you begin your hike. The Nat Geo Trails Illustrated map is not totally correct as far as where it shows the Fuller Bottom Trailhead. See rest of description for info.

Begin your hike at the small parking lot on your left where the Fuller Bottom road approaches the San Rafael River. There is a trail register box there tat is used by hikers and boaters. Reset your GPS and start walking down the jeep road. You will cross the river after about a 1/4 mile, make sure you stay on the Jeep road as it will allow you to avoid bushwhacking through tamarisk and following cow trails.

Follow the Jeep road for about one mile, it will begin to climb uphill and seem as though you are walking away from the river and canyon. In the distance as you are walking south, you’ll see a red sign with some torn up maps on it. This is where you will turn east (left) where you will begin walking towards the canyon. The trail is easy to follow at this point as it begins to drop into the canyon.

Be sure to look for a small pictograph panel that is easy to miss on your left about 3 miles into your hike from the trailhead. About half a mile past that on your right is an old mine. To the left of a small side canyon you’ll see a trail going up to a hole in some light yellow colored rock with a bunch or yellow tailings. There is also remains of a log cabin with tin cans around this area, but we were unable to find it. As you continue walking down the canyon you will ford the river several times. Make sure to check the current flow rate via USGS. If the river is running higher than 60 CFS, then crossing the river will be difficult, and possibly dangerous.

As you approach Virgin Spring Canyon you will be on the wrong side of the river and will need to cross the river to get into Virgin Spring Canyon. About 5 minutes up Virgin Spring on your right is a very nice pictograph panel about 15 feet above you. If you walk in the wash it’s easy to miss, but follow the trail on the west side of the canyon as you walk up will lead you to a sign that says to not deface the rock. Another 5-10 minutes up Virgin Canyon you’ll come to a dry fall where a large pool of water is located. This is your best source for water and should be your refill for the remainder of the trip, unless you choose to filter water from the river.

Virgin Spring Canyon has seen a bit of graffiti and people being careless about their trash. Please pick up any trash you see, and be a steward by practicing Leave No Trace principles. Virgin Spring Canyon has two or three nice spots to camp and this is your best option since it’s so close to a good water source.

Day 2: Make sure you are all stocked up on water and begin making your way down the canyon. There is supposed to be another pictograph panel just before you make the hard right turn on the river and start walking south toward Cane Wash. Cane Wash is also supposed to have decent camping and another pictograph panel located up the wash. We did not look for it on this most recent trip. You will cover about 8 miles this day to the car. The last 3.5 miles are dry and you no longer have to ford the river. Be prepared for a couple steep climbs, but nothing too aggressive.

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Winter Hammock Camping – My First Attempt At It

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Last week I stepped out of my comfort zone and spent my first night ever sleeping in a hammock. Over my childhood and adult years I have spent more nights in a tent, sleeping on the ground than I would even begin to try and count. But why have I never slept in a hammock, you ask? Easy, I never thought to even try it. Plus people are always complaining about how cold they get in a hammock and how much their back hurts in the morning. Hmmm… freezing your butt off, and back pain. Sounds worse than sleeping on a futon.

I am happy to report, that after just one night in 20 degree weather, i’ll be returning to the hammock for more glorious nights of sleep. But lets back track a little and talk about how I got to this point. As you may know I have been investing a lot of time into my YouTube Channel. In that time investment comes looking at what is trending in the outdoor industry. I’ve noticed a few things trending, that being Ultralight Backpacking, and Hammocks. Hammocking is becoming the big way to save weight and simplify a backpackers setup. But if not done correctly, it won’t save you much weight or space, and that is the struggle I am seeing here. At least within a winter setup.

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So what got me to head out into the freezing temps to test out the hammock?

Couple of things: I got my hands on a couple hammocks that I have been dying to to use more, and to see if hammocking makes sense for the type of backpacker that I am.

So what was the result? Overall a good experience. I’ll admit that I don’t have all the necessary gear needed to make sleeping in a hammock ideal, but I had enough to make the trial a worthy test. I took my existing Rab Silwing Tarp and set it up over my Wildhorn Outfitters Outpost hammock. I am glad there was no weather, because the tarp is not as long as the hammock, creating a problem for rain evasion. But what’s more important is the comfort level. With my NeoAir pad in the hammock it made for a very comfortable night of sleep, arguably better than some nights i’ve had sleeping on the ground. It’s not always amazing sleeping when out in the backcountry, but the hammock setup made for a comfortable night of sleep.

At this point it comes down to making critical adjustments to the setup to make it even better. Mainly i’d like to see it get lighter and more manageable. Meaning that in order for the hammock setup to make more sense than a tent, I need to get a tarp that works properly for a hammock and probably focus hammock camping for Summer use only.

Overall I am pleased with my first attempt and plan to make more attempts at it and perfect it a little.


11k With May – A Family Expedition – Jan 2016

Looking south at Provo Peak from the Cascade Sadle

The Wasatch Mountain Range that towers over the Salt Lake Valley and Utah Valley may seem like something that just sits to the east and holds the best skiing on earth, but there’s more to them than meets the eye.

Although not as tall as the famous fourteeners of the Colorado Rockies, the Wasatch Range holds many technical and prominent peaks that are incredibly rewarding. One of these peaks/mountains contains some of the busiest trailheads in the area. Mount Timpanogos has a prominence of over 5000 feet and towers over Utah Valley, and may be one of the busiest mountains in the states. With a total elevation of 11,753 feet, it’s a test piece for the average hiker to see what they are made of. On any given weekend in the summer, dozens to even hundreds of people are seen on the summit and trails of this peak. But Timpanogos is just one of over 30 peaks along the Wasatch Front that exceed 11,000 feet. Some may only see a couple people on the summit each year, but the level of solitude found just a few minutes from the front door makes the Wasatch Range a coveted peak baggers dream.

On October 8th, 2015 my wife and I welcomed our beautiful daughter, Maylin, into the world. Katie and I in our life together have always made getting into the backcountry a priority. Now that we have a family, we have made sure that the added effort and time to get into the mountains doesn’t stop us from that passion we share. Quickly we talked about a goal that we could do as a family to prove that we can conquer the complacency of not getting out, and in the same breath, create a memory for our little family.

Although still in the planning phase, as soon as the snow begins to die off, we will begin our ascent of the many peaks in the Wasatch. The best way to follow the adventure will be here on this blog and also through video on the Backcountry Exposure Youtube Channel.

Backpacking Essentials – Backcountry Exposure Youtube Series

One of my favorite things about backpacking is the preparation that comes with the anticipation for a trip. I remember getting prepared for my trip down The Paria River with a school class. That trip involved a lot of planning, preparation and mental preparation. Knowing how to get ready for backpacking experiences is vital to whether or not you enjoy yourself out on the trail. 
This has lead me to create a series of videos to share with you all about the Essentials of Backpacking. Everything from gear to use, what to buy, and even the ethics behind being a good person in the backcountry. I love to share my knowledge with people and look forward to seeing the evolution of this series. It will primarily be contained on my Youtube Channel, but I will update with each video here as well. 

Packard Lake – High Uinta Wilderness Backpacking

The High Uinta Wilderness is one of my favorite places to visit, and having it so close makes visiting simple and convenient. This year my wife and I are expecting our first child, and I wanted to make sure I got out backpacking enough times over the Summer knowing that the Fall and Winter seasons would be filled with a different priority.
I rallied some friends of mine and we originally planned to hike into Red Castle, but quickly changed plans because I didn’t want to be too far away from Katie, with her being 9 months along.

Instead of Red Castle, we decided to go a shorter distance and see what Packard Lake was like, off the Highline Trail. All I can say is I was pleasantly surprised at how beautiful and amazing this area of the Uintas is. So lets get into the details.

Packard Lake is located about 4 miles from the Highline Trailhead off the Mirror Lake Highway.

The Highline may be the most popular trail in the Uinta Wilderness. It basically cuts the range in half and covers over 50 miles of terrain. The west side of the highline is vastly different than the east side, but both boast beautiful views and high elevations.

Getting to Packard is moderately difficult. Any seasoned backpacker would see this as an easy hike, but someone new to backpacking would need to take some extra time as there’s a good amount of elevation gain and loss after you leave the highline trail and branch off towards Packard. You’ll start from the Highline Trailhead and after about 2.2 miles you’ll be passing Scudder Lake, which is the first lake you see as you hike. Another .8 miles and you’ll come to the Packard Lake junction on your right. The sign for the junction is posted on a large tree and you cannot miss it. From there, be ready to go up and down several times. There are some steep sections that will leave a new backpacker needing to stop for a breather.

There are three lakes after you take the right at the junction and head towards Packard. The first you come to is Wilder. It’s a beautiful setting and has some great camping, but I suggest moving onward. After some steep trail and following a ridgeline you descend and come to Wyman Lake. Wyman also has some great camping, and a beautiful sight next to a classic Uinta bubbling brook. Again, a stunning view and area, but keep walking another 10 to 15 minutes and make your way to Packard. There is a beautiful meadow just before you head east toward Packard Lake. Stop and enjoy the view and hope to see some deer hanging out.

As you come up to Packard, which is the largest of the three lakes, you’ll notice that you are right up against a ridgeline. As seen in the title image of this post, the lake sits against an amazing overlook of the Duchesne River. You’ll see a waterfall, cliff band, and big open skies. It’s absolutely beautiful! As you approach the lake, the best camping is on the right side between the canyon overlook and the lake. It’s obvious that this is a popular place for scout troops to come, as it’s only 4 miles of hiking. There’s good spots, but we found a great, quiet spot nestled back in some thick trees further back along the lake shore. Let the scout troops coming in to kill your quiet solitude take the large open, over used spots close to the outlet of the Lake.

The fishing in Packard was not the greatest i’ve seen in the Uinta Wilderness. I tried using a fly and bubble, switching between red and yellow humpies, to mosquitos, to renegades, and the Brook Trout in the lake would not take the bait. Jakes Spinner Lures are probably your best option for this lake.

This particular trip was one of the most relaxing backpacking trips i’ve ever had. But it also came with some frustration. I’ve spent a lot of time focusing on Leave No Trace as i’ve been in the backcountry, and try hard to not overdue it, but was displeased with how the area was littered with numerous unnecessary fire rings in such odd and obscure locations. Trash, and the occasional spool of old fishing line spread across the lake shore. Please be responsible when out in the backcountry and Leave No Trace.

I highly recommend this as a great option for a one or two day trip. Access is great, the views never disappoint, and the atmosphere of the lake is enough to make you feel like you are hundreds of miles from any other person on earth.

Hiking The Paria River – Buckskin Gulch – March 2015

“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and and above the clouds.” 
Edward Abbey
The Paria River Canyon is an area of Utah/Arizona that i’ve always wanted to visit, but never took the leap to make it down there. You hear about Buckskin Gulch all the time and how beautiful it is. Well I finally got the chance to go after putting in a suggestion to one of my school professors. I am a student at Utah Valley University studying Outdoor Recreation Management. This class that I took is an Outdoor Leadership class, focused on teaching leadership skills and group management in the field. A challenge I was looking forward to. 
This class involves a six day backpacking trip during the month of March. I was beyond excited about going on this long of a trip. 
The Route: Whitehouse Trailhead south to Lee’s Ferry
Day 1 – We arrived at the trailhead and would spend the first night at the trailhead. We had a few hours to kill before we needed to setup beds for the night and get ready for the first few miles of hiking in the morning. We played Bocci Ball next to the river and threw rocks at sticks. You know, what all people do to kill time.

Day 2 – The adventure begins. Adventure is the right word for this day because a lot happened on the first day of hiking. We had a lot of ground to cover, as the first night on the trail would be at the confluence of Buckskin Gulch and the Paria River. The water level at this time of year was at an abnormally high level. The week prior to our departure, the water discharge level at Lee’s Ferry was over 200 cubic feet per second. In other words, too high for anyone to hike down. Water level when we got there was mostly never above our knees at the highest, and we were prepared however for lots of time in the water. 
Our first ten seconds on the trail involved a river crossing, and over the next mile we either crossed the river at least eight times, or walked in the water cause the walls of the canyon were surrounded by sloppy mud. The mud would become our enemy for the next four days. After several miles we entered the narrows of the canyon. In some areas of the canyon, the walls are maybe ten feet apart from each other. A truly beautiful sight!
By this time it was getting later into the afternoon, the time we call the witching hour (5pm) was soon approaching. We entered a spot of the trail where we had to truly get wet. 
Excuse the language – it was cold and miserable!

We had hiked almost 11 miles at this point in the day and we were tired and cold from being in the narrows of the canyon for so long. Through much of the narrows we were hiking in water up to mid thigh and then we came to a section where we had no choice but to get wet. A depth we referred to as nipple deep. I went through and was soaked, and the remaining seven of us all had to go through too. If you’ve never been in a situation like that, then it’s hard to understand. This is a level of discomfort and moral destroyer like no other. The water temperature in the canyon at this point was maybe 40 degrees. This is where everything changed.

We started hiking as fast as we could to get to the confluence of Buckskin and see if we could camp in the one spot that is a few hundred yards up Buckskin Gulch. About 1/4 mile from the confluence, Betsy, our professor lost her balance after one of her trekking poles sunk into the mud. She took a full on swim and was wet from head to toe. Once we got to the confluence, the water and wind coming down the canyon was so incredibly cold. One of the people in our group had a thermometer and dipped it in the water. It was 34 degrees! Luckily the one camp spot was available and we dropped our packs and stripped down to get into some dry clothes, get warm and cook dinner. What was one of the most amazing days of hiking, was also one of the most miserable and cold experiences of my life.

Day 3 – This class two years prior to this trip, went on this exact same trip, and the plan for day 3 is to not cover as many miles because the plan is to hike up Buckskin Gulch to the rock fall a few miles up the canyon. We got up, and to be honest, the thought of taking off nice warm thermals and putting my wet shorts and wet cold shoes back on was far from anything any of us wanted to do. Once we had packed up camp we as a group decided that we would try to hike up Buckskin. Now you should know that most of the time, there is no water running through Buckskin. It’s for the most part a dry canyon unless there’s been a lot of rain and later in the year is better to hike Buckskin. There however was shin height water running down the canyon and it was soooo cold! I know I sound like im complaining a lot, but it was something i’ll never forget.

We started hiking up Buckskin and within minutes we couldn’t even feel our feet. It was apparent we weren’t going to make it very far up the canyon. We came to a spot where it got super narrow and we used a trekking pole to see how deep the hole was. We were unable to find the bottom of the hole with the pole. So instead of going swimming again, we opted to turn around and start heading back down the Paria and see if we could find some sun to soak up.

This section of the Paria is probably the most beautiful given the features that are in this layer of rock. The walls are incredibly narrow, and the hiking is amazing. Because there was so much water in this section, we had to hike in the water for several miles, with an occasional rocky/muddy shore to get out of the cold water. We planned to hike five miles this day and camp at the next reliable spring.

One of the students, Smitty, in this section was hiking close to the side of the wall and ended up getting stuck in some quick sand, which also meant he went swimming up to his chest. A great way to start the day.

After covering the miles needed, it was time for us to find a place to camp. We had been hiking kind of in a slingshot method with a group of guys that were down there. They found a place to camp before us, and it would have been ideal for a large group. But we pushed on a little further to an area that was in the sun. Dropped our packs and started cooking dinner.

Lots of water in Buckskin Gulch
Found a low spot of water in Buckskin

Sections like this were fun because you never knew how deep the water was, or where the holes were.

Days 4-6
The canyon starts to open up at this point. There are still really tall walls, but we had left the narrow sections and the layers of sandstone start to change by this point. On this day we dropped our packs when we got to what’s called, The Abandoned Meander, which is a small canyon that the river at one point ran through, but doesn’t any more. This little canyon was absolutely beautiful and is worth the trek up into it. There’s really beautiful, lush vegetation and at the right time of day, it glows from the sun.

The hiking at this point in the trip was just tiring. My shins and the muscles right below my shins were beyond sore. We had crossed the river probably 100 times by now and each day started off with a river crossing. What a way to start the day, get your feet wet and cold. On either side of the river was several inches of thick, sticky mud, which I attribute the sore shins to.

The below photo is one of my favorite from the trip. Here is the group all together, I knew very little about each person in this group before we left, and after 6 days on the trail with them, there was a respect for each person that wouldn’t have been there if we hadn’t been on this trip. I remember walking through the river at this bend in the canyon, and I looked behind me and the light in the canyon was glowing, the rock was glowing, the river was glowing, and it was kind of a magical moment. I had to take a few seconds to just stop and appreciate the absolute beauty. It was then that I requested we all get together and get what would end up being the only group shot of the trip.
The photo doesn’t do the light justice, but you can appreciate the beauty.

Trail to Wrather Arch
Wrather Arch
Selfie Time!

What’s amazing about the lower sections of the canyon is how fast the landscape changes. I think you hike through three different layers of sandstone through the lower 15 miles of the canyon. It’s truly an amazing place though. We camped at obvious camp sites each night, which were convenient to good springs. Because of a knee injury, our pace the last couple days was much slower than anticipated, and the last night of camping was at Wilson Ranch, which if you end up having to camp there, we did find water from a spring at the ranch.

An incredible trip that was highly anticipated for many weeks leading up to it. Even though it was my first experience using WAG bags and having to carry all that extra weight, I wouldn’t trade the experience gained in that canyon for anything else. Friendships were made and an appreciation for the wildness of the area will stay with me forever.

Winter Hiking – Desolation Trail – Millcreek Canyon Utah

I’ve realized some things as of late, and that is, there are so many things to do in the outdoors that are right in my backyard. Utah’s mountains provide endless opportunities to get into the backcountry with very little travel time. I am sure throughout the states that the same is there if you look for it. I do feel like we are spoiled a little here in the Beehive state. 
Last week I took an opportunity to join my good friend, Greg, for a morning hike in Millcreek Canyon. I had actually never hiked on any of the trails that are found in the canyon. Desolation trail is a popular trail and allows for some neat loop hiking. We hiked up Thayne’s Canyon with the dogs and enjoyed an hour or so in the dark before the sun came up.
Those morning hours are some of my favorite times of the day. They do not happen often enough because we find ourselves cozy and warm in bed, but this was a beautiful morning. There was snow forecasted for late morning and as we pulled into the parking lot, snow was flurrying. The calmness of the air was something that cannot be experienced if you were not there. Those quite moments are rare and they ought to be enjoyed. As the sun started to rise, the colors that came over the landscape were absolutely beautiful! Purples and blues covered the area around and it again was one of those moments of pure solitude. 
I love being outside in the backcountry. I love being in the snow and enjoying the beauty of it in the backcountry. Getting outside doesn’t have to be a hard thing. It doesn’t have to stop when the snow flies, and snow doesn’t mean that you have to ski. I threw on some Microspikes and took to the mountain. 
Desolation Trail is an incredible trail that is 5 minutes up Millcreek Canyon from east Salt Lake City. Being surrounded by pines and a fresh blanket of snow was hard to beat as I hiked with Greg. The dogs running through the snow and having a great time made the 5am alarm with the 30 seconds of regret worth every second of beauty that the two of us enjoyed. We saw no other people on the trail, and for the brief moment we were alone to bask in nature and the beauty of it.  

Squaw Struck – A 22 Pitch Sport Climbing Beast! – The History and My 8 Pitches of Climbing

Looming over the city of Provo, Utah is a feature of rock known as Squaw Peak. Anyone that drives through Provo has seen this peak as it makes up the north wall of what is known as Rock Canyon. In the 1990’s when the limestone of American Fork Canyon was being developed/bolted, and was gaining national attention for the steep routes it offered, Rock Canyon was being developed by the same guys. It’s a unique canyon, in that the mouth is all quartzite, and it’s really not the greatest rock either. The ease of access to this rock has made Rock Canyon an incredibly popular location for Brigham Young University students and Utah Valley residents to get evening sessions of climbing in after school and work. Further up the canyon is where the limestone appears. Although not known for the amount of hard routes like American Fork is, Rock Canyon in my opinion is some of the best limestone climbing in Utah.
For years Squaw Peak (a massive chunk of southern exposed limestone) was thought to be something that would never be worth bolting. The rock was always considered junk, and who would spend all the time and effort to put up a route to the top of the peak. Tristan Higbee would be that person to put the route up, with the help of some others. A ton of respect and high fives should go to Tristan for putting so much effort into a route of this nature, in a place that is not known for big wall climbing. Rock Canyon already has several 3-8 pitch sport routes found in the mouth of the canyon. But 22 pitches of limestone sport climbing just seems crazy for everything else that is around the area. I am reminded of the famous quote, “if you build it, he will come.” Only this time, “if you bolt it, they will climb it.”
Squaw Peak as seen from Provo, that also shows the start of the route with the finish the top. (Photo Credit: Tristan H.)
The history of this route is a lot more than you would think. Tristan spent more than 40 days working on this route that spanned over two years of time. The following are excerpts from Tristan’s personal account of the routes history, and have been used with permission from Tristan. http://thealoof.com/squawstruck-beta-topo-first-ascent-rock-canyon/
Darren Knezek, the owner of the climbing store in Provo, had shown me an old, obscure trip report online of some young climbers putting a trad line halfway up the face in the mid 90s, and someone (I think it was Jim Knight?) told me that a climber from the Canadian Rockies climbed somewhere on the face back in the day. My plan was to put a well-protected sport route up the thing. So one day in the spring of 2008, I hauled a drill, rope, bolts, and some trad gear up to the base of the lowest point of the cliff, intending to rope solo the route and drill it ground up. After placing a whopping three bolts, I decided that this was not the way to do it. I could tell that some of the rock above me (namely a small roof 40 feet up) was rotten and some of it would need to be trundled. Rope soloing up through it would be dangerous, so I bailed.
I just can’t imagine what must of been going through Tristan’s head with 3 bolts placed and 1900 feet of climbing towering over him. A little daunting if you ask me. After that experience Tristan spent time with Christian Burrell working on another project in Rock Canyon known as The Wild and The Galaxy Area. 
On August 28, 2008, I followed an arcing gully from the bottom of Rock Canyon up to near the top of the bottom half of the face (to the ledge between what would later be pitches six and seven). I looked down and saw several hundred feet of limestone below me and I realized I didn’t have any more excuses. I started humping loads the next week.It took a good couple hours to hike up there each time with all of the ropes, drills, water, and bolts. The rock was surprisingly good. For years I’d heard rumors of how crappy the rock up there was, but it was actually very solid with only a couple short, chossy sections. I think that people just assumed the rock was terrible because 1) it didn’t look that great from the canyon floor, and 2) if the rock was good there would already be routes up there, right?

My climbing partner in crime, Christian, helped bolt pitch 7 and clean a few others, but I hauled all the gear and cleaned and bolted everything else. He was psyched about putting a route up Squaw Peak, but he had a job with set hours and a family. I had neither of those things. After a couple months of skipping classes to bolt, I’d finished the bottom eight pitches (about 600 feet of climbing). Not wanting to leave the gear up there for the duration of the winter, I hauled out all hundred pounds of it (several ropes, drill batteries, etc.) in a small haulbag. That was another one of the worst experiences of my life.

Christian and I climbed those first 8 pitches in early December 2008. We thought they were pretty stellar, and we were excited for people to get on them and climb them while we worked on the upper pitches. But before anyone else could climb them (though maybe a party or two snuck in?) the winter storms hit and we turned to ice climbing and desert towers.

This final bit of bolting and cleaning gave me problems. I’d just bought a brand new 70 m Blue Water static rope to use for drilling and cleaning routes. While cleaning pitch 9, I dislodged a big rock that landed square on my rope about 50 feet below me. It chopped the rope clean in half.

I finished bolting and cleaning the final pitch the last week of August 2010 and actually cried as I stuffed the drill back into my backpack for the last time. If I had known how much time, money, and effort this route would take, I probably never would have started it two and a half years earlier. I spent many, many, many full days (probably 30 or 40?) on the mountain and was just sick of it. I was again back down into the 130s. But finally, the burden of having to finish this one stupid route was gone, replaced with the 85-pound pack of gear that I had to carry down and off the mountain.

 Tristan jugging up the start of pitch 3 (Photo Credit: Tristan Higbee)
 Looking down from pitch 5 to Christian cleaning pitch 3 (Photo Credit: Tristan Higbee)
 Christian taking a breather at the top of pitch 6 with all the gear that was hauled up for bolting the route. (Photo Credit: Tristan Higbee)
Drilling one of the anchor bolts at the top of pitch 6 (Photo Credit: Tristan Higbee)
The history of this route is amazing knowing that it was essentially one person’s dream. I have a lot of respect for Tristan putting so much time, money and effort into the project and making it a reality. 
Christian B. is a good friend of mine and I wanted to hear his take on the history of this route.

After all the work it took to put these new areas (the wild and the galaxy area) on the map, Tristan started to plant the seed of Squaw Peak. He had discovered a ledge we could traverse into to access higher up on the cliff and establish the lower half without too much trouble. He went to work (being a college student without a job, he had the spare time) on his own rapping in putting in belay anchors. The wall luckily had a nice ledge or stance at the end of a reasonable length pitch. I joined him when I could and we quickly had the lower 8 pitches in and set to go. The rock quality was not perfect, but far better than we ever imagined it could be. Pitch 5 in particular was a stunner. It went through a prominent white band that EVERYONE assumed it meant it would be total crap rock. But it ended up being nearly perfect and, the pitch was one of the best overall.

We actually made the FA of the lower pitches on a Saturday in December. The weather turned out perfect and we climbed in short sleeves. BYU had a home game and we could hear the cannon booming every time there was a TD. Clearly the Cougars were playing well.

Then we switched to the very top. We didn’t want to drag all the gear all the way up and around the back of the peak, so we actually drove up the peak road as high as we could and worked out a access trail down through the saddle between the two peaks at above the wall. This got us to the top much faster. The upper wall was mostly more great rock like the lower 8 pitches. We were super psyched to have the route basically 2/3 done. The route was fairly easy to follow and the rock was so good, the bolts were going in fast. But that middle wall was a problem. We built a rap on the edge of the wall to make access up and down easier. We also left a rope fixed here for our return. We walked around at the base of the middle wall and wondered what to do. We had agreed early on to follow Tristan’s desire to keep the route moderate. we had hoped to keep the whole route 5.10 or under (but still challenging and we bypassed easier terrain in favor of more exciting stuff here and there). We had also wanted to find a good solid stance at each belay to make rapping the whole route easy. But the middle wall was tall and steep. It also looked to have rock of less savory character. We worried that this wall would dash our hopes for the route.

Attempt #1 for FA.Tristan had spent time over the course of multiple years and thousands of dollars getting this thing ready. He had hung there for hours and hours in the hot Summer sun. I had helped when I could, but he was always the driving force that kept the project going. The day we went, was nice and cool in the morning. But being August, we knew it was going to get hotter. I carried a camelback filled to the top; and I expected to drink it all. We zipped up the first 8 pitches really fast. We had done them several times and knew them well. Then we headed up into somewhat unknown territory. The next 3 pitches ended up being pretty tough. The sun was up and the heat was starting to affect us. Pitch 10 was really tricky. We got a little pumped getting through. We hiked up to the real middle wall and by now, I really needed a break. I had drunk a good amount of my water trying to avoid getting dehydrated early. But now the sun was roasting me fast. We should have stopped to rest, but as we didn’t have any idea how long the rest of the route would take us, we pushed on. We thought we could rest before the final wall.

The next pitch (12) had a really cool cave at the start. Tristan slowed down a little here, but I found the pitch to be quite sustained. Only 5.10, but solid the whole way. Few good rests drained much of my remaining energy. Tristan agreed to take the lead again to let me try to recover. The next pitch wandered around a little, but it included a cruxy series of moves that pushed up into 5.11. I really struggled on this. We had not taken any falls up to now and I tried as hard as I could to pull through. But regrettably, my energy was leaving very fast now. My water was almost gone already.The next pitch (14) skirted a huge roof on the right, but again pushed up into 5.11. This time we had the hardest single move thus far (IMO). Tristan fell here and had to work it a couple times to figure out a sequence that worked. The next pitch looked really sweet, but even steeper. I had to pull on a couple draws to get through the crux. At this point, Tristan looked me over and admitted that I looked bad. I was in the middle of a dehydration attack and was fading. He was pretty tired too. Despite his willingness to push through to the top, he could tell I was done. We rapped off and hiked out.
Tristan was chomping at the bit to get it done, but I wasn’t available for a while. So he enlisted the help of a mutual friend (Thomas) who was in great shape and climbing hard. I had mixed emotions when Tristan gave me a call from the top of the route. They had succeeded. But instead of being excited, Tristan just said, he was “so tired” and just wanted to go home.

Squaw Struck is easily one of the most unique climbing experiences that a person could have climbing in the Wasatch, but how awesome is it to think that there is 22 pitches and 1900 feet of climbing just 45 minutes of hiking from the city.

Ever since I learned about this route and read about the history of it, I have wanted to climb it. I know that I in no way have the fitness to climb all 22 pitches. I had been talking to my friend Christian a lot about the route, and the consensus came down to at least climbing the first 8 pitches of the route. So last week I finally had a day that I could take off of work and do some climbing. I invited my good friend Rich to join me.

Rich and I met up and started hiking at 9:00am. We got up to the base of the wall before 10:30 am, and we were climbing by 10:30am. I was not the biggest fan of the approach. There is no real trail, but it is not hard to find your way up there. It is just simply steep and long.

Rich lead the first pitch and it turned out to be a lot more technical climbing than I expected it to be. But it was a good introduction to the rest of the day of climbing. I lead the second pitch, which is where “the leap of faith” is located. Pitch 1 is kind of a pillar that is slightly disconnected from pitch 2. A simple lead, it climbs into a really neat dihedral with some really great moves. We then made our way to the base of the wall where pitches 3-6 are located. Rich lead pitches 3 and 4 and linked them together. This then lead to what I would say is the best pitch of the first 8 of the route. Pitch 5 is known as the frosted flakes. There are some really cool, huge flakes that help make up this band of white limestone. Makes sense that they would be called frosted. This pitch also created a little freak out moment for me. The climbing wasn’t hard by any means, but I had never experienced that kind of exposure on a wall before. You have to pull over a small roof on this pitch, and it is simply, really great climbing.

We quickly moved through pitch 6 and by then it was 2:00pm. After taking a few minutes to rest, we roped up and I lead the last two pitches. Linking pitches 7 and 8 didn’t require very technical climbing, but it was fun climbing. The top of pitch 8 has a feature that requires you to mantle on top of a pinnacle, then make some fairly difficult moves on a very blank face. Getting to the top of pitch 8 was no incredible feat, but it made me realize how difficult this route can be if you do not plan for it properly. We climbed for just over 5 hours, and still would have had 14 pitches of climbing to do. Starting early, and climbing quickly is only part of getting this route done quickly. But knowing how to manage your rope and transition between pitches is key to getting up a route like this quickly.

This was some of the most enjoyable climbing i’ve done all year. I have developed a love for multi pitch climbing, and to climb a multi pitch route that doesn’t require trad gear is super nice. Tristan did a really great job in putting this route up. Yes, there are places where there are excessive bolts, but can you really complain about a route being “over protected”? The climbing is great, the exposure is awesome, and it is guaranteed to be a great day of climbing regardless of how much of the route you do.

Here are photos from the day of climbing Rich and I had.

 Rich and I at the parking lot of Rock Canyon

 Looking up at Squaw Peak from the parking lot

 Looking back at Rich belaying me on pitch 2 just past the leap of faith

 Looking down from the top of pitch 4

 Rich coiling the rope on the top of pitch 6, to go to the wall for pitches 7 and 8

The furry friend that came to bid us farewell as we were packing up to leave