Chris Coulter gets after it during snow season, migrating between Haines, Silverton, and Bariloche. But when the peaks melt out and he’s taking a break from guiding, Coulter likes to get up into the mountains with his local Utah crew. One of the places he gravitates to is Utah’s Lone Peak, which Coulter climbed with his crew again last summer. This is the report from the trip. —LYA Editor
Words and Images by Ben Girardi
Beep, beep-beep. The alarm blares at 4:00 AM. Ugh. My eyes reluctantly open, momentarily confused as to my whereabouts. I reach for the bright phone screen and turn off the noise. It’s early, but time to get moving. We want to hike in the cool morning air.
We—our team—consists of four: Chris Coulter, Ryan Lehner, Connor Winton, and me, all snowboarders, who when we each started climbing as a way to stay active in the summer instantly became addicted to the sport.
4:45 AM. We grab loaded backpacks, packed and repacked the night before, taking only absolute essentials to keep them light. We hop in the car and hit the road, off on the mission: climb Lone Peak.
Bouncing up a dirt road, we pull into a small lot. The sun will rise soon. We waste no time, extending hiking poles and tightening shoes. We start the six miles and roughly 4,750 vertical feet we must hike to reach our intended campsite. Headlamps aren’t necessary, as dawn is breaking. We trudge on, one step at a time, conserving energy to prevent exhaustion and dehydration during the day. Our route starts off mellow, but soon turns steep for what seems like straight up 2,000 vertical feet. Upon reaching the ridge, the trail levels off and continues through a meadow before transitioning to a traverse over a granite slab. We reach the snowline—almost there. Tall granite walls loom in front as we follow the cairns, picking our way among the giant boulders that succumbed to weather and gravity and crashed down from the peak. One last scramble up a talus field onto a moraine above a meadow.
9:15 AM. We reach our destination, and off come the packs. With relief from the heavy loads, we pause in the shade of boulders for a well-deserved rest. We pump fresh water from snowmelt runoff and out comes a stove. Before long, a pot of water is boiling and coffee made. While well into our day, it is far from over. Now, the reason for hiking: the climb.
Lone Peak Wilderness, a 30,000+ acre reserve, is located in central Utah’s Wasatch Mountains. At its center stands Lone Peak, an 11,251-foot mountain with a cirque of four to five hundred feet of almost vertical granite walls surrounding a pristine alpine meadow, the perfect place for a camping and high-alpine climbing adventure.
12:15 PM. Rested and rehydrated, Chris, Ryan, and I rack up for the climb. Since four makes an awkward climbing party, Connor will hike and meet us at the summit. We leave our packs, taking only what we need for an afternoon on the wall. Almost immediately, we must traverse a snowfield. Chris kicks in steps for us to follow. We reach the rock and scramble up to the first belay ledge. Chris puts on climbing shoes and ties in as Ryan readies him on belay. Chris starts up the wall on the first of four pitches strewn with awkward chimneys and fluted cracks on the way to Lone Peak’s summit.
Chris and Ryan swap leads as we make our way up the wall. A hot afternoon sun is beating down on us as we wrestle up the textured granite. After the third pitch of awkward bear-hugging moves, Chris finds a belay ledge in a small cave. The shade cools us down before Ryan starts off on the last pitch. A final chimney leads into a little slot in the rock and the next thing you know, we were at the top.
An expansive, magnificent view surrounds us as we stand on the summit block of one of the tallest peaks in the Wasatch. Nothing blocks your view: it’s the proverbial “you can see forever.” We see the entire Salt Lake/Utah Valleys, busy and distant, and on the horizon to the east the High Uintas of Eastern Utah.
6:45 PM. Suspended in time, we relax and share snacks as a mountain goat scrambling around on the rocks below entertains us. After one final gaze from the peak, we hike down the summit ridge and descend to camp. Minutes after we reach camp, stomachs growling, we once more crank the stove and set dinner water to boil. As we eat, the last rays of sunlight grace the granite and fade into twilight glow. Not long after, tired, we pull out pads and sleeping bags and find flat spots. No tents tonight. As the stars populate the dark, we close our eyes, sleeping peacefully in the quiet, crisp, fresh mountain air. Lone Peak stands guard.
With no long hike to begin the day, we sleep in the next morning. I take a few long stretches in my sleeping bag, feeling exhausted from yesterday, but before long I’m out of my sleeping bag to join the others for coffee and breakfast. Rested and fed, anticipation increases. Today Connor will climb with Chris and Ryan.
11:00 AM. They rack up and head off for the classic Lowe Route, regarded as one of the best climbs in the Wasatch. Chris and Ryan have longed to try this route, and today is the day. I stay behind to pump fresh water for the afternoon. My turn to hike to the summit, watching and shooting photos of their climb and enjoying the solitude and amazing views. They work their way up the wall, topping out with a celebratory hug on the summit. They begin their descent. I head down, too—the plan to meet back at camp.
Another gratifying day. Dinner is made and eaten, hot coffee poured. We pack up and bid farewell to the beautiful alpine meadow. We pick our way across the granite slab and hike back to the car in the cool evening air. Numerous times, I glance back for one more glimpse of the massive wall before it is only a memory. Evening turns to night and we proceed by headlamp.
12:15 AM. Back at the small lot with the car. Tired and sore, but soberly satisfied with every aspect of the Lone Peak adventure.
Check out more about Chris Coulter and his global migrations at team.eddiebauer.com
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