September 1, 2015

Wasatch Ultimate Ridge Linkup Traverse- WURL

On August 30, 2015 I completed the Wasatch Ultimate Ridge Linkup Traverse. A 25 summit, 36ish mile high alpine technical traverse in the Greater Wasatch Mountains.


Rush sings a song called "the marathon" and in it the words ring "from first to last, a peak is never past, something always fires a light that gets in your eyes. One moment's high and glory rolls on by, like a streak of lightning that flashes and fades in the summer sky." For some reason, peaks and mountains have always been a part of my life. I have always been drawn to them and each time I enter I return with so much more.

In 1999, I remember driving my car up to Alta where I then proceeded from Sugarloaf peak to head west until I reached Bell's Canyon. I knew of no one (although I am sure there were many) that did that sort of thing and felt that I had seen parts of the Wasatch that no one experiences. It is a treasured memory.

Several years later, Wasatch Pioneer Jared Campbell would have the vision of having a go and ultimately completing what is described as the Wasatch Ultimate Ridge Linkup traverse. Basically starting in the Salt Lake Valley in Fegurson Canyon and returning back down to the valley via the other side of Little Cottonwood Canyon, hitting every peak along the Alpine Ridge line and staying on the ridge or as close to it as possible for the distance until ending at Lone Peak. Then a couple close friends Jason and Lars did it. As the years pass me by I knew time was running short for me. This was the year so I secretly prepared, things came together.

The WURL is intense, humbling and as remote as can be found in the now populated Wasatch Range. I feel like the ego of the Wasatch is growing, as we tend to downplay the ruggedry and hazards that lie in the range. The WURL is filled with exposure, and there isn't an easy mile in my opinion.

The Story

Scott as my first companion started with me at 2:47 AM (Saturday August 29, 2015), up Ferguson Canyon. The full moon found its way through the clouds as the morning winds howled.  Shining deer eyes dotted the upper Ferguson as the silence of the morning was still pronounced. We topped out on Storm Mountain and the friendly forest and valley were now history as we then worked over to East Twin where I found my stashed water supply. It was still dark, but I could see the sleeping giants ahead of me and to my right across the canyon. Lone seemed like an impossible destination. I knew every peak and the struggles ahead.

I then moved along tagging Jeppson, Sunrise, Dromedary (where I found Hegewald's granola bar he had left for me, thanks Andrew!), Peak 11,200 (I think it is) and then along the incredible Cottonwood Ridge to the very exposed Monte Cristo and then to Superior. Scott followed at his pace enjoying the morning. His family duties called and I believe he ended at Monte Cristo.  Vance was at pole line ready to roll onto Catherine's Pass, enjoying with me the sub peaks along the gorgeous ridgeline including Toledo and Wolverine cirque.

My brother Jeff met me at Catherine's Pass and stayed with me to Supreme and then along the bushwacky limestone ridge that leads to the exposed Devils Castle, where we enjoyed solid limestone and laughter. I then moved up Sugarloaf Peak, Baldy and then over to Hidden Peak to meet my son, wife and Rich who would join me for the remainder.  Rich and I then traversed along the great brown and white peaks of the Alpine Ridge including AF Twins, Red Stack, Red Baldy, Great White Baldy, all the while with the wind still a strong companion. Each summit was taxing but the diversity of the range I have come to love over many years outweighed the suffering.

The evening sky filled with clouds as we topped out on the Pfieferhorn. We were moving well and I was happy with the time. Unnamed Peak was beautiful and moving into Hogum environs was awesome as a couple white ghosts ran in front of us, reminding us of the beauty of the surroundings. Reaching the great South Thunder Mountain as the sun died was satisfying, knowing the Hogum Cirque walls were now a memory. 

Like Jason experienced, getting to Big Horn was not easy. Things were going great until we reached Big Horn where my wheels gloriously came off. I was hammered, zero appetite, my left leg hip flexor no longer worked. With little energy left, waves of nausea passing me like a bad dream and a moon that was hidden we made our way to its top. Then, accompanied by rain we worked our way slowly over to Lone Peak's two great summits and rejoiced not quite enough as the great ridge had reached a crescendo. As planned we exited Jacob's Ladder only to proceed to lose over 2.5 hours getting lost trying to find the trail in our state of delirium- how does that happen?? I was throwing up, with destroyed knees and bloody fingers from the thousands of times my hands gripped quartzite, limestone and granite. 

Everything up to Big Horn was amazing, everything after was a death march. All said it was incredible and I'm glad we went down Jacob's...

A note
I too have run a couple hundreds (Wasatch and The Bear) and they are completely different animals than the WURL, where the mind, is in constant focus as certain sections simply do not allow for an ounce of mistake. I think once I got off the ridge  I was simply shutting down in the darkness and that was frustrating but understandable I guess.  I'm thrilled to have it behind me!

I am so grateful to Marcie, kids, Jeff my brother, Scott, Vance, Rich, Jason and Jared for all the support. It was an amazing day!

The major summits reached
Storm Mountain, Twin, Jeppson, Sunrise, Dromedary, 11,200, Monte Cristo, Superior, Cardiff, Flagstaff, Davenport, Honeycomb, Wolverine, Devil's Castle, Sugarloaf, Baldy, Hidden, AF Twins, Red Stack, Red Baldy, White Baldy, Pfief, Unnamed Peak, South Thunder, Big Horn, Lone Peak.

Some approximate landmark times:
Car Ferguson Trail Head 2:47 AM-Saturday
Twin 5:40 AM
Pole Line: 9:15 AM
Catherine: 11:15 AM
Hidden Peak: 2:15 PM
Pfiefferhorn: 6:30 PM
So. Thunder: 830 PM
Lone Peak: 12:30 AM-Sunday
Car via Jacob's Ladder 5:45 AM-Sunday (probably the slowest descent ever recorded by man)

Waking Light Sunrise

The patient granola bar on Dromedary

What's to come


Looking back from Monte Cristo
Vance and Wolverine
Closer to Devils- Courtesy Jeffrey Ambrose
Bro. Jeff on Devils
Courtesy Jeffrey Ambrose

Incredible photo Jeff!!- Courtesy Jeffrey Ambrose

Hidden, new socks and family 

Me and Carson
Rich! Red Baldy

Great White Baldy

Granite downclimb- Courtesy Rich McDonald

Nearing South Thunder

More Hogum

Me, nearing the top of South Thunder, Lone background- Courtesy Rich McDonald
Me and the WURL- Courtesy Vance Twitchell- Taken 1 week prior.

August 21, 2015

Summer's High Points- At least some of them

It's been a nice summer with my family. My sons and I did some great travels together  in the hills while they were out on break. Now back in school, I reflect on some neat times together and a few trips on my own or with friends.

Red Pine Overnighter

My 14 and 11 year old and I enjoyed a full moon on White Baldy and then to head up the way too visited Pfiefferhorn. I remember when this peak used to see maybe 100 visitors a year. Now 300/day are on it. What is happening to the Wasatch???

Owen and Carson!

Pfief to Lone, Out Big Willow

My oldest son and Vance Twitchell and I went up the Pfief and then he and Alex had to get down for commitments, while I went on to Lone and then out.  
Vance left, Alex right

Big Alex

South Thunder looking at Big Horn and Lone

Rubble piles from Lone


Chasing a Blue Moon- Triple Traverse with Jason Dorais

Our moods got the better of us, we started at 830 PM and climbed Twins, Sunrise and Dromedary under a mystical full moon. It was rad for sure. Got down just before 1:30 AM.
Saddle heading up to Twin- Crazy cool photo- Courtesy Jason Dorais

Top of Twins and Terribly Expanded Valley- Courtesy Jason Dorais

Me, Sunrise Peak and the beaming Tram- Courtesy Jason Dorais

Haunting Shadow of Sunrise Peak, on Top.- Courtesy Jason Dorais

Me, and the Peaks behind, top of Dromedary- Courtesy Jason Dorais

Back Pack Trip to Amethyst Basin

Each year my sons and I do an extended back pack trip. My brother and his son often join us for part of it. This year we stuck around and went into Amethyst. Sadly, we found at least 30 different fire pits, no vegetation in most camp spots and the place terribly overrun. This needs attention. If you go there please use some key wilderness principles. Remember, we are only visitors in these mountains, they belong to someone much greater than ourselves. Besides this, we had a wonderful time together.

My boys and I

Owen and his cousin Ethan

Amethyst Lake, Ostler Peak on the right

My brother in alpenglow

Ostler Peak, on top of ridge

My three sons, packing out on day 4

July 19, 2015

Tetons- Nez Perce and Cloudveil Dome

This week my family and I enjoyed Jackson Hole, along with a million other folks.  We had a great time hitting some of our favorite spots. One of the days I was able to sneak away for a few hours to touch my last two remaining peaks in my favorite range. Unfortunately I would be solo. On Wednesday morning at 6:20 am,  Marcie dropped me off at Lupine Meadows. The previous night's rain made the air crisp and beautiful. I was concerned that the north faces might hold persistent verglass as reported by the rangers the past few days. 

I reached the meadows then headed straight up the West Hourglass Couloir which was only partially filled with snow and then onto the north face of Nez Perce. The axe and crampons came in handy but the dry sections of the couloir were hateful. I found route finding to be a challenge and spent too much time seeking the correct line on the north face. Nevertheless I kept going, ultimately getting onto class 4 rock and onto the summit. It was an airy summit, with thrilling exposure and being alone, my senses were heightened. I found no verglass on the north face, only wet spots.

I then down climbed the route and traversed over the ridge westward to Cloudveil Dome. The east face was also a bit challenging to stay on route,  and like Nez Perce, when off-route the climbing was much more than class 4, but when on, it was simple. Making it to the top as the clouds began to settle in, the moment was exciting. It as fun to look out at the many peaks, reflect on so many great experiences I have had over more than 20 years of time up here. I then down climbed the east face and dropped into South-Fork and trotted down to Lupine Meadows, where Marcie was right on time to pick me up. She is so amazingly supportive and has been for so many years. 

A shot of the type of weather this week. Grand and Owen soaring in the clouds-Courtesy Marcie Ambrose

I didn't take one so here is an image taken in the Winter of 2012 with Andy Dorais-- Cloudveil Dome and the east ridge

From the top of Nez Perce-- Mt. Buck in the background

Stupid self-portrait on Nez Perce
Looking at Middle and Grand Teton
From top of Cloudveil Dome looking east at Nez Perce Summit

June 6, 2015

Spring Mountain Travels

The past few days have been really great. Amidst the many responsibilities of life, I have been able to escape to the hills and enjoy the changing season. 

Alex, my oldest son and I were able to get out and climb a mellow but wonderful classic in the Little Cottonwood Gate district. Six pitches of excellent granite helped him to enjoy the activity even more. Climbing as a partnership among father and son is a pretty cool thing. Hearing him call my name in climbing fashion and to see him smile at the end of each pitch is super gratifying. I hope someday he will look back and remember days like these and that they will impact him for good.

Jason and I, after not having skied together in a while, we were excited to be able to get two great ascents done together. 

On Monday he and I, decided late in the day to meet at 5:30 PM and then go up the South Ridge of Superior. We found the route to be perfect, albeit the winds howled from the southwest. We climbed with complete freedom and enjoyed every move up the ridge. The mountain was glorious with the upper reaches still clinging to the story of the winter's past.  The ridge is super aesthetic and the crux moves were enjoyable. After some great rock, snow crossing and photo shoots, we hit the snowy cap 1hr. 15 mins later.

On Thursday night, I got a text "Chad I am going to talk you into West Slabs and Geurts again." Jason, knew I had PTSD from the last time I did this solo because of the close call with the rattle snake in Tolcat. Jason prevailed and on Friday morning we went for a repeat of the fun link-up I did a few weeks ago.

We climbed the West Slabs of Olympus and then dropped down into Tolcat canyon and then up the Geurt's ridge direct route, along the ridge proper to the the South Summit of Olympus. The Slabs were great as always and the Tolcat section stressed me out big-time (even though I sent Jason ahead of me to protect me from the snakes). Luckily no snakes! The direct and then Geurts were wonderful, with stable rock, an impending rain storm and downclimbing both rappel sections. We topped out in on the South Summit in an icy rain. We had an enjoyable pace, time for photos and visiting while climbing.

My opinion, Geurt's Direct is much steeper than the West Slabs, better rock and a great setting.

Another more important note- See this wonderful and touching video done on the Dorais Family. 

Alex rappelling off School Room
JD South Ridge Superior

South Ridge Cont.

Skiing Suicide Chute

Jason eyeing top part of the Slabs

Steep climbing Geurts Direct, exiting Tolcat-Goodbye snakes!

Stowing his camera before the "Catwalk"and an impending storm

One of the crux sections

One of the best upper sections

The man himself!