The plan was to begin the climb in the early afternoon on Friday, climb to the top and bivy along the summit ridge, then descend on Saturday morning. Or, climb as high as we can, bivy enroute, then finish the climb on Saturday and descend. Neither of these plans worked out.
My friend Kai was flying in from a business trip on Friday morning and his flight was delayed. We didn’t get on the route until close to 4:00 pm. His son Jared, a student at Brigham Young University, was also with us. We carried light packs with bivy gear, a single twin rope and a light rack.
The climb begins practically right on the road across from Snowbird Ski Resort in Little Cottonwood Canyon. After about 10-15 minutes of scrambling you are on rock. The ridge is about 3000′ of elevation gain, on moderate, alpine style rock. There are lots of variations with some parts of the exposed ridge going at about 5.4, or so the online route descriptions say.
We began scrambling up the ridge on beautiful quarztite all climbing together, each picking our own route. On the lower section, the ridge is not terribly defined and there are many options. At one section it got quite steep for 20 feet or so and we were almost wishing we had roped up. It was not that difficult but the exposure would have made a fall pretty serious. On these steep sections we just slowed down and climbed carefully and deliberately.
We made good progress climbing steadily, picking our way up the easier sections of the ridge. Because it was already so late, we decided we would climb the easier sections unroped rather than break out the rope as that would really slow us down. At one point we came across a strange platform on the side of the mountain and figured it was used to mount the cannons they use for avalanche control across the canyon at Snowbird and Alta ski resorts.
We eventually worked our way onto the ridge proper and the higher we climbed the narrower it seemed to get. We finally got to a point where we felt like we needed to rope up. The climbing was not particularly difficult but the ridge became knife-like with long drops on both sides. At this point there was also snow and some ice on the ridge as well. We doubled the twin rope for the leader then the two followers tied in to each single line. We realized quickly that having only 60 meters of rope, doubled, is not much for a lead and would slow us down. Should have brought two ropes. We climbed three short pitches on this narrow ridge line before unroping and continuing our scramble up.
After unroping we scrambled up the left shoulder of a tall tower and descended to a large notch in the ridge. From here we climbed across sketchy ground (steep with snow covered rocks) to the base of a steep section that would allow us to get back onto the ridge proper again. This is when the rope became terribly tangled and we spent 3o minutes untangling it. At this point the sun was going down and we were getting pretty cold just standing around. We all put on another layer of clothing. I was only climbing with a long sleeved wicking shirt with a light weight soft shell over it, so I added a light fleece hoodie. Kai climbed a short way up the pitch before we decided we better look for a bivy spot. The sun was sinking fast and it was getting colder and colder.
We retreated back to the fairly wide notch that we had passed. It turned out to be a nice bivy spot, certainly much better than somewhere up on the ridge. There were a few flatish spots and room to walk around and a fair amount of snow. We all put on our warm puffy jackets, and pulled out our bivy gear, which consisted of 3/4 length inflatable pads, down sleeping bags, and bivy bags for Jared and I. I packed snow around the rocks to smooth things out for my spot. We then cooked dinner. I was using my new Snow Peak Giga power canister stove with a small titanium pot/mug. Kai and Jared were using the powerful MSR Reactor stove. We melted snow for dinner. My stove was adequate but had nowhere near the power and efficiency as the Reactor. I had mashed potatoes with some Beehive Cheese curds thrown in. They had a freeze-dried meal.
Just after going to bed, Jared got sick. He had all the symptoms of altitude sickness, headache, nauseous, throwing up. He had been living at sea level for the past two years and was probably not yet acclimated to our altitude here. It was a rough night for him. Kai also had a rough night. He discovered that his pad had a hole in it. He would blow it up and for five minutes it would be great, then he would drift off, then wake up 20 minutes later shivering as his pad was flat and he lying on the snow. Fortunately I slept warm and surprisingly well.
The next morning it was quite cold, especially for Kai who had shivered much of the night. Jared was still feeling a bit off, so we decided to descend.
Luckily we found a good escape route down a steep gully.
Across the way on the next ridge we were surprised to first hear then see a helicopter. It dropped off a few workers, then came back with some lumber and other things. It was landing on a platform like the one we had seen earlier. We decided to head for this platform as we could see a trail on that ridge.
It was a pretty straightforward scramble down, then across to the helicopter platform. There were four workers there, sub-contracted from UDOT to build avalanche control stations. Instead of the usual Howitzer cannons they have used in the past, they will be using a new system of oxygen and propane bombs, basically air bombs, for avalanche control. It was a pretty interesting set up they were working on.
From here it was a straight shot down a steep trail all the way to the canyon bottom.
We later found out that the notch where we bivyed is called Suicide Chute and is only about half way up the route. If you look at the first photo, it is the prominent notch about half way up the ridge. I guess that wasn’t too bad for only climbing for about 2.5 hours with three pitches where we roped up to deal with snow and ice. It was a really fun trip; the weather was great and the scenery spectacular. I told Kai as we were descending that this is the kind of thing I think about all week. It is always great to be out in the mountains, even if you don’t summit. I highly recommend this route, and we will surely be back for another attempt.