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Ascent to Deseret Peak-Mill Fork Basin on 2011-03-11

Climber: Greg Slayden

Other People:Solo Ascent
Only Party on Mountain
Date:Friday, March 11, 2011
Ascent Type:Unsuccessful - Turned Back
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Point Reached:Deseret Peak - Mill Fork Basin
    Location:USA-Utah
    Elevation:8400 ft / 2560 m
    Remaining Elevation:2631 ft / 802 m (51% left to go)

Ascent Trip Report

It took me an hour to drive from Salt Lake City to the South Willow Creek Road via Grantsville. The road was paved and plowed until a closed gate at the National Forest Boundary—beyond the road was entirely snow-covered. So I parked, got my gear together, and started skinning up the road at 7:55 AM. The signs said the Loop Campground at the end of the road was 4 miles away, and I hoped to make good time up the largely level road.

There was a pretty good track on the road from various snowmobiles, snowshoers, and skiers during the past few days, but the snow was icy breakable crust. My alpine-touring setup was kind of heavy and clunky for flat road travel, and I did not feel super-efficient as I made my way up the long, boring road. There were a lot of campgrounds along the way, plus a guard station house and trailhead turnoff, all deserted in the winter. I felt like I was going more than 4 miles as these landmarks went by slower that I hoped.

I pushed on without a rest, and the various paths and tracks in the snow eventually petered out to just a single ski track, a bit too narrow for my fat skis. After a series of switchbacks these ski tracks peeled off into the woods for some downhill turns in a clearing I had just passed, and after that I had to break trail in the breakable crust. Shortly, though, I finally came to the loop junction near the end of the road, and I took the right fork, thinking I was close to the summer trailhead. But it still took another half-mile of tough going before I got to the end of the road, where a couple outhouses, information signs, and a hitching rail were all buried in deep snow. It was now 10 AM, and I took my first rest, sitting on the hitching rail.

After my break I started up the trail. It was utterly buried in snow, but I was not super worried about following it exactly, since I had a good GPS with topographic basemap to track my progress. My progress was now even slower, because in addition to breaking trail in heavy snow, I had to contend with branches, downed trees, and rolling terrain in the forest. I slogged uphill the best I could, following the route of the summer trail as closely as practical, and after an hour took another rest, soon after crossing a 10-foot deep ravine.

I considered turning back here, but decided to plug on, since it was still only 11 AM, and I thought the terrain or snow might get easier. After some more forest, I came to some large open areas, likely meadows in summer, and I decided to follow them uphill and consider turning back if dense forest once again blocked my way. The meadows, though, seemed to be connected in a kind of path, and after a while I had reached the large, gently sloping area of Mill Fork Basin, which was mostly open and afforded views of the headwall and range crest ahead.

I skied uphill through this scenic terrain for a while and stopped for another rest at noon, when I reached the 8400-foot contour on my GPS map. I had been wondering about the wisdom of continuing for a while now, and after some deliberation decided to turn back. I had done about half the elevation gain so far, and I had over 2500 vertical feet and 2 miles of distance to go. Given the heavy snow conditions and lack of broken-in trail, I estimated it would take me at least 3, and maybe 4 hours to reach the summit. Also, the sun was warming up the snow, making avalanches on the steep headwall ahead a possibility. Finally, I had not seen a soul all day since leaving my car, so I was all alone in a very remote place, and I didn’t want to be on the summit at 4 PM and have to face some potentially very difficult skiing on the way down with no one around. I was not even sure how long it would take me to ski down through the difficult and brushy forest I has already ascended.

So after my break, I stripped off my ski skins, locked down my heels, and tightened up my boots for my downhill run. The slopes were mostly very gentle, and fortunately I didn’t need to turn very much in the dense snow. In the clearings the snow was starting to corn up a bit, and I was able to make some nice GS turns, but soon I had to re-enter the forest and revert to pure survival skiing as I attempted to parallel my upward track while avoiding trees, logs, and branches. I did better than I thought I would, actually, and avoided falling as I sometimes used my upward track, bailing off of it into the deep snow to slow myself down when needed. I was back at the end of the summer road in half an hour, and from there I just kept on going down my path on the road.

At first the road was just steep and icy enough so that I could just stand on my skis and move downhill at a good, safe speed, kind of like being on a people-mover at the airport. At the switchbacks I took a couple turns to cut them off, making a big slushalanche in the process. Soon after, at the Upper Narrows Campground, I took a last rest, and unlocked my skis heels to help me skate along the road when it got too flat. I made pretty quick work of the road downhill, aided by some slick icy patches that sped me up nicely at times despite the low angle. This caused my one fall of the day, when the ice suddenly turned to soft snow and the sudden deceleration pitched me to the ground.

A mile or less from the road gate I saw my first other people of the day, a couple of women walking their 3 active and friendly dogs that had some fun chasing me as I whizzed by. I encountered another dog-walking couple a bit further, and by 2 PM I was back at the gate and my car.

I was a bit pleasantly surprised at how quickly I had descended, but I still think I made the right choice in turning back. Deseret Peak in a day in the winter is certainly possible, but a very early start, a good broken-in trail, favorable snow conditions, and excellent conditioning are all highly recommended. I had none of those and didn’t want to push my luck.
Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:2560 ft / 780 m
    Distance:11 mi / 17.7 km
    Route:South Willow
    Trailhead:National Forest Boundary  5840 ft / 1780 m
    Quality:4 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Maintained Trail, Bushwhack, Snow on Ground
    Gear Used:
Skis, Ski Poles
    Weather:Cool, Calm, Partly Cloudy
Ascent Statistics
    Time Up:4 Hours 5 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Time Down:1 Hours 40 Minutes
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip


 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Greg Slayden
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Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. Peakbagger.com accepts NO resposibility or liability from use of this data.

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