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Fun beginner Wasatch winter climbs

Original Post
stolo · · Shelby, NC · Joined Sep 2016 · Points: 120

My wife and I will be in Cottonwood Heights in March. We will be skiing some but were also hoping to get some winter climbing/hiking in. Not being familiar with the area in terms of climbing. It would be great if could get some input from climbers familiar with the area of what might be a starting point for us... Our experience is roughly the following: - We live in NC, have experience on moderate multi pitch trad routes. So far have been thinking about the north ridge of Pfeifferhorn, Everest ridge, Lake Blanche/Sundial peak. Any recommendations for some fun, easy climbs/hikes to do during the winter in the area? Easy climbs or hikes with descent exposure/fun sections/good views are what we are lucking for. While proficient on rock, what we lack are snow condition/avalanche skills. Thanks for the input! Really looking forward to our short time in the different canyons; would like to come back in the summer to really explore the rock climbing as well. 

BigNobody · · all over, mostly Utah · Joined Nov 2013 · Points: 10

The Phiferhorn is a big day. Easy? Not really, don't let the grade fool you. Check out the Scruffy Band. GWI is a congo line of noobs knocking ice all over each other.

South Ridge of Superior might be a fun day out. Can't beat the approach.

kenr · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 11,832

How are you going to approach these climbs / hikes?
Snowshoes? Alpine Touring skis with climbing skins? Splitboard?

If you're experienced skiing making downhill turns confidently off the groomed trails -- and navigating way off the groomed trails at the Utah resorts, then consider using skis.
. (In just the right conditions with great skill it's possible to go all the way up the East ridge to the top of Mt Superior without taking skis off).

mstolorena wrote:we lack snow condition/avalanche skills.
That's a critical deficiency for the Wasatch in the winter. Might want to hire a local guide for a day out climbing that might combine some avalanche learning?

Or you might be lucky to find like a two-day / two-evening avalanche course that's being offered while you're here. Of course you should read
Bruce Tremper's excellent book -- but that's no substitute for getting out for at least a couple of days with an expert who can start showing you how it applies in real snow on real skiing/climbing terrain with real weather history.

mstolorena wrote:would like to come back in the summer to really explore the area.
Not sure what you mean by "really".
The Wasatch are pretty great in winter. Especially if you're a decent skier.

Tri-Canyon Wasatch arguably the best place in North America (or the world?) to learn and start winter backcountry skiing.
Rumored to be some worthwhile ice climbing around too.

Brian in SLC · · Sandy, Utah · Joined Oct 2003 · Points: 14,444
mstolorena wrote:While proficient on rock and basic snow/ice, what we lack are snow condition/avalanche skills.
We're having a big winter here...I wouldn't suggest travel in the high country unless you have those snow/avy skills.

What you might do is bring some rock climbing gear. March down low in the canyons can be great for rock climbing, especially the south facing stuff in LCC and the sunny crags in BCC.

You'll get plenty of high country views with exposure when you ski the local ski areas.
stolo · · Shelby, NC · Joined Sep 2016 · Points: 120

Thanks for the input everyone. Sounds like we aren't quite ready for what I had in mind on our own and should either get a guide or stick to the known snowshoe hikes... Might try some rock routes depending on conditions too, thanks Brian.

kenr wrote:Not sure what you mean by "really".
Ken, by this I meant in winter we are limited, but during the summer we could take on many of the scrambles and climbs in the area on own.
kenr · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 11,832
mstolorena wrote:in winter we are limited, but during the summer we could take on many of the scrambles and climbs in the area on own.
My perspective:
Not many people think that the Wasatch are one of the great summer climbing / scrambling destinations in the world.
. (Maybe more people should think that, but so far they don't).

But lots of people (including me) think that the Wasatch are one of the great winter backcountry skiing destinations in the world. You apparently think the resort skiing in the Wasatch is worth flying across most of the country. Believe me the winter backcountry usually has way better skiing than the resorts, once you "pay your dues" by learning about managing avalanche hazard. And because the Tri-Canyon Wasatch is a small area with perhaps the highest "density" of sensors and reports in the world, it's the easiest winter place to _use_ the avalanche knowledge once you've got it.

So backcountry skiing is a great way to "really" experience the Wasatch in a world-class way.
And if you combine skiing with climbing ...
Why would you not want to carry skis up with you climbing Mt Superior (or the Pfeifferhorn?) and then after reaching the summit ... well you gotta get down somehow, so why would you _not_ want to ski down it?

So the very best way to "really" experience the Wasatch is to combine climbing and skiing in the same outing.
Which implies winter (or early spring).

Derek DeBruin · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2010 · Points: 585

I'll echo Ken that there are some really great climb/ski combo options in the Wasatch. I also happen to have gotten my start trad climbing in NC and now run a small guide service in the Wasatch. Feel free to send me a PM if you're interested in a guided day or two. We can definitely emphasize the educational component based on your needs. Regardless, I hope you get to enjoy some of the greatest snow on Earth!

Allen Sanderson · · Oootah · Joined Jul 2007 · Points: 1,145

Given what you describe in general you really lack the needed skills to travel independently in the Wasatch, especially for the three places you describe. By March the Scruffy Band ice which is avy safe will be melted out the Great White Icicle will probably be less than in. As mentioned by March some of the low elevation rock could well be accessible. An early season hike up Mt. Olympus might be in order.

My suggestion would be to take a couple of days off from skiing and take an avy course. There are multiple guides that could provide instruction and at the same time give you a bit of an introduction to the Wasatch.

kenr · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 11,832

Another way to "really" experience the really world-class hiking/scrambling of Utah during winter is to drive south to ...

a) Zion national park
. . (often too hot if come back in summer).

  • Angel's Landing : amazing hike/scramble to the summit of an amazing hunk of rock in a great position - (with much fixed aid / protection) - (Parking is mobbed on winter nice-weather weekends/holidays, esp Presidents weekend).

... or if you want to have an excuse to use that Trad protection gear you're bringing ...

  • Lady Mountain : not far from A.L., but definitely need to do some advance research to find the start and understand the route.

b) Bryce Canyon national whatever status it is now.
Hiking below the rim at a time when there is significant snow there is amazing -- way superior to hiking there in summer.
Likely want to use Micro-Spikes (or snowshoes?) -- make sure you know where to rent (in SLC?) if you're not bringing your own. Skis are no longer permitted below the rim.

  • The short loop near the middle is perhaps too short.
  • Drive to near Bryce Point and hike down in from there, connect to the Peek-a-Boo loop then back up out.
  • Fairyland trail.

c) Lots of other great stuff in southwest and southeast Utah which can be explored in winter.

Kevin MP · · Redmond, OR · Joined Nov 2013 · Points: 213

If you are visiting for 9 days in March, you will almost certainly have some good conditions for rock climbing at some point. Ski the resorts when it snows. When the sun shines, you can climb stellar granite in LCC one day, quartzite in BCC the next, and limestone in American Fork Canyon the day after that, all within 45 minutes of Salt Lake. A single rack and 60m rope will be sufficient for most things. Enjoy!

ddriver · · SLC · Joined Jul 2007 · Points: 410

On the other hand, avy hazard in mid-march may be very low, other than wet slides. Just depends on the next 5 or 6 weeks of weather and what happens while you're here. Keep an eye on the Utah Avalanche Center daily forecasts for SLC to get a feel.

kenr · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 11,832
ddriver wrote:avy hazard in mid-march may be very low, other than wet slides.
Unless get a substantial snowfall with wind, some day or night in March.

Some would say it would be an unusual March in which that did not happen at least once.

kenr · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 11,832

Slight adjustment to my earlier claim that the tri-canyon Wasatch are the great winter backcountry skiing destination of the world:

that is . . .
If winter ever comes again.

Meanwhile instead of skiing deep slush as and dodging wet-snow sluffs, today Sharon and are trying the outdoor rock climbing -- and had a fun time at low-altitude crag which wasn't getting too much wind.


grog m aka Greg McKee · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2012 · Points: 70
mstolorena wrote: We have descent rack
What is a descent rack?
Mark Ra · · Frange, CO · Joined Feb 2014 · Points: 65
grog m aka Greg McKee wrote: What is a descent rack?
Rap gear.
Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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