Broads Fork Twin Peaks

Elevation: 11,330
Location: Wasatch Range, Utah

Broads Fork Twin Peaks (sometimes called Salt Lake Twin Peaks) stand over the city as the tallest peak on the skyline from the downtown area. The peak is high and rugged, and the fourth highest peak in the entire Wasatch Range. The sharp dual summits form what I think is one of the most beautiful peaks I've seen.

View of Twin Peaks from Mt. Olympus summit

My obsession with climbing the Twins began in 1993. Along with Lone Peak, they are the two most prominent "big" mountains on the city skyline, and climbing both became a quest. After summiting Lone Peak in August of '93, Dan and I set our sights on this peak to see which of the peaks was more challenging. Unfortunately for us, we managed only one attempt that failed before Dan left for his mission. I however, still wanted to try the peak rather than wait two years for Dan to get back. On the first weekend of October, with good weather still holding, I made my bid for the peak.

I awoke early and drove to the Broads Fork trailhead in Big Cottonwood Canyon in darkness. I waited for the sun to start rising and began the hike upwards up the all-too-familiar Broads Fork trail. It was cold and some frost lined the trees. Before long I was at the stream crossing a little over a mile up the trail. Beyond this, a short but steep climb leads to a meadow where Dromedary Peak starts to come into view. From here another mile takes you steeply to the Broads Fork meadow at about 8,240 feet.

Broads Fork trail, first glimpse of Dromedary Peak in morning

At the meadow I planned to stop for a rest and to eat my breakfast. I found a tent pitched and opted to continue higher so as not to disturb the campers if they were sleeping. I crossed the stream on some rickety logs and climbed up higher into Broads Fork. Our earlier attempt in August ended here with a sick fellow hiker. At one spot the trail crosses over rocks that make a sound that I just love walking over. A second meadow sits at about 9,600 feet, and a somewhat crude trail leads to it if you can find it. Sunrise and Dromedary Peak tower above, and Twin Peak looks somewhat less impressive. I managed to temporarily lose the trail, but routefinding wasn't too difficult to the upper meadow.

Here, already having climbed 3,400 feet, I was relieved to look at the remainder of the route. The climb to the ridge looked easier and closer than I'd expected. I rested and ate, and began climbing upwards. Soon the steep trail of loose rubble disappeared and it became a scramble up increasingly steeper and steeper terrain, interrupted by small cliff bands in many spots. Still very early into my climbing career, I wondered if I had the experience to do this climb, especially being by myself. At about 10,600 feet, just 200 feet from the ridgecrest I stopped to ponder my choices. I decided to turn back and enjoy the scenery and come back later. I was just about to start climbing down when I heard voices coming up from below. I stopped and waited for them.

Autumn colors in Broads Fork meadow

Two men, one in his mid to late 30's, and the other, his father, probably in his 60's were climbing up. They were the campers. I asked if they'd climbed the peak and the younger one had. I asked if they didn't mind my following them up and they were ok with that. The final 200 feet of rock scramble leads to the saddle between Twins and Sunrise at 10,800 feet. The view back into Little Cottonwood Canyon gave me chills, and is one of the great mountain views I've ever seen. From this saddle, Sunrise looks unclimbable. We rested on the ridge for a bit, then began the climb up the remaining 500 feet to the summit.

Beyond the saddle, the climb follows rocks up to a small cliff that cannot be climbed over. The route I took was along a narrow ledge on the Little Cottonwood side. Part way across this I climbed up the face of a 10-15 foot cliff that had hand and foot holds. I learned later that a better way is to go all the way across the ledge to a crack that you can upclimb by wedging yourself into the crack (much safer!). On top of the ridge again you'll be in a tiny grassy meadow. The peak is just a few hundred feet above and a crude trail appears again. I followed the two men, now getting a lead on me to the summit.

From summit looking north to Mt. Olympus and Salt Lake valley 7,000 feet below

The view was a stunner to be sure. Below, directly below was Mount Olympus with Salt Lake some 7,000 feet down. The west Twin Peak jutted up across the ridge, only two feet lower than the east Twin. The two men hurried across the ridge to the west Twin while I waited and rested on the main peak. The entire Alpine Ridge was visible to the south from Lone Peak to Pfeifferhorn all the way up to Snowbird and Alta. The rugged peaks of the Cottonwood Ridge sat so close I felt like I could reach right out to Sunrise and Dromedary, with Superior further off. Far below I could see Lake Blanche. The peak isn't as exposed or as dramatic as Lone Peak, but it is still a very rugged area.

The trip down wasn't too bad except for slow downclimbing of the summit ridge and the 1,200 foot descent to the upper meadow. When I returned with Dan in 1996 we climbed the peak earlier in the summer (late July) and had some snowfields to slide down in spots making the trip down easier. The '96 trip was the first climb I did with a video camera (something I've now abandoned), and it's nice to have this climb not only in photos but on video. Both Dan and I concluded that while Twin Peaks is plenty tough, we felt Lone Peak was slightly harder. I now conclude nearby Sunrise Peak to be tougher than either however! Much less traveled area.

Looking at west Twin Peak and Salt Lake valley

Dan, Patrick and myself also attempted Twins in October of '95 just after Dan had returned from his mission. At that time the mountain had been snowed on, and from the lower meadow on we were in 8 to 20 inches of very powdery snow. We abandoned the climb at about 10,200 feet now waist deep swimming through the powder. The peak is a popular spring snow climb, but be wary of the extreme avalanche hazard in upper Broads Fork in winter or spring.

Other routes exist up the peak from both Deaf Smith (Little Willow) Canyon and Ferguson Canyon. The Deaf Smith route involves climbing over 6,000 feet vertical and crossing private property, thus, I've never done this route, but would love to someday if the residents at the bottom of the canyon think of other people besides themselves. Ferguson Canyon can be climbed (see Storm Mountain) to a saddle at 9,400 feet, then the ridge followed over an unnamed peak and up to Twins...very rugged country, not adivsed. Another route is the "Robinson Variation" from Broads Fork that ascends to the north ridge that seperates Stairs Gulch and Broads Fork.

Looking east to rugged Sunrise, Dromedary and Superior

Any route up Twin Peaks is an all day adventure taking eight to twelve hours and involving at least some scrambling and exposure. The peak has become one of my favorite climbs in the Wasatch, and one of my favorite peaks period for it's towering presence behind the city. The Twin Peaks wilderness area was established in 1984, and follows the main ridge as far east as the Lake Blanche/Mineral Fork ridgeline.

2005 Update: I made my third ascent of Broads Fork Twin Peaks, this time via the Robinson Variation with Joe Bullough and his wife Shelly. I had been wanting to climb the Robinson Variation route which gains Twin's north ridge and gives a spectacular view of it's huge north face, which is visible from nearly all of the northern part of the Salt Lake Valley for quite some time. I met Joe and Shelly at 6am at the Broads Fork trailhead and we began the hike up Broads Fork in the dark. Soon the sun was up and we were in the familiar setting of the Broads Fork meadow under Dromedary Peak, Sunrise Peak and Broads Fork Twin Peaks, three of the the highest and roughest peaks in the Wasatch. After a rest we followed Joe up the faint trail leading to the Robinson Coulior. I was surprised as we climbed higher that the terrain never got beyond class 2 all the way up to the ridge (though it was pretty steep in spots). Climbing this coulior was very pretty inbetween some impressive cliff bands, with mountain goats scampering above us. As we approached the ridge at about 10,400 feet I was slowing down and feeling the effects of my limited climbing schedule this year. I considered just stopping here and letting Joe and Shelly continue, happy just to get pictures of "the view" I wanted, of Twin Peaks north face. Low and behold, when I reached the ridge, there was no view! The mountain sat behind another 200 feet of scrambly rock.

I forced myself to continue, and as luck would have it my leg started loosening up. Soon we surmounted this minor peak and I got my view, and it was worth the work. By now my leg was loosening and I could see how close the peak was and I decided I could finish the peak. We worked our way along the very enjoyable north ridge, which varies from open class 2 areas to a few class 4 scrambles where Joe's experience with this route provided quite helpful. The views along the way down Deaf Smith Canyon, and east towards Sunrise and Dromedary were memorable. Soon we began the final haul up Broads Fork Twin's slightly higher east peak. Joe had gone ahead to bag the West Twin, and met up with Shelly and I on the East Twin. It was very windy and cold on the summit, and our stay was pretty short. Joe was going to do the "Triple Traverse" and climb Sunrise and Dromedary, descending via Lake Blanche, but both Shelly and I were content to descend Broads Fork meeting at the parking lot.

North face of Broads Fork Twin Peaks from Robinson Variation Ridge

The trip down the east side of Broads Fork Twins seemed rougher than I had remembered it from past ascents, though maybe the steady wind made it seem worse than it was. At the saddle we parted ways with Joe and began the always dreadful descent of upper Broads Fork. We skirted around some cliffs heading west, then descending when the terrain was a bit more favorable. After slipping along through seemingly endless scree, talus and boulders we arrived back in the upper meadow of Broads Fork at about 9,600 feet. From here the trail gets better and the route back out is pretty easy, just tiring after a long ascent. We made it back to the parking lot at about 3:30, where, as we expected, Joe had beaten us by five minutes, after climbing two more peaks!