Lone Peak is one of the classic Wasatch peaks. It is one of the highest, and most rugged peaks in the range. It's easiest route requires a ridge scramble with high exposure in a few spots. The famous cirque offers great rock climbing opportunities. It's no wonder this area was Utah's first designated wilderness area.
I first attempted Lone Peak in fall of '92 with two friends, Dan and Justin. We seriously underestimated the size of the mountain and struggled just to make it into the cirque on a gloomy day. We had intended to hike the Jacob's Ladder route but ended up on Draper Ridge instead. We missed a branch in the trail and ended up having to bushwhack down and then back up a gully to intercept the proper trail. By now tiring, we struggled until the peak came into view. One of the most impressive and intimidating mountain sights I've seen yet to this day...we were nowhere near the summit still!!
We made it to about 9,600 feet in the cirque. The peak had dark clouds circling around it. We had to abandon the climb. Nevertheless, the scenery was outstanding in this higher region. Dan and I, who worked the same job talked all winter about re-climbing the peak in 1993, but this time taking the slightly shorter Jacob's Ladder route instead of the nightmarish Draper Ridge.
Finally, in early August of 1993 we got our chance. I hardly slept the night before because quite frankly, the mountain made me very nervous. I was just beginning to hike and climb a lot, and I wondered if the summit ridge would be too much for me. We started on the trail at 7am, after Dan offered an eclair for breakfast. In hindsight, I highly reccomend against the eclair breakfast, as for the first hour or so we both felt like puking.
On the Jacob's Ladder trail this time, we were relieved of one thing for certain- this time the peak was visible right from the start. The trail was still steep and long, but much easier climbing than Draper Ridge we both felt. Before too long we'd gotten to where the two trails intercept. We still had plenty of energy, and before long we were over 9,000 feet entering the cirque area. The weather appeared to be perfect on this day also, another plus. One of the major drawbacks here, particularly on Draper Ridge is the parts of trail that are rock covered by loose gravel. Walking down this in parts is like walking on marbles, and you're almost sure to fall on your behind at least a few times.
Once you reach about 9,600 feet in the cirque area the trail pretty much ends and you'll be on granite slabs from here. The view entering the cirque is a classic, and if you're not up to climbing all the way to the peak, this is the place to stop. Not too far from here is a cabin that could be used in an emergency. Look for rock cairns, though the route to the peak is fairly obvious. Head for the ridge left (north) of the main summit. The closer ridge leading up to the first peak is not where you want to be. Your route requires route-finding, but it isn't that difficult. We encountered boulderfields, and one section where the route passed thru a narrow gorge with snow still about 10 feet deep to the side.
The hike through the cirque offers countless views of rugged granite peaks and spires. As you get closer to the peak it becomes even more imposing. A short but steep climb of grassy hillsides with some boulders put us finally on the summit ridge. We could see a climber standing on the summit. Reaching the ridge finally we were rewarded with a view back into Bells Canyon showing just how much we had climbed. Now at nearly 11,000 feet, only the final summit ridge stood between us and the summit. Another group that had camped in the cirque was surging past us as they had more energy at this point. Since some of them had climbed the peak, we watched them for notes on the ridge scramble. To this day this ridge is still one of the scariest places I've climbed, but of course that means it's also a heck of an adrenalin rush too!
Remembering the details of the ridge scramble would be difficult. There seemed to be two or three parts of severe exposure down into Bells Canyon. Most (if not all) of the route we did on the ridge was on the left (Bells Canyon) side as the other side is even more sheer and unclimbable. Soon we arrived at a large, awkward rock that guarded the tiny summit block. As the other group was still on the summit taking photos, we waited for 15 minutes before taking the peak ourselves.
Reaching the summit was a truly rewarding experience, but it was one of those summits that I couldn't help but think more of the downclimb than enjoying the moment. The views were spectacular in every direction. Three of the four sides of the summit block drop straight off! Below us we could hear the clangs of rock climbers toiling up the face of the mountain below. I took a full panorama, yet somewhere one of my pictures has since disappeared (Mt. Olympus area) leaving it incomplete. Thunder Mountain, just 100 feet lower nearby seemed tiny from this monarch. Dan and I pondered what was harder out of Lone Peak or Twin Peak (Broads Fork). Another climber who appeared offered his opinion-Twin Peak! Now we knew we had to climb that peak also. For the record, I'd still say now that Lone Peak gets my vote as the harder of the two. Finally it was time to go down. We crossed the ridge carefully. I wanted to take some photos to show the rugged terrain, but taking off one's pack on a block about the size of a sofa cushion discouraged me. Upon finishing the ridge I had a feeling of relief...essentially that I would live to climb another day.
The trip down was another long one, and either Jacob's Ladder or Draper Ridge are terrible on the knees. Roundtrip time for us was almost exactly ten hours. By the time we were finishing the climb clouds and lightning had formed over the summit. I was glad we got the early start.
In 1996 I returned to hike the Draper Ridge trail to the cirque, if for nothing else than to remind myself how horrible that trail really was! I was disappointed when upon getting high enough I found the peak obscured in clouds. I very much aspire to re-climb Lone Peak, quite possibly in 2001. It's been far too long since being on this classic peak. I'll probably take Jacob's Ladder, but I wouldn't mind climbing the peak from the Alpine side via the hamongogs trail/route. That one puts you on the sub-peak that is only about 15 feet lower, and the ridge inbetween is a tricky, dangerous scramble.
All routes on Lone Peak are long. Draper Ridge (13.5 miles, 5,950 gain) is probably the hardest. Jacob's Ladder (12.5 miles, 5,650 gain) isn't much easier. The Alpine side also gains well over 5,000 feet. One possible shorter route I've heard is to drive to "Lone Rock" and start from there (about 7,000 feet, thus lowering the hike to a mere 4,000 foot gain). Regardless of the route climbed, you will not forget climbing Lone Peak.