Mount Superior

Elevation: 11,132
Location: Wasatch Range, Utah

Mount Superior is one of the classic climbs in the Wasatch range. The peak towers over Snowbird and Alta ski resorts, and is maybe most famous for the massive avalanches it sends down to the canyon road. It is a rugged peak, and any route to the peak involves some fairly serious scrambling with exposure. The peak is also clearly visible from the Lake Blanche area behind Sundial Peak. Some confusion exists over names. The peak overlooking Alta is not the true high point, but about 11,050 feet. The highest point, referred to in some books as "Monte Cristo" is two peaks beyond. I choose to call the whole thing Mount Superior.

View of Superior from Alta

Superior is probably one of, if not the best scrambles in the Wasatch. I've climbed the peak twice since a failed attempt in '94, both times from the Cardiff Pass route from Alta. In 1996 I climbed the peak with Chandler and we saw mountain goats in one of the basins below the peak. In 1997 I returned with Allen and hauled a video camera up the peak, which was good since I lost the roll of film from this hike (and Mount Millicent). The climb starts by hiking the short and steep trail to Cardiff Pass from Alta. A longer route would be to climb the peak from Lake Blanche, but I've only taken that up to about 10,000 feet. From Cardiff Pass, you'll have a good view back to Alta in particular.

Looking west down the Cottonwood ridge

From the pass, you follow the ridge on a faint, rocky trail up past an unnamed peak (10,277), where the trail levels out for a while thru some scruffy trees. The first peak of Superior looms ahead, and you'll see a track cutting up towards it's rugged ridges.

Follow the ridge for a ways to where it begins to steepen. A steep, loose slope of rock with a big drop back to Alta is in my opinion the worst part of the climb. It doesn't last long, but it is horribly loose and a slip would be bad. Beyond this, the "trail" pretty much ends, but the scrambling is on much better rock.

In '94 I chickened out part way up the ridge when I ended up on a pinnacle that was off route. When you arrive at about a 30 foot high rocky peak the key is to go to the right (north) and not over the peak. Beyond this, the route is scrambling on wonderfully solid quartzite, it is in my opinion the best scramble in the Wasatch. Plenty of sections have sharp enough drops to warrant caution, often on both sides of the ridge, so pay attention to each move.

View down to Sundial Peak, Lake Blanche and the Salt Lake Valley

Arriving on the first peak you'll quickly see the slightly higher main peak, and another peak inbetween, but the best views of Alta are from this first peak. Crossing the ridge to the second peak is more scrambling across sharp rocks, but not much exposure. In this area you'll find a small grassy meadow that works well for a rest stop.

Getting to the highest peak involves more scrambling, and this highest point offers a brutally steep drop to the west into a high branch of the Lake Blanche area. To the west you'll see more of the incredibly rugged Cottonwood Ridge, and a sharp drop to the south will lead to the Little Cottonwood Road. Looking back to the north you'll see Lake Blanche and Sundial Peak. Another sharp ridge leads northeast that seperates Lake Blanche Fork and Mineral Fork.

The trip down is worse than climbing up because of the slow progress scrambling down the ridge, proceed back with caution as this peak has had it's share of accidents. Easily one of the best peaks I've ever climbed.

Steve on narrow ledge near summit of Mt. Superior, Alta in distance

2001 Update: I climbed Superior for the third time on June 30th with my brother Steve. I had already climbed Superior twice, but this one was more challenging as we lost the route a couple of times on the descent and had to do some difficult scrambling on loose quartzite. Approach this mountain with caution!! We both had close calls with large rocks that came loose in the steep chutes near the peak. Pay close attention to your route on the climb up so you can re-trace your route as best you can on the descent.

We started a bit before 9am from the Alta parking lot and hiked the standard trail up to Cardiff Pass. The hike to the pass is short but quite steep. From the pass we could see a group coming up a ridge a bit to the west, and they appeared to be chasing a large herd of mountain goats over the ridge. After following the ridge a short ways over Peak 10,277 (Weather station) we could see about 40 goats in the distance.

We followed the fairly level ridge towards Mt. Superior, passing a pair of baby goats along the side of the ridge (couldn't get the camera out in time for a photo unfortunately). The trail has gotten a little better up the next part ascending past the "Black Knob", a 10,500 foot sub-peak. Still, the loose rocks and steep slope require caution. Beyond this, the trail deteriorates. Some careful scrambling and route-finding will take you eventually to the first peak of Superior at about 11,050 feet. We stopped at the first peak instead of continuing on to the slightly higher Monte Cristo (11,132). Another note for this hike is the extreme exposure to the sun on both the hike to Cardiff Pass and the entire ridge shade!!!

Myself on Mt. Superior summit, Monte Cristo, Little Cottonwood Canyon, Lone Peak in distance

The trip down got interesting as we quickly got off route on the south side. We had to re-trace our way to the ridge, where soon we lost the faint track and ended up stuck on the north side. A re-climb to the ridge led us to another descent down a narrow, rocky chute where my brother pulled out a huge rock that just missed him, and crashed down the side of the mountain. Not long after I sent a rock loose while re-ascending back to the "trail". We managed to make it down the rest of the mountain fairly easily after that point. The round trip time was a little over seven hours, but would have been more like six if we hadn't spent so much time off-route. Superior remains an excellent, classic Wasatch climb. However, I must emphasize climbing it with caution.

2005 Update: For a while now I have wanted to climb part of the daunting Cottonwood Ridge between Mt. Superior/Monte Cristo and Dromedary Peak. The easiest access to this area is via the north ridge (Sundial Ridge) of the un-named 11,033 foot peak along Cottonwood Ridge, about mile west of Monte Cristo. I hiked up to Lake Blanche, crossed the dam, and continued up what is quickly becoming one of my favorite places in the Wasatch - a slabby, scenic and very quiet area south of Lake Blanche. Soon I had to bend back east to gain the ridge somewhere just south of the saddle very near Sundial Peak. A wolverine scampered among the boulders not far from me keeping my attention for a while. The climb of this ridge to 11,033 was fairly easy, steep class 2 talus except one section about 100 feet below the summit that was more class 3-4 (though it could probably be bypassed on the west through some scrub trees). The views east into the rugged cirque basin below Monte Cristo were great and one of the main reasons I wanted to do this climb. Soon I was atop un-named 11,033 with great views in every direction.

Cirque Basin below Monte Cristo (above Lake Blanche)

I had hoped to continue east for another mile to another un-named 11,060 foot peak just before Monte Cristo, but being alone I concluded the terrain looked rough enough that chickening out was the best option. I stayed on this seldom visited peak for quite a while, shooting pictures and video. The Cottonwood Ridge looked rough and unstable in both directions and I marveled at those who cross this whole thing in one trip! Perhaps someday, when my stamina is better I will do the same. For this day I was content with 11,033 and headed back down. It was a long hike out, but not difficult, and it gave me a chance to hike down that pretty, seldom visited area above Lake Blanche. Once back on the Lake Blanche trail I was quite happy just to see other people again after not seeing anyone most of the day. I made it back to the car in a round trip time of just a bit over nine hours. Next year I plan to continue my exploration of the areas above Lake Blanche, this time more in the bowls underneath Dromedary Peak.