Sunday, August 16, 2015

La Sal Mountain Linkup Loop(almost)

Our route. What we did is in blue, what we failed to do is in pink. 

Like most of my serious running/climbing goals on my "lifetime to do" list, this latest adventure stems from Jared Campbell. The guy just knows how to create cool stuff to do. The latest installment in the "I want to be be like J.C" novel I'm writing is the La Sal Mountain Linkup Loop. The idea is simple enough, traverse most of the major ridgeline, summiting all 9 12,000 peaks with required prominence plus a few extra in the range along the way. In order from north to south, they are:

1. La Sal 12001(just barely made the cut for a 12er)
2. Castle 12044
3. Mt Waas 12331
     Green Mtn 12163
4. Pilot Peak 12200
5. Manns Peak 12272
6. Mt Tomasaki 12239

Large Gap

7. Mt Mellenthin 12645
     Mt Laurel 12271
8. Mt Peale 12721
    Northwest Mt Peale 12,240
9. Mt Tukuhnikivatz(Tuk) 12482
    Little Tuk 12048

If you do the route correctly, it comes out to around 35 miles and 15k according to Jared. We botched the ending so we ended up short, 30 miles and 13k. He did not state his time on his trip report, so we didn't know exactly how long we should expect this to take.

While Jared did a good job at presenting the route with a map, success is far more involved than just looking at his map, which is probably his goal. If you want it, you should work for it. However, I have attached a likely overly detailed pdf beta sheet for anyone interested in doing the route but lacking motivation to pour over or maps as the return journey it is semi-complex, but this post will not bore those who just want to see the pictures and hear the brief rundown.

We set off from Salt Lake around 6 pm and heard the detailed account from Steve about the JMT and gave relationship advice to Court. The quote of the trip went something like this...

Steve-"Me and Amanda always had rules when it came to kissing and lying down. You could do one or the other, but not both simultaneously. Because you know what that can lead to. Lying down and kissing with a girl is...."
Court interrupting-"...quite pleasant".   Steve was going for "a great way to screw up" or something like that.

We thought it was funny.

We camped up near the trailhead Friday night after having some shenanegans attempting to find the correct starting point. After deciding where to leave Court's car outside private property, we hit the sack around midnight. We got going around 7 am and it took us about 40 minutes to reach the turnoff up the first gully that contained what would be our first of thousands of loose talus steps. We hit the first peak, La Sal Peak 2 hours after leaving the car.
Court heading up the talus, La sal peak on the left, Castle on the right. 

The La Sal range opened up before us and I was particularly giddy at the thought of being up in the mountains after having such a dearth of anything even resembling a hill in Gainesville for the past 2 months. The peaks ticked on by one by one and we felt like we were making good progress. The first half of the traverse to Tom is much easier than the 2nd half. Despite more individual 12er's on the first half, they are all shorter climbs with decent psuedo-type talus trails and straightforward traversing that allows faster travel. We all thoroughly enjoyed the first 6 peaks and found ourselves atop Tom 5 hours after departure(we thought this was a good time) with plenty of energy and psyched to continue on.
So many peaks. Atop La Sal Peak
Jogging off Castle

Mt Waas behind 
I believe one of the guys from the Dorais Bro's excursion climbed the pole. I want to be like them. 

Pointing out something I thought was important

Heading over to Manns peak. 

Court descending to Burro Pass

We dropped down probably the loosest and steepest slope of the day off Tom down to West Fork of Burro Pass and thankfully found a beautiful clear mountain stream to guzzle water from and fill up for the next long section. A semi short dirt road run over to Geyser Pass set us up nicely to hit the 2nd longest climb of the day up Mt Mellenthin.
Hey, more Talus! North Ridge of Mel ahead

We found a nice trail that may have had a closed sign on it that look us more or less directly up to the North ridge of Mel and we proceeded up the talus ridge. This climb took along time and we were all pretty tired at the top but grateful it was over. We traversed over to Peale which requires a frustrating out and back to tag the summit, then headed for the final peak, Mt. Tuk. I was starting to worry about time at this point as it was 4:30 and we still had Tuk and the 15 miles back to the car. I picked up the pace over to Tuk and was lucky enough to see a black bear just below the final climb. We all summited around 5, all the summits in the bag, but the adventure far from over.
Mt Peale, the highest in the range, looms ahead

Slogging it up Peale, NW Peale behind and Little Tuk far left 

Looking back to Peale as we head up Tuk
 We climbed down to the saddle between Tuk and Little Tuk, and knew Jared had warned his descent strategy into Gold's Basin wasn't exactly daises and lollipops. We all agreed upon assessing the route it looked like a suicidal nightmare of steep, loose giant talus boulders waiting to crush victims like trash compactor. We opted to continue up to Little Tuk and descend the North ridge half way, then took some 5th class dirt down into Gold's Basin where we found our 2nd and much needed water source of the day.

Steve enjoying some non Talus terrain for a change as we descend to Golds Basin

It was about 6:30 pm now, and we had 15 miles of trails and road to navigate back to the car. All went well until we lost the trail to Ooowah Lake, but recovered with help from Steve's GPS, but then struggled to find our last climb up Shuman Gulch that would take us the 9 miles back to the car. The Gps said we were on route, but we were in a nasty gully with thick bushwacking. It was now dark and 9pm, so we decided to bail down to the road. Luckily we found a hunter who agreed to drive us back to our car, finally done at 11 pm, almost 16 hours after leaving.

We drove to Moab and gorged at Denny's, then attempted to sack out 15 minutes outside Moab. We didn't sleep great due to the barrage of mosquitos, furnace heat, loud traffic and lightning then hit the road back to SLC at 6:30 am.

In summary, this is a fantastic route in the mountains. It is slow going due to the talus and basically little runnable terrain until you get down to Gold's Basin, which is way over half the route timewise. We felt like we were moving pretty well, took little breaks, and it still took us 12 hours to traverse from the car to Gold Basin which is the meat of the route. Assuming you had leg speed left and directions dialed(we did not despite my meticulous notes), the run back to the car could be as short as 3 hours. But it could also take 6-8 hours if you're slow.

Great variations to this route that would allow for less suffering and time would be to do either half of the route as loops, or if you have a shuttle opportunity, to have someone pick you up at Golds Basin. Highly recommend this route!