Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Burly WURLy

The freaking WURL

This is a bit detailed.

The WURL-a brief history

The Wasatch Ultimate Ridge Linkup was conceived, attempted, and ultimately completed by none other than THE Wasatch hardman himself, Jared Campbell. I would say this creation of pain was somewhat of a PhD thesis for him, proving as a student his right to earn the highest degree in the areas of endurance and suffering, after which he would go on to earn at least other 9 Noble prizes for his works in Hardrock, Zioneering, Barkley and other ludicrous concoctions of his own. It took him 3 separate times before he successfully conquered the WURL back in 2004. I personally believe it represents the most inspiring and difficult line the Wasatch has to offer. While thousands have and will complete the Wasatch 100, less than 10 have done the WURL, though it is slowly growing more popular. The terrain, self sufficiency, and burliness is what likely will keep this adventure more on the obscure side, like most of Jared's endeavors.

The man, the legend, the immortal. The WURL creator. You can be my hero baby. 

 A description of the WURL is easy(doing it is not): traverse the entire ridge systems, in the shape of horseshoe, surrounding Little Cottonwood canyon. The approach is up Ferguson Canyon and the finish is out Bells Canyon. The 24 Major(many more unnamed/minor peaks not listed) summited along the WURL are below:

-Storm Mountain, Broads Fork Twin Peaks, Sunrise, Dromedary, Monte Cristo, Superior, Cardiff, Flagstaff, Davenport, Honeycomb, Wolverine, Tuscarora, Devils Castle, Sugarloaf, Baldy, Hidden, AF Twins, Red Top, Red Baldy, White Baldy, Pfieferhorn, South Thunder, Bighorn, Lone Peak.

The stats for the WURL are somewhat varied based upon how "pure" the adventurer is to adhering to the ridgeline itself 100% of the time, but basically my GPS device gave me 36.5 miles and 18,500 of vertical gain. Jared estimated it being 34 miles and 21k, so its something like that.

In the age of this valuable resource known as the interweb, it's fairly easy to figure out who has attempted or finished the WURL. Nik Berry was the 2nd person to claim a finish and currently holds the record at 17 hours, which is truly amazing(if its true, cough cough). Other finishers are the Wasatch local heros Noah Howell and Jason Dorais in 26.5 hours. Tom Goth and Lars K also finished this year in what looks like 26 hours, though theirs may contain a small asterisk since they exited out the slightly less complex Jacobs Ladder instead of Bells, but heck, they hit all the peaks. Steve pointed out Court and I are the first "non-sponsored" athletes to complete the WURL. I expect many offers to come rolling into my inbox in the next few days.

Two women recently were reported to have completed the WURL but I heard from hopeful-first-woman-two-time-attempter Jennilyn Eaton that they failed to summit Lone Peak. Tsk Tsk.  There may have been others who have quietly endured and not claimed their public reward via posting on Facecrap, but it is unlikely. Court and I fit somewhere in the first 10 people to complete it.


Before I get to my own experience on the route, I thought I'd give some information on the route for anyone interested.

Start time: We started at 5 pm friday afternoon due to work restrictions and weekend time frames. We liked it because it allowed us to do both the ascent up Ferguson and descent down Bells in the light, both of which can be tricky and have captured many in their bushwacking dungeons. Getting lost on either portion can either kill mojo before the route even starts, or create the most miserable experience of your life when you've been awake for 24 hours, summited a gazillion peaks, and all you want is to be done. The major downside to this was we put a full day in at work, then went a night and a day without sleep. Sleep deprivation is inevitable, but getting a full nights rest and then embarking would be ideal. Most others seem to start in the early hours of morning, which doesn't make sense to me at all. My advice would be to stay up late the night before, sleep till 10-11 the next day, then start soon thereafter.
Where it begins


There is no water anywhere on the route unless you do it early spring, which I don't recommend. Its hard enough without snow, don't make it more difficult with wet feet and slippery rock. Jared did this on attempt 2 and I infer his cold/wet feet played a big part in bailing. We stashed food/water in two spots, but three is more ideal. Pole Line Pass below Superior is the first spot, Hidden peak is the second, and the saddle above Red Pine Lake is the third. All are fairly accessible(hidden peak has a tram) with trails so stashing or having a crew help out isn't horrible logistically. Hidden Peak's warming hut has water and a bathroom that is open all day/night which makes a sweet resting spot. I ran out of water twice, so three water stations is required unless you want to carry a bunch. Steve brought us water on the Pfeif saddle, saving our butts.
Hidden peak warming hut. At 4 am its as good as it gets


Some might look at the stats and think, "what?, 34 miles and it took you 27 hours? I did a hundred miles with equal amount of vert(wasatch 100 and Bear 100 both fit this bill) and did it faster than that!" True, as did I.  95% of this route is off trail, scrambling, 4th and 5th class boulder hopping schenanegians. The terrain is what beats you up, not the miles or the vert necessarily. It requires constant mental attention. Every rock you step on or grab could be loose, causing you to slip and break your leg or potentially fall off a cliff. There is no section where you can, "just tune out and pound it" like you can on a dirt road or buffed trail in a normal ultra. Practically every peak requires some type of easy climbing and I can't count how many times I had to sit and jump down from boulder to boulder. Its exhausting. Its slow. Leg turnover ain't gonna help you. This isn't the St George Marathon. Gloves are also key for all the granite.

Mental Game/Preparation

This is what you should expect on the WURL. Obviously the more sections you have done prior the better your chance of success. Court and I with our combined travel had done 95% of the WURL beforehand.

1. Ferguson canyon requires a 6000' climb right off the bat up to Twin Peaks. The trail isn't great for a long stretch. Make sure to head up left to the ridge as soon as you hit the major meadow.
2. The ascent up Sunrise has a bit of 5th class that can be dangerous due to loose rock.
3. The stretch after Dromedary is cruiser by comparison. Make good time here. Not much elevation change.
4. Monte Cristo has some 5th class that isn't super bad if you choose wisely.
5. After Superior, it is largely trails over to Devils Castle. I mistakenly thought this would only take an hour or two, but plan on 3-4. Its a long way. Many trails exist here so make sure to stick to the ridge.
6. Devils Castle has the hardest route finding/climbing of the day. Its complex terrain and time can be lost here for sure. Its also the most dangerous for those same reasons. There is some mild bushwacking which is the only stuff you should encounter on the route, pending you don't get lost.
7. The Baldy's are the crux. The terrain here is steep, long, unforgiving, and slow going. The hardest part physically. Your 14+ hours in and these peaks are just plain tough.
8. From Pfief to Thunder(aka the Beatout) really isn't too bad. Lots of boulder hopping but nothing too complicated. Don't underestimate it, but I think this section is some of the most aesthetic terrain on the route.
9. I personally think getting from Thunder to Bighorn to Lone in the dark would be really tricky, but I guess people do it. The ridge descent towards Lone off Bighorn requires careful route finding and following cairns that will lead you to the only chimney system that doesn't require rappelling. Not obvious.
10. The Notch descent off Lone Peak into Bells is wicked loose and dangerous. Just plan on it being crappy. Like Ferguson, its a 6k' foot descent back to the valley. Unless you have a paraglider waiting for you, it ain't over. Once reaching the canyon proper, a 1/2 mile traverse Northeast and uphill(yep, it never stops) to Upper Bells Reservoir will get you to the trail that leads 5 miles back to the cars at Bells Canyon. Don't attempt to descend Bells off trail. You will be sorry.

Court and I complete the WURL

Nate Hansen and I attempted the WURL a few years back in college. We managed to get lost up Ferguson canyon in the dark pretty early on and it took us 6 hours to get to Twin Peaks. We were hosed from the get go. We managed to reach Superior after 12 hours but we bailed. Now that I know what it entails to finish the thing, we had no chance at all regardless of our Ferguson debacle.

The WURL has continued to be on my to-do list as its totally inspiring, but the thought of endless boulder hopping just didn't thrill me. But as someone who likes to think of himself as reasonably fit and enjoys minor amounts of suffering, this in-my-own-backyard challenge has always appealed to me. Court claims he will never run a 100 mile race, but he loves the technical ridge scrambling type stuff and can move quickly, so he was game. Steve had just run the Wasatch so agreed to meet us at the Pfief. Our decision to try it was made a mere two weeks before we embarked.

We departed at 5 pm on Friday and made quick work up Ferguson, summitting Twin Peaks in 3 hours just at the sun was setting. We donned cold weather gear and headlamps and set off. My headlamp was not doing its job but I was too stubborn to stop and switch batteries so I did the triple traverse basically blind. Finally I relented and my experience greatly improved. We made great time to Superior, summiting around 11 pm.
Court moving up towards Twin Peaks. This is one of the few times I was in front. 

Twin Peaks summit
 From here on to Hidden Peak no pics were taken as it was pitch black.

We restocked at Pole Line pass with Courts large stash of treats including Dr Pepper and peach cups. We were both feeling more sleepy than physically tired and the stoke of being ahead of schedule was exhilarating. The traverse on trails around to Devils Castle went pretty well, till we hit a short bushwacking and technical section. Devils Castle took some time but was fun.

Not much complaining was happening until Hidden Peak. It was about 4 am and we were about to hit the 12 hour mark. The warm hut with soft benches was sure nice. We were really starting to feel the physical toll and I was beyond sleepy despite my many DP's and caffeine tabs.

We texted Pete and Steve letting them know our situation and set out. We had spotted headlamps back on Sugarloaf of who we correctly assumed was Jennilyn and Ben Eaton, who were also making an attempt at the WURL. We caught up with them just before Red Baldy and JE said she was having some stomach issues. We chatted for a bit and passed. Court had been getting slowly ahead of me over the last few peaks but he really turned it on over the Baldy's(or i really slowed down). I had to make a concerted effort to go faster than I was comfortable to keep up.

Somewhere around dawn

The Eatons march up Red Baldy

Fantastic shot from Stevo at Pfief saddle 

As stated earlier, the Baldy's are brutal. Very tough terrain at any stage but 16 hours in they really take some grunting to get through. We met Steve and JE new pacers at the Pfeif saddle which was a breath of fresh air. He patched up my blister that was quite large and painful and fed me some Mcdonalds burritos. Then he agreed to do the Beatout(the last 5 peaks) with us which was super generous of him as it wasn't going to be pretty hanging out with me. But he owed me from Wasatch last week so whatever.
Aid station courtesy of Stevo. What we lack in appearance we make up for in stamina

Then as we were heading up the Pfief, Pete, who we had thought was lost in outer space near Catherine's pass due to communication issues, suddenly appeared. He also, with some convincing, agreed to skip out on his soccer game and join us. I was pretty stoked as I was tired of hiking alone way behind Court feeling like a gomer, and Court was tired of waiting for me when he was feeling lots better.
This is what you're doing for a long time

A sea of boulders and a man ready to drown himself. 

If I wasn't hating myself for wanting to do this the terrain is fantastic

I look like I'm busting out some fast time here, but I've seen faster 4 year olds. 

Basically from the Pfief onto Lone was a super slogfest for me and I suffered the entire time. If it wasn't for my 3 good friends I would have either collapsed and died or bailed whenever possible. That's what friends are for I guess.
Lone peak. Not the end, but kind of. Court looks happy. Why? How? 

Its been a long day. Yes those are leaves. 

The descent into Bells via the Notch was painful, then once we gained the trail everyone agreed they were tired of waiting for me and took off. I was just fine with that as they had been super patient with me for the last 7 hours. At a snails pace I crawled and fell down the 5 miles to the car at Bells. I hit my face on one section and developed a bloody nose. Leaves were used as a damming agent. Once the bleeding stopped I lied down in the trail and wished for death. I have felt really bad in times past, but I can honestly say the 5 hours from Lone to the car were more miserable than having my gonads chopped off. 27 hours after departure, I rolled into the Bells Canyon TH and got myself a Barbacoa burrito, a shower, and hit the sack. 12 hours later I woke up, then slept for 3 hours through church.

A day later my blister hurts, my knees feel like lead, and I'm still wicked tired, but I feel some semblance of having achieved something very few ever will. Its gratifying. Was it fun? Kind of. Very type 2 fun for a lot of it, and type 3 down Bells. Was it pretty? If you think burning garbage is pretty than yes. A finish is a finish I guess.

Would I do it again? Heck no.


  1. You sure are an honest straight talking dude. Haha. Way to gut it out.

  2. Nice work and best of luck on getting a sponsor. I think you broke our rule of not stating whether or not you are or are not going to repeat an adventure until at least 2 weeks after it has passed. You will be getting another invite if I ever take a crack at it. Also, good job being open about you huge man crush on Jared Campbell. It might make things weirder around him at the gym though.

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  4. Great trip report! And an amazing accomplishment! Do you have a detailed suggest gear list for trips like this? Im a major gear head so I would be interested in you list.

  5. Great Report. What shoes would you recommend. Trail runners?

  6. I'm curious as to why you are so strongly suggesting the afternoon or 5pm start as opposed to an alpine start?