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Deseret Peak: A comprehensive guide

22 Jul

11,031 foot Deseret Peak from Dry Lake Fork of South Willow Canyon (photo by Clint Thomsen)

11,031 foot Deseret Peak and couloirs from Dry Lake Fork of South Willow Canyon (photo by Clint Thomsen)

Deseret Peak is the tallest summit in the Stansburys and highest point in Tooele County. It’s jagged ridges tower high above the desert floor, making it a dominating landmark — especially when viewed from the western valleys.  The peak is accessible via two major routes- Mill Fork and Pockets Fork.  Most hikers prefer to both ascend and descend via the Mill Fork Trail.

The peak has a 5,812-foot topographic prominence, or relative elevation, making it one of just 57 mountains in the lower 48 states that qualify as “ultra” peaks (the threshold for “ultras” being 4,921 feet of topographic prominence), making it a popular peakbagging destination.

While researching the peak for my series in the Tooele Transcript Bulletin, I found various trip reports and websites- some of which presented conflicting and/or incomplete data.  The following is my attempt at a comprehensive guide to hiking the peak.  The information below consists of details from my own observations and information culled from Internet and print sources.  Suggestions are welcome.  If you notice any errors, please contact me at bonnevillemariner @ gmail .com.

SUMMIT BETA

Elevation: 11,031 feet (3362 meters)
Lat/Long: 40° 28′ N; 112° 38′ W ; 40.459494, -112.626393 (Dec Deg)
Range: Stansbury
Clean Prominence: 5,812 feet (1771 meters)

HIKE BETA

Trail Location: Stansbury Mountains, South Willow Canyon
Trailhead: Loop Campground, far west end (8 miles up South Willow Canyon)
Recommended Route: Mill Fork Trail to Deseret Peak, return via Big Creek Canyon/Pockets Fork
Length: 3.25 mi. (approx., trailhead to summit via Mill Fork trail); 8.4 mi. (round trip via Dry Fork loop)
Elevation Gain: 3,613
Difficulty: Mill Fork- Intermediate; Pockets Fork- moderate to difficult
Time to Hike: about 3 hours (one way) on either route
Wildlife encounters: Deer, rattlesnake, golden eagle, grouse, cottontail, bobcat, mountain lion

TRAIL BETA – MILL FORK

Most hikers climb to the peak via the Mill Fork Trail and descend the same way.  In my opinion, the best description of this trail from trailhead to saddle comes from 100 Hikes in Utah by Steve Mann and Rhett Olson:

The first 0.75 mile takes you up 500 vertical feet to a trail junction at a stream crossing.  Straight ahead is a rocky slope, and to your right a high rocky cliff.  The South Willow Lake Trail heads west up the slope and traverses the slope above the cliff.  The Deseret Peak Trail cuts to the left , or east, to work its way 0.5 mile up a ridge by following the Mill Fork Drainage.

Topping the ridge…the trail continues it’s constant rise, gaining 1800 feet in 1.75 miles as it approaches that saddle.

Local writer and historian Jaromy Jessop takes if from the saddle:

Continuing up the mountain to the west, the trail climbs up steeply and over a slope on the south side of peak 10,674 feet. This slope usually has a large snowfield clinging to it late into the summer that can be difficult to cross at times. It can be bypassed by going up and around it to the north or down and around it to the south and then back up to the trail…In another .9 miles up along the hogback, with breathtaking views all around, you will find yourself on top of the 11,031-foot summit, and on top of the world.

TRAIL BETA – BIG CREEK CANYON PASS/POCKETS FORK

Whoever constructed this trail was drunk, lazy, or both.  The primitive path winds torturously through scree fields, skips down over rock faces, and in some places seems to disappear completely.  The Forest Service’s budget for switchbacks must have been tight during this trail’s construction.

From Deseret Peak, follow the trail northward for 1.4 miles on the Skull Valley side of the ridge.  You will pass behind peak 10,012 feet and partially up the side of peak 10,042 (yeah, it’s not all downhill) to Big Creek Canyon Pass.  This part of the trail passes through areas of burnt, but still-standing, forest reminiscent of the fire swamp in The Princess Bride.  It also affords views into South Lost Creek Canyon and Big Creek Canyon- two nearly untouched canyons on the Skull Valley side.

From Big Creek Canyon Pass, the trail descends Pockets Fork and connects with the South Willow Lake Trail.  You may be tempted to slide down the glacier at the pass.  Don’t.

Turn right at the well-marked trail junction, which leads down into Dry Fork, across South Willow Creek, through thick meadows, and back to the trailhead.

TRIP PREP

The best- and really only- time to bag Deseret Peak is during the summer, as late spring and early fall are often very iffy.  Pack in at least 2 liters of water and something to eat at the summit.  I can’t stand the taste of “taste-free” hydration pack bladders, so I pack in several bottles of various liquids, including Gatorade and Propel.  Peanut butter sandwiches, cheese, and beef jerky are great belly-fillers and help the body recover between trail legs.  For trail/wilderness guidelines and restrictions, visit the Wasatch-Cache National Forest website.

LINKS

My TTB article on the Mill Fork ascent
Deseret Peak at Peakbagger.com
Deseret Peak at Summitpost.com

MAPS

Google terrain map
Terraserver topo map

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