Spanish Fork Peak Trip Report
Maple Canyon, 05/21/05
It had been a few months since Erik and I have been able to summit a mountain. The spring had been late in coming, with snows down at 7,000 feet as late as mid-May. We decided that we needed to climb a mountain, and after looking at several peaks around the valley, decided on Spanish Fork Peak as a good one to go for. It isn't as high as other peaks in the valley, so the snow wouldn't be as big of a deal, and it is one of the less popular peaks, so we would have some solitude.
We got up early on Saturday morning with a hope to be on the trail around 7:30. As with most trips, though, we were a little delayed and finally made it there around 8:00. I was hiking with just my normal hiking gear, while Erik, who is training for Mount Rainier this summer, was carrying an extra 40 pounds of water. The trailhead is up Maple Canyon and is easy to find as it is the last parking lot up the canyon. We parked and started up the trail.
A few hundred yards from the trailhead, the trail forks, and the trail up to the summit crosses a stream on the right. Because of the heavy snows this year, and subsequent high temperatures, the stream was much deeper than it usually is. Instead of filling our boots with water in the first 10 minutes of the hike, we decided to take our boots off and ford the stream. This turned out to be a pretty cold proposition; there's nothing like walking ankle-deep though fresh snow runoff! After drying our feet and putting our boots back on, we were finally on our way for good.
In climbing most mountains, a person generally encounters several different climate zones from the trailhead to the summit. This is mainly due to elevation changes, but other factors can also play a part. During spring, these different zones can be especially apparent. The trail to Spanish Fork Peak is steady at a moderate grade, so the differences are pretty obvious. At the trailhead, all the trees and bushes were green and spring was in full force, but as we climbed higher, we started to see more aspen, which gradually gave way to conifers. We also encountered snow, which made for fun climbing, as well as a vastly different landscape than what we saw in the lower canyon.
As we got into the snow, we noticed that the footprints we had been following in the mud were fresh. We passed an unoccupied tent, and figured that another party had spent the night on the mountain and was then ahead of us on the trail. There wasn't actually much of a trail, though, because the snow now covered everything. We followed the footprints for quite a ways, occasionally wondering if they were going the same place we were. When we finally caught up to the party, we learned that they too were headed toward the summit, and one of them had even been there before and was able to give us some routefinding tips.
We passed this party, and had to start breaking our own trail through the snow. We put our gaiters on, and were glad for it, because the day was warming up and the snow was getting less firm. Some places we sank to our knees, and occasionally we were in the snow to our hips. I was grateful for the recent purchase of Gore-Tex gaiters. We could also tell that we were crossing what had been an avalanche. The trees were all bent downhill and some had even been snapped in multiple pieces. Seeing something like that come down the hill would have been an awesome experience, but I'm glad that everything held while we were on it.
We had long since lost the trail in the snow, so we decided to head for the ridge and then work our way to the summit. After crossing the basin with the avalanche debris, we started going up. It was slow going through the snow, but after a long climb and a tricky traverse across some exposed rock, we finally found ourselves on the main ridge of Spanish Fork Peak. By this point, we were a little tired, and the hike had taken a lot longer than we had originally planned. The snow on the ridge wasn't very solid, and it was still slow as we broke trail toward the summit.
Once on the ridge the snow was very soft. Most times we were down to our knees; occasionally we sunk into our hips. We reached a clear spot where we sat and rested for a bit. We had one final pitch left and then a traverse. The climb as through a bunch of trees, and we hoped that the snow would be firmer. We were right! The climb through the trees turned out to be pretty easy, and we managed the traverse with little incident. We had climbed Spanish Fork Peak, although it had taken 2 hours longer than we planned, we were and and were rewarded with some spectacular views. Although Spanish Fork Peak isn't has high as other mountains in the Wasatch, we could still see over 50 miles in almost almost all directions. The air was clear enough that we could see Deseret Peak to the northwest, Mount Nebo to the west, Mount Timpanogos to the north, and even the western Unitas to the northeast.
After spending about 30 minutes on the summit, we started heading down. The decent was a lot different than the ascent, and was a mixture of a controlled run through the snow with both standing and sitting glissades. We passed the other party slowly slogging their way to the top through the soft afternoon snow. We noticed that our own footprints from the morning were quite changed, and we were glad that we were now on our way down. The decent was pretty uneventful, except for the fact that one of the small streams we had crossed earlier in the morning had grown quite large from the days melting. We made it back to our car about 2 ½ hours after achieving the summit.
Spanish Fork Peak is a great hike with grand vistas as a reward for summiting. Doing the climb in spring made it a lot tougher than it otherwise would have been, but it was a neat experience. The summer trail has a moderate grade, and would offer a great experience for anybody looking to climb one of the less popular peaks in Utah Valley. Even though the climb was hard, it was one of the more rewarding ones I have done to date.