In the world of spicy food, most dining establishments in America offer a pretty banal mild, medium, and hot as their spice rating. This usually translates to something like: bland, a little zip, and ‘Oh boy, they used an entire mild pepper in here!’ For those who enjoy spicy food, the 1-10 heat scale offers a fuller range of choices. Here in SLC, I know of only two restaurants that offer this broader definition of spice level. And I don’t go anywhere near the top end..
Mountain spice is much the same way. One can build up their skills (spice handling capability) over time, and get into some extraordinarily flavorful places. Or one can consistently trod familiar, safe ground, and keep things at a mild spice level. There is plenty to be said in favor of either approach.
As Wasatch outings go, the LCC Ridgeline traverse pushes right past bland and presents a varied range of exposures and difficulties. Brooke Gaynes, Caroline Gleich, and I headed up for a sample. The chosen route led from the Broads Fork trailhead (on the S curves) in BCC, up to both the East and West Twins, and East across the ridge to Superior, then passed under Cardiff Peak on its north flank and exited via the Pole Line Pass trail to highway 210 (LCC) at the town of Alta.
Prominent summits between these ends include Sunrise Peak, Dromedary, and Monte Cristo. Many less notable unnamed peaks, and even Jepson’s Folly and Peak 10,910, were crossed en route. While these peaks are less notable due to their diminutive prominence, many of them offered the trickiest scrambling of the day.
Since I enjoy performing in the mountains while wearing modified business casual (cutoff pinstripes and a fedora), I suggested Caroline wear a dress. She obliged, and so today you get a story that includes a woman moving across one of the Wasatch’s finest rocky ridges, in a dress. And in gaiters.
Although funny clothing choices present the image that we take some things in a lighthearted fashion – and we do – I’m certain you’d struggle to find two people who take the planning and preparation phase more seriously on challenging routes than we do. All of our other gear was comprised of usual, solid, mountain oriented brands. Minus33 merino wool, Dynafit, Fits Socks, ProBar, Clif, GU, and Zeal Optics rounded out the brand list on my end. This was my first time wearing Zeal eyewear (Caroline lent me a pair of sunglasses), but I try not to leave the house for mountain time without the rest of these products on me. Tried and true stuff..
After topping out on both Twin Peaks and returning to the East Twin, Brooke bid Caroline and I farewell and headed down. We gratefully accepted Brooke’s offer of a spare slice of pizza and 2 spare liters of fluids. It was already hot considering the elevation, and it was around 9am! In retrospect, I think this extra liter really helped me get the traverse done without dehydrating too badly. Thanks, Brooke!
As we ascended Jepson’s Folly and then Sunrise, Brooke was visible below, so I let out a howl which was replied in kind. Seeing that she was safely on her way, we pushed on. And on. And on. Having completed the Timpanogos Traverse eight days prior, I can say the ridge travel on the LCC Ridge Traverse is far more complicated.
Once off the Broad Fork Twins, there was no trail until heading down Monte Cristo. That means the entire ridge is a process of finding your way over or around rock obstacles and the occasional tree or shrub. Exposure varies from casual to solid pucker. I don’t have any secrets to offer here; if you do the route, I suspect you’ll also be figuring it out as you go. There’s a ton, or miles if you like, of true scrambling.
The only thing I really noticed of note is that the rock quality (as in, loose rock versus solid rock) appears to deteriorate once one descends Dromedary, and this theme continues all the way to the ‘Cristo. Many, many apparently secure handholds just pulled out on me, and some very large rocks moved with the slightest application of pressure.
Towards the end, about to ascend Monte Cristo, a bowling ball sized rock somehow caught my shorts, and as I passed by gingerly in full exposed scramble mode, it pulled free. It tumbled down, starting a rock slide in the couloir below. As Caroline couldn’t see me at the time, she heard the ruckus and assumed I was lost amongst the sea of boulders. It’s these sorts of things, as much as the actual ridge work, that comprises the spice on the day. That, or the lack of water or shade on the route.
It also appeared to Caroline and I – we discussed it – that the easterly facing downclimbs were steeper on average than the westerly ascents of all these mini-peaks. We wondered if the route wouldn’t be a bit easier if one headed East to West instead, as three guys we passed were doing. It’s a lot easier to ascend steep terrain than to descend it. If nothing else, taking the route that direction offers a bit less vertical gain, as you park a lot higher.
Either way, by the time we reached Monte Cristo’s western flank, I was really glad I didn’t have to downclimb that section. The ridge immediately beneath M.C. offered the hardest moves on the route, coupled with some of the biggest exposure, as it dropped away on both sides in typical, dramatic knife-edge fashion. Add in the ‘tired factor’ at this point in the day if you’re contemplating spice level. I realize that everyone’s spice tolerance is completely different though, so I’m not about to put a number on it.
Once we topped out on Monte Cristo, we gained a trail of sorts to Superior, took the standard East ridge trail down to Cardiff and then to the road. Although we had parked a shuttle vehicle, we still needed a ride to it. (This left us with numerous bail options should afternoon thunderstorms have presented themselves.) The first people to drive by stopped to offer a ride. A fantastic end to a pretty memorable ridge traverse.