Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Failed Summit

Of all the great Wasatch peaks, Cascade Mountain is certainly the most ignored. It is so dwarfed (not by size – only by popularity) by nearby Mount Timpanogos, that many long-time residents of Utah County don't even know its name. This is the mountain I mean:

Since I had never hiked it before, I organized a trip to conquer this elusive precipice. Four of us made the attempt: Camber, me, Jason H., and a friend of his named Jackie.

The difficulty in climbing this mountain is that, as you can perhaps tell by looking at the photograph, there is no good way to get to the top (note the cliffs on the north side, nearer the actual summit). There is no trail to the very top, and the nearest trail takes you to a saddle (Lightning Ridge) so far south that it isn't even shown in this picture.

Despite its distance, we decided to take that trail anyway. Once we reached the ridge, which didn't take too long, the summit actually looked close – close enough that Jason naively stated that it would take "90 minutes" to reach the top.

A view of the summit from Lightning Ridge. The summit is the LAST peak you can see on the right. Shrouded in clouds is a large peak (not the summit) that we would have to hike over to get to our destination. Quite a distance.

After two hours of hiking along a very difficult ridge-line with no trail, we hardly seemed any closer to reaching our destination. We were all worn out by the hiking, and extremely tired of such difficult hiking with no trail. We sat down for lunch (always a bad idea) to assess our options, and finally decided to give up on it and go home.

To understand what we did next, you have to know that I have never, to my knowledge, had a failed summit before. Every hike I have ever attempted has ended with my standing triumphantly on top of a mountain. And so I suggested, so long as we were already turning around, that we have a little adventure and bushwhack our way down the backside of the mountain into Big Springs area – an area I'm very familiar with.

The backside of the mountain. Beginning where this picture was taken, we bushwhacked to where you see the black arrow pointing:

For better or for worse, we decided to bushwhack our way down. This time it was my turn to exhibit naivete and hubris, stating that it would take us about 3 hours: it took 5. After hiking through thick foliage for hours we eventually found a real trail, and I literally wanted to kiss the dirt (I didn't). It was heaven just to be out of the scratchy trees and scrub oak.

I hate to say it, but I was beaten by Cascade Mountain. I now know why there is no trail to the top: it is miserable hiking. I'm sure that I'll conquer it someday, but for now I have failed, and it remains to be seen when I will beat back the mountain.

A few more pictures:

Jason, Camber, and Jackie, just after we left the trail for hours of ridge hiking. Doesn't it look just like the Alps?

Jackie and Camber (just her legs, actually), coming down a slope along the ridge. This gives you a feel of what it was like to hike along this steep ridge with no trail.

Jason H. bushwhacking it down.

Jackie and Camber, bushwhacking it down.

Jason and Jackie taking a rest in a meadow. We still had hours to push through the thick trees.


  1. There really are few things as awful as bushwacking through scrub oak. I kind of loathe that little species of tree.

  2. Oh, by the way, I was the one that said "pansies", but what I really meant was "wish we could have come!" :)

  3. If you wound are so busted buddy boy!!