As bad as it sounds, I try to stay away from hikes and outdoors activities that get too much praise and hype. It might just be the hipster in me, but when a hiking trail get’s nearly 1,800 5-star reviews on AllTrails.com, it’s hard to believe it’s going to be a challenging one. The only time that many people review a trail, or anything for that matter, it’s usually something super easy and perfect for the out-of-shape, family-friendly hikers. For those hikes, which commonly get described as a 1-mile trail, entirely flat, and finishes at a pretty waterfall. However, this trail was not rated “easy”, but given the black rating of “hard”. Something about this did not compute with me. They’re trying to tell met that a difficult trail, with all that foot traffic, all those reviews, still got nearly a rating of 5 out of 5 stars? Yeah right.
I’m pretty sure that I could not have been any more wrong about my preconceived notions. Both times I’ve hiked up to Lake Blanche, it’s kicked my ass. But both times, it’s been extremely worth it. The first time I hiked it, with my buddy Luke, when I flew out to SLC last November to visit him. The second time, I was an SLC resident, but had just gotten back from a long trip at sea-level to the Big Island of Hawaii. And yup, both times, the moderate hiking altitude got to me and kicked my a$$. So yes, I can totally attest to the “hard” rating, and yes, I agree with it.
The Lake Blanche Trail is a 6.7mile, out and back, that climbs up over 2,726 feet! That means you’re hiking up over 800 feet per mile on the way up. Pretty steep if you ask me! But, compared to the east coast’s rocky and root-filled trails, this one is in great condition. Not to mention the scenery is hands down better than anything back east. From the “parking lot”, or wherever you can find parking on the road near the Mill B South Picnic Area, you head up the paved path that follows Big Cottonwood Creek. Eventually, you turn right, onto the Lake Blanche Trail where all the signs are posted. Only for a short while, are you hiking through the trees and bush with little views to be had. Because after a bit longer, the vertical gain provides you with stunning views of the canyon you’re about to hike into and Big Cottonwood behind you!
This is the point where, on both times I hiked it, that I appreciate the access we have from Salt Lake City more than ever. 30minutes from my apartment, I was at a trailhead that takes me up canyon that feels like it could be in the middle of the wilderness, hours from anything or anyone. To add to that sentiment, the first time I hike up here with Luke, I saw something for the first time that I’ll never forget. Just a mile up the trail, we looked off to our right, down in the shrubs and bushes, stood a young, male Moose. He couldn’t have been more that 100 feet from the trail we were standing on. Just hanging around, he seemed so relaxed (unlike myself). After snapping a few photos, we quickly headed up the trail as to not disturb him anymore. Turns out, he was not interested in bothering any of the hikers passing through his area. Because on the way back down, hours later, he was still there in nearly the exact same spot. I was still beyond stoked! I thought to myself, “This trail couldn’t get any better!” And boy was I wrong.
As you climb up the trail, and the canyon walls move passed you, the peaks above you become clearer and clearer. Ahead, way at the end of the trail, you can see the stunning Sundial Peak, as well as it’s surrounding bowls and cirques. Both times I’ve been here, in November and June, they’ve always had snow on them; which makes for a great juxtaposition when you’re hiking up in shorts. Dromedary Peak sits up on the right, always full of snow. And as the miles began to tick away, and my breath got heavier, and heavier. Once we finally reached the Aspen groves, not that they are any landmark, but they really makes you feel like you’re out West when you hiking through them. Constantly finding yourself surrounded by walls or rock in the high alpine region.
The trail begins to switchback, further up the mountainside, across a rockfall, and closer to the lake. Just before you reach the water, you pass through a chute of red rock that showcases Sundial Peak almost perfectly. After a few more steps, you finally reach the pristine Lake Blanche! You’ve made it up to an elevation of ~8,900 feet. The air is thinner, but that’s not what is going to take your breath away. Words like stunning and majestic don’t even begin to describe this place well enough or do it justice. The blue water of the lake with the near perfect reflection of Sundial Peak and its surrounding peaks, now that’ll take your breathe away. Depending on the time of year, you can see a waterfall cascading down a gulch on the north west face of Sundial. In November, the waterfall had already frozen over which was arguably way cooler to see. And in the summer, you can come up here to fish in the alpine lakes. And yes, I said plural lakes. Because Lake Blanche cascades down into two additional, smaller lakes. Definitely no shortage of beautiful views to be found up there.
This past time we hiked it, in June, we just went up to the lake for a lunch and then headed back down. But the first time Luke and I hiked up, we were a little more ambitious. We tried to scramble up to the summit of Sundial Peak. Without doing any research or getting beta beforehand, we tried to make our way around the lakes to approach Sundial Peak from the western side. Our goal was to hike up through the gulch side or scramble over the frozen waterfall. The scramble over the waterfall proved to be a little too dicey at the time, so we just decided to hike up the rockfall area in the gulch. The entire time since we got up to the lake, my breathe was getting shorter and shorter. So by the time we hit the rockfall, the altitude was hitting me harder and harder. The lake, which sits at 8,900′, was already the highest I’d ever hiked. And now, we were near scrambling up a rock fall at 9,800′. Not anything to write home about, but coming from sea-level and hiking at that elevation started to take its toll on me. I made the decision to turn around because I couldn’t go more than 3 steps at a time without needing to take a break. Definitely the right decision to make, but I still want to check Sundial off my list, sooner rather than later!
If you ever get the chance to hike up to Lake Blanche, take it! It’s tough, but totally worth it!