There are two pinnacle hikes that every Salt Lake resident can see from the city and eventually should do. The two are Mount Olympus and the West Face of Grandeur Peak. Having done both of them, and many other peaks in the Wasatch, I think it’s safe to say, the Grandeur Peak via the West Face is the hardest hike in the Wasatch.
In typical Wasatch trail fashion, right out of the parking lot you immediately head straight up. With little reprieve at the bench, you have the option of choosing between trails that ascend up two different ridges that eventually merge near the summit. Whichever route you choose, you are treated with exact same experience: a steep, unforgiving, endless incline. From trailhead to summit back to the trailhead, is only 4.6 miles long. Not that difficult as far as hikes go; however, in that 4.6 miles, you must climb 3,234 feet to reach the summit. If you do the math, that’s 3,234 feet in only 2.3 miles, since the second half is all downhill. Needless to say, it’s steep.
My coworker Kyle and I had the day off from work, so we planned to hike the South ridge on the approach and take the North ridge on out decent. Of course, my dog Gregor also had off work, so he came along too. It didn’t take very long for us both to realize that we might have bit off more than we could chew, especially for the first hard hike of the season. Sure, maybe by July this would just be a tough hike, but for April, it was down right painful. Well, I should say painful for us humans, because my dog didn’t seem to have a single issue with it, at all.
We slowly slogged our way up, high enough to the point where the cool morning air offset the heat my body was generating from how much effort I was exerting. That was about the only reprieve the further we went. Not long after, just as the ridge began to meet with the summit, we hit the snow line. Luckily, we were far from the first to hike this route and a solid boot-pack was already in place. Leave it to me to step off the designated path and sink all the way up to my thighs in the cold snow. But after a few slips and dips, we made the final push up to the summit!
At the summit, you get one of the most unobstructed views of the Salt Lake valley to the west, the steep canyon walls of Mill Creek to the east, and an endless view of mountains in every other direction. It’s an impressive pinnacle of the Wasatch range, and though the summit only reaches to an elevation of 8,222 feet, it’s prominence from the valley floor greatly dwarfs it’s taller neighboring peaks in Big Cottonwood and Little Cottonwood Canyons. And we could appreciate them all as we ate lunch on that snowy summit.
The descent, though much less exhaustive, still comes with it’s fair share of trials and tribulations. When something is that steep on the uphill, the downhill can be just as tricky. It’s easy to loose grip on the rocky, loose soil in the Wasatch. And loose traction we did, quite often. The sage brush that lines the trail are the saving grace for most hikers as they give something to hold onto when navigating the tricky, steep sections. But all said and done, with only a few trips and falls, it is totally worth it. Especially when you get to witness some paragliders and kites takeoff from the neighboring ridgeline and fly into the sky. Upward they travel with ease, compared to us hikers, as they rise with the thermals off the mountainside.
So is this the hardest hike in the Wasatch? Well, I’ll leave that up to you to decide, but I can guarantee you this hike will challenge even the most fit humans.
My name is Zachary Kenney and I’m an adventure filmmaker & photographer. My passion is to tell stories that will hopefully motivate you to go live a more adventurous life. Whether that is to experience the view from the summit of a mountain, or wandering through a new town on a road trip. Currently based out of Park City, UT.