Getting Lost in the Oquirrhs

Posted: 3rd September 2010 by Jonathan Wood in Hiking
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I reached one of the highest peaks of the Oquirrh Mountains (along the West side of the Salt Lake Valley) Friday. I had tried before early in the spring but it got really steep and a large snow bank prevented me from being able to access the very top. This time I took a trail that went towards another side of the peak. However, I really wasn’t sure exactly where this trail went.

The new trail went sloped gently downward for nearly 45 minutes until I came to an ATV trail. (If I ever try this again, I’ll know to drive to where the ATV trail started to shave off some wasted time before starting to climb.) I followed the ATV trail up the mountain, and finally started to gain some altitude. This went well for a while as we moved up the mountain until the ATV trail came to end. We continued up as the slope began to grow steeper and steeper.

Normally, I follow a well-used trail or at least follow a map. Here, there were no more trails and I didn’t have a map of the area. I couldn’t see the peak I was after, but I know the general area and figured I could always come back the way I came, and we continue upward. Although it wasn’t too hot, the Sun was getting to my dog Suki. We’d been hiking for a couple of hours and, looking up, the slopes looked pretty brutal. On the other side of the bowl we were in, were a bunch of trees. It looked incredibly steep but I figured at least we’d be in the shade. We reached the trees and continued upward–it was extremely steep.

Great Salt Lake

Looking North to the Great Salt Lake

This went on for a while and, to my surprise, when I came out of the top of the trees, we were at the peak. The small ridge that made up the peak was quite narrow and barren. Looking North, I could see the Great Salt Lake. Looking South-East, I could see Utah Lake, and I could see the Salt Lake and Tooele Valleys in either side of me.

The last stretch was so steep that I really didn’t want to go back down the same way. So I decided to go down on the other side of a ridge, and then cross over the ridge lower down to return to where I started. I miscalculated.

All the valleys converge on a peak like this. As you descend the mountain, each valley grows until you are miles from the others. Of course, I know this but had somehow got turned around and didn’t properly gauge my direction. The result was an incredibly long hike down with not a trail in site. Although I had plenty of water for myself, I quickly ran out keeping the dog from overheating.

It became quite an ordeal and, in fact, I had been on the mountain a full 8 hours before I got low enough in a canyon to find someone to help me out. I was informed I was no longer even in the right canyon and was given a ride to the Tooele Sheriff, who eventually drove me up to my truck.

Okay, this is more than a little embarrassing. I hike every week and would like to think I don’t make mistakes like this. I had a headlamp in case it had gone dark, and I’m fit enough to handle an extra 4-6 hours of hiking (although it certainly wasn’t enjoyable). But mistakes happen and I’ve thought about it carefully to think about how to avoid it in the future. For about a day, the thought of being in the mountains sounded horrible. But, after recovering for a day, I realize there were certainly parts of the hike I really enjoyed. In fact, I plan to reach the same peak again this Summer. However, this time, I’ll be coming down the same way I go up.

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