Summer Time and the Skiing’s Easy

A Utah mission to the Twin Couloirs of Deseret Peak

The ninos saddle up for a long haul. PHOTO: Jared Hargrave

The pitch-black desert nothingness stretched out before us as we motored west. Metallica’s “Justice For All” cranked from the speakers and kept our eyes wide as we tore up the pavement during the loneliest hours of the morning. While most of our contemporaries were closing down the bars, we were heading for the trailhead. The weather this time of year dictates early starts, and this was no exception. Our objective was the Twin Couloirs of 11,033-foot Deseret Peak, the highest peak in a small mountain range outside of Salt Lake City known as the Stansburys, which sit two ranges west from the Wasatch.

A summit push to Deseret in May meant two requirements: an alpine start and bikes. The upper reaches of the road are closed until June, forcing our armada to awkwardly mount the bicycles our two-wheeled chariots with skis on packs. A constant grade made stopping seem unattractive, but with 50-pound packs, it was inevitable. By 4:30 a.m., we had reached the wilderness boundary and were forced to proceed on foot.

A skinner silhouette en route to Deseret. PHOTO: Jared Hargrave

Patches of snow dotted the trail and gave us hope that we would be able to switch to skins soon. A mile or so later, there was finally enough snow to make the changeover. We felt light on our feet and made quick work of the lower drainage. The sky began to turn a mysterious shade of purple as the sun worked toward the eastern horizon. A spectrum of beautiful colors filled the sky and delivered us from the darkness. From our vantage, we could see down canyon toward the great Salt Lake.

Just before 7 a.m., we caught our first glimpse of the peak. Glowing a fiery red-orange in the morning sun, its ramparts formed a tranquility of that moment will be with me for a long time. Around the next bend, we caught site of the 1,200-foot Twin Couloirs in the distance. The snow underfoot was supportable and we felt good about our chances of making our way to the top. Evidence of recent wet avalanches was all around and we knew that time was of the essence. We quickly determined that the eastern couloir was our best route due to old debris clogging the run out of the other. The skin up went quickly and after a few hundred feet, we made the fourth transition of the day and kick stepped our way to the top.

The Twin Couloirs of Deseret. PHOTO: Jared Hargrave

Firm conditions prevailed in this microclimate and having a piolet added a little extra security. After an hour, we had reached the ridgeline and the sun warmed our bodies. Now it was just another 400 vertical to the summit.

Dropping into the East Twin on corn al dente. PHOTO: Jared Hargrave

The southern aspects had turned to a perfectly smooth corn surface and the booting was easy. By 9:30 a.m., we stood atop the monolith and gazed into the vast expanses before us. Delirious from sleep deprivation and possibly somewhat hypoxic from exertion at altitude, we laughed and shared a few summit brews.

Skis on, the summit ramp provided a plentiful corn harvest and we relished every smooth turn. Arriving back at the saddle above the couloirs, we made a plan for the descent. Inside the gut, we found that some sun had turned the snow into an al-dente corn mixture that was mostly edgeable. Skiing through the rocky tunnel, we blasted out onto the apron and were greeted by more perfectly smooth snow. A few GS turns ensued and yelps of excitement echoed off the surrounding walls.

At 1:30 p.m., we reached our vehicles and closed the door on Deseret. In just over 10 hours, we had completed our mission safely and enjoyed a route seldom traveled on skis.

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