Utah Prominences October 2009 Trip Report
© October 2009 Adam Helman

Note: All photographs are courtesy of Dean Molen. Mouse-click for enlargement.

This is a WONDERFUL trip! I always have a great time climbing peaks with Bob Packard, a man known far-and-wide in the highpointing community for his over-the-top accomplishments in that realm.

Nothing difficult this time - just a "social encounter" in the boonies of western Utah to climb several mountains on the 2,000+ foot Utah prominence list.


An October climbing trip effectively bridges the gap between my summer county highpointing and efforts best left to the winter months - low elevation southwestern deserts and intentional snow climbs. Soliciting suggestions, Bob Packard invited me to join him on what was initially to be a four peak Utah journey; all summits on the Utah "Fifty Finest" prominence list of obvious definition.

The itinerary eventually morphed into a seven peak bid after I performed some research and noted that some efforts are short enough they can be done two-per-day.

My travel options were many, and ranged from the cheapest yet least convenient as a round-trip to Bob's Flagstaff home on Amtrak; to the most convenient yet most expensive as caravaning to every venue. Remarkably, from San Diego it's no farther to Cedar City, Utah via Interstate-15 than it is to Flagstaff. That might seem strange since Arizona borders California and Utah does not - yet it is true.

Thereby the final plan sees me drive to Cedar City, meeting Bob; caravaning north through Milford, Utah and then west on Utah Route 21 to Wah Wah Summit. There, I cache my vehicle 0.4 mile north of the highway near what we think will be the final trailhead of our joint efforts. I then retrieve "DENALY" several days later, transferring my food and gear back from Bob's camper before going our separate ways.

Friday, October 16 - to southwest Utah

I arise at the pitifully early hour of 2:55 a.m. : 3 a.m., as desired, minus five minutes as a "snooze" option if I really really need it to be alert. Here's why I must arise so early.

Back-calculating based on being at a "trailhead" for our first peak before darkness at 7 p.m. Mountain Daylight Time, we require caching "DENALY" by 3:30 p.m., and thus meet in Cedar City by 2 p.m. It is eight hours drive to Cedar City - and, subtracting, I must depart San Diego at 5 a.m., having accounted for the loss of one hour in going from Pacific to Mountain time zones. Then, to hedge, I drive at 4 a.m. in case one hour is needed for sleep. Finally, it can take up to an hour between arising and heading out-of-town with a tank of gasoline and loaded with caffeine - 3 a.m. THIS is why I set my watch's alarm for 2:55.

After 600 miles we indeed are camped level at the 8,000 foot contour of Indian Peak - and there is less than one hour of useful light remaining.

For supper I have this ridiculous combination of a chicken carcass with mushrooms and a boule of challah (Jewish egg bread). It is heated by wrapping in metal foil and then set atop a gas burner in Bob's camper as-if it were a bag of Jiffy-Pop popcorn.

Bob outlines some alterations in our itinerary which seem reasonable - they entail cancelling distant Black Crook Peak in favor of two more 2,000+ foot prominences far closer. I agree to the plan; and later enjoy a final half-piece of cherry pie before sleep.

Saturday, October 17 - Indian Peak and Wah Wah Mountains Range Highpoint

We find a rudimentary path (cattle track?) starting uphill mere feet from the camper. Shortly it peters out, and we cross-country uphill to a north-south fence line that is crossed and then paralleled steeply to the summit. There's a large stone cairn, I dare say several feet tall.

Down by 10:30 a.m., we cross the valley floor and find ourselves in good position for Wah Wah by 12:30 p.m. Bob's vehicle is at a sharp road bend that leaves only 1,600 feet of elevation gain.

The Wah Wah Mountains are home to the only place in North America, and just three locations on Earth, where the extremely rare and precious gemstone red beryl is mined.

summit cairn
The large summit cairn
atop Indian Peak.

At unnamed 8946 we bushwhack around its western flank, a mistake resulting in slow progress. On our return the eastern side is far far better.

I arrive before Bob, having raced ahead the final few hundred vertical feet as with Indian Peak. This is a continuing theme, as I enjoy more time at the summit and eat lunch food there - in this case, a cheddar cheese and horseradish potato salad.

When Bob does come he uses a hand level to observe the northern summit with benchmark Wah Wah - and finds it definitely lower. No need to go there!

We are down by "five-ish", and head to our next goal, benchmark Needle, the Mountain Home Range highpoint. The road grid is confusing, and yet we fortunately manage to extricate ourselves from being nearly lost. A remarkable dirt track takes us south along this high ridgeline, and we park at some 9,100 feet amidst a cold wind just before useful light disappears.

Another vehicle is parked nearby, and the owner approaches us with a surgical mask in his hands. He asks if we plan to camp; and, after Bob confirms that guess the stranger hints that we ought to leave because he is extremely sensitive to all manner of odors!!

summit view
View northeast from the summit
of Wah Wah Range highpoint.

Bob refuses to budge, as this is our desired trailhead; and the man then asks if we plan to cook supper using propane. Yes, we do - and will cook at our convenience. The man decides to pack and leave, requesting that he needs 45 minutes before we prepare our meals. We refuse to wait; and the man hurriedly yet carefully packs to depart.

I feel sorry for this guy, and yet was set to recommend that, rather than be a hermit, he should offer services to Homeland Security as a "nose" to detect bomb threats and illegal drug imports - in effect, a human "dog" sniffer.

Bob and I share potatoes, eggs, and kosher chicken Andouille sausage for supper. My portion is enhanced with assorted condiments - ketchup, brie, and very spicy Indian vindaloo curry paste. Just opening the bottle and sniffing was enough for Bob to submit and say, "No, Thank You"!

We talk about my upcoming November trip to bag five Arizona peaks, and Bob has photocopied plenty of route maps for my use.

Bob enjoys a pair of chocolate rogalach (a type of Jewish pastry); and I have one with a mug of hot milk and chocolate-enrobed almonds before bed.

Sunday, October 18 - benchmark Needle

This is a most interesting route. Nippy at first light, we first road-walk to the top of a 170 foot downclimb, Class 2-3. A cliff is then traversed just under its west base - although we backtrack, losing one-half hour, trying to find a way under and around it.

At the cliff's far, south end we descend 100 feet and then separately head for benchmark Needle's rounded summit. Although we are no higher than other peaks of our trip the trees are stunted - and I even see bristlecone pines that are indicative of higher elevations in the Basin and Range geological province. I suspect that the wind, which is relentless, has effectively lowered timberline relative to other mountain ranges.

On the return we properly negotiate the cliff band's base without descending into the forest; and then ascend the 170 feet to top-out at the dirt track's terminus.

It's about 11:30 a.m., and I figure that it won't be until 1:30 when we're climbing our afternoon peak - the Tunnel Springs Range highpoint. Unfortunately there's a long drive afterwards to our next goal, and we'd be arriving at-dark well after sunset. It is not enjoyable to arise in the dark and be constantly in-motion until after dark: no time to relax!! What kind of vacation is THAT?

Needle benchmark's summit is left;
the cliff band at right center.

We are stymied on the dirt road approach to the Tunnel Springs Range, unable to locate the road which supposedly leads closer still. Ironically I am glad - we will get to Notch Peak's trailhead well before sundown and with plenty of time to take-in the views. Besides, we never originally planned on getting eight peaks anyway. Seven will be entirely sufficient - in fact, just grand for five days.

We travel west on Utah Route 21 to Garrison, Utah, where the only store's shopkeeper refuses use of the business phone to call my mother using an MCI phone card because "I might miss a business call". What a jerk.

So Bob graciously drives into Nevada, where seven miles later I use a pay phone at the Great Basin National Park Visitor Center. We return to Utah on US Route 50, and have ice cream at a Stateline gas station before proceeding to Notch Peak.

There is plenty of time this afternoon, having arrived shy of 4 p.m. I even walk the first portion of tomorrow's effort to a "Y"-junction in the canyon in order to choose between a northern and a southern approach to the summit.

Having already discussed likely and possible future Mexico trips, there is no longer anything specific to talk about after supper.

Monday, October 19 - Notch Peak

This is the journey's best highlight. Our route is in the ever-narrowing Sawtooth Canyon, one that is only left, briefly, at around 8,300 feet to bypass a steep, dry waterfall. We are amazed at the number of boot prints, suggesting that ours is a popular local hike for many others.

The canyon now a mere gully, we exit it and head basically north to a saddle just east of the main summit. As usual, with only 400 vertical feet remaining I race ahead of Bob to enjoy more time on-top.

Notch Peak's famous
vertical big walls.

The views are superlative. You really get a sense of "being above it all" when atop this mountain. The pasta salad could be tastier with some grated parmesan cheese - yet all I have is some brie and potassium salt (to maintain a normal level of that key electrolyte).

Notch Peak is famous for the sheer, vertical walls on its north side. Very few people have climbed it by that route - they can be counted on one's hands. These walls create a spectacular image when seen from the west, kind of like a "Yosemite in the desert".

On the descent I stop briefly to ascend and descend the dry waterfall section, simply to verify that I could have climbed it rather than taking a bypass. I rate it high Class 3 or low Class 4.

We take roughly seven hours for the round-trip, and are back at Bob's camper around 1:15 p.m. or so.

I highly recommend Notch Peak. Unfortunately one route description at summitpost.org provides a map that is simply misleading. It has one following a ridge system, when the author most surely intended the map to portray a canyon-only route. Furthermore the endpoint of his route is not even the summit - it is a lookout point one-half mile north-northeast.


These GPS-derived coordinates (WGS84 datum) are useful.

description (latitude, longitude) elevation (feet) topographic chart (waypoint at cursor)
********** ***************** ************ ********************************
roadblock - trailhead (39.12773° N, 113.36294° W) 6,818 click here
junction - bear left (39.13340° N, 113.37354° W) 7,056 click here
inside canyon (39.13194° N, 113.38316° W) 7,362 click here
inside canyon (39.13507° N, 113.39453° W) 7,914 click here
prior to steep
dry waterfall
(39.13445° N, 113.39925° W) 8,134 click here
bypassing dry waterfall (39.13540° N, 113.40156° W) 8,304 click here
split in gully;
cairn - bear left
(39.13869° N, 113.40345° W) 8,712 click here
top of gully (39.13943° N, 113.40423° W) 8,842 click here
near saddle
east of summit
(39.14259° N, 113.40665° W) 9,248 click here
summit (39.14320° N, 113.40937° W) 9,654 click here

After Notch Peak our immediate goal is Delta, Utah; where we can take Route 257 south to our next venue. On my suggestion we visit the public library to gather better maps for both the Cricket Range highpoint and benchmark Poorman - both peaks being on Bob's itinerary.

The weather forecast is checked, and we are dismayed to learn that rain is slated for tomorrow with a 50% chance. That puts a large damper on our plans; and we will do our best to work around this drawback.

The worst effect is that dirt roads will be muddy and so become impassible to our vehicle. So it is that, rather than drive to our desired trailhead, we stop four miles short, camping at the edge of a decent road that won't become a pool of mud overnight.

Tuesday, October 20 - Cricket Mountains Highpoint and "Wah Wah North"

It rains overnight, the tiny "ping-ping-ping" on the camper roof being all too obvious. Our plan is to arise at 6:15 a.m., fifteen minutes earlier than normal, and drive the approach road; timing our arrival (and hiking start) for 7:15 a.m. roughly one-half hour before sunrise.

However it is still very overcast, and we sleep an extra hour. As the rain has subsided we drive and park in the mist; beginning our effort with heavy reliance on my GPS unit and a decent map as acquired yesterday.

The ascent is short enough, lasting only 1 1/2 hours. We are still in cloud as I share an orange with Bob at the summit. A small yet classic pastrami on rye with mustard sandwich sits in my pack, and yet I decide to "save" it for my summit treat that afternoon should the weather allow it.

Dry Sevier Lake on a clear day
from the Cricket Mountains summit.

The descent, still in cloud, takes an hour; and we are back at around 10:30 a.m. Our next venue entails traveling south on Route 257 to Milford, and then west on Utah 21 to Wah Wah Summit and my waiting vehicle. It rains for much of our drive to Milford. Parked at the library, Bob has lunch in the camper; while I have a sizeable cheddar dog and soda at the gas station convenience store - smothered in barbecue sauce. Delicious!

At the library I had checked the forecast (yet again); and learned that it should be clearing by 6 p.m. with clear skies tomorrow. As the frontal boundary is traveling east-southast our drive west to Wah Wah Summit speeds the process of clearing skies. Indeed, by the time we reach my vehicle the decision is made to climb "Wah Wah North" this very afternoon. This we do.

We begin around 2 p.m. and make good progress. As usual I intentionally get ahead of Bob to scout the route, while leaving myself time to take a GPS waypoint, have water, and munch on cashews plus jelly beans. Bob simply passes by me without stopping. I view him as a tank: slow but very hard to stop; myself as a jackrabbit. Somehow it all works out between the two of us!

Around 8,000 feet is this symmetrical rock spire that I've been admiring for the last 500 feet or so. With pack on the ground I try to climb it; and reach one-third way up before realizing that without a rope it will be impossible to climb down the upper portion. So I bail and rejoin Bob on our increasingly steep ridge route.

View up the one route
for "Wah Wah North".

Near the summit are beautiful rime ice formations on the northern sides of the evergreens. Each needle bunch is encased in a small icicle - the result of that storm's recent passage.

We both sign the summit register which has familiar names; and I finally eat the sandwich. Bob leaves before I do, and I catch up with him a few minutes later.

The descent is reasonably fast, and our round-trip is some 4 1/4 hours.

We drive 0.6 mile back to my own vehicle where we begin a caravan 17 miles east to a historic marker on the north side of Utah 21, and 15 miles from Milford. Here in growing darkness I transfer gear and food to my vehicle.

Being very close to it, my plan has been to climb Frisco Peak in the morning. Having already been to its summit, Bob will climb to Poorman benchmark instead - yet another Utah 2,000+ foot prominence peak. Now I have a change of heart and decide to cancel Frisco and join Bob for Poorman. The rationale is that I would never climb Poorman on a future solo trip because it is not of sufficiently high priority. In contrast I will definitely be climbing Frisco Peak as it has at least 4,000 feet of prominence.

We enjoy a shared supper of potatoes, eggs, and kosher pastrami - both tasty and filling.

Wedesday, October 21 - benchmark Poorman

We arise before dawn to 25° F temperatures. I can tell from how long it takes my fingers to start tingling, even when wearing so-called liner gloves. I must get an ice scraper for my vehicle's windshield - as-is, Bob does the job for me as our engines run and I enjoy hot coffee with chocolate rogalach in his camper. How nice of him!

We stop at Milford for a bathroom break. Even though it's cold, I decide on an ice cream bar as snack. Lots of junk food...

I lead our small caravan south on Route 130 and "nail" locating the dirt road we'll initially take to reach our walking point by using GPS-derived coordinates as I drive. I have no automobile-based navigation program, nor do I ever wish to own one as it creates a dependence on circuitry rather than one's own wits to get from A to B. Rather, we are talking about using a handheld unit, intended for backcountry hiking, as a navigation aid independent of the automobile's electronics.

I park 0.1 mile from the highway, and we drive in Bob's camper thereafter. It is a thankless, 1 1/2+ hour drive on unnamed ranch roads, and complicated. Knowledge of coordinates for key junctions is essential.

After 19 often jarring miles and a few wrong turns we park considerably closer to the summit than planned, in fact, only about 1 1/2 miles northwest as the crow flies and at some 8,100 feet. We have just 550 feet of net elevation gain - trivial.

At the summit we get a grand view east and south; and Interstate-15 is plainly seen four or five miles away. I have a cell phone, and yet receive no signal even though the freeway is in plain sight. The skies have suddenly turned blue, and we enjoy our final summit siesta together for an all-too-brief a period. Bob departs before I am ready, still munching on a granola bar in one hand and some prunes with chocolate almonds in the other.

We return to "DENALY" no sooner than 2 p.m., and bid farewell. I get gasoline in Cedar City and contemplate whether it's reasonable to drive home this very evening. I decide against it, the concept of driving until 10 p.m. being unappetizing.

Eventually I take a cheap room in Glendale, Nevada some 50 miles west of Las Vegas, and enjoy both a cold supper from leftovers and much television ... but not until after an extended shower and shave.

Poorman benchmark from Interstate-15.

Thursday, October 22 - Homebound

The remaining 375 road miles are uneventful. However I have a free Starbuck's voucher redeemable for any size and type of beverage. So at the Primm, Nevada Chevron station one mile before entering California I enjoy a venti ("large") size green tea frappuccino with a chocolate biscotti.


Bob and I get seven peaks - a good haul for only 4 1/2 days in the backcountry. Three of these are on the Utah Fifty Finest prominence list (Indian Peak, Wah Wah Range highpoint and Notch Peaks); while four are on the Utah 2,000+ foot list as benchmark Needle, Cricket Mountains highpoint, "Wah Wah North" (unnamed 8980), and benchmark Poorman.

This trip's venues were not intended to be difficult or tricky. Rather, the efforts enjoy a key attribute my friend Edward Earl has called "recreational value".

The truck odometer reads 1,155.5 miles on returning home. These "Adam truck miles" are typically one-hundredth more than standard statute miles. My new truck tires give no problem.

I greatly enjoyed Bob's company, and just know that we will consider more joint, prominence and highpoint-oriented trips in the near future.

The next such adventure is already set for early December...