A friend, Dan, was in town and we were hoping to get out into the mountains and do a bit of snowshoeing. The recent heat wave made some of our more traditional routes less palatable. Dan suggested we make an attempt on Ben Lomond from the North Ogden Canyon trailhead. I thought that sounded like a great idea. Our major concern was the high avalanche danger as a result of the heat wave. We decided to make a cautious attempt on the peak…
It isn’t a short trip to the summit. We assumed that most of the trip would be on soft snow making it difficult to move quickly. Avalanche danger is lower earlier in the day before the sun has a chance to heat up the snow. Based on those few facts we determined that an early start would be appropriate. Hitting the trail about the time the sun was coming up seemed appropriate. The first couple miles of the trail were mostly clear of snow and only moderately muddy. We were very surprised to find moose scat about every 20 feet along the trail. Luckily, we didn’t come around a corner to find the owner of the scat. Dan did spot some moose from a distance later in the day, but we didn’t have any close encounters. As we changed from the south facing aspect we hit snow. We removed the snowshoes and gaiters from our packs and put them on for what we figured would be the rest of the trip. We followed the summer trail for a little bit and eventually hit the top of the ridge where we were met with our first nice view of Ben Lomond. It is a stunning peak.
We continued along the ridge as the snow was supporting us better, the cornices were virtually nonexistent, and it was plenty wide for easy walking in most places. We soon noticed that there was only one other set of tracks visible along the route. We ended up following them for large portions of the rest of the trip as they mostly took a reasonable route. Here are a couple of shots of Dan along the ridge. Yes, he is making a brilliant fashion statement by wearing shorts and gaiters. Yes, he wore shorts on the entire trip. The weather was really fantastic. We expected to be adding and removing layers throughout the trip. The closest we came to layer management was taking our gloves on and off. The weather was a very pleasant surprise.
While we were stopped for a moment I noticed a very dark colored animal descending a ridge off in the distance. The animal eventually stopped in a clearing and began playing in the snow a bit. Sadly we weren’t carrying a pair of binoculars, so we can only conjecture what type of animal it was based on its gait, color, and size. Our conclusion was either a small black bear or a wolf. Its gait was very odd and reminded us both of a bear. The way it played in the snow we wondered if it was a canine of some sort, but it was too big to be a coyote. Next time we will bring binoculars…
There are a number of very interesting old trees along the ridge. I finally broke down and took a few artsy shots of a tree. I expected them all to look best as black and white images. However, I was surprised when I took a look at one angle and realized that I liked the color version more.
Here I am hanging on to my good buddy…the tree.
During portions of the trip we were a bit concerned about how the weather was developing as you might guess from the image below which looks back toward where we had been. Somehow the weather was very tame for us. The wind was shockingly absent. There were a few gusts here and there but nothing like you would expect as you approach a large peak.
As we approached a high point in the ridge it was obvious that the summer trail skirted beneath the peak. We talked about dropping onto the summer trail. The snow on the ridge was easy going and the elevation gain wasn’t awful, so we determined to stay on the ridge. When we hit the top of this high point we realized why the summer trail dropped off the ridge…this particular high point ended in some steep cliffs. The snow covered side looked avalanche prone, so we removed our snowshoes and climbed down the crags. A few photos were required. Doesn’t Dan look happy to be playing around in the crags?
A nice view of Ben Lomond and Willard Peak with the crags in the image as a reminder of the adventure
We found ourselves at the bottom of the first band of cliffs, but the remainder of the cliffs and steep scree slope didn’t look very appetizing. We took a look at the snowy side and determined that it was steep but safe enough. When we looked back at our path from the bottom it looked quite daunting. I made an attempt to take a picture. It didn’t turn out very well, so I have illustrated our path down in blue. You might think that we would have taken the summer trail on the way back. Well, at least that is what we were thinking until we got to this point again. Our original route through the crags actually seemed easier, so we used the same route on our return trip.
We pushed on for a bit longer until our bodies decided that it was time for some food. The clock agreed, so we sat down on the rocks to watch a white dot we suspect was a mountain goat. It didn’t move much while we were eating lunch, but it was gone when we came back. It seems unlikely that the snow would melt that quickly, so we will just count it as a mountain goat sighting.
By this time we were nearing the bottom of the final steep slope of Ben Lomond. When we could first make out some tracks up the mountain we were very surprised. Whoever had made those tracks had gone straight up what seemed to be an impossibly steep slope. Why would anyone do that?
We were a bit nervous about the avalanche situation but wanted to climb the peak. We agreed to go slowly and evaluate the situation as we progressed. The route we thought seemed best from afar quickly revealed itself as a less ideal route. It was steeper and showed signs of an older large but shallow avalanche. As we climbed the peak we realized that the old tracks we could see were actually a very reasonable path up the mountain. They were going straight up the mountain because it wasn’t that steep or difficult. We stopped at the top of a small stand of trees, and I snapped a photo of Willard Peak which is actually 47 feet taller than Ben Lomond.
We slowly continued up the slope trying to evaluate the avalanche conditions as we went. A few hundred yards from the top of the peak we determined that the risk wasn’t worth the reward and decided to turn around. The snow was pretty soft. We had already experienced an “oomph” of the snow on a flat and had seen a couple of places were water was running underneath the snow. The slope was getting steeper and we were just too spooked to continue. Of course we took some photos at our highest point. It had taken us about 6 hours to arrive at this point. We weren’t setting any speed records, but we still had enough gas in the tank to get back before dark.
Dan had a small snowshoe malfunction on the way down which enabled me to get ahead of him. I snapped a few fun photos of him on the descent. The first one gives you an idea of why the final section of the hike seems intimidatingly steep from afar while the second photo shows how the perceived steepness of the slope changes with your point of view.
We returned without any major incidents. The snow was softer, but it only caused us problems a time or two. As we prepared to drop off the ridge and lose sight of Ben Lomond I took a final photo of the peak…
Overall the hike was very enjoyable. The elevation gain was much more gentle than I expected. Even the steepness of the final climb to the top wasn’t awful. This is a fun trail and one that I will have to attempt later in the year when the snow is gone.
Hike details (for spring conditions and route):
Trailhead: North Ogden Pass
Elevation gain: 3530 ft.
Highest Point: 9717 ft.
One-way distance: ~7.5 miles
Approximate round trip hiking time: 10-12 hours