June 21, 2010

Thunder Mountains Traverse

On the summit of South Thunder Mountain

Date: June 20, 2010
Distance: ~13-14 miles
Vertical: ~7000 feet gained
Time: ~11 hours
Peaks: South Thunder Mountain (11,154 feet), North Thunder Mountain (11,150 feet)
Route: Bells Canyon to upper reservoir to Bells-Cleaver saddle, north ridge to S.Thunder summit, Thunder Bowl (Class 4) ridge to N.Thunder summit, glissade descent of west couloir to Thunder Bowl basin, re-climb to Bells-Cleaver saddle, follow Bells Canyon back out
Crew: Jake, Andrea, Bradley

This was our first big Wasatch excursion and it was an instant classic. The Thunder Mountains are seen from all over Salt Lake City, but rarely climbed due to the fact that its simply a long, hard day to get them both. Andrea and I were lucky enough to hike and climb with Bradley, a Wasatch Mountain Club veteran. He taught us a lot about route-finding and climbing the classic routes in this area.

We started at the Bells Canyon trailhead just after 6am. It took about 3 hours to hike the 5+ miles up to the upper reservoir. That's when the fun started. We had some mixed scrambling and snow traversing until we reached the Bells-Cleaver saddle, then followed the ridge up to the South Thunder summit. The ridge was a combination of climbing on consolidated snow and class 3 scrambling with awesome exposure and unbelievable 360 degree views. It only got better from there... after reaching the summit of South Thunder, we backtracked a little bit until we hit the connecting ridge to North Thunder. This was a super fun mile-long ridge that included a handful of class 4 moves. Andrea handled her first long ridge traverse and class 4 climbing like an absolute champion (this was the longest ridge "run" I had ever done as well). From North Thunder, we found a nice couloir to glissade, then climbed back up to the saddle, and hiked down the 5-6 mile "beatout" to the car. Towards the bottom, we got held up for a while as paramedics were hauling out a guy who had taken a fall at some waterfalls and broken his legs (story). Tough week for the Bells Canyon trail, as earlier in the week a guy was stabbed on this trail!

I've had some amazing days in the mountains over the past couple years, but this one immediately goes on the short list of the best. It was a challenging but very fun route, one that is seldom traveled and peaks that are rarely climbed because of the commitment required to reach them. The weather and conditions were perfect; not a cloud in the sky, and the snow was perfectly consolidated (very limited post-holing). Bradley was an excellent guide - he set a nice pace and taught us a lot about the area. And finally and most importantly, it was just awesome to complete a route like that with Andrea. Major kudos to you for this one babe! You killed it! And actually, the best part might have been that we were in such a calorie deficit by the end of the day that we got to have ice cream, mac & cheese, and then ice cream again when we got home!

The area of interest relative to SLC

Our approximate route

Crossing the stream in Bells Canyon

Teamwork = dry feet!

Reaching the Bells-Cleaver saddle with Lone Peak behind

Attack stance?

Another great view of Lone Peak

Starting the hike up the ridge to South Thunder

Andrea and Bradley making their way up

Andrea working her way across the ridge

Every move resulted in more and more views like this

HIGH above SLC

On the big boulders just below South Thunder's summit

Panoramic shot from South Thunder, with some important peaks labeled

About 1/3 of the way into the traverse, with some of the route and the crux wall labeled

Andrea working across the snow below the ridgeline. We downclimbed a bit to bypass a class 5 section of the ridge.

Bradley kicking steps back up to the ridge

Climbing a super-fun little pitch about halfway across the traverse

Andrea and I working the ridge

Andrea working her way across

Thunder Bowl from above

Bradley and I starting the 4th class crux wall

Helping Andrea on the first move of the crux wall

Working the last move of the crux wall

Andrea pulling herself up over the final move on the crux wall... some serious exposure here!

On the ridge, nearing the summit

Andrea on the North Thunder summit

A look back at a lot of the route once we reached the Cleaver saddle (bottom-right)

Andrea looking up Little Cottonwood Canyon towards Alta & Snowbird

North Thunder summit

Glissading on perfect snow down the west couloir

Andrea and I glissading

Glissading is a nice reward and easier on the legs

Our glissade route in yellow and then hike across the basin in red

At the botton of Thunder Bowl

Thunder Bowl from below

Looking back up Bells Canyon a few hours later, almost back at the trailhead

1 comment:

  1. Awesome pics! I've been looking for more info on the Thunder Bowl.