“The Wasatch Ultimate Ridge Linkup or “WURL” is an incredible ridge route circumnavigating Little Cottonwood Canyon in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah. The route mainly consists of scrambling, boulder hopping, and a few rugged trails. It is ~36 miles long with ~18kft of elevation gain…There are at least 21 names peaks along the ridge and a handful of unnamed mini-summits.” - Jared Campbell
The WURL is something that has been on my list for a long time. I remember reading about Jared Campbell a few years ago and his mountain endeavors around the world and found them to be very inspiring. Jared is an absolute beast (we met for the first time this year at Running Up For Air- Grandeur Peak). Listing all of the things he has accomplished deserves a separate blog post. He is a mountain wizard, and only someone of his nature would dream up something like the WURL. I’ve recently been spending a lot of time in Salt Lake City with the team at Black Diamond. Early on in the year, I was chatting with my good buddy Joe about doing the WURL. It is the perfect kind of thing that we are both psyched on doing. A long day up high in the mountains, scrambling and running in the alpine. We decided we should try and tack it on to one of our trips to Utah; it would make the perfect mid-summer objective. It just so happened that things would align perfectly for a long, hard, and hot day in the mountains.
We both found ourselves in the Wasatch for the Cirque Series race up at Alta ski resort on behalf of Black Diamond on July 13th. The race is put on by Julian Carr, an absolute legend in the ski world, known for hucking the biggest airs in the world! The race at Alta would actually be my first race of the season and the perfect opportunity to get a gauge on my fitness. Julian has an excellent vision for the race series, proper mountain running in the states - relatively short races that pack a punch, techy and lots of vert. I ended up placing 3rd at the race, just behind 2nd place, and Joe Gray taking the “W” (no surprises there…haha). The highlight of the race for me was going full rage mode on the descent — steep loose terrain, lots of glissading, and pounding it down to the finish on ski roads. I think we descended 2,500ft in less than 2 miles. Blake Gordon got the shot of me above…things were getting rowdy! Joe and I locked down our plans to attempt the WURL on Monday, which meant I had one day to rest my race legs. We spent Sunday relaxing, hanging with the BD crew, preparing our packs, stealing some beta from Luke Nelson (who plans to attempt the WURL FKT later this summer), and fueling up for a long day in the hills.
Oof, our alarms went off at 3 am. Luckily, we had the best guy in the biz to help get us out of bed. Thanks for the coffee, breakfast tacos, and ride to the trailhead Rocho—what a legend! 45 minutes later, we were heading up Ferguson Canyon, the gateway to the WURL. In March, Joe and I had run up Ferguson Canyon during the BD athlete summit. During that outing, most of the trail was flooded but fairly obvious to follow. We assumed that the trail this time of the year would be no different— running with water from snowmelt up above. Nope! We made our first mistake here by not starting with enough water. (we each started with 500ml). Just before the ridge and after the first talus slope, we stopped to fill our flasks with snow. Each of us carried two 500ml flasks up front and one big HydraPak seeker flask inside our packs. Our stop didn’t last long thanks to the mosquitoes; I remember looking down at my leg at one point and seeing 15+ bloodsuckers on my leg. Joe and I ditched the snow patch and stormed up to the ridge and away from the bugs. Not exactly the most fluid start to the morning.
As the sun began to rise, our spirits lifted and we started to find that alpine groove. We dropped off the ridge below Broad Fork Twin Peaks to fill up our bottles with water; we weren’t sure when we would find water next. Once on top of Twin Peaks, we could see the entire horseshoe route. The ridge heading east off of Twin Peaks looks very gnarly. We had gathered info that the crux of the route would be traversing from Dromedary Peak to Monte Cristo. We encountered lots of 3rd & 4th class scrambling, maybe even one or two moves of very low 5th class on this section. Joe and I found the terrain to be super straightforward and never stopped or hesitated on the ridge. The peaks look super intimating from afar, but underneath them, they are very manageable. We were waiting for things to get super technical and steep, but everything was super chill. Loose rock was present, but that is sort of a given in alpine terrain.
We made it over to Mount Superior in 6 hours. I had gotten a taste of this peak a couple of days prior via the South Ridge (a mega classic in LCC). We bumped into a couple on top, chatted for a bit, drank some water, and then started heading towards Cardiff Pass and Flagstaff. From this point all the way around to Devils Castle, one is actually treated to a trail. We sometimes deviated from this trail to tag the peaks, but the trail mostly wraps all the way around to Cathrine’s Pass. We started cruxing for water at this point. Despite all the snow around us, none of it was turning to liquid. It wasn’t until heading up Wolverine that we finally found some water, which saved us. We needed to drink and eat a bunch—sort of hit the reset button on the body. The recharge felt good,d and we soon were passing the Supreme lift at Alta and heading towards Devils Castle.
Devils Castle, as seen below, was one of the scrambling highlights of the route. Excellent exposure on solid limestone rock! It was a nice change of pace from hiking around Cathrine's Pass to engaging the whole body in the castle. While nothing got much harder than 4th class, there were a couple of fun sections! After Devil's Castle, we passed over Sugarloaf and Baldy (which we had summited during the Cirque Series Alta race) and then found ourselves at the Snowbird Tram. We indulged our tired and hungry bodies by entering the fantastic peak-top cafeteria at the lift there for all sorts of food. We ate our homemade turkey n cheese bagels, while also gulping down cups of soda! (oh and chips & cookies!). Before leaving, we filed up on water and took advantage of the access to real bathrooms. That was a real treat.
Honestly, the next section all to Lone Peak was a bit of a blur. Talus hiking, hot, dehydrated, hungry. Ugh. This stretch was super hard. I remember roasting in the sun and searching for water in every nook and cranny. Always filling our shirts and hats with snow, eating snow, making snow-cones with skittles. I want to say that this section had the best rock, but it was honestly so hot that I didn’t even care about the stones. We just went up, and then we went down. Tagged the peaks and went on to the next one. I remember the summit of Pfeifferhorn being super cool, the sun was beginning to sit lower in the sky, and the light was super lovely. Lone Peak looked so far away! We were making slow progress and were pretty over it at this point. I kept reminding myself of how fortunate I was to be up here. I was doing my best to take in the spectacular views and appreciate that my body was holding up.
We were exhausted by the time we reached Lone Peak. The sun had gone down, and darkness was slowly setting in. I gazed over at the Question Mark Wall, hoping one day to be back in the cirque with rock shoes and a climbing rack. I remember telling Joe that descent was going to be engaging and tedious. I had this feeling that things were going to get pretty epic…which they did. It took us 3hrs and 30mins to descend the 6 miles from the top of Lone Peak, down Bells Canyon, and to the trailhead. The gully that gets you down into Bells Canyon was full with snow and super tedious. We were forced to climb in-between the side of the gully and snow. A bergshrund had formed on the edge of the snow, which made things even more tedious. A couple of deep dark holes down to middle earth kept us fully engaged as we slowly downclimbed.
We eventually reached the edge of the rock and were really out of it. The snow was way too steep and hard to glissade. We didn’t have traction, and the thought of using rocks to self-arrest this deep into the effort seemed dumb. We paused for some time, trying to decide what to do. We both felt dizzy and sick. Okay…time to problem solve…we can do this! Eventually, we found a way to traverse on rock and make it down to where the snow wasn’t as steep. We hopped on the snow, happy to be off the peak and back down on more mellow terrain.
We had seen a headlamp in the distance while down climbing (the gully dc took us over an hour) and were wondering if it was Roch. Nope, it was our friend Blaine! Thank god he was there. The trek down would have been even more hurtful, eyes glued to the GPS file on our phones. The 5 miles down Bells Canyon took an eternity. Continually losing the trail and then regaining it, that was the story of our lives as we descended. We both just followed Blaine down, mostly in silence. I remember thinking that descending the dark, overgrown canyon was all I would be doing for the rest of my life — just stumbling down the hill, forever. It is crazy what the body can do. When the trail turned a little less techy, we were able to run it back down to the trailhead. We figured the quicker we got down, the faster that this would all be over. Roch and Catherine were waiting for us with burritos and ice-cold water. Glorious. I wouldn’t of been able to finish an outing like this, epically with tired race legs without Joe. His company throughout the day made even the lowest of low points somewhat enjoyable! We were looking for an experience in the mountains, and we certainly got that. What a day in the Wasatch! Thanks to Jared for pioneering the way! He needs to come take a crack at the LA Freeway.
sidenote…watch out for ticks in the canyons! Nothing like getting home at 1am and finding those guys in your socks haha.