Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Ascending Willard/Ben Lomond Peaks

You want to hike what? Willard Peak? Yes.
Why, when Ben Lomond is the more well-known peak?
Willard is the TALLEST of these two peaks at 9,763 feet above sea level, vs. 9,712 for Ben Lomond.
However, Willard doesn't have a set trail to its much more rocky summit.
Here's some observations, advice on hiking Willard Peak … as I don't think an ATV or motorcycle could easily reach the rocky summit.
(My last hike to Willard Peak was Aug. 14, 2010. The first hike there was August of 2008.)
Unless you're highly motivated and in great physical shape, you want to access Willard Peak from either Willard Basin or Inspiration Point. The alternative is an all-day hike from one of two spots — North Fork Park (Liberty) or the North Ogden Divide. Both these trails are a good 12 miles (one-way) and climb about 4,000 feet.
Driving to Willard Basin (my choice) or further to Inspiration Point makes the one-way distance to Willard Peak just 1.6 miles!
Now that includes a rugged and rocky 0.6 miles up a very steep slope, that's not to be underestimated.
But let's back up …. Driving to Willard Basin is also not an easy chore. It's 11 miles to Willard Basin from Mantua and another 2 miles to Inspiration Point. For this dirt road drive you need a high-clearance truck, a jeep, an ATV or motorcycle. This is NOT a car road.
However, that said, I did drive a car 9 miles on this road back on June 15, 1979. I took my Plymouth Fury II car in 9 miles on that road to the upper reaches of the switchbacks before the road reaches the Willard Basin sign and descends into the basin.
It was a light snow year the winter of 78-79.
I was stopped by a 7-foot high pile to snow on the road in some pine tree shade.
The road was simply smoother and less traveled back then. I didn't know the road was blocked by snow, but I never met another vehicle on it either that day. I still hiked down into the basin and up to the skyline, before returning and having to back my car down the road 2 miles (and overheat my brakes), before I could turn the vehicle around.
I marvel today that I was crazy enough to drive my car on that road — before summer had even started — and how I got a way with it, but I did.
Why was the road so smooth back then? I think it had just been re-graded and improved the year before. Then, enter greater usage and the wet years of 1983-84, when spring runoff roughed up the road a lot and made it a gully in places.
I had tried to drive the Willard road again on July 24, 1982 and hit a snow blockage in about the same place as I had in that June of 3 years earlier. I drive a pickup truck this time.
The next time I would drive the road again was Sept. 2, 1986. Of course no snow and with a truck it was passable.
The Willard Basin road was improved again in 2009, but not by much.
Passing another truck on this road can be hazardous and there was several places where IF YOU MEET another truck, one of the two would have to back down or up a half-mile or more to find a good passing spot.
(Fortunately, ATVs and motorcycles outnumber trucks on this road about 6 to 1.)
Remember too, that this road is only passible in mid-July at the earliest and may still be blocked by snow in the upper reaches I previously mentioned into late July some years.
I don't care for driving the Willard Basin road given my history of it, but it is ATV heaven (and it beats hiking 20-plus miles otherwise.)
The road includes several good camping sites along the road (but they are well-used) in the lower reaches. It passes by Perry Reservoir and has some intriguing views of Pineview Reservoir along its path too.
Please drive this road slowly and cautiously — assuming there could be a vehicle around every curve — as an ATV crashed into the my friend's suburban in 2008, going to fast around a blind curve. It didn't do anything to the suburban, but bent the front of the ATV and its drive singed his leg on a hot grill on the side of the ATV.
This would also not be a road to drive after a heavy rainfall, or when rain is expected.
Driving it on a weekday is much less crowded than on a weekend.
It's short use span, late July to mid to late September, make it one of the state's most seasonal of roads.
Once you arrive at Willard Basin (where you have just passed a water pipe and you see a big clearing), park there and hike up out of the basin.
If you continue on to Inspiration Point, there is less parking found a top there and you will have to hike UP some when you return to your vehicle.
I, on the other hand, like to hike my uphill first (out of the basin) and have all downhill (into the basin) on my return.
As soon as you reach the mountain saddle and can see Pleasant View/Willard Bay, look for the trail that goes left and upward the most. Take it and then Willard Peak is in front of you.
(The main trail to Ben Lomond only passes below Willard Basin.)
There are mountain goat herds in this area and lots of rocks and bushes.
You simply have to take a goat trail and keep heading for the top. It is a modest scramble at times, but approaching from the north side equals the quickest path with the least rugged scrambling.
Depending on how you head, there may be a split in the rock you have to slip through to keep doing up.
Watch for mountain goats, as you will scare them away eventually, but they are fun to watch.
Once you reach the north side of Willard, you are above tree/bush line and can be get sweeping views.
There are two glitches left, though.
The first is Willard is a cracked and split mountain. It not only has a large, deep crack running north-south on its north side, but it is also split in the middle (east-west) by a big gap — one you have to carefully cross to get to the south end of the peak, where the metal markers and the true summit is.
It's this latter gap, that taking a dog across, or kids, is most hazardous and caution is advised — with a sheer cliff on the east side of that gap and a chute of less hazard on the west side.
Note too that a lot of the rock on top of Willard chips off and breaks easily — don't rely on your grip of some of the rocks.
(There's no way Willard Peak's integrity could handle a large earthquake. It appears to me that one day it will be shorter than Ben Lomond, based on how it will certainly split apart one day.)
Enjoy the sweeping views — even into Cache Valley from Willard's summit.
Some huge rock fins and pinnacles are also some photogenic wonders in the area.
Look for several metal government markers embedded in the south end of Willard Peak. There's also a black plastic canister on the summit, complete with two notebooks and comments by hikers dating back to 1988.
Now, go back the way you came, if you that's all you want to hike …
Otherwise, if you are headed to Ben Lomond, head to the far south end of Willard and then carefully select your route down to the main trail below.
I followed a spot of green that angle northwest down to the main trail, while two others in my group angled down sooner, but met the main trail ¼ mile north of where I did.
But anyway you angle off, there's no real trail and lots of steep, loose terrain to negotiate and I feel it is safer to avoid any steep rockfaces.
If your coming from Ben Lomond Peak to climb Willard, it's a scramble too, but I wouldn't recommend going all the way along the rocky edge to the summit — again angling up from the west side would be the safest way.
Ben Lomond Peak, about 1.5 miles away from Willard Peak, is also still a worthy destination of its own. This summit offers better views of North Ogden and Ogden than does Willard Peak.
Ben Lomond also has a new plaque on the top of the summit registered, added in 2009.
(The old metal plaque from 1976) is attached underneath the lid of the register.)
A few mountain goats also hang around the south side of Ben Lomond.
I figure I've summited Ben Lomond about 10 times over the years, with the first being in 1976 and at least three being solo hiking trips. I've been there from all 3 trail options.
From North Ogden Divide is the hardest.

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