Going out on a rope: Lone Peak cirque challenging for even the experts

Posted: Thursday, August 08, 2002

OGDEN, Utah (AP) -- Raichle Farrelly and Travis Corkrum left Farrelly's Toyota pickup before sunrise, eager to leave civilization behind them and begin one of the most rugged hikes in Utah. Loaded down with about 15 pounds of climbing gear, a bit of food and not quite enough water, the pair battled record-breaking temperatures on their way up.

And up. And up. Through lush meadows, then up a granite slab where the trail is marked by stacks of rocks. Wildflowers grow out of the cracks and bloom near the stream, which trickles through the granite once the hot sun melts what's left of stubborn snowfields.

Lone Peak, 11,251 feet and arguably the most rugged peak in Utah, was memorialized in its logbook as ''by far higher than Everest'' by one tired conqueror.

From there, civilization is nothing but two counties of shining buildings. No fountain drinks or hamburgers or gas stations around.

Five hours and 5,000 feet from the truck, Farrelly and Corkrum reached the west cirque, home to many noted climbing routes. By the time they ate lunch, hydrated themselves with melted snow, geared up and hit the 1,000-foot Question Mark Wall, four pairs of climbers were already hard at it.

While Farrelly and Corkrum climbed the 5.8-rated Lowe route, they were flanked on either side of the imposing wall by climbing pairs. One pair hit the aptly named, 5.10b-rated Out of the Question. The other, made up of Salt Lake climbers Jonathan Knight and Shane Sanders, was becoming the first up a two-overhang, 5.12b-rated climb they named Dirty Hairy.

With a never-before-touched crust flaking off the granite, the route certainly was dirty. And the overhang near the top was certainly ''hairy.''

Sitting later with his back to a granite boulder the size of Farrelly's Toyota, Sanders looked up at the route and said it was a little ''nervy'' up there. Even 18-year climbing veteran Steve Cater admitted he was ''spicing out a little'' near the top of Out of the Question.

And Corkrum, a native of Virginia Beach, Va. and 10-month resident of Utah, found the 11,000-foot altitude, coupled with the long climb a trifle tiring.

''By the end, every little move, you know what you need to do, but you just can't quite do it,'' Corkrum said.

Examine the feats and the climbers' fears and aches are easily understandable.

In sport climbing, where the routes are completely bolted and protection is just a matter of snapping a carabineer onto a bolt, 5.8 is a basic route. But with nothing to protect you for four hours on a cliff face but 30 SPF sunscreen, your partner and all-natural climbing gear that must be placed and retrieved on every climb.

No bolts. No top rope. Just a trusted partner, a strong rope and some well-chosen cams.


While some, like Sanders and Knight, brought overnight gear and camped in the cirque's lush alpine meadow, others came only for the day. Cater, for instance, left the Alpine trailhead at 4 a.m. Saturday, climbed Gold Wall, rated 5.9, to near the peak's summit for a warm-up in the morning, then Out of the Question in the afternoon before starting down the trail at 7 p.m.

''It's definitely worth it. For sure. But you gotta be psyched to come up here. It's pretty brutal,'' Cater said.

It's not for everyone. The group at Lone Peak that day had credentials.

Cater is author of several climbing guidebooks during his 10 years climbing ''back East.'' Knight and Sanders planned to hike 12 miles the next day to climb a 5.13 rating in Hogum's Fork. Farrelly, back from a Mountain Hardware photo shoot in the Sierras the week before, was training for a trip to Peru.

As the muscles strain through every conceivable hold like lie-backers and hand-jammers, the body has to work hard to deliver enough oxygen from the thin air.

''The thing about these (climbs at Lone Peak) is not that they're so strenuous, it's just the altitude. It's hard to catch your breath,'' Farrelly said.

Lone Peak is nothing. Farrelly left for Peru on July 18 to climb, among others, the 17,500-foot El Esfinge, The Sphinx. The only way to the top is an 18-pitch free climb.

Besides the crowd of climbers, many others visit the peak. One ill-advised paraglider even tested the tricky winds. The operator floated silently up the ridge and over the peak before a downdraft collapsed the chute. A quick recovery averted serious injury and preceded a beeline for safer territory.

Corkrum watched the quick exit with a pang of envy.

''I'm looking forward to walking down for a Slurpee. And a soft couch. And a nice dinner. And a cold beer,'' he said, then headed off into the setting sun.

-- -- --

The grading scale of rock climbing:

Each trail or route is rated on a scale from 1 - 6 (with 1 being a relatively easy hike and 6 being a strenuous climb). Class 5 is highly subdivided to include all possible free climbing environments; it's what you imagine rock climbing to be.

-- Class 1 is characterized by trail hiking. Just a walk in the woods. No rocks involved.

-- Class 2 trails may require the use of hands for support. A couple of rocks but still no climbing.

-- Class 3 trails contain some rocks. Inexperienced climbers may wish to use a rope.

-- Class 4 has more difficult rocks. Many climbers choose to use a rope for safety. Usually, natural protection is easy to find.

-- Class 5 is free climbing. A rope and protection are required. Class 5 is subdivided by the Yosemite Decimal System into fifteen groups from 5.0 to 5.14. Beyond this division, decimals from 5.10 through 5.14 may have an A, B, C or a plus or minus symbol to further indicate difficulty level. A general guide for the decimal system is as follows: 5.0-5.7: This range is easy for adept climbers. Most beginners start in this range. 5.8-5.9: Most weekend climbers settle in this range. Specific climbing skills are employed. 5.10: A dedicated weekend warrior may achieve this level. 5.11-5.14: This range is for climbing experts. Extensive training and possible reworking of the route is required.

-- Class 6 is characterized by artificial (Aid) climbing. Holds may not be available without the use of equipment.

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