Quick Trip: Climbing in Utah’s West Desert

Article by Alexander Moliski
November 15, 2019

"Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit."

Edward Abbey

The Plan:

Take a quick weekend trip from the city and do some climbing in the remote West Desert. We left after work on Friday and drove south from Salt Lake City. Once reaching Delta, Utah, we continued east on Route 50 until all the lights from all the cities vanished. We were forty miles from the nearest town either way.

We spent the day climbing in the very remote House Range.

The Utah West Desert

When your state is so packed full of beautiful places that areas like the Wasatch, Uintas, and Escalante are “recreational areas” and not national parks, it’s difficult to not want to gravitate towards the more spectacular areas. The West Desert is comprised mostly of BLM land. Land that is so remote that people don’t bother to visit because they have to first pass world-class parks to get there.

The Wasatch Mountains, just outside of Salt Lake

Utah’s West Desert stacks up to any other place in terms of sheer, rugged beauty. It’s moon-like, desolate landscape is only exemplified at night. Ibex is one of the darkest places in the country, competing with other dark-zones like the Wind River Range and Big Bend.

Taken from Darksitefinder.com - we were east of Wheeler Peak, in one of the darkest areas in the country.

We arrived at night. Driving off the Route 50, the “Loneliest Highway in America” and onto an even lonelier, dusty, moon-lit, road. For miles, we drove towards a looming cliff of rock. The “road” we were on took us over a section of the dried up Sevier Lake - which reminded me of a mini version of the Bonneville Flats.

There was no need for an off-road vehicle, parts of the flats were smoother than the asphalt! Being all BLM land, we were free to set up camp wherever we desired. Attempting to abide by LNT practices, we found a site that had a “previous lived-in” look. We jumped out of the truck and set up camp in the stunning moonlight.

Camp the next morning

The next morning, we were able to see Notch Peak from our campsite. Notch Peak is surprisingly the second tallest verticle drop in the States, only behind El Capitan in Yosemite! It's a treasure hidden in the desert of West Utah. It's climbable - a 12-pitch nightmare of 5-12's all the way up the 2000-foot edge.

Notch Peak - the second tallest vertical drop in the continental US.

Climbing Ibex

I like staying active. Whether that’s running, playing soccer, hiking, biking, I always like to have a physical escape, something to burn off my huge amounts of energy. Each time I’ve moved across the country, I’ve found that each new place has a different sports culture. In Houston, it was soccer. In Philly, it was running. In Salt Lake, it's, well, a lot of things, but primarily, climbing.

View of the flats from halfway up a route

I’ve never climbed before stepping into Utah. Climbing always seemed to be an impossibly difficult sport to break into. It’s dangerous, especially climbing outside, and you really have to know somehow who knows what they are doing. Luckily, Salt Lake is packed with those people.

Brenna getting some height!

For my first two times climbing outside, I was more of a spectator. Not that I was afraid of heights, I just didn’t possess the ability to stick to the wall. But after a few weeks of practice at the gym, I was finally ready to hit those fun 5-10s.

Getting ready for a climb - Snakeskin Buttes

The crag we were camping under was covered in active routes. We happened to camp right under a section called Boyscout Bluffs and that’s where we started our day of climbing.

The view of the flats from the top of a route on the Snakeskin Buttes

We climbed for hours, moving from Boyscout Bluffs to Snakesin Buttress, where we found a frightening amount of shedded snakeskins laying around. After a full day of climbing, we decided to move camp and set up closer to our current climbing base. We found a unique spot next to some abandoned corrals and set up camp.

A Quick Trip

I typically hike and backpack--with the intent of seeing remote areas that few people have seen. Unfortunately, these trips require a significant amount of time away from life. Climbing has given me the opportunity to explore interesting areas, while not having to commit days or weeks to a single journey. I plan to have more quick climbing trips in the future.

I loved the area so much, I went back a week late to try some bouldering. While looking for some specifics problems to project, I stumbled across what has come to be one of my favorite campsites to date. A pre-made fire pit sat under a massive shelf, which had just enough room for two tents. The view over the dried lakebed was a spectacular one to see in the light of the moon.

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For high resolution photos or anything else, please contact Alex.