Ibapah Peak • Highpoint: Juab County
• Range Highpoint: Deep Creek Mountains

Date Climbed
August 11, 2005

Elevation
12,087 feet

Distance
14 miles round trip

Time
11.25 hours

Gain
5,700 feet

Conditions
Incredible!

Prominence
5,247 feet

Click on the thumbnail to see a full-size version


Ibapah Peak seen from a remote
backcountry Utah highway the day
before. It's the pointed peak
to the left in this shot


Everything's far away out here!


The granite hountaintop of Ibapah
shines in the early morning sun


Ibapah Peak as seen from
the saddle meadow


Frances and Dave grab a bite


Getting closer to the top!


Dave stands at the east
end of the summit. Frances is
obscured by the rocks


Here's me on top of Ibapah.
Red Mountain is behind me


A parting shot on the descent


Dave and I at camp after
the hike. Photo by Frances.

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Summitpost


Ibapah Peak is a giant mountaintop located in the remote outback of the Great Basin Desert of far-west Utah. It is a masterful peak, a classic desert summit that rises nearly a full vertical mile above the desert valleys below. Although not technical, climbing it requires a full day and a strong set of legs, since the one-way gain is over 5,700 vertical feet from the nominal starting point. If successful, this would set my single-day record for most gain in a day. And yet, this peak wasn't even in my original plans when I set out from Arizona two days before.

My original plan had been to drive north across the Navajo Nation and up toward Moab, looking to climb a series of county highpoints in Eastern Utah, with Mt. Waas in the La Sals first on the agenda. The drive was long: 480 miles to Moab, then another 40 or so to get to the trailhead at Miner's Basin, the last three up a narrow, rocky 4-wheel drive route that kind of spooked me for the last 2.9 miles of it. That night a storm rolled in and I awoke in the middle of the night to a steady din of light rain falling on my truck shell. I hoped it would pass, and early the next morning I suited up and started the hike in dim, misty gray weather, getting about a mile in before growing a brain and abandoning the attempt altogether. This storm seemed to be a big one with no plans to scoot through quickly. I hustled back to my truck and hoped the road down hadn't yet turned into a muddy mess. Fortunately, it had not and I was able to drive down it, and back to Moab, with a day to kill.

The weather reports indicated the unsettled weather would be the pattern for a few days, and since most of my hikes were in this region, I figured all of them may be scuttled if the roads get too muddy. So I decided to completely alter my plans and head west. My new goals: mighty Ibapah Peak, and later, a county highpoint in Nevada that I needed in order to complete that state's list. In Moab I did some quick internet research on Ibapah, got some maps and started the long drive west. From Moab to Interstate-70, I had to wait out some intense squalls and pay attention to some mean-looking clouds that seemed intent on funnelling. From I-70 to the Interstate-15 interchange in the middle of Millard County, I just had steady rain. I drove into the city of Delta, on the fringe of the Great Basin desert, to stock up.

The western deserts of Utah are notable for their lack of population, paved roads and infrastructure. There are no towns out here, just tiny "communities". No gas, no stores, no nothing. In Delta I bought a 5-gallon jerry can for extra gas, then topped that and my tank off and head west. I followed some local roads north to the Brush Wellman Road near the big Intermountain Power Plant. The Brush Wellman Road is paved and is the only paved road that extends any distance into the western Utah deserts aside from Interstate-80. After 40 miles on this road, I left it and followed good hard-pack dirt roads another 45 miles toward the community of Callao, located on the eastern foot of the Deep Creek Mountains, home to Ibapah. The weather was a little calmer out here, with clouds but no active storms. However, there were puddles and muddy sections, suggesting the storm had been active here, too.

One cannot underscore the remoteness of this part of the country. Most of it is BLM-land, pocked by private in-holdings. There are very few commnunities out here, Callao being the main one, with maybe 50 people spread throughout the region. Some who live out here ranch, others probably like the remoteness and quiet. Still, others may like the lack of government eyes, being able to keep a few extra wives without being told by the man what he can and can't do. Near Callao, some guys in a truck motioned me to stop, and I did, and we chatted. I think they were scoping me out, making sure I wasn't a troublemaker. But there were no problems. By the end of the day I had driven into Granite Creek Canyon, fording a small stream then bashing another half-mile past a couple camping, before coming to a section of road too washed out for my truck to handle. So I backed up and took the other main camp spot, a few dozen yards away from the couple. It had been a long day of driving and I was psyched for a long day of hiking tomorrow.

I took the time to walk over to introduce myself to the couple, and immediately discovered they were two really cool people. Dave and Frances, from Albuquerque. Dave is a mathematician and Frances a piano teacher, both with a strong hippie vibe, but very nice. They were uncertain of their plans, talking about going to the top, but when I said that was my plan, we agreed to team up. I made sure to make lots of noise the next morning to awake everyone and we all started the long day's hike at 5 a.m., elevation 6,400 feet. Conditions were fabulous, with a clear sky, still air and pleasant temperatures.

We walked up the road to the second creek crossing, past where I had turned back yesterday. The road here was in horrible shape and my truck could not have handled it. Past this crossing we stayed on the road to its end not much farther, its terminus marked by plastic BLM markers. Here, some ATV tracks continue, so we followed these, meeting up with some guy camping up here (funny, I don't recall seeing any other vehicles). We were still low in the canyon, in the shadows. Looking up, the bare granite slopes of Ibapah Peah stood way, way high, sunlit a gleaming white. Coming off the summit were long ridges of the same granite, while across the way stood Red Mountain, its slopes composed of a different strata, noticeably redder (actually, browner) than Ibapah. One thing was clear: we had an enormous amount of hiking still to do.

Dave, Frances and I generally strung out as we followed the ATV tracks through the canyon. The slopes, gentle at first, started to increase. Our route passed through stands of juniper and pine, and meadows of high grasses, sage, clover, and various wildflowers. It was all very lovely. Dave was usually out in front, and Frances and I followed our own paces. We'd convene every 30 minutes or so, then continue upward. The ATV tracks generally were easy to follow but in spots even they petered out into nothingness. Usually, we would find the route again after some common-sense hiking. We had no navigation problems at all. After a couple hours of this, we had come to the high saddle between Ibapah Peak and Red Mountain, elevation 10,200 feet. The land up here was stunning, a sub-alpine meadow of grass, ringed by forest, with many rock outcrops sprinkling the area. The whole place looked like a park. To here we had covered 4.5 miles and gained 3,800 feet. It was 9 a.m. and we were making great progress, but we took a nice, long rest here.

Ibapah's summit stood tall to the north, still nearly 2,000 feet higher and a few miles distant; after all that hard work just to get to this high saddle and meadow, we knew we still had quite a bit of work ahead of us. After a good rest, we were moving again. There is no apparent trail from the high saddle to Ibapah, so we started hiking on a north bearing across the meadows and rocks, angling left to meet the forest at some point. This high up, the forests were not too thick and we could still make out landforms to help our navigation. Our first "goal" was a smaller sub-peak, marked by spot elevation 11,385 feet on the map. As we ascended, the route became more rocky, with large granite talus interspersed along the slopes and between the trees until eventually the trees gave out altogether; we were essentially above tree-line now. Dave was moving quickly, blazing a route and by all accounts, having a merry time. Frances and I walked together, our paces matching well. As we approached Peak 11,385, the easiest way around it (to me at least) was to ascend it directly and in doing so, I actually tagged its summit, too, getting an extra peak for credit. Descending down its other side, we came upon a rough path hewn into the talus. This was a lovely and welcome surprise.

Ibapah's summit still stood about 800 feet higher, directly above a steep slope of giant talus blocks. The path, though, cut neatly through the talus, making a number of long switchbacks such that it was just a matter of walking ever upward until at last, the last bend in the switchbacks placed us onto the summit ridge of Ibapah Peak. The ridge is about a hundred yards long, generally along an east-west axis. The trail leads directly to the east end of the ridge, the de facto summit, but to me, some rocks on the west end looked possibly higher, so I left the trail and scampered up these rocks, tagging them and snapping a photo (left sidebar) of Dave standing at the east end, with Frances somewhere on the way, obscured by the rocks. Soon, I walked over to meet with them, where we celebrated a successful climb. It was close to 11 a.m.; we had climbed 5,700 vertical feet (my new one-day record) in seven miles and in six hours. We took a small break, enough to rest and to snap more photos. I was thrilled to be here; the views in all directions were magnificent, of vast deserts and large, craggy mountaintops. We truly were in the middle of nowhere here, and it felt wonderful.

As usual for me, I didn't stay long at the summit, perhaps just 15 minutes. I wanted to start the long trek down, so I left early while Dave and Frances stayed up top a little longer. I figured they'd catch up to me anyway. I descended the path through the talus, skirting Peak 11,385 and staying more east than the ascent track. I found a few scattered cairns and even a path or two, but generally followed the lay of the land through trees, slopes and meadows, descending back to the high saddle afte about an hour-long hike from the top. The day was so mild and beautiful, I thought I'd lean up against a rock in this meadow and take a small siesta and wait up for Dave and Frances. However, every place I sat there were ants, not too many, but enough to compel me to move.

I ended up hiking nearly the entire descent by myself. I moved slowly and methodically, taking a rest every time my altimeter showed a loss of 200 feet, just enough to drink some water and get the legs ready again for more movement. The hike down was easy and the canyon was now lit by the sun. Everything was just beautiful. Dave and Frances were behind me, but I never saw them. When I descended back to the road, I found a shaded, antless spot and laid down for a 10-minute nap. It was quite warm down here and I was outright exhausted. I was back to my truck about 4:30 p.m., a nearly 12-hour day. I had a cooler of drinks in my truck, and I sucked down a couple to rehydrate. I rested and changed into drier clothes. After 20 minutes I heard Dave and Frances coming back to their vehicle, so I walked back to congratulate them. They were tired, too, but very happy. It had been a great day for everyone, and I was happy for them as well as for myself for the successful hike. They were kind enough to invite me to a celebratory dinner of steaks and chips with home-made guacamole. They were going to camp another night here, and asked if I would too. As pretty a place as it was, I had told my wife I would call her by the end of the day to let her know I was safe. As such, I needed to be moving back to some sort of civilization. I packed up the truck and gave Dave and Frances a genuinely heartfelt goodby. They were two really interesting and kind people and I am happy I met them and had a successful day in the hills with them.

My plan now was to drive about sixty miles of dirt road south toward highway US-6/50, to the Nevada-Utah state line. I exited the canyon and got onto the main north-south road, called the Snake Valley Road, in the late afternoon, driving southward through the settlements of Trout Creek, Partoun and Gandy. Trout Creek came first after ten miles. The only notable building here is a Mormon church, a neat, tidy building that looks like every other one I have ever seen. Interestingly, the road is paved for the small stretch that fronts the church, and there are curbs. Otherwise, the town is just a broad smattering of homesteads. There are no stores or other places of business, certainly nothing for the occasional traveler. Another few miles I entered into Partoun, home to the high school. The buildings are modern, and includes a gymnasium, the whole setting kind of odd, given there is nearly nothing else to surround it. Like Trout Creek, the rest of Partoun is just widely-scattered homesteads. By now, the sun had nearly set. I passed through Gandy but couldn't see much of anything. I made good time down this dirt road, averaging about 45-50 miles per hour. Once darkness fell, I had to keep alert for wildlife. Rabbits love to dart into the road. Also, I scared up a couple big owls feeding on a dead rabbit, I presume. But happily, I didn't hit any animals.

I emerged onto US-6/50 about a mile east of the Nevada-Utah state line. It was dark and there was no traffic. Yet, just a mile west, there is a casino just inside Nevada. There's no town there, just a casino, a gas station, a basic store and a small hotel. The hotel is on the Utah side of the boundary. In fact, the state line is marked carefully so that there is no confusion, for example, no one would want to inadvertantly gamble inside Utah. I thought the whole place was fascinating and very amusing. I ate at the diner and got some supplies inside Nevada, then got a hotel room inside Utah. The hotel itself was just some prefab units laid out in a small grid, but everything worked: the shower was warm, the toilet flushed and the bed was comfortable. I had a very restful night's sleep, exhausted after a long, but rewarding, hike up big Ibapah. The next morning I was sitting in the room with the door open. All of a sudden a little girl, about a year old, runs in! Her folks were nearby and apologized since she got out of their eyesight for split second. I thought it was funny. She was just a curious kid. Her name was Beth, which my wife thought was funny when I told her.

The attraction out in these parts is the Great Basin National Park, about an hour's drive from the state line. I was here back in 2001 to hike its signature peak, Wheeler Peak. This time, I came back for its other main attraction, the spectacular Lehman Caves. I glommed in with a group for one of the guided tours of the caves, which I found to be very interesting and well worth the cost. Once done, I drove west across US-50 to western Nevada, setting myself up for a hike up Middle Sister Peak.

The unplanned hike to Ibapah turned out to be one of the most rewarding hikes of my life, and I want to thank Dave and Frances for their friendship and camaraderie while on the hike.

(c) 2005, 2012 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.