Mount Peale • Highpoint: San Juan County
• Range Highpoint: La Sal Mountains

Date Climbed
July 31, 2003

12,721 feet

5.5 miles round trip

5.75 hours

2,800 feet

Very humid, stormy at top,
some hail on the descent

6,161 feet

Click on the thumbnail to see a full-size version

Mount Peale from the
La Sal Pass parking area

Beth at the sign

Crossing a meadow

Beth ponders the route

Beth starts up the talus gully

Quick summit shot of me
with storm clouds a-building

Looking down the talus chute

The La Sal Mountains from
Deadhorse State Park

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Mount Peale is the highest point of the La Sal Mountains in southeastern Utah, overlooking the spectacular canyons, arches and deserts nearby Moab. The range gets its name for its snowy summits, which are high enough to retain its snow well into summer. Early explorers assumed the snow to be salt, hence the name "La Sal". Beth and I, recently married, planned a journey to Moab and its surrounding attractions as a "mini-honeymoon". Originally, we had slated our hike of Mount Peale for the end of the trip, but a brief dry spell suggested we take advantage of the opportunity, so we hiked it first thing after arriving in Moab.

We were able to coordinate our schedules from work so that we had five days open. We split the journey into segments, making a drive to Flagstaff for a night, then the 350-mile leg to Moab with a side trip to the famous Monument Valley on the Navajo Nation. We arrived in Moab in the mid-afternoon and spent the day playing tourist, visiting shops and walking the main street. What a beautiful place.

Arising early from our hotel in Moab, we covered the forty miles via US-191, UT-46 and FR-073 to get ourselves to La Sal Pass, which sits directly south of Mount Peale. We got dressed and started the hike about 8:30 a.m. The sky was mostly clear with a high cloudy haze, and very humid. At La Sal Pass there is a small parking area, and just west of this pass is one of two old roads that lead north into the drainage areas below Mount Peale. We considered the various options and decided to ignore both roads for now and hike in directly up the grassy slopes from the parking area. We followed faint paths and old eroded ruts and very soon, entered the forest, hiking due north. We came out into the open again, then re-entered the trees, where I found a good path that we followed briefly into the open again. We surmounted a small knob, marked with a spot elevation 10,428 on the map. We took a breather here and assessed our route.

The standard route up Peale is to hike up a talus gully on Peale's west flanks. From the parking area it is easy to see, but requires about a mile of hiking through the meadows and forests to get to the base of this gully. Of course, in the trees, it is not always possible to keep this gully in sight. Nevertheless, it is easy to stay on a northeastern bearing, and numerous faint paths help. From atop our perch on knob 10,428, we could see the eastern of the two roads that head north into the trees toward the gully. We decided to hike down to it, then follow it north. We did so, and once again re-entered the forest at a point where this road made a very sharp left turn up a steep slope. I found a faint path that soon led to a more substantial one on the east side of the drainage, and we hiked up this steepening path through the trees. The ground was giving slowly away to rocky talus, and after a short strenuous stretch, we came out onto the base of our intended gully, leaving the last of the forest behind us. We were very near the spot elevation 10,700 shown on the map.

Hiking in the gully now, we followed a mixed path through wildflowers, soft dirt and rocks. In short order, we were hiking on bigger talus. While it was steep, and some slabs were loose, it was very safe, the gradient never getting much steeper than 20% and often not that steep at all. But it was tedious and tiring. Previous hikers have beaten in paths here and there, but in many cases we had to pick our own way through the rocks. Mostly the talus ranged from football sized rocks to some the size of a small vehicle. After a half-hour in which we gained 700 feet, we took another break. Ominously, I noted that the clouds way up on the ridge were starting to get puffier; however, Mount Peale was still clear, and we has a strong south wind and mostly clear skies to our south. I felt we were safe for now, but our window of opportunity was closing. We had gained more than half of our elevation and had about one mile of hiking to go. I felt we should be at the top within an hour. Following the talus gully, I found a use-trail that leaves the gully and starts directly up the rocky and sometimes-grassy slopes. This use-trail appeared to cut off a lot of distance and put us on the ridge not far from the summit, so we decided to follow it.

The use-trail degenerated quickly into a loose scree path, and we left it and hiked by sight up the slopes to the main ridge. The footing was not the greatest, though, slowing us some. Nevertheless we reached the main ridge, where we were met by a hiker making a traverse from nearby Tukuhnikivatz to Mount Peale. We could also see the clouds building, although Mount Peale and our approach ridge was still clear. I told Beth we had maybe a half-hour and that we'd better hustle. On the ridge itself a sometimes obvious path is visible in the talus, so we followed it past two knobs and summitted the peak around noon. But our stay was extremely short: literally as soon as Beth and I dropped into the windbreak to rest, we could hear thunder. Just barely enough time to swig some water and snap some photos, we immediately started down, spending about 90 seconds total at the summit.

I have to admit I was quite spooked and just wanted off the main ridge as soon as safely possible. Beth and I, along with the other hiker, walked "with purpose" down the ridge to where we had met it coming up. Our plan, weather permitting, was to stay on the ridge and meet the gully a little farther west where the slopes weren't so loose and steep, but the worsening weather prompted us to take the short-cut path we had taken coming up. I didn't like it and Beth thoroughly hated it, but it went down fast and that's what was important now. SHortly, we were back into the talus gully, having dropped many hundreds of feet and way off the ridges. Distant thunder still rumbled but we felt we were much safer now, though not completely safe. We took a rest here then started moving as soon as possible.

For the egress we retraced our steps until we came upon the road mentioned earlier. We decided to follow it out to the main road, which we did. It met the main road about 3/4-mile east of where we parked. We walked this stretch and were back to the truck at 3 p.m., a total of five hours and forty-five minutes for the hike, no doubt a lesser figure "helped" by the motivating thunder. Despite the conditions, we had a great time and were happy to have had a successful, exciting hike. From here, we drove back to Moab, showered and spent the rest of the day resting.

We spent the remainder of our two days exploring Arches National Park, a visit out to Deadhorse State Park (which is often used by film crews as a "stand in" for the Grand Canyon), and a day in Canyonlands National Park, in which the road (UT-211) washed out after a flash flood while we were in the park. They allowed 4-wheel drive vehicles to pass through the debris, but passenger vehicles were stuck. I'm not sure how they eventually got out. The road was strewn with good-sized rocks and lots of tree limbs, logs and other crud. We made a good decision to hike Peale when we did as the storms were bad the remainder of our time, with the La Sals being socked in by storm clouds essentially 24 hours a day.

(c) 2003, 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.