The Mountains of Utah •
Ibapah Peak • Highpoint: Juab County
• Highpoint: Deep Creek Mountains

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

This is what was going on
around Moab, so yeah, I bailed.

Everything's far
away out here!

The granite mountaintop of Ibapah
shines in the early morning sun

Still way the
heck up there

Look east onto the
Utah desert flats

Ibapah Peak as seen from
the saddle meadow

Frances and Dave grab a bite

Getting closer to the top!

A little closer

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.

Date: August 11, 2005 • Elevation: 12,087 feet • Prominence: 5,247 feet • Distance: 14 miles • Time: 11.25 hours • Gain: 5,700 feet • Conditions: Clear, spotty clouds • Teammates: Dave and Frances


Ibapah Peak is in west Utah near the Nevada border, about a hundred miles from pavement. It is a giant peak, rising nearly a full vertical mile above the surrounding desert valleys. 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 usual starting point. If successful, this would set my single-day record for most vertical gain in a day. And yet, this peak wasn't even in my original plans when I set out from Arizona two days before.

I originally drove north to Moab, looking to climb a series of peaks in Eastern Utah, starting with Mount Waas. The drive was long: 480 miles to Moab, then another 40 or so to get to the Mount Waas trailhead at Miner's Basin, the last three up a narrow, rocky 4-wheel drive route that spooked me for the last 2.9 miles. After a very long day, I settled in for the night, the only one here.

That night, a storm rolled in. Rain fell lightly for most of the night. 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 up the trail before growing a brain and abandoning the hike. 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, now with a day to kill. What to do now?

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 unapproachable if the roads get too muddy. So I decided to bail entirely and head west. My new goals: Ibapah Peak, and later, a county highpoint in Nevada that I needed in order to complete that state's list. I found an internet cafe in Moab to print some maps and get basic information for my two new hikes.

From Moab, I drove north to Interstate-70, at one point forced to pull aside top let one mean storm cell pass through. The rain was so heavy that my wipers couldn't remove the water fast enough, and the clouds themselves had ominous-looking funnels protruding from their bottoms. Fortunately, no twisters developed. The rest of the drive west along Interstate-70 to Interstate-15 went well, in rainy, gray weather. I drove to the city of Delta to stock up for my Ibapah Peak hike.

From Delta, I drove north to the Brush-Wellman Road near a large power plant, then west on Brush-Wellman Road, one of the few paved roads that extend west into the Great Basin Desert. I drove this road 40 miles, then left it and drove another 45 miles to the community of Callao. I was deep in the middle of nowhere. Callao has perhaps 50 people, and that qualifies it as the biggest town for miles around out here.

The weather had improved slightly, but big puddles and muddy sections were everywhere suggesting the storm had been active here too. Callao is at the foot of the Deep Creek Mountains, so I was not far from my objective. The remoteness of the western deserts on Utah is difficult to describe. Other than a handful of highways, there are no paved roads, and the towns are tiny, with no public services. People ranch out here, or just like the solitude. Two guys driving by me motioned me to stop and we chatted. They seemed cool, but I suspect they wanted to check me out, making sure I wasn't some outsider looking to cause trouble.

By the end of the day, I had driven into the Deep Creek Mountains along 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, and 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. 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 a guy camping 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 to do.

Dave, Frances and I strung out as we followed the ATV tracks. Our route passed through juniper and pine, and meadows of grass, sage, clover, and wildflowers. 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 were easy to follow, but in spots even they petered out. Usually, we would find the route again after some looking around. 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.

Ibapah Peak stood to the north, nearly 2,000 feet higher and a couple miles away. After all that hard work just to get to this high saddle and meadow, we still had a lot of work ahead of us. After a rest, we were moving again. There is no apparent trail from the high saddle to Ibapah Peak, 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 navigation.

Our first goal was a smaller sub-peak, spot elevation 11,385 feet on the map. As we ascended, the route became rockier, with talus blocks interspersed along the slopes and between the trees until eventually the trees gave out altogether. 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, getting a bonus peak. Descending down its other side, we came upon a rough path hewn into the talus. This was a welcome surprise.

We were still 800 feet below the top. The path cut neatly through the talus slopes, making a number of long switchbacks such that it was just a matter of walking upward until the last bend in the switchbacks placed us onto the summit ridge. The trail leads directly to the east end of the ridge, but to me, rocks on the west end looked higher, so I left the trail and scampered up these rocks, tagging them. Soon, I walked over to meet with Dave and Francis, 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 break, enough to rest and to snap more photos. 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, 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 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 in an hour. The day was so mild and beautiful, I thought I'd lean up against a rock in this meadow and take a 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 the entire way out 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 exhausted, but the nap felt great.

I was back to my truck at 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 βð 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 goodbye. 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, then 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 south 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 smattering of homesteads.

A few miles later, 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 anything. I made good time down this road, averaging about 45 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. 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. At the state line, there is a casino, a hotel, a restaurant and a gas station. There is no actual town here. The casino and restaurant were on the Nevada side, the hotel on the Utah side. The state line is painted onto the pavement so that there is no confusion. I ate at the diner and got supplies inside Nevada, then a hotel room inside Utah. 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 Peak 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, 2019 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.