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2021-05-13  
2020-09-23  
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Middle La Sal Traverse, UT
mini location map2020-09-23
20 by photographer avatarLJW
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Middle La Sal Traverse, UT 
Middle La Sal Traverse, UT
 
Hiking avatar Sep 23 2020
LJW
Hiking15.90 Miles 5,634 AEG
Hiking15.90 Miles   9 Hrs   39 Mns   1.89 mph
5,634 ft AEG   1 Hour   15 Mns Break
 
1st trip
Partners none no partners
Route Scout Route Recorded  on Route Scout Popup | MapDEX
In Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey devotes a chapter to detail his climb of Mount Tukuhnikivatz in the La Sal Mountains of Eastern Utah. Though it’s the third highest peak in the range, he writes that he climbed it for a few reasons, first of which is "because somebody has to do it." For all his faults, the narratives and treatises of the book are captivating and compelling to me as they are to so many other Arizonans. Between the Abbey connection, the perfect weather, and the start of fall color, I ended up with a plan to tackle the highest three peaks of the Sierra La Sal via a route already established called the Middle La Sal Traverse.

The route starts at the Gold Basin Trailhead. The Moab Ranger District said I’d have trouble with the final road in a low clearance car. Drive is an hour from Moab up the paved La Sal Loop Road to Geyser Pass Road, a well graded dirt road, to Gold Basin Road. It turns out Gold Basin Road is as smooth as pavement, and any car will make it. I didn’t find out until the walk up and started down Brumley Ridge at the Geyser Pass Winter Sports TH. Road walking added ~5mi/600ft.

The aspens are mostly a rich yellow on Tuk’s lap in Gold Basin. They will probably peak in a week. Took the trail until it neared the slopes of Tukuhnikivatz and North Tuk. I worked my way up to the ridge and watched the peaks capture would-be storm clouds. Stopped for a while to catch my breath and watch the shadows roll over Gold Basin, hoping for an indication which way the weather was heading. Made the ridge and from there the climb was steep over loose rock.

North Tuk, or Little Tuk, is a subpeak of Tukuhnikivatz that stands at 12,048ft, connected to Tuk by a slim ridgeline that whips its way between massive couloir and tableland views. From N Tuk, it looked like the dark clouds had shifted SW, over to Tuk and South Mountain. I thought of Ed Abbey (“Look at it this way fellows – nobody lives forever”) and continued up. Loose footing and steep, steep grades.

After three hours I was on Tukuhnikivatz The King. Views were sublime as advertised. The clouds were smaller but still enough to make me nervous. I tried to think of a way to honor old Ed, but I don’t have a wife to cheat on and it’s like he says, “you’ll find no deep thinkers at 13,000 feet.” Resolved to head down. A group of people was on the saddle east of Tuk, so down I went hoping to chat with some folks more knowledgeable about mountain weather than me.

One of the people was a higher up with the Moab Ranger District, and he said the weather was stable and I should be alright. The others were FS workers videoing the mountains with a drone. I followed them over the most notorious part of the loop, The Fang: a loose, rocky section of ridgeline that requires scrambling over crumbling rock or prolonged frustration to work through. I chose the latter after failing the route and headed below to the south. There the mountainside was completely unstable. It’s best to stay on the ridge if possible.

After a while I had climbed up to the Peale junction. Best trail since Gold Basin runs up the ridge to Peale – over loose rock, but at least it’s something. Everything was taking a long time, so I didn’t stay long and soon headed down. As I did, I had a look down the route to Mellenthin, and what looked on the topo like notches on the ridgeline were small peaks.

I went around the first, but it’s probably easier to just go up. Have to tread lightly or the mountainside gives away. The second is bigger and shoots off the ridge to a height just a few hundred feet shorter than Tuk. After that it’s one more loose, 700ft climb to the summit of Mellenthin. Views on Mell in the early evening were spectacular, particularly toward the Northern La Sal, beginning its wash of fall color.

One last time going up, back on the peak opposite the saddle from Mell. About half way there’s a trail through the rock that heads down the ridge. I didn’t take the ridge the whole way, so I could circle back into Gold Basin to the highest tarn and watch the sun set on the cirque. I had trouble finding the route, but the cattle are cut loose to roam in Gold Basin, so there’s no shortage of trails. Eventually found it and walked out above one of the reddest suns I’ve seen. Cut through a cow pasture down to the road and made my way back to the car.
foliage observationfoliage observationfoliage observationfoliage observationfoliage observation
Autumn Foliage Observation Moderate
Good color just starting across the range. Week for it to flesh out
wildflower observationwildflower observationwildflower observationwildflower observationwildflower observation
Wildflowers Observation Isolated
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