Monday, August 24, 2009

Another Hike to Willard and Ben Lomond Peaks

It has been three years since I hiked up to Willard Peak and Ben Lomond Peak (see 8/21/06 post). Given my schedule, I knew this past weekend would be my best chance to get back up there this season. Although I had invited my teenagers, their late Friday night activities prevented them from being sufficiently vigorous to get up early on a Saturday morning to go hiking. So I ended up with only my 12-year-old for company.

You can get to these peaks from several different trailheads. The question is whether you want a serious hike or a moderately short hike. If you start from the top of the North Ogden Divide, you’ve got 9.5 miles to get to Ben Lomond Peak and another nearly two miles to get to Willard Peak. If you want to make the round trip, you need to start early and plan on taking all day.

Different trailheads in Ogden Valley lead to Ben Lomond Peak (Cutler Trail: steep 5mi one-way, Ben Lomond Trail (3): 7.6mi one-way), and you can hike from there to Willard Peak.

Wanting a shorter hike and having heard that the Willard Peak Road Scenic Backway (map) was getting a major overhaul this season, I opted to drive to the Willard Basin trailhead. (The road is currently closed for construction from Monday morning through Thursday afternoon, and is open on the weekends.) We first drove up Sardine Canyon to Mantua. We drove through Mantua and soon found ourselves on Willard Peak Road.

Even with the improvements, you really don’t want to do this road unless you’ve got a serious 4WD vehicle or an ATV. The first couple of miles are very good, even as the road rises — something it does a lot of for the first nine miles. The further you go on this road, the worse the conditions get.

Don’t get me wrong. This past weekend the road was substantially better than it was three years ago. The work isn’t done yet, but I can tell that when the work is done, the road is still going to be pretty rugged and very narrow in many spots. The road is mainly used by ATVs. The later in the day you traverse the road, the more ATVs you encounter. If you’re going to use an ATV, be prepared to eat loads of dust (or mud, depending on conditions). If you use an automobile, be prepared to stop frequently to let ATVs pass you safely.

After nearly an hour driving more than 11 miles of rugged road, we parked at the Willard Basin trailhead, where there is very little parking. The road continues another couple of miles to the 9,422-ft-high Willard Mountain (aka Inspiration Point, which is not the same as Willard Peak). But driving all the way up there saves you less than half a mile of hiking each way, and there’s even less parking on Willard Mountain.

(See a mountain biker’s description of a 2008 ride from Mantua to Ben Lomond Peak and back. See another hiker’s description of the hike to Willard and Ben Lomond Peaks from Inspiration Point.)

If you start from Willard Basin (elevation 8,711 ft), you’ve got a pretty significant climb, especially if you want to scale Willard Peak (elevation 9,764 ft), considered the highest peak in Weber County. You climb over 1,000 feet in about a mile and a half of hiking. Most people skip Willard Peak and head straight to Ben Lomond Peak (elevation 9,712 ft) because there is no trail to Willard Peak while there is a good 3½-mile trail that leads right to Ben Lomond Peak.

Willard Peak looks like a whitish rocky prominence that seemingly juts 100+ feet straight up out of the surrounding mountains. You have to pick your way to the top from the trail below, but if you study the peak, you will see that the approach from the northwest face can be managed without any special gear. My 12-year-old handled it just fine, but I would caution against taking younger kids up there.

The top of the peak is broad enough to fit a few dozen people. There are a couple of geocaches up there. Every time I have been up to Willard Peak, I have seen three U.S. Geological Survey markers embedded in the rock, although, I have been told that there are four.

The view from Willard Peak is spectacular, particularly when the air is clear. If you know what you’re looking for (binoculars are useful), you can see three Mormon Temples: Logan, Ogden, and Bountiful. The peak sits very close to the Weber-Box Elder County line.

We had hoped to see mountain goats, as I had three years earlier, but they had already moved down the hill due to the warm weather. After diligently searching, we were able to spot some mountain goats in a canyon below the ridge line where the trail to Ben Lomond Peak runs. You have to know what you’re looking for, because the goats blend in so well with their surroundings.

After relaxing on Willard Peak for a while, we scampered down the south face to the trail below. This can be a pretty harrowing adventure, as there’s plenty of loose rock scattered about the fairly steep 200’+ slope. We then hiked to the rim of the canyon where we could get a better view of the mountain goats. We took some pictures, but my camera isn’t good enough to take high quality distance shots. We counted about 20 goats.

Then we were on our way to Ben Lomond Peak about two miles away. The trail is very good and there isn’t much of a climb until about a quarter of a mile before the peak. At that point you run into switchbacks, but they’re not terribly challenging, rising only about 100 feet in elevation. I’ve seen families with kids as young as seven successfully make the trek from Inspiration Point. If you come from the other trailheads, you have to scale a whole series of switchbacks that rise about 900 feet.

On Ben Lomond Peak there is a stainless steel desk-type box that contains a sign-in pad. I saw that a nine-year-old had signed in earlier in the day. This peak is also on the Weber-Box Elder County line. You can see far into Cache County and south into Davis and Salt Lake Counties. You can see the Logan and Ogden LDS Temples, but the mountain range obscures the Bountiful Temple. There isn’t much room on the peak. If there are a lot of people up there, you can stand or sit on various ledges close to the top.

As we were descending the peak, we saw a group of hikers approaching. As we got closer, I recognized them as a family I knew. I have worked with the father of the family in Scouting for years. He is in his 70s and seemed to be doing quite well on the hike. I was proud of him.

My son wanted to be somewhere else that afternoon, so he insisted that we hightail it back to the truck as quickly as possible. We hiked at a good pace, but we weren’t going terribly fast. We stopped briefly to check on the mountain goats. Many of them were still in the same location as they had been earlier. After passing Willard Peak (we didn’t climb back up there), we descended to Willard Basin quite rapidly.

Our hike from Ben Lomond Peak back to Willard Basin took just under an hour. We’d spent two hours getting to Ben Lomond Peak. The extra time was spent climbing and relaxing on Willard Peak, watching mountain goats, and going uphill as opposed to going downhill on the way back.

We encountered far more ATVs on the way back down the scenic backway than we had on the way up. We passed a few trucks. After traversing that rugged road, we were glad to be on paved road again. We had only driven on the paved road for a quarter of a mile or so when I sensed that something was wrong. I quickly pulled over since I figured I had a flat tire. I was right. I had encountered some object that ripped a big enough hole in the tire that it could not be repaired. We changed the tire and then we were on our way home.

Still, we had enjoyed our hike. It was a nice sunny day that was warm enough that we hiked in shirt sleeves even at high altitudes. If you want to do this hike, please bear in mind that there are no sources of drinking water and no restroom facilities once you get a short distance from Mantua. There are restroom facilities at the other trailheads, but that’s the end of such comforts once you start hiking. So make sure you carry plenty of drinking water and adequate sanitation supplies with you. Apply adequate sunscreen.

Also, make sure to check weather conditions before departing and prepare accordingly. I have watched out my window all day today as the areas that we hiked on Saturday have flitted in and out of lowering clouds. You could hike up there on a day like this, but you’d jeopardize your safety if you weren’t adequately prepared.

I know people that have lived for decades near the foot of Ben Lomond and Willard Peaks, but that have never made the trek up there. For me, it’s well worth the hike.


Quesi said...

I grew up in South Willard on a farm there. We hiked to Willard Peak regularly up the face through Maquire (sp?) canyon and had someone waiting at Inspiration Point to bring us down by car. There are numerous mines up the canyon and lots of old mining equipment. Wise to stay out of the mines, but it is a very beautiful hike up the old mine trail. Toward the top is the hardest, but once you pass the Ben Lomond trail it is a race to the top.

Middle peak in Willard is often mistaken for Willard Peak because it sits above Main Willard. You can get to the trail off the road between Willard Basin and Inspiration Point. Middle Peak trail drops down significantly in altitude before going up again. There is a flag pole there and each year for the 4th of July the Christensen family from Willard puts the flag up. As a teenager I went out one year with one of their boys to put the flag up. It is quite a tradition and quite a hike.

Your post brought back some great memories. Thanks much.

Scott Hinrichs said...

Maguire Canyon is named for Don Maguire, the man that staked mining claims all over that region and worked various mines over a period of about two decades in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. He even had aerial tramways built in Epidote and Eldorado Canyons. The remnants of these are still up there.

It's amazing to think of the amount of human and mule muscle that went into this effort. Unfortunately, the ore they were able to get was not very precious. The operation was never profitable. It survived mostly on money garnered from investors back east until that source of cash dried up. Maguire survived after that by selling off company property.

I enjoy visiting the mines. Some have been blocked off, but a few tunnels are still accessible. It is important to take appropriate safety precautions when visiting the mines. Many mines have lots of water in them in the spring and early summer. Late summer and early autumn are good times for going to the mines if you want to go inside.

There was an adjacent mining claim in Ridge Canyon by a man named Burnham. He ran Burnham's Mine (aka Southern Pacific Mine, although, it had nothing to do with the railroad) for 19 years until he died. The main tunnel is quite wide and tall, and is blasted and bored out of solid rock. There are no timbers in there. Like Maguire's mines, Burnham's Mine survived on investor cash and never produced a profit.

If you hiked to Willard Peak up Maguire Canyon, you were climbing in true mountain goat territory. That's a seriously challenging hike.

Scott Hinrichs said...

Yesterday I wrote that Burnham's Mine is up Ridge Canyon. But I'm not sure that this is correct. I was told by someone that Ridge Canyon is to the SW of a prominent hill above Pole Patch that is commonly known as Anthill, due to the fact that it looks like a giant anthill.

The label for Ridge Canyon on the map I have could be for that canyon or for the canyon to the NW of Anthill. (The next canyon to the NW after that is Pine Canyon.) Google Earth, however, lists the canyon to the NW of of Anthill as Ridge Canyon.

Whatever the proper name is, the canyon to the NW of Anthill is where Burnham's Mine is. It is on the NW face of the canyon almost directly below and opposite of Anthill.

Quesi said...

We hiked up Maguire's canyon for sure. We would do it around the 24th of July. We would mostly stick to what was left of the mule trail.

There are test shafts along the canyon and you can see the tramways along the ridge. There is a story in my family of one of my relatives riding the tramway up the canyon as a youth, only to get in trouble at the top and made to walk back down.

The first major mine that you come to is about 30 yards from a huge compressor. I have hiked to this point probably a half dozen times or so. I have been all the way back in this mine and it is relatively safe with no shafts and good drainage.

Up the canyon, to the left of the mine is the path up to the next mines. There is one part that is very precarious, but other than that it is just strenuous. There are remnants of a cabin of some sort and it is close to some other mines that I have not entered, nor do I plan to since they seem rather dangerous. You can see the cabin from the Ben Lomond trail if you know where to look. And as you said, at this point you can see a lot of mountain goat. To the trail from the cabin is pretty strenuous, but not too precarious. There is not really a trail so you just find the most promising path and take it.

I got to the top of Willard peak and my buddy and I started racing to be the first at the top. I beat him, but we were both about puking after such a strenuous hike. I was about 15 years younger than I am now too, so I am speaking in terms of past tense and past abilities. I don't know if I would be up to the hike now!

My dad at 40 had a mid-life crisis and he and two other fellows swam across the bay, biked to the canyon, and hiked to Willard Peak up Maguire's. I was glad he didn't drown in the bay.

Quesi said...

Correction: I don't know if it was Maguire's canyon or not, but we always called it that. It is not labeled from what I can see on Google Earth, but it is between what is labeled Maguire and Pearsons canyons. If you follow the canyon up you are directly below Willard Peak.

The first part of the hike is pure rock and boulder for quite a while. The Burnham's mine you describe sounds like the mine I went in. It is solid rock and you can stand up in it for the most part. It is close to the large compressor. At the very back there are timbers.

Unknown said...

How do you access these canyons with the mines along the trail?

Scott Hinrichs said...

Most of the mines in the South Willard area are best accessed from the bottom of the mountain; not from the top. An exception to that is the Eldorado (aka Alvarado) Mine, which is much higher in elevation.

The mine opening is close to 41°22'57.75"N 111°57'58.89"W, elev 8563. That's SW of Willard Peak.

While you can get to the mine from the main trail described in the post, there is no marker or clear cut-off that might indicate how to get there. Check Google Earth to see what it looks like and to scope out possible ways to approach the mine from the trail.

You have to bushwhack down the mountainside from the trail to access the mine. And no matter how you do it, it's a pretty harrowing couple hundred yards scrambling over loose rock on steep terrain. Bear in mind that you have to climb back up the way you go down.

All of the mines are wet in the spring and early summer. Your best bet is to go in late summer to early fall. But you can still plan to get dirty, scraped up, and even muddy going into the Eldorado Mine (even late in the season).

Some Willard natives named Mike and Steve Holmes self published a book called "Sierra Madre West" in 2007. (Note: this link is flaky. Sometimes it works; sometimes not.) The book provides the history and description of each mine. It also has photos, drawings, trail information, and GPS coordinates for each mine. The book has been available in some libraries in my local area. I haven't found any copies for sale online. If I can get my hands on a copy, I'll put up a post about it.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the info. I guess what I meant is to access from the bottom, is there a clear cut way to get up close to the mountain, or are you crossing private land?

Scott Hinrichs said...

Well, that's kind of dicey. You can get to each of the mines by accessing strictly public property, but you're going to have to do some serious bushwhacking.

It's easier to get to the mines by crossing private property, at least for a short distance. Many of these properties actually have public easements. That is, that land owners are supposed to allow foot traffic across a narrow strip. But you'd have to research a lot of titles to figure that all out.

Your best bet is to get permission from the property owners to cross their property. Most aren't concerned about hikers that leave nothing but footprints. But they don't like having fences and other improvements damaged. And they usually want to prevent ATV traffic across their property.

The access point for each mine depends on which canyon it's in. There are good tunnels up Ridge, Pine, Maguire, Epidote, and Eldorado Canyons. Some of these can be found on Google Earth. Others can't. The Holmes' book gives details for each one. Short of that, your best bet is to hike with someone that's been to the mines before.