Mountains High: Utah abounds with high peaks in all counties

Published: Wednesday, April 6 2005 12:53 p.m. MDT

Matt Callan and Cameron Ward of Farmington, who are attending schools in Orem and Provo, climb toward the summit of the American Fork Twin Peaks, elevation 11,433 feet, in the Wasatch Mountains.

Ravell Call, Deseret Morning News

Utah is a desert state, the second most arid of the 50 states, and yet it also has mountains located in all 29 of its counties. No other state has that kind of steady mountain geography. There are no vast plains or lowlands. Mountains pop up throughout the state — Utah is mountain territory.

Among high points of the 50 individual states, Utah's Kings Peak ranks sixth in total elevation. Best hiked in July through September, it is rated as a "Class 2" climb, according to Don W. Holmes, author of "Highpoints of the United States."

This means ascending Kings Peak requires "Rough cross country travel . . . boulder hopping and use of hands for balance." It is almost a 30-mile round-trip hike from the trailhead parking lot to Kings and back.

There's also a legend out there that Sir Edmund Hillary of New Zealand, one of the first two men to climb Mount Everest in 1953, also hiked to the top of Utah's Kings Peak. If ever proven true, this tale adds extra importance to Utah's King of peaks.

Not a legend though is that today's Kings Peak was undiscovered until the mid-1960s. Prior to satellite measurements, the U.S. Geological Survey pegged today's South Kings Peak as Utah's tallest. Any hikers going to Kings Peak prior to 1966 would have scaled the state's second-tallest peak instead.

Even though Kings Peak is the highest "point" in Utah, it isn't really the mountain with the sharpest rise from the surrounding terrain.

For example, most of the valleys surrounding Kings Peak are at just over 10,000 feet in elevation. This means there's a difference of just 2,700 approximate feet from valley to peak in the area.

In contrast, Mount Peale (12,721 feet above sea level) has the greatest difference in this vertical relief category. Moab, at about 4,000 feet elevation, means Peale rises about 8,721 feet above its surrounding topography — the most of anywhere in Utah.

Utah is also a large enough state that some peculiarities exist in its mountains. For example, generally the farther south you travel, the higher the timberline (not accounting for variances in south or north facing slopes.) For example, this means that Thurston Peak, Davis County, at 9,706 feet above sea level, is well above the treeline. Yet Signal Peak, Washington County's highest point at 10,365 feet, is completely forested in.

What are the 10 tallest peaks in Utah? What are its most significant mountain ranges? What are the high points in each county?

Here are some lists to best answer those questions. (Note: you won't always find universal agreement on all these peak elevations or names because of variances on peak/high point definitions, measurements and official names, unofficial titles or the lack thereof.)

• The 10 tallest mountains in Utah (with names):

1. Kings Peak, Uinta Mountains, Duchesne County, 13,528.

2. South Kings Peak, Uinta Mountains, Duchesne County, 13,512.

3. Gilbert Peak, Uinta Mountains, Summit and Duchesne counties, 13,442.

4. Mount Emmons, Uinta Mountains, Duchesne County, 13,440.

5. Mount Lovenia, Uinta Mountains, Summit and Duchesne counties; 13,219.

6. Tokewanna Peak, Uinta Mountains, Summit County, 13,165.

7. Mount Powell, Uinta Mountains, Summit County, 13,159.

8. *"Wasatch Peak," benchmark, Uinta Mountains, Summit County, 13,156.

9. **Wilson Peak, Uinta Mountains, Summit and Duchesne counties, 13,049.

10. ***"Squaw Peak" benchmark, Uinta Mountains, Summit County, 12,990.

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