Salt Lake's own Wasatch peaks

By Connie Lewis

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, April 11 2012 4:19 p.m. MDT

The Wasatch Mountains, on the east of the Salt Lake Valley, stand as a protecting fortress. They are also familiar and comfortable landmarks to the residents below. Their beauty draws the eye, and even in the middle of a stressful commute their vistas can calm and uplift those lucky enough to live in their shadow.

But what are the names of these majestic mountains?

The most recognizable and well-known peak is Mount Olympus, in the middle of the Salt Lake range. At an elevation of 9,026 feet, it is not the tallest mountain, but one of the most distinctive. The name is said to come from early pioneers who wanted a name to match the grandeur of the peak. To early settlers it wasn’t just the view that inspired them, but they depended on the minerals, water and timber they could find there. Today Mount Olympus is a favorite hiking destination.

Between Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons lies Twin Peaks. It is also known as Broad Forks Twin Peaks to distinguish it from American Fork Twin Peaks. Twin Peaks is named for the distinctive dual summits. It is the highest mountain on the eastern range, with the east summit at 11,330 feet and the west summit at 11,328 feet. The mountain rises 7,000 vertical feet from the valley floor.

Just south of Little Cottonwood Canyon is Lone Peak. It is just slightly smaller than Twin Peaks at 11,253 feet. Near the top, surrounded by granite walls, is an alpine cirque. The cirque usually has snow late into the summer. You can look up from the valley floor on a hot summer day and feel a little cooler seeing the snow pack there.

Lone Peak is part of the Lone Peak Wilderness area and got that designation in 1978 from the United States Congress. In 1984 Mount Olympus Wilderness and Twin Peaks Wilderness joined the Lone Peak Wilderness area.

Grandeur Peak is the western most peak in the Mill Creek Ridge, which separates Mill Creek and Parley’s canyons. It is easily accessible and a favorite hiking destination. The hike can be completed in several hours or hikers can continue on to the Mill Creek Ridge trail. The Mill Creek Ridge Trail is an all-day, challenging hike, but one that is very popular. The Mill Creek name comes from the mills that early pioneers built in Mill Creek canyon.

One of the most recognizable mountains in the Salt Lake area is the one with the block U directly behind the University of Utah, although most people don’t know the mountain's name. It is called Mount Van Cott and was named by the students at the University of Utah in honor of the first dean of women, Lucy Van Cott. Although it stands tall to the students of the University of Utah, at 6,338 feet, Mount Van Cott is actually considered a foothill. Despite its small stature it has many access trails for hiking and bicycling.

A little further north is Ensign Peak, in close proximity to the state capitol building. Ensign Peak is the hill that Brigham Young and seven other leaders climbed to survey the valley just two days after they arrived in 1847. From its summit with its spectacular view, they envisioned the city and its layout in their minds.

One of the men fastened a yellow bandanna to a cane and waved it from the peak so Brigham Young called it Ensign Peak. The pioneers also put up a flagpole on the summit and flew one of the two American flags that came across the plains with them.

In 1996 President Gordon B. Hinckley of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints dedicated the site as a historic and nature park.

There are well-maintained trails that lead to the summit, and it is an easy hike with the reward of the still-spectacular view that the early pioneer leaders saw in 1847.

Behind the bulwark of the mountains that border the valley peak after peak march on. Thayne Peak, Triangle Peak, Mount Raymond, Gobbler’s Knob, Hobb’s Peak and Murdock Peak are just some of the mountains with hiking trails that can be reached through the wilderness areas of Mount Olympus or via one of the canyons. The beauty and diversity of our Wasatch Mountains are a constant surprise of delight to residents and visitors alike.

After attending BYU and the University of Utah for five years and not being able to settle on just one major, Lewis decided to be a writer so I could keep studying all things wonderful and new.

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