The Mormon pioneers did more hiking than just Ensign Peak that first summer of 1847 in the Salt Lake Valley. They also scaled one of the sets of "Twin Peaks" and encountered more difficulty than they expected.
The Deseret Evening News of Nov. 5, 1897, reported that the "Broads Fork" version of the Twin Peaks (measured in height today at 11,330 and 11,328 feet above sea level) were first climbed in the summer of 1847 by an Elder John Brown on Aug. 21 that year, in company with Albert Carrington, Dr. William Rust and a Brother Wilson.
(Presumably, these Twin Peaks likely appeared to be the highest points in area.)
The men had camped at the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon. At 8 a.m. the next morning, left their horses and according to Brown's own account:
“… After toiling about eight hours and being very much fatigued, three of us reached the summit of the west peak.”
(The fourth party member, Rust, gave out and stopped by a snowbank high up the mountain.)
The group made some readings and estimated the elevation to be 11,219 feet above sea level. The temperature on top was 55 degrees, versus the 101 in downtown Salt Lake City that day.
They descended at 5:30 p.m., but got caught in the darkness.
“… As we had expected to get back to camp about the middle of the afternoon, we were unprovided with bedding, coats or any kind of arms, wishing to go as lightly loaded as possible, the day before very warm. But, now when the night came, we found it quite cold in the mountains.
“While climbing over the rocks, after feeling our way with our hands in order to escape death by falling over a precipice, we became separated and only Brother Carrington and I remained together. At 10 p.m., we laid down under a scrubby tree, being so tired that further progress was impossible and we knew not where the other two men had gone. At length, we found a place between the rocks large enough to lay down. Our bed, however, was by no means horizontal: it had a slope of something like 45 degrees. Instead of feathers, we had pebbles for pillows and coarse sands, which were yet warm from the heat of the sun, for bedding: we kept them warm by our bodies during the remainder of the night.
“At 5 o’clock the next morning we arose, being somewhat sore and continued our journey down the mountain side. Hungry and faint, having had neither supper or breakfast, we scrambled over the rocks as best we could.”
They met up with Rust part way down.
“We reached our camp at 7:30 a.m., where we found our other companion, who had made his way in at 10 o’clock the night previous. We then returned to the city, satisfied with our first attempt at climbing mountains.”
The story reported that only a few men had attempted to climb the peaks between then, 1847 and 50 years later in 1897.
• Here’s another climbing account: "The Twin Peaks. Three Gentlemen make the ascent to the summits" was an Aug. 22, 1883, headline in the Deseret News.
Dr. J.R. Park, Joseph T. Kingsbury and Orson Howard were reported as making a climb of these "Twins."
This 1883 climbing report stated that the climbers started at 5 a.m., near Little Cottonwood Canyon, looking for a feasible route to take. They ended up in some "fearfully rugged" terrain and had to scramble upward. They were determined to reach the summits, which they did after eight hours of effort. The men reported the summits as entirely devoid of vegetation, though there was still some snow to deal with. They returned to the valley by 7 p.m., making for a 14-hour trek.
The story estimated the peaks to be 11,050 feet above sea level.
• Some three years later, in August of 1886, the Salt Lake Democrat newspaper contained the account of how another two men climbed the Broad Fork Twin Peaks. They rode horses much of the way, leaving their animals in a meadow as the climb became rugged. The men reported a narrow, foot-wide precipice to negotiate, with hundred-foot cliffs below. Also, lots of deep snow in the upper areas.
• The Salt Lake Herald of Nov. 3, 1897, reportedon a $100 bet to climb the supposedly previously unclimbed north of the Broad Fork Twin Peaks. Conditions of the bet were that the two men, Herman Neipage and Claud Victor, would leave Murray at sunrise and had to return by sunset, after having climbed the summit.
It was reported to be a hard and dangerous climb with 2,000 feet of ledges. Neipage was described as a daring leaper while Victor used a 60-foot rope for help.
Six hours after sunrise, Victor planted an American flag on the summit and even built a fire just below the summit to show they had made it. They were back in Murray one hour before sunset to collect their $100.
• The Salt Lake Telegram of July 30, 1912, reported a group of Salt Lake men scaled the Twin Peaks in just five hours from a base camp in Big Cottonwood Canyon, considered to be a record. The men even took a bulldog along, who had to be lifted over some rocks.
• "Local Girls Climb Dizzy Twin Peaks" was an Aug. 8, 1919, headline in the Salt Lake Herald. A group of 10 females climbed the peaks, led by J.R. Griffiths, physical instructor at the University of Utah. The women made the hike in 12 hours and without a single drink, since there was no water on the mountainside.
• By 1922, the University of Utah sponsored an annual hike to Twin Peaks, according to the Salt Lake Telegram of August 1922. That year was the fifth annual such event. At least 25 persons were registered to go that year.Comment on this story
Note: There are three different sets of twin peaks in just the Salt Lake section of the Wasatch Mountains. There's the "Broads Fork" Twin Peaks, located prominently between Big and Little Cottonwood canyons, that this story discusses; then there's an "American Fork" Twin Peaks, located above Snowbird (elevation 11,489 and 11,433 feet above sea level and the two highest points in Salt Lake County). Finally, there's a smaller set of much more obscure Twin Peaks found directly east of the downtown Salt Lake area.