Friday, August 7, 2020


Moab, UT

86.3 F

    Tales of Trails: A look at the many north-end La Sal Mountain peaks

    Early Spanish explorers thought the mountains were covered by salt when they first saw the peaks in August, 1776

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    Sena Taylor Hauer
    Sena Taylor Hauer
    Times-Independent Columnist
    Castle Mountain anchors part of the La Sal Mountains’ north end. Its granite and shale peak, as are the other mountains in the range, is a laccolith, formed by forces similar to a volcano. Photo by Sena Hauer

    Mountain ranges look different from various vantage points. Here in Moab we see the La Sal range as three clusters of peaks separated by two passes, Geyser Pass in the middle and La Sal Pass to the south.

    When viewed from the east or back side, from Old La Sal, the view is dominated by Mt. Peale, the range’s tallest peak at nearly 13,000 feet. Similarly, the range looks entirely different when viewed from Interstate 70 near Cisco, where the mountains look like one big lump.

    Prominent peaks vie to stand out depending from where you view them.

    This week begins a three-part series that looks at the three different clusters of peaks that can be seen from Moab, beginning with the north end.

    Castle Mountain is one of the most northern peaks on the La Sal Range. It shares the name with Castle Creek, which flows from within its depths and into Castle Valley and on to the Colorado River. Many topographical maps don’t notate Castle Mountain, which stands at 12,044 feet. Other peaks rank as more notable because of their height.

    Early explorers gave the “castle” moniker to a lot of places. Castle Mountain likely was named due to the famous sandstone spire to its west, Castle Rock, so-called by climbers these days, Castleton Tower. Writer Steve Allen, in his book “Utah’s Canyon Country Place Names,” said that the spire’s first climber was Layton Kor, and he is said to have changed the name in 1961.

    The La Sal Mountains are a long beacon east of Moab, as viewed from atop the Moab Rim Trail. The range spikes up in three different clusters of peaks divided by two broad passes. In geologic terms, the mountains are called laccoliths. The focus of this week’s story in on the peaks to the north, or left side of this picture. Subsequent articles will examine the other groupings. Photo by Sena Hauer

    But back to the mountains. This time of year, the La Sals are a haven from the heat. Its laccolothic peaks are challenging to climb, coming to cone points from trying to be volcanoes in earlier geologic time. Hikers must scramble over steep slopes covered with granite and shale rock at elevations above the tree line.

    Other notable peaks in the northern cluster of the La Sal Range include Horse Mountain, at an elevation of 11,130 feet, and Grand View Peak, a little shorter at 10,895 feet. Those two mountains are flanked by Bachelor Basin to the east, and Miners Basin to the south. Gold Knob, standing at 10,961 feet, has become a popular hiking trail from the Warner Lake area to the south.

    Also on the north end is Mt. Waas, which is 12,331 feet tall. It looks down at Beaver Basin to the east, and faraway views of Taylor Flat and the Uncompahgre Plateau country of our neighboring state.

    Manns Peak, elevation 12,272, juts above the popular Wet Fork of Mill Creek, which is part of the Whole Enchilada mountain bike trail. Its western side slopes down to Burro Pass, where the bike trail, when being ridden downhill, begins.

    Haystack Mountain, named exactly as it looks, is one of the most distinctive of La Sal Mountain peaks. Though shorter, its broad form is reminiscent of a hen whose tall and skinnier chicks gather around her. Haystack is fairly easy to climb, since it’s only 11,642 feet tall, because one can drive to Geyser Pass and start hiking from an already high vantage point.

    Not to be left out is Mt. Tomasaki, one of the most easterly peaks. It is 12,239 feet tall, and looks down at the remote Deep Creek area to its north.

    Author Allen notes that the northern grouping of mountains, comprised of Horse Mountain, Mt. Waas and Green Mountain, used to be called North Mountain.

    The height of these mountains is considerable, next to the Moab Valley’s general elevation of about 4,000 feet. The peaks can be accessed from remote roads that skirt the foothills of the range, whether from the Loop Road, the Gateway Road, Taylor Flat or Geyser Pass.

    Peak baggers know to start their hikes early so as to not be caught by errant afternoon lightning storms. In the winter time, backcountry skiers know to be cautious of the steep grades that are prone to avalanches.

    The north end of the La Sal Mountain range has seven peaks that are higher than 12,000 feet:

    • Mt. Waas, 12,331 feet
    • Manns Peak, 12,272 feet
    • Mt. Tomasaki, 12,239 feet
    • Pilot Mountain, 12,200 feet
    • Green Mountain, 12,163 feet
    • Castle Mountain, 12,044 feet
    • La Sal Peak, 12,001 feet

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