Trip Report: Snowshoe to South Thunder Mountain (11,154')

Snowshoe to South Thunder Mountain (11,154')
By Michael Hannan
SNOWSHOE 02/15/2020 MSD

Snowshoe to South Thunder Mountain
February 15, 2020

Participants: Akiko Kamimura, Michi Bracken, Signe Gines, Carol Masheter, Chris Johnson, Chris Pytlik, Andrew Kemp and co-organizers Lana Christiansen and Michael Hannan

Three 4-wheel-drive vehicles (a Jeep, a Montero and a pickup) make their way carefully along the rutted snow-caked final half mile to the Schoolhouse Springs trailhead north of a dark Alpine suburb. A wintery chill engulfs the drainage while headlight beams bounce and dance as the vehicles making up the carpool slowly turn and pirouette to a flat area 50 yards south of the steel gate and the chain-link protected reservoir.

Our objective waits solemnly, rising along Lightning Ridge, a distant 6 miles and nearly 6,000 vertical feet from our starting point. With headlamps lighting the way and micro-spikes providing traction on the lumpy ice-caked road we begin our journey which will eat up almost eleven hours of this day.

A sky emblazoned with pastel pinks, oranges and yellows casts an optimistic glow as we climb toward the 1st Hamongog. We welcome the sunrise, knowing the warmth will soon dispel the early dawn chill. At the 1st Hamongog (“mountain meadow”) we exchanged spikes for snowshoes and wore them the entire rest of the day. The abundant snow this year allowed us to take liberties with the normal trail and easily cut a few corners en route to the 2nd Hamongog.

The clear skies which greeted us at sunrise soon gave way to a gauze-like overcast which muted the sunlight but allowed stunning views of Lone Peak, Bighorn Peak, Chipman Peak, Box Elder Peak and mighty Timpanogos. Those of us who had been on this route before were astounded at the amount of snow. As we ascended the so-called key rib from 9,500’ an insistent west wind began to assault us. Like a relative overstaying his welcome it pestered us without mercy the entire rest of the ascent.

Snowshoeing the final 300’ of South Thunder’s south ridge was a classic example of mixed emotions: braving the biting wind with patient resentment but knowing the long sought-for goal was within our grasp. On the summit we were all smiles. Pictures, high-fives, hugs, fist bumps, astonishing views. Then the unwanted but necessary admonition, “Let’s get going; I’m freezing!”

Our way down was quick, Chris and Andrew electing to carry their snowshoes and simply boot it to the cache point at 10,700’. A short break there - no relief from the wind whatsoever! - and we were off, marching in a sloppy strung out line which would have given a military drill sergeant heartburn. A break at the so-called plateau (9,400’) provided an opportunity to snack and sit for 5 minutes; then it was plunge-stepping down to the 2nd Hamongog and a reverse carbon-copy of our early morning journey. Back at the cars we again shared high-fives and expressed mutual thanks to one another for a job well done and a mountain well climbed, a mountain worthy of eleven hours of work and fun.