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Backpacker Magazine – March 2014

Notch Peak, Utah

Salt Lake City, UT: Discover an unknown wild range.

by: Kelly Bastone

Utah’s House Range is so forbiddingly  hot and dry in summer, it’s practically off-limits to hikers. March and April offer a rare chance to explore these desert peaks in the relative comfort of the Great Basin’s most temperate season. Long before Wasatch skiers have shed their puffies, you can scale 9,000-foot peaks and savor sunshine on bare shoulders. Pinions and junipers dot the limestone crags and ancient bristlecones grip the ridgelines. The dazz-lingly vertical cliff on Notch Peak’s north face measures nearly 3,000 feet tall, ranking it among the nation’s biggest—and most spectacular—precipices. Bring all the water you’ll need for this two-day, 10.5-mile retreat, and start hiking at Sawtooth Canyon trailhead (12 miles north of US 50, west of Delta). Slip through a 20-foot-wide, high-walled canyon for a mile, arriving at a fork (marked with a cairn). Bear right and follow Sawtooth Canyon’s broad bottom on a snaking, 1.5-mile course beneath sun-bleached, 8,000-foot peaks. Look carefully at the rocks: The House Range’s Wheeler Shale layer sometimes holds trilobite fossils. Pitch your tent at the head of the canyon for a silent night beneath rhinestone stars. Retrace your steps next morning to the cairn; ditch your pack, hang a right, and follow the dry wash up the canyon to a saddle above Notch’s famous cliffs. Follow the rim for a half-mile east to a stand of bristlecones, then backtrack and hike west for a class 2 scramble to the summit. Gaze across the mountains’ coxcombs and barren valleys, then reverse course to your car. 

Drive time from Salt Lake City 3 hours

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