Words and images by Joshua Parker and Mackay Hare
Illustration by Mackay Hare
Editors note: Salt Lake City has long been a must visit destination for trail runners stateside. Throughout the years we’ve had the pleasure of meeting runners from all walks of life who now call this city home.
Multi-disciplinary designer and landscape illustrator Mackay Hare stopped by our pop up over last year’s Boston marathon to introduce himself and purchase a cap. When he let us know he was moving to Salt Lake, we knew we had to put him in touch with our FRND Joshua Parker. What’s resulted is a beautifully thoughtful description of Mount Superior’s South Ridge, one of Joshua’s favourite summits, from two different perspectives.
Rather than try and edit this into one cohesive piece, we’ve let you choose your own adventure.
There is something undeniably visceral about adventuring on the rugged and exposed ridgelines of Utah’s Wasatch mountain range. The combination of adrenaline pumping through oxygen-starved veins with the unmatched concentration of making critical moves allows you to truly live in the moment while forgetting about the mundane distractions of every day life.
The South Ridge of Mt Superior in Little Cottonwood Canyon is the perfect route to test your fitness, endurance, and scrambling skills. The dramatic ridge rises 2600 ft in the first 1.5 miles ensuring that your legs and lungs are in for a good time. It is not uncommon to see first-timers short-roped together making their way slowly up the dangerously exposed route while traversing above climbing zones and the accompanying fixed anchors. For most runners, this may not seem like an ideal day on the trails as the “trail” is nonexistent until you hit the summit. The ridge presents its visitors with a “choose your own adventure” style of running, scrambling, and bouldering. The only sound reverberating in this generally quiet route of the Wasatch are the labored gasps of your breath momentarily drowned out by the screeching call of eagles and hawks that frequent the area as they beckon you onward and upward.
While it isn’t highly trafficked, South Ridge does have its fair share of steadfast regulars who boldly risk it all on a weekly basis. Moving safely up the consequence-filled ridgeline is one challenge, doing it as fast as possible is a bonus for those willing to push hard. In some of the spicier sections, each and every move truly matters. Each step is placed with purpose and every hold is tested as the rock has a propensity to fall off the wall like an animal shedding its winter coat. As you rise high above the canyon floor and gaze back at the sprawling valley below, its easy to get caught up in the moment that only an adventure like this can facilitate. The timeless adage of man vs mountain feels like it was created specifically for experiences like this and you’d be hard-pressed to not have a smile spread slowly across your lips. At the summit, you’ll likely rejoin the general population of hikers, paragliders, and other outdoor adventurists as a popular and longer route winds its way up a more gradual and safer section of the mountain meaning one very specific thing for a trail runner. It’s time to run with reckless abandon and charge the downhill terrain back to your car while glimpses of South Ridge pass into and out of your periphery waiting to welcome you back for your next adventure.
In addition to an engaging and technically challenging hike, the South Ridge of Mt. Superior is aesthetically stunning. A combination of the West’s extreme geography of freshly eroded sandstone, granite, and igneous rock, and Utah’s unique color palette of naturally iron-rich red stone, deep green pine trees, shimmering sky and glowing wildflowers. South Ridge is gorgeous at all hours of the day, but one of the best times to start the route is in the early morning: hiking with the golden light of dawn and the lingering sleep of recently catapulting yourself out of bed.
Everywhere is a painting: brilliant blue and cloudless, the sky accents the warmth of the rock. Without smog and light pollution, and at such a high altitude, it’s easy to appreciate the true blue of the sky. Moving swiftly up from the base, the environment changes drastically from orange to white, then transitions into dark red lava rock at the summit. In the Spring and Early Fall, overnight snowstorms make for some incredible scenes. Dustings of stark white snow blown across the face of the ridgeline accentuate its jaggedness. The snow beams white in the sun but appears deep blue in the coldest and most sheltered zones. Streams of melting snow collect into rushing rivers of fresh water which shimmer and dance in the sunlight.
This place is rugged and untamed, always evolving. Rocks are constantly crumbling and falling, leaving a faint echo. Trees claw and stretch themselves towards the sun, defiantly integrating within the jagged cliffs. Eagle’s pass swiftly overhead and gusts of wind howl. The wind nearly blows you on your butt, then dissipates instantaneously and the world falls silent. South ridge is a sculpture still being carved away by Time’s methodic chisel. The harsh weather, steep climbs, and unrelenting wind actively shape the landscape, making the Ridgeline feel like another living thing.
They say a man never approaches the same mountain twice, which is doubly true for South Ridge. Every single hike is unique, both in terms of the “choose your own adventure” style of paving a trail, and in terms of the viewing opportunities around you. From other hikers, amateur photographers lugging large amounts of gear up the steeps, and the occasional paraglider. At certain times of the year, some of the most beautiful parts of the hike are down near the start of the traditional trail. As the steepness steadily increases, the flowing green of the lower areas become more and more awash with wildflowers. Reds, yellows, and purples pop out above the grass.
All around you, everywhere you look, there’s something beautiful to notice and appreciate.