Sunday, September 19, 2010

Signal Mountain/Lookout Mountain Looper

Got out with Jason O this Sunday for a first proper run since Wasatch, with a spot of exploration in Roosevelt National Forest and Comanche Wilderness. The proposed route went from the Dunraven trailhead, which is at the end of Dunraven Road and accessible from the Drake/Glen Haven Road, north to Donner Pass with a quick tag of Lookout Mountain before heading west out to the Signal Mountain trail to summit Signal and then completing the loop by heading back to Dunraven by continuing on the Signal Mtn trail. As with any route-finding mission that involves me as the primary navigator, there was some significant off-route detouring, which resulted in a slightly modified loop.

Lookout Mountain from Buckhorn ranger station

We started out from my house at 5:30 with my neighbor's house party still banging and a thick fog rolling in. We were off and running by 6:30 and off course by probably 7:30. The play by play on avoiding our mistake is to get up the first mile to gain Bulwark Ridge, head straight through at the first intersection, and then follow the signage at the intersection for Donner Pass (right) rather than heading left up the Miller Fork.

In my defense, the maps clearly show this as a route, but the right we needed (and that was indicated on the map) never emerged and we ended up taking the Miller Fork spur to its nondescript terminus on a trail that faded to a state of serious overgrowth the further upstream it headed. There was some flagging designating the trail (presumably a forest service future trail clearing project), but without it we would surely have turned around earlier in frustration. Anyway, we reached a fork in the creek, and after a good 15-20 minutes of attempting to find the continuation of the trail, we put our tails between our legs and backtracked the two miles to the previous signage for Donner Pass and took that route.

Quite comically, the sign indicated that it was 2.5 miles to Donner Pass, but I would estimate it at much closer to 4.5 miles. Total climb up to the pass was approximately 3,200' from Dunraven, but with our detour we were over 4,000' once we hit the pass. Having wasted so much time route finding up to Donner, we skipped the one mile, 1'000' climb to the summit of Lookout (10,626') and instead took the Lookout Mountain trail (a roller) west three miles to hook into the north/south Signal Mountain trail. Once on the Signal Mtn trail, it's a solid one mile, 800-900' foot hump south to the summit.

The 360 views atop Signal were fantastic, as ever, although views to the south were somewhat hazy due to the smoke coming from the Cow Creek fire, which has been burning now since mid-June. From what I understand, the fire is contained and just smoldering. Either way, there was still a ton of smoke coming from the north end of the North Fork canyon so there must be plenty of fuel left to burn.

The drop from Signal is a little over 3,000' and close to six miles with pretty loose and steep footing in places near the top. With two summits and no detours I'm estimating this loop at just under 20 miles with 6k of climbing, topping out at 11,260'. There are derivations of this loop that could easily produce a full-on 50 mile loop. Much more exploring to be done up here, so hopefully I'll be able to get out a couple more times for a little more scouting before the snow fully lets loose. Ultimately, I hope to figure out a good 50-mile, 6-7 peak route to use as an informal 'among friends' fatass 'race'.

Video from the day (sorry Jason!):


  1. I love the time of the year when the key races are over but you are still in great shape, and the weather is getting cooler. Perfect for very enjoyable, long trail runs where you can just enjoy it and not worry about training.

  2. You got that right, Jon. So glad I'm not racing 100 miles this weekend ;-) Good luck with that!

  3. Great run, great area...kinda miss it!
    I had the same issue with the forest service mileage signs -- I was just thinking I was going /really/ slow, and also ended up bailing on tagging Lookout (storm coming in)...and, the Miller Fork river crossing sure has some confusing social trails.

    But, good familiarity for a nice FATASS in that area, that sounds like a fun time!

  4. You are mistaken in that being Donner Pass. Those two mountains are West and East White Pine Mtns. and they are a good 5 miles away on the other side of the Pennock Pass road, near the Buckhorn Ranger Station. Donner Pass is to the east of where you were standing on Signal Mtn.

  5. Anon - yeah, when I got home and watched the clip, I figured that was the White Pine saddle, but stuck the vid up anyway. I have a history of being navigationally challenged on trail, so I'm not surprised I couldn't figure it out at the time! Thanks for the clarification though.