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Beat the Heat: A Guide's Secrets to Climbing in the Wasatch at the Height of Summer

Beat the Heat

Where to climb this summer in order to stay cool 

by UMA guide Alex Lemieux


Rock climbing in the Wasatch on a hot summer day can be a treacherous endeavor if you don’t choose your venue wisely. Between rattlesnake encounters, greasing-off a polished handhold while sweat is running into your eyes or simply trying to stay hydrated, climbing in the heat is just no fun. When the temperatures rise, otherwise do-able routes can suddenly feel like an impossible task. Put the odds in your favor, and consider these tips in order to stay cool throughout the summer. While you may already be familiar with some of these suggested Wasatch summer climbing areas, hopefully this will help you expand your hot weather climbing “repertoire”…

Happy climbing!

Photo: Alex taking advantage of some cloudiness on S-Curve Overhang, 5.11c, Big Cottonwood Canyon. Credit Lane Peters

Stick to The Shade

I always try to consider the aspect of a wall depending on the season. When I have an entire day to climb I will search for a North facing wall. Typically, I can find shade on West facing crags in the morning and East facing for the afternoon. Starting early will give you almost 6 hours of good, cool climbing on a West facing wall, so that’s always a safe bet. East facing routes can be climbed the rest of the afternoon. Shorter routes that are shaded by trees can also be a wise choice. Finally, caves and steep overhanging walls tend to provide more shade and cooler temps. Here are some of my favorite summer shady spots for mostly single pitch climbing.
Alex’s suggested climbing areas for shade:
-       Big Cottonwood Canyon: Narcolepsy, Ambush Wall, Geezer Wall, Moss Ledges
-       Little Cottonwood Canyon: Tanners Gulch, Maybird Gulch, Coalpit and Pentapitch areas
-       American Fork: North Division and Upper Division Walls, Black Magic and Hell Caves
-       Maple Canyon: Pipedream Cave, Zen Garden and Box Canyon
-       Ferguson Canyon: The Cathedral, Goldenfingers Wall, The Watchtower, Tower of Babel
Photo: Finding cool temps above the water on a hot summer morning. Right Pile 5.11d,  BCC. Credit Lane Peters

Climb Near Water 

Climbing routes located near a stream, river or even a tiny creek can be a great advantage on a hot day. Nearby water can improve the climbing conditions and make it feel a lot cooler than what the meteorologist forecasted. If there’s a little bit of wind or even a gentle breeze, mother nature’s swamp-cooling effect might even help you out for the send! Some of my favorite summer crags are found along streams, and the meditating sound of trickling water always add a little “Je ne sais quoi ” to my day at the crag.
Alex’s suggested climbing areas near water:
-       Big Cottonwood Canyon: The Pile, Beach Ball Crag, Creekside
-       Little Cottonwood Canyon: Industrial Wall, Lisa Falls, Great White Icicle area
-       American Fork Canyon: Cannabis Wall, The Membrane, Upper Membrane
-       Stansbury Mountains: The Narrows
-       Blacksmith Fork Canyon: Blacksmith Wall, Hardware Wall

Photo: Guiding a client up the ultra-classic Vertical Overhang, 5.10a, Lone Peak Cirque. Credit Wesley Holmes

Head Up High

When the heat really turns on and there’s no end in sight, it’s time to load up the pack and head to the high elevation terrain. High altitude is your best bet. Temperatures can sometimes be 20 degrees cooler than what you’ll find at lower altitude. Luckily we are surrounded by high peaks and high elevation crags which make the Wasatch an ideal climbing destination.  There’s always somewhere to go climbing even when temperatures hit the triple digits in the Salt Lake Valley. Actually, some of these climbing routes only require a short drive, feature some of the best rock quality and are easily accessed for single or multi-day climbing adventures. 
Alex’s suggested high elevation climbing areas:
-       Big Cottonwood: Brighton’s Frighton Wall, Sundial Peak
-       Little Cottonwood Canyon: Maybird and Tanner’s Gulch, Hellgate, Albion Basin, Devil’s Castle, Hogum Fork
-       Wasatch Cirque areas: Big Willow and Lone Peak Cirque
-       Uinta Mountains: Hayden Peak, Moosehorn, Ruth Lake, Stone Garden, etc.


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