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Rough, rocky Twin Peaks hike offers amazing Wasatch views

Best route is through valley near Snowbird

SHARE Rough, rocky Twin Peaks hike offers amazing Wasatch views

The folks at Snowbird didn't build the tram high enough. It's 497 feet short to be exact.

That's how far it is from the tram to the top of the two "American Fork" Twin Peaks (11,489 and 11,433 feet) — the highest points in Salt Lake County. A difficult 3 1/2-hour hike proves that.

While the view atop nearby Hidden Peak may be superb, the scenery on the Twin Peaks is far superior and like nothing along the Wasatch Front, outside of an airplane.

Although hundreds of people a day may enjoy the panorama on Hidden Peak after riding the tram, their view is blocked to the south by the Twin Peaks and the north by Superior Peak (11,132 feet).

But on top of the Twins, you can see as far north as Ben Lomond Peak and Powder Mountain (Weber County) and as far south as Mount Nebo (Juab County). This is the kingpin of Wasatch views.

"The view from the peak was incredible," Jennifer Pinto, 27, of Farmington said after hiking Twin Peaks earlier this month.

"It puts Utah in perspective," Ryan Layton, 48, of Layton, said. "It's kind of neat. I didn't know Timp was so close."

The backside of Lone Peak and the Little Matterhorn ("Pfeifferhorn") and slices of the Salt Lake Valley and Heber Valley can also be spotted from atop the peaks that straddle the Salt Lake-Utah county line.

Paragliders frequently soar off Hidden Peak, and small birds buzz through the area, also riding the thermal air pockets.

Although Twin Peaks may only rise 500 feet above the tram, that extra altitude comes at a price of endurance, sweat and steep inclines.

"It was an outstanding aerobic workout," Layton said. "I was gasping for oxygen."

"The endurance of it all" is what Pinto said she'll remember most.

There's no well-established trail to the top, and the loose rock create a cautious and slow approach from any direction.

The best route is to the southwest of Snowbird, through Gad Valley.

"It was pretty tough," Camron Call, 23, of Farmington, said. "It's not for someone who is afraid of heights."

"Coming down was steeper than I thought," Matt Callan, 23, of Provo, said. "But I'd do it again."

Since you can't race through this hike because of the loose rock, the going is slower.

"That gives you can appreciation for what's around you," Cameron Ward, 23, of Farmington said.

The hike is half walking and half scrambling — hikers have to use their hands for balance and support.

Michael R. Weibel and Dan Miller, co-authors of "High in Utah," strongly advise hikers to take the Gad Valley route.

"Don't be lured into an 'easy' climb by taking the tram to the top of nearby Hidden Peak," they wrote. "The knife-edge traverse from Hidden Peak to American Fork Twin is trickier."

A significant number of hikers climb the Broad Fork Twin Peaks to the northwest and think they've conquered Salt Lake County's highest. However, the American Fork Twins are 159 feet higher. The confusion arises because the Broad Fork Twins appear higher from the Salt Lake Valley. That's because they are at the west end of the Wasatch Range, while the taller Twins are set back to the east more than six miles.

To climb the Gad Valley route, you may want to get a copy of the Snowbird skiing terrain map — found at www.snowbird.com — because that makes your direction clearer.

Average hiking time is six to seven hours, but plan on an extra hour on the summit to enjoy the sights.

Starting elevation is 7,900 feet in the east parking lot. Cross a bridge and turn right onto the dirt road. Go to just below the base of the Little Cloud Ski lift and head downhill, losing a few hundred feet in elevation and into the Bassackwards Lift and Gad Valley area (9,800-foot elevation).

Pick your route from here, southwest to the mountain saddle. The Twin Peaks dominate the southern horizon.

If you're firm on taking the tram (10-minute ride), it runs seasonally starting at 11 a.m. and costs $14 round-trip or $7 one-way. Get on top of the obvious knife-edge and scramble your way to the Twins.

Cautions: Always beware of kicking loose rock down on others. Do not hike the Twins if there are lightning storms are in the area. There is also a slight chance of encountering unexploded avalanche shells in the area.

The Twins can be hiked in late spring with crampons. Otherwise, July to early October is the best time to go.

E-mail: lynn@desnews.com