The WURL House to House

When I moved to Utah a year ago I became fascinated by the possibilities close to home. The WURL is the ultimate backyard adventure: 36 miles and 20,000’ of elevation gain along the entire rim of Little Cottonwood Canyon, right out the front door. I knew couldn’t leave Utah before attempting it.

After a summer of trail running, I finally gave it a go last weekend. I woke up at 2:30am on Saturday morning and walked a mile through deserted suburban streets to the Ferguson Canyon Trailhead. Then, 6,000’ up to the summit of the Twins, passing sleeping deer and birds as the city lights shone below.

Looking back at the Cottonwood Traverse from the summit of Monte Cristo

The sun rose on the summit of the Twins and I started along the ridgeline, tying together all of the experiences I have had in this magnificent canyon over the past year. Skiing the E Face and the NW Couloir of the Twins with Jimmy and then battling out through Deaf Smith Canyon to my house. Passing Sunrise, remembering a special solo day in early March skiing the first corn of spring in the Maybird Couloir. Skiing the Monte Cristo Gully in great powder with Thomas. Riding the South Face of Superior after staring at it from Alta all season. The lonely early winter days of terrible snow on Flagstaff and the Emmas. Dark starts and spectacular sunrises on Superior from Grizzly Gulch. Meeting new friends on Wolverine. Carefree days of perfect powder on Catherine’s. Looking up at the Ciochetti’s Ribbon on the Devil’s Castle exclaiming “people ski that?” Watching a proposal on Baldy and skiing Main Chute. Enjoying the solitude of Silver Creek after experiencing the absurd wealth of Deer Valley the day before. Peaceful pre-work tours up White Pine, losing reception and wandering through the forest with the animals. My first hike in the Wasatch up the Pfeifferhorn, when I had a nosebleed from the dry air and a headache from the altitude. Waking up at 3am to ski the Hypodermic Needle and Coalpit Headwall before work. Scrambling the Beat Out with Jimmy and Vitor and thinking about how damn long the WURL would be. So many wonderful experiences in this little canyon.

The ridgeline passed by quickly, just putting one foot in front of the other and focusing on the next goal. Get to the summit of the Twins. Summit of Monte Cristo. Cardiff Pass. Meet Nicole at Catherine’s Pass for fresh socks and coke (thanks so much Nicole!!!). Get to Hidden Peak before 12 hours. Resupply water on the American Fork Twins. Make it over White Baldy. Get up the Pfeifferhorn before the sun sets…

Once the sun set I entered a state of flow that I had never experienced before. Usually, flow comes from doing something so demanding and consequential that I can’t focus on anything else. This state was different. The terrain wasn’t that challenging, but I was so exhausted that I didn’t have the energy to focus on anything else. My mind was quiet. No music or podcasts or anything, no boredom, just thinking about putting one foot in front of the other and making it to the next summit as fast as I could manage.

Thunder went on and on with one false summit after another, no sense of scale in the darkness. Then the speed bumps and Bighorn, too tired to consciously navigate, letting my mountain sense guide me through the night.

I made it to the summit of Lone Peak right around midnight and turned off my headlamp, sitting in silence and admiring the city lights below. Looking out on a valley where a million people live from a perch of immaculate granite 6,000’ above in the wilderness. There aren’t many places in the world where the boundary between mountain and city is so stark.

Summit of Lone Peak at midnight

I rushed towards the notch, knowing that making it under 24 hours would require pushing hard on the descent. When I got to the notch I was surprised to see a party of three already there. I hadn’t seen any lights on the ridge so I thought I was alone. A fellow WURLer, 27 hours in, was having what in hindsight I think was a panic attack. I should have helped but honestly at that point I didn’t have much left to give. I was low on water and hadn’t eaten much of anything for hours. I didn’t trust my own perception of reality. I was running on fumes and I knew that I would crash soon. 

I continued down the notch and bushwhacked to the reservoir, letting my intuition guide me through the dark forest. I started shuffling down the trail as quickly as I could, solely focused on making it under 24 hours. Then, my headlamp died, and I continued running in the tiny bubble of the reserve beam, just barely bright enough to make out the trail in front of me. 

As I neared the bottom of the canyon I saw a cluster of bright lights. They asked me who I was and if I was in distress, searching for the 3 people I saw in the notch. After telling them what I knew I ran away, just a few minutes left to make it under 24 hours. A helicopter flew over, although it felt so surreal that I wasn’t confident it had actually happened. 

I made it to the trailhead: 23:58:45. Just barely under 24 hours. I know it’s an arbitrary goal, it doesn’t really matter, but having a goal time gave me so much motivation through the day. Running down Bell’s Canyon, I wasn’t thinking about how tired I was or how much my feet hurt; I was thinking about how fast I needed to go to make it under 24 hours.

At the trail I met a few guys who were waiting for the group I had seen in the notch. I was out of water and they kindly gave me a spindrift. They even offered me a ride back to my place, but I wanted to finish the WURL house to house. Besides, I was so out of my mind that an extra couple miles of walking didn’t bother me at all. I felt like I could go on forever.

I slowly drifted back home, floating through the night. Time slowed down, my feet began to ache. I was utterly depleted but at peace. I stumbled back into the house and took a hot shower. When I got out, my lips were blue and I was shivering uncontrollably. My body had completely run out of energy. I got into bed and Nicole spooned me as my heart beat like a hummingbird. Finally I was done and I could sleep.