Mt. Superior: 5 Tips For Your First Scramble Up South Ridge
Mt. Superior - arguably one of the most recognizable peaks within the Wasatch Range - towers over Little Cottonwood Canyon and beckons to backcountry skiers. Situated immediately across the canyon road from Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort, Superior's prominent South Face provides over 3,000' of sustained steep skiing, while it's South Ridge provides ample pucker factor for those willing to scramble to the summit in the summer months. While the South Ridge is certainly no walk in the park, these 5 tips will help make your first South Ridge scramble a little easier.
Note: This hike/scramble is NOT for the faint of heart or inexperienced mountaineer. There is REAL exposure with potentially lethal consequences. These tips are just a few simple pointers that can be helpful to those that are already experienced hikers/climbers/scramblers with a high physical fitness level. Do your research and stay safe out there!
1. Get an Experienced Hiking Partner
It sounds obvious enough, but you will want someone to climb with who knows what they are doing and where they are going. The South Ridge is not a well marked hiking trail, it's a rocky, knife edge scramble. Having a partner will make it easier to navigate and work through a few portions of the route that at first may appear insurmountable.
Derek is amped for more! Part way up the South Ridge
2. Buy Some Approach Shoes
Can you do the South Ridge in trail running shoes or hikers? Sure. But after I completed my first scramble in some softer Salomon Mission trail runners, I can't help but think that life would have been a bit easier with some good approach shoes. For those not familiar with the term "approach shoe", think trail running upper, meets hiking boot stiffness, plus super grippy, edgy rubber (like climbing shoes) on the sole and toe areas. These shoes are light enough to allow for balance and agility, while providing necessary support for hiking and confidence inspiring grip when working through the more technical and exposed areas of the South Ridge.
3. Have Rock Climbing Experience
While the South Ridge is predominantly a hike/scramble, there are certainly some places where a little bit of climbing experience won't hurt. While the moves themselves aren't technically difficult, there is some pretty serious exposure. Knowing how to work through the cruxes while maintaining three points of contact and checking for loose holds while finding good ones, will help put you and your partners mind at ease while helping ensure that you live to hike another day. A little time in the gym and outside on some mellow sport routes will help you hone your skills and feel more confident when you approach the base of Mt. Superior.
Here I am working through the middle portion of the knife-edge South Ridge Photo: Derek Pearson
4. Give Yourself Time
Different people climb at different paces and this couldn't be more apparent than on the South Ridge. The scramble is physically and at times mentally demanding, and those that are used to heights and climb/hike regularly will certainly excel. While I'm in decent physical condition, my buddy and scramble partner Derek is one of the most fit guys that I know and had ascended the South Ridge at least a half dozen times before I tackled it for my first time. While he can practically run up Superior, I was a bit more timid and took my time. While the round trip took us a slower paced 5 hours, this is not a trek that you want to do in a time crunch for your first go. Plan ahead and make sure that both you and your partner have plenty of time to complete the ridge and the decent (about 2 hours at our mellow pace) so that you don't need to rush.
With incredible views of Little Cottonwood Canyons the entire way up, you'll want to allow for a little extra time to snap some pictures on the ridge and summit of Superior. Photo: Derek Pearson
5. Prepare for Sun
I know, it should go without saying that you should wear sunscreen and drink water when you hike in the summertime. Duh. However, plenty of water and extra sunscreen are imperative when scrambling up Superior. I pre-hydrated before the scramble, brought (what I thought was) plenty of water, and put on SPF 30 sunscreen, but I still wound up dehydrated and sunburned. Due to the South facing and desolate nature of Mount Superior, you are not only exposed to large cliffs, but also to the elements. There is virtually no protection from the Sun on the way up the Ridge, so stop to reapply sunscreen part way up and bring a lot more water than what you think you need. Having a good hiking pack with a large water reservoir while make it easier to stay hydrated without having to wait for a safe area to take off your pack and pull out a water bottle.
As with any big hike or backcountry excursion, plan your route, bring extra rations and first aid supplies, go with a partner, and tell a friend where you are going. And most importantly, get into the mountains and have some fun!
For more info and other climbers reviews on the South Ridge, check out this link: https://www.mountainproject.com/v/south-ridge/105984407
The panorama possibilities from the top of Mt. Superior are endless.