Manns Peak, Mount Tomasaki

Jul 2002

By: Bob Michael



What better way to cap off four glorious hot red days in Cataract Canyon than with a cool green peak climb? The La Sals are the perfectlyplaced mountains that hover in the middle distance like great heaps of vanilla soft-serve behind the classic winter shots of Delicate Arch, arguably the world's most improbable rock formation (that a whole mountain of sandstone could crumble away to nothingness, leaving only THE HOLE THAT WAS IN IT!). The La Sals are not desert peaks in the true sense; like Ruby Dome, Wheeler and Humphreys, they're located in desert but not ~2f the desert. Scenically and ecologically, they're a western outlier of the Colorado Rockies.

Like the other high mountains of southeast Utah (including Navajo), they were formed by shallow postLaramide (younger than the Rockies) igneous intrusions that punched up through the thick stack of flat-lying Plateau sedimentary rocks, shoving them aside and doming them up. The present layout of the La Sals is a reflection of the three intrusive complexes that formed them, arranged along a north-south axis. South Mountain looks north across La Sal Pass to the central group, which includes the three highest peaks: 12,721' Mount Peale, highest point on the Colorado Plateau, which I wrote up for the SAGE in the late seventies; Mt. Mellenthin and the handsome glacial horn of 12,483' Mt. Tukuhnikivatz, the subject of a chapter in Desert Solitaire. Broad Geyser Pass separates the middle from the north group, a cluster of summits in the low 12,000' range which form the backdrop to the rock climbers nightmare of the Fisher Towers. I explored this northern group in early July.

I drove to Geyser Pass at 10,500' to start my climb. This saddle is reached by a good dirt road which splits off to the east from the paved La Sal Mountain Loop which turns off US 191 south of Moab. Luckily for me, a 4WD had recently busted through some big drifts across the road near the pass or my 2WD truck would have never made it...on the second of July! Both my guidebook and the topo suggested that the road deteriorated to 4WD beyond the summit, so I left my truck at the indicated spot.

It was a grand day for man AND mosquito on the Pass; chemical defenses were frantically applied. (Bugs quickly dropped away with altitude.) I started down the marginally 4WD road towards the Burro Pass trailhead, losing at least 300 feet. (Don't you just HATE climbs that begin with an elevation loss?) After about a mile, a definitely 4WD road branches north in a big aspenfringed meadow vibrating with the essence of the color green. The spur road segues to trail in a copse of spruce. A mile or so further takes you to the top of 11,600' Burro Pass. (This year the trail was still partly buried in avalanche debris at its upper end.)

You can't always trust the USGS. The topo shows a "trail" that cuts up the southeast flank of Manns Peak from just south of the Pass, angles straight across some improbably steep terrain , and then just ends in the middle of nowhere. Nothing remotely resembling this "trail' exists. I wasted a little time sidehilling looking for it, they just headed straight up onto the broad southwest ridge of Maims through the remnants of a snow cornice. In the tundra above timberline I wandered in enchantment in Elysian fields of purple polemonium -- more polemonium in one place than I have seen all the rest of my life put together. This alone was worth the price of admission. The class 1 ridge leads directly to the summit of Manns, an unusually pleasant and comfy place for a high-altitude meditation. 12,331' Mt Waas, highest of the northern group and summit of Grand County, Utah, rises tantalizingly out of reach beyond cirque headwalls. There is a fine view to the east of the lower end of the Dolores River canyon just before its confluence with the Colorado. There should have been great views of Arches and Canyonlands. Unfortunately, my climb coincided with the huge forest fires around St. George, and the views, especially to the west, were washed out by purplebrown smaze.

This was one of those rare summer days in this country without a cloud; I always feel like I'm getting away with something when I'm lounging on a summit at 2:30 in the afternoon in monsoon country in July when by all rights I should be running in terror from lightning. I finally motivated myself to start down the southeast ridge of Manns, over an 11,947' bump and down to an 11,600' saddle, a little over a mile to Japanese-sounding 12,000+' Mt Tomasaki. The upper part of the northwest ridge of Tomasaki was the "crux" of the day's ramble; it is very steep and loose chiprock talus, almost at the angle of repose in spots. The igneous rock of the La Sals tends to weather into broken angular plates like shattered roof tiles; I remembered this ankle-threatening stuff from my Peale climb of over a quarter century ago. A vague, intermittent use trail helps somewhat. With the longest days of the year and bombproof weather, I hung out on top until 5! At last I descended straight down to the Burro Pass trail from the south side of the 11,600' gap on a route (Continued on Page 25) that proved to be precariously steep towards the bottom; I should have gone a little ways back up towards point 11,947' and descended to the west from there. I drove out the truly spectacular north end of the La Sal loop road, which descends into the archetypal Technicolor- Western movie scenery of blood-red Castle Valley. I still made it back to Moab in time for a surprisingly excellent Mexican dinner. Except for the washed-out views, and a few mosquitoes, I can hardly imagine a more perfect day of desert Alpine peakbagging.

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