A Day in the Wasatch: Attempting the Cottonwood Ridge Traverse

By Sam Marjerison

A morning without classes seemed like the perfect opportunity for Colin Poly and me to attempt the Cottonwood Ridge Traverse. Spanning over five peaks and 11.6 miles with 7,000+ vertical feet of elevation gain, this traverse was our answer to how can we spend an exciting day in the Wasatch before our 4 pm class. Little did we know this day would prove to be a test of strength, endurance, and will. 


Being college students, we lacked cars and formal transportation, so we decided to schedule an Uber for 4 am. As we drove from the city up into the mountains, our Uber driver pestered us with questions about our day ahead. Did we have bear spray? A gun? Enough water?

Although we didn’t have bear spray and weren’t packing heat, we assured him we had plenty of water. And just like that, we arrived at Broads Fork Trailhead and said goodbye to our hesitant Uber driver named Micheal.

Running up the gully 2

Broads Fork Trail steepens quickly with scattered rocks and the occasional tree root. Winding through Aspen groves and fields of thick grass, it spit us out into a valley with some of the most prominent peaks I had ever seen before. And for the first time, we had a view of the ridgeline that we would be traversing across.

We had planned to ascend to the ridge via the Robinson Variation but found it challenging to locate the most accessible way up the couloir. Zigzagging our way around the base of the ridge, we finally found a suitable way up through a water shaped gully that ended up being one of the many highlights of the day.

The rock was a mixture of red rock and water tinted white and was a smooth introduction to the scrambling that lay ahead. Once we ascended the gully, we traversed across a hanging boulder field and up onto the ridge. 

Top of first peak

Being the ill-informed, newbies that Colin and I both are, we naturally assumed that the first tall peak we bagged was Twin Peaks (the start of the traverse). Unfortunately, that was not the case. After we replenished with some Gu gels, we began to make our way across the ridge to the actual start of the Cottonwood Ridge Traverse. 

Rest of the ridge

By the time we summited Twin Peaks, it was already 9:47 am, and we were growing worried. Nervous that we were going to miss our 4 pm class, we made the call to descend the backside of Twin Peaks and down to Little Cottonwood Canyon. From there we would catch the local Ski Bus back to campus. Little did we know this was just the beginning of an exhausting day in the Wasatch. 

Descending Twin Peaks

Following a steep, unnamed trail we naturally assumed we had made the right decision and would be down to the road in no time. But, as the trail began to disappear slowly, we were spit out into an unfamiliar canyon.

As we started to drop in elevation, the walls became higher and the scrambling more technical. Before we knew it, we had traded the chossy rock of Twin Peaks for the granite walls of what we called Garganta Blanca (later discovered to be apart of Lisa’s Falls). We began to realize this was just the beginning of a long scramble back to human civilization.


Weird things tend to happen to your brain when granite walls surround you for hours on end. You begin to get into a flow state where your mind wanders without interruption, and all your focus goes into getting back to the road. We were indeed in a place like nothing we had ever experienced before. Around every corner was a more complex and challenging set of obstacles, one that required a positive mindset and a willingness to problem-solve. 

waiting for emma at road

After hours of descent, we began to realize that we were close to the road. I shot a text to a few people on our dorm floor to see if they’d be willing to pick us up. Thankfully, we live with some of the most gracious and helpful people, and we were able to find a ride back to campus. At 2:51 in the afternoon, we finally reached the Little Cottonwood Road and completed our 10-hour epic in the Wasatch.

Although we weren’t able to complete the Cottonwood Ridge Traverse, it was a day I will never forget. It has me dreaming of the many more adventures to come as I sit writing this in my dorm room. As a word of advice, jump on opportunities whenever they present themselves.

-No matter the hardships and hiccups that you may face, always greet them with a smile, a positive attitude, and a willingness to venture into the unknown; and days full of memories and adventures are sure to come. 

Link to Strava Recording

By: Sam Marjerison

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Tom & Jeri Marjerison says:

    We enjoy reading of your adventures “after” you’ve returned safe & sound to your dorm!! We’re impressed that you made it back for your 4:00 class!

  2. Good blog you’ve got here.. It’s hard to find high-quality writing like yours nowadays. I really appreciate people like you! Take care!!

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