This seems to be the question that most concerns L—. I rehashed Saturday's Mount Nebo hike in great detail this morning, describing the construction of the mountain as a cone, flattened at the top in three pinched peaks and flared beneath in a circular array of pleats.
The trick was finding access to the pleat, or ridge, that adjoined the three peaks. Both my climbing partner, Tom, and I were under the impression that the Monument trailhead lead to this ridge, and we began with full gusto at 8 a.m., climbing above the tree line to a fairly consistent altitude of 10,000 ft.
By 10:30 a.m., as we still had not established any prolonged elevation gains or links to the ridge in the number of miles we'd weaved in and out around the bench of the mountain, we began to worry that we were off track.
Coincidentally, we came upon a pair of brothers, backwoods, simple young men, who said they spent a good deal of time hunting the mountain and that there wasn't a trail to the peaks, but that the ridge must be accessed by bushwhacking up a series of steep rises. Once these had been scaled we would have to traverse a steep meadow above a waterfall, then scramble over a rock face to the western aspect of the mountain where we would find the narrow saddle linking to the ridge of peaks. The trail we'd been following, they said, petered out in the woods. In hindsight, believe that these boys "live" on the mountain for the game, but they do not know the peaks, nor the trails.
So Tom and I spent the next half hour working our way without benefit of a trail 400ish ft up the steepest grade I've ever hiked. Once we'd topped one rise we worked on the second until Tom spotted what appeared to be a trail on the other side of the "fold" we were climbing. He suggested we backtrack, cross the avalanche field below, and follow the trail in hopes that it offered a more logical approach to the saddle. The way the mountain is folded we'd encountered one or two smaller avalanche fields already without problem, so I worried more about the descent than the matter of crossing several yards of unstable snowpack. I evaluated the progress we'd made and the matter of crossing the top of the waterfall. The work of climbing without a trail was arduous, exhausting. The matter of the waterfall and scrambling up a rock face still a mile away seemed completely out of reach. Following Tom to the obvious trail seemed the most reasonable option if we were going to continue, even if it meant a significant elevation drop. We bushwhacked back down the ridge into the gully and crossed the avalanche field to the adjacent "fold".
We found the trail quickly and with renewed excitement resumed the pattern of up and down, in and out of the rises and gullies. I found myself continuously looking up toward the peaks for any sign of access to a saddle linking to the ridge. I never found it. By 1:30 p.m. we had reached the south end of the mountain, all three peaks well behind us, the west aspect of the mountain in view. It was disheartening.
Tom insisted that if we climbed the rise on the southernmost end that it would take us up to the ridge. I didn't have that kind of energy, especially considering that Mount Nebo's summit is the northernmost peak. We hummed and hawed for about five minutes before mutually agreeing that hiking from the north to the south point of the mount was hike enough for one day. We took a few anticlimactic shots and then turned back to the trail.
I have since learned that we hiked from beginning to end of Trail #117—Mount Nebo Bench. It is 6.8 miles one way. With our bushwhacking excursions we easily put in 14 miles, returning completely beat to the Monument trailhead at 5:15 p.m. I've gone over trail reports and maps and I know exactly now, where we should have gone, and that to reach the north peak is nearly half the distance we covered. Is this frustrating? Yes. Do I feel defeated? No. But I'm still not certain whether to let this count as climbing Mount Nebo this year, or if I'm up to battling for the peak again in a few weeks. For now, emotionally frustrated and trying to physically recover after a valiant effort, I'm going to say it counts.