The effort to create sustainable climbing access to one of the most celebrated climbing areas in the state of Utah is a wrap. The mile-long Alpenboch Loop Trail, the Grit Mill Connector Trail, and at least half a dozen spur trails constructed over the last two seasons create a trail network that provides stabilized approaches to the fabled granite crags and bouldering areas at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon.
First proposed by the Salt Lake Climbers Alliance decades ago, the intent of the Grit Mill Trail Project was to remedy a situation over fifty years in the making. To get to the base of the massive granite monoliths at the mouth of the canyon, climbers were beating direct lines uphill, creating steep, loose, highly eroded trails that were not only an eyesore but threatened the health of the watershed. The mile-long Alpenboch Loop trail now traverses through dense oak and maple and across rocky scree fields at sustainable grades, protecting water quality and the canyon ecosystem. This loop trail allows climbers can access steeper “hardened” spur trails several hundred feet above the parking lot, instead of scrambling upwards face-first through the brush. At the base of their routes, climbers will find a level, stabilized staging areas or “belay pads” instead of eroded side-slopes.
The Grit Mill Connector Trail, extending east from the Alpenboch Loop, constructed this spring, accesses a popular bouldering area called The Cabbage Patch. Staging areas around the base of these massive granite boulders have also been leveled and stabilized and trails up to the East Connector Trail put in place. The East Connector Trail will eventually serve as access for the future Grit Mill Trailhead and parking lot, to be constructed in 2018 at the site where the original Grit Mill once stood. From this new trailhead climbers will be able to access The Coffin, Crescent Crack, Crack in the Woods, and Bong Eater climbing areas to the west, currently accessed from the Park & Ride lot at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon. Trails leading to routes on the Gate Buttress, East of the future Grit Mill trailhead, will also be improved in the future and accessed from here.
Due to the precipitous, rocky terrain, the Grit Mill Trail Project posed enormous challenges and required the expertise of professional trail building teams from around the country. Trails Utah brought in builders from Idaho and Colorado who utilized machines for portions of both the Alpenboch Loop and the East Connector Trail. Where immovable boulders cluttered the side slope crews went to work building the trail by hand, resorting to rock fracturing devices when needed. The Access Fund, a national climbing organization dedicated to preserving and improving climbing access, was tapped by SLCA to provide one of their expert crews to construct the hardened trails to the climbing areas and build belay pads. Their work involved harvesting and ferrying heavy rocks from adjacent talus fields and then rolling them into place. An estimated 750 tons of rock was moved into place to build stairs and harden trails and staging areas over the last two years. The Cottonwood Canyons Foundation contributed work to Grit Mill trails as did countless volunteers during the life of this project. For everyone who came out and lent a hand we are deeply grateful!
Trails Utah is honored to be a part of the team that helped make this project a reality. Together with the Salt Lake Climbers Alliance, who led the charge, and the Salt Lake Ranger District, Trails Utah helped to leverage funds and build a trail system that is truly one of a kind. The Grit Mill Trail System is both the largest trail system development project for a climbing area on National Forest lands, and the first time the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache NF has embarked on a partnership arrangement with private, user-specific, non-profits to accomplish a trail project. The Grit Mill trail project is sure to serve as an example in the future as more user-specific trails are needed on federal lands and partnerships are required to find needed resources to get trails built.