This is a good part of the trail. I'm not kidding.
We started early again and as soon as we got past the favorite rock-climbing walls, my memories of this trail came crashing back to me. Steep. Steep and rocky. Steep and rocky and loose underfoot. It was humid too, because the trail follows the creek up until it starts switchbacking up the south-facing wall of the canyon. At 1.6 miles, we turned right (to the southeast) (if you go left, just a little bit further brings you to the Salt Lake Valley overlook) and immediately noticed that this was a trail less-traveled. The further we went, the more the underbrush encroached until, as H noted, it was really more of a game trail than a hiking trail. At about two miles in, we kept climbing, following the now dry streambed. The trail was very steep and rocky; we had to push through the bushes, forcing our way upwards.
Scrambling up the cirque from the upper meadow
After climbing through a couple of meadows, we paused in the horsemint-filled upper meadow for a snack, Storm Mountain cirque looming above us, trying to figure out where to go next. The trail, such as it was, had pretty much disappeared (despite two lonely cairns sitting atop random glacial erratics). We looked at the summit and decided to go with the eastern ridge, following game trails through the meadow until we were able to stow our hiking poles in our packs and start scrambling. The walls of the cirque were steep and the scree underfoot was loose in places, so we took our time and picked our route carefully. Higher up, the loose stuff disappeared and we were able to scramble over slabs to the top of the ridge.
Looking east up Big Cottonwood Canyon
The top of the ridge was as far as we made it because (1) the views from there were spectacular, falling away dramatically to the Big Cottonwood Canyon road far, far, far below and (2) H noticed carabiners helpfully placed in the rock for the remaining 80 or so feet to the summit proper - we do not need to be going places where there are helpful carabiners. Nope, we were happy right where we were.
Can you see the BCC road way, way, way down there?
Because the trail was so steep, we knew it would be a slow return. We cautiously picked our way back down to the upper meadow, then made our way down the trail, shuffling our feet since we couldn't see through the overgrowth. We knew that this would be a sore-making hike: tight calves from the ascent, tight quads and sore knees from the descent and innumerable scratches and microcuts on our shins from the overgrown trail. The pain and discomfort didn't bother us much, however, because this was such an incredible hike. Yes, it's steep. Yes, someone needs to get up there with a machete soon before the trail disappears entirely. But we saw no one all day until we were within half a mile of the car, despite how close the trail is to the city, and the unexpected views were just breath-taking. Storm Mountain via Ferguson Canyon is a really great, difficult hike and we were psyched to have done it.
I may consider long pants next time
Hike stats: 7.21 miles round trip; 5 hours 53 minutes hike total (4:16 moving); average speed 1.2 m.p.h.; 4,100 feet of elevation gain in 3.6 miles.