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Experts caution prospective climbers about long, dangerous route

Posted at 9:10 PM, Sep 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-13 23:38:43-04

SALT LAKE COUNTY — The Wasatch Ultimate Ridge Linkup, or WURL, is a climbing route that circumnavigates Little Cottonwood Canyon, crossing over more than 20 named peaks along the way.

“It’s just not something you should read about on the internet and be like, 'Hey, I’m going to go try this Saturday because it looks interesting.' You should know what you’re in for and know what the route’s going to be like before you go try it,” said Michael Finger, who has been a member of Salt Lake County Search and Rescue for more than a decade. “Most of the time you’re scrambling, you’re finding the safest path through the rock, you’re doing a lot of route finding, you’re really far from help if anything goes wrong, you’re really exposed. So if you do slip and fall, it’s most likely going to be fatal or life-changing.”

Salt Lake County SAR recovered the body of a climber who had fallen on a section of the WURL this past weekend. The route is extremely challenging, and it is only recommended for experienced climbers and ultra-runners who have ample experience with unforgiving terrain and exposure.

“You’re spending at least — probably most people — at least 20 to 24 hours on a knife-edge ridge, scrambling the entire time,” said Sam Jewkes, who has completed the WURL and spends multiple days per week climbing segments of the route. “Mentally, you’ve got to be engaged that entire time, knowing what moves you’re going to do on the rocks. It’s really intense for that aspect.”

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The WURL is more than 32 miles long and can reach 20,000 feet in elevation gain. The mileage and elevation vary depending on the routes that are taken by adventurers.

“You have to be comfortable with heights, you have to be comfortable with making technical moves and have that upper arm stretch and physique to execute,” said Taylor Davis, who completed the WURL last year. “You kind of have to have an iron will and just this drive that you want to accomplish it at all costs. But at the same time, you have to take a step back within yourself and assess each section and each move honestly and just be like, ‘Hey, I am making the decision for myself and my family.’”

With the pandemic pushing more people outdoors and the continued digital influence on outdoor gems, the WURL has gained popularity over the years.

“It’s not a hike at all. I think that’s where some people misunderstand what the WURL is. It’s really not a hike; it’s climbing. I mean, you’re on rocks the entire time,” said Jewkes, who wants others to be prepared and know what to expect before trying to tackle the WURL.

Year-round, Salt Lake County SAR responds to calls for help in areas along the general WURL route or on waypoints along the way. SAR members caution those wanting to try the WURL to truly understand the intensity of the climb.

“You know, if you get hurt at the top of Lone Peak, if you get hurt at the top of one of the ridges and we don’t have the helicopter available, it’s going to be three to four hours before anybody can get there, and that’s just to get there and not get you out if you’re hurt,” said Finger.