The face of Devils Castle, a rugged cliff of dark gray limestone, makes a magnificent backdrop for Albion Basin. Alta skiers know Devils Castle for the open powder fields that form on its north-facing lower slopes. In the summer and fall, it’s a destination for adventurous hikers seeking one of the best scrambling routes in the Wasatch.
The traverse route takes you over Devils Castle’s three distinct summits and requires routefinding skills to keep the scrambling in the low fifth-class range. This is a good route for expanding your scrambling skillset, but bringing someone with more experience is recommended if you haven’t done much rock scrambling before. None of the moves are difficult, but the exposure is spectacular and potentially intimidating. Your hands and arms should really be used only for balance; if the move you are contemplating seems harder, take a good look around to be sure you’ve found the easiest way.
The route starts at Albion Basin Campground. The road to the campground begins at Alta and is unpaved. This road is usually open from mid-June until the end of October or the first substantial snowfall. Start by following the trail from the Albion Basin Campground to Cecret Lake (0.75 miles). From here, a trail starts on the east side of the lake and switchbacks 800 feet up the scree slopes to the saddle between Devils Castle and Sugarloaf Peak. These slopes are prime habitat for pikas. From the saddle, a quick side-trip west up Sugarloaf Peak (11,051 feet) will be hard to resist for peak-baggers; this is one of the Wasatch’s most-accessible eleveners.
Beginning at the saddle, a faint trail follows the ridge east, which quickly steepens into a knife-edge. The route mainly stays on the right (south) side of the ridge crest. Most of the rock you’ll be climbing on is high quality and very solid, but it’s still important to check carefully for loose rock. The first crux section is a chute or inside corner that takes you straight to the first summit. Most hikers stop here, but there is plenty of great scrambling ahead for those not afraid of exposure.
From the first summit the route descends a short step and then regains the top of the ridge, a very narrow knife-edge leading to the middle summit. This is probably the most exposed section of the route, but the top of the ridge broadens again after a few steps. At the top, be sure to sign the summit register in the mailbox. Getting from the middle to third summit involves a few more scrambling moves up a moderately steep inside corner, but the exposure is minimal. The third summit is a broad, flat-topped rock that is good for a photo op. Descend the other side through a notch with plentiful holds.
Instead of retracing your steps back across the three summits, a loop route back into Albion Basin makes more sense if you’ve come this far. A faint track leads to a saddle to the east. From the saddle, cross to the north side of the ridge and descend back into Albion Basin. Look for mountain goats in this rugged, little-visited area. A bit of steep, off-trail hiking will take you to the gravel road at the bottom of the steep slope. This road will lead you back to the Albion Basin Campground, just follow it to the left (west) and downhill.
Expect this route to take about half a day. Due to the exposure, definitely avoid this route if there is any chance of thunderstorms. On a clear day, though, it offers a unique combination of not much hiking, a lot of scrambling, and amazing views.