Mount Superior is an iconic peak in upper Little Cottonwood Canyon. Just across the road from Snowbird and prominently visible from Alta, this mountain is one of the most photographed in Utah, and its rugged south ridge simply begs to be climbed. Depending on your perspective, this ridge route is either a very challenging but short hike or a very easy long rock climb.
In dry weather and with a certain comfort level with exposure, approach shoes or sturdy boots will be the only necessary equipment. Additionally, you can be back to your car in under three hours if you’re fast. The route takes you up long stretches of very exposed third- and fourth-class terrain with a couple of fifth-class steps to spice it up. The crux of the climbing is a steep, 15-foot section on the east side of the ridge with a vertical crack and slabby feet. This can be protected with a medium-sized nut (roughly #4-6) if you choose to bring a short rope. Alternatively, this obstacle can be bypassed by making a few exposed fourth-class moves on the other side of the ridge.
To start, park either by the Forest Service garage or at Snowbird across the road from the route; the choice depends on how you plan to descend. The easy and longer way down follows a trail to Cardiff Pass, then down to Alta. The alternative is to scramble directly down the scree slopes of Superior’s southeast face. This is much quicker, but the route becomes quite steep and slippery in places.
To gain the ridge and begin the climb, head up the slope toward the Gazex installation. This large pipe sticking out of the mountain sets off blasts of propane gas to trigger avalanches, preventing the bigger slides that can threaten the road below. Head to the right of the Gazex tube to climb a hidden gully leading to a dead tree on the ridgeline. From here you’ll scramble along the crest of the ridge, generally staying right on top of it or just a few feet down on the east (right) side. If you encounter a move that seems too hard or exposed, there is generally a workaround nearby, usually on the west side of the ridge.
Winter ascents of Superior’s south ridge are another animal entirely. You’ll need crampons and an ice axe, a rope, pickets, and several slings. Dangerous cornices overhang some of the more active slide paths in the canyon. While a great training route for bigger alpine objectives, one local guide calls doing this one in the winter “a brutal, all-day slog.” Prepare to spend 12 hours or more on the route, and look forward to the bragging rights you’ll have more than earned.