At 12,400 feet, Hayden Peak is the crown jewel of the famed Mirror Lake Highway. Hayden is not revered for its summit elevation, but rather for its incredibly rugged cliff bands and almost perfectly triangular-shaped summit. From the road, it looks almost impossible to climb the peak because there are cliff bands everywhere with steep rises that resemble rock climbing features more than hiking. Do not be deterred, however, for there is a way up Hayden Peak that only requires good hiking boots and a lot of determination. Climbing this peak is a serious accomplishment and is one of the more technical peaks in the rugged Uinta Mountains.
Once over Bald Mountain Pass, Hayden Peak comes into view. Most peak baggers will fall in love with this peak on first sight. It has everything you could ask for: incredibly rugged, steep, great views, good access, and a final challenge just below the true summit. It is best to avoid Hayden Peak until you are comfortable scrambling up and down steep rock.
Like almost every other Uinta peak, there is no trail to the summit. There are rock cairns and a beaten path in places, but anyone attempting this climb has to be comfortable finding the route on their own. From the parking lot, head for the obvious ridge that leads up to the saddle below the summit ridge. This first ridge presents the first major obstacle, which is a large cliff band that splits the ridge toward the top. Perhaps there is a Class 3 route up this ridge, but the rock cairns lead you toward a very short Class 4 move. This move is more or less vertical, but it has minimal exposure and good footholds. Nonetheless, a helmet is recommended for this hike. Ascend the best route you can find through the cliff bands and take in the stunning view from the saddle at the top. All of Middle Basin, including the incredibly rugged backside of Mount Agassiz, comes into view as you gain the summit ridge.
From the summit ridge, walk the ridge for a while toward the peak. The ridge here is rocky, but not technical. There should be a foot trail and cairns in places. Eventually you will encounter a false summit, which looks intimidating and very rugged. No need to climb this. Skirt around to the west (left) and continue hiking without having to gain unnecessary elevation.
The summit will be close after the false summit, but the hardest move is up ahead. Once you see the summit, the footpath goes right (east) until you see a very tight slot in the rock that resembles a chimney. This chimney must be climbed. There are footholds in the rock, and it is only about 8 feet to 10 feet to the top, but there is no other way on this route. Shimmy up the chimney using both arms and legs to maneuver up the vertical wall. Once on top, you will be just minutes from the summit. Enjoy the incredible views and the significant accomplishment!
To get down, retrace your steps almost to the main saddle where the summit ridge hike began. Instead of going down the same way, it is best to go down a gully just before the saddle. The gully has loose rock and dirt, but no major cliff bands to descend. This route down is safer and faster.