Overlooking the middle of Big Cottonwood Canyon, 10,403-foot Kessler Peak is the north end of the ridge that separates Cardiff Fork and Mineral Fork. With no other peaks nearby that approach its height, Kessler’s summit provides views of most of Big Cottonwood Canyon as well as other mountains from Mount Raymond to American Fork Twin Peaks.
The North Route is the easiest and shortest way up Kessler Peak, but it is not exactly an easy hike. The trail is well-defined and there are no route finding challenges, but sections of the route are quite steep: you will ascend nearly 3,000 feet in just over 2 miles. To find the start of the North Route, follow the trail that leads south from the Mill D South Fork Trailhead (this way also leads to Donut Falls). After the stream crossing on a small wooden footbridge, the trail intersects the Cardiff Fork mining road. The way to Donut Falls follows this road to the left, as signs indicate. Instead, look for a cairn on the other side of the mining road marking a narrow but well-defined trail leading into the trees. This trail leads through an open grove of mature aspens and climbs steadily up the north side of the mountain. Just above 9,000 feet, the trail levels off for a bit and traverses across a gully above a large open area. This is an avalanche path known as “God’s lawnmower.”
On the other side of the slide path, the trail crosses to the west side of the next ridge and climbs steeply to the south. Passing the ruins of a cabin, you will soon arrive at the saddle between the north and main summits. From this point a path on the west side of the ridge leads directly to the main summit.
From Kessler’s summit, the panoramic views extend from the Salt Lake Valley to the upper end of Big Cottonwood Canyon and from Mount Raymond to the north to the peaks above Alta and Snowbird to the south. Watch for pikas on the rocks and talus slopes here. These rabbit-like rodents are found only in high-elevation alpine terrain (with a few exceptions in other regions). During the summer, pikas collect grasses, wildflowers, and other vegetation which they stockpile for the winter in burrows and under rocks.
This hike should take about half a day for most hikers. The route is best done from spring to fall. Winter ascents may be possible, and the area is popular with backcountry skiers, but Kessler Peak is surrounded by large, dangerous avalanche paths. The steep slopes here should be avoided in the winter if you don’t have the appropriate skills and equipment. Just around the corner from the slide path crossed by the North Route Trail, the even larger Argenta slide path on the west side of the mountain has been the site of massive slides that have blocked the road up Big Cottonwood Canyon.
In season, this is a great fitness hike that will reward you with 360-degree views of the Wasatch. If you are looking to make a loop of this hike, consider using Carbonate Pass for your ascent or descent, depending on your appetite for climbing.