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Catherines Pass Trail
at Albion Basin

The Catherines Pass trail is not something the typical mountain biker will want to do. It's very steep with technical sections and more than a little hiking with your bike as baggage. It's reserved for tough and skilled riders looking for a challenge. It can be done as an up-and-back trip to the viewpoint, but is primarily used to access the Great Western Trail for long brutal trips by adventurous souls.

View uphill from Alta. The low spot on the skyline is Catherines Pass. Photos by Bruce on July 28, 2015.

The trail is reached via the Albion Basin Road. You can drive it, or pedal it. The Little Cottonwood Canyon paved road turns to hard-pack gravel at an entry shack above Alta. Find a spot to park and pedal uphill past the entry station.

Heading up Albion Basin Road.

Your first opportunity to grab the trail is 2.1 miles up the road. There's a big parking lot and a bathroom on the right-hand side as the road veers left. The singletrack trail is across from parking, on your left as you pedal uphill. This main Catherines Pass trail is a shorter -- but steeper and more techy -- climbing route up to where the cushier campground route joins.

View back toward Alta from near the parking lot at the start of Catherines Pass.

This lower part of the Catherines Pass trail climbs from 9350 feet elevation to 9750 (that's 400 feet of climbing, math guys) in 0.7 miles. Some stretches are a pleasant cruise; other spots are steepish or have technical rock to bang through. It's not an easy climb, but the scenery is fantastic. This will give you an excuse to stop pedaling and look around while you catch your breath.

Heading uphill early in the climb. Beautiful country.

Some rock outcrops provide a little fun, but most of the tech challenge is slamming your way uphill through embedded pedal-bangers. On this lower section, it's all ride-able, although not my me. There's one 100-foot steep spot with embedded rock and water-bar logs (photo below) just below the trail fork that you'll probably hike.

Banging uphill over a granite outcrop.

At 0.7 miles up the singletrack (2.8 from Alta), you'll reach a trail fork. The trail on the right is the mellower route coming up from the campground, which in your biking-god vanity you decided not to take. Fork left uphill, and get prepared for some hiking.

We're near the junction between granite intrusion and limestone bedrock, looking toward the Devils Castle.

While there are some nice stretches to pedal, the trail gets very serious about climbing at this point. On some ride-able stretches, it may not seem worth getting on the bike as you eyeball the next hike a short distance up the trail. The trail climbs 300 vertical feet in 0.7 miles for an average 8.5% slope.

It looks like you could ride this -- and some super-bikers can -- but at this altitude I couldn't even begin to make that happen. When you stall, stop and gasp for air before trying again. Or get off the bike and start pushing.

The alternate route to the trail fork takes you through the Albion Basin campground. Just stay on the Albion Basin road all the way to the campground. Stay straight until you hit the uphill end of the campground, then turn left and go 1/10 mile until the road turns left northbound. Catch the singletrack there, 0.9 miles since you passed the lower Catherines Pass trailhead. The first 100 yards is pretty steep and loose, then it gets better.

Trail fork as the Catherines Pass trail reaches the campground connector.

Now grind on uphill 0.5 miles, doing 200 vertical feet of climbing. Much mellower than the main trail. You've climbed the same overall 400 vertical, but you spread it out over 1.4 miles instead of 0.7 miles.

Lupine blooms in a meadow.

At Catherines Pass, you can look at the scenery before backtracking (perhaps to take the Devils Castle singletrack on your way down). Or, you can head on to the rest of your adventure. The Great Western Trail to your left takes you around the cirque above Lake Catherine, Lake Martha, and Lake Mary toward the Brighton area.

The campground connector has waist-high flowers. Lupine on the left, paintbrush and sticky geranium on the right.

Right on the GWT takes you towards the Mineral Basin area of American Fork Canyon and the Ant Knolls portion of Ridge 157. Very scenic but not easy riding. Few riders choose to do this.

Bottom Line:
Tough high-altitude techy ride reserved for strong and adventurous riders who already have extensive remote-trail experience.

Looking north toward Alta.

Riding notes, Albion entry station to pass:
0.0   Pass guard shack to Albion Basin road
        N40 35.526 W111 37.865
2.1   L onto Catherines singletrack
        N40 34.969 W111 37.102
2.3   Keep left and uphill at lift road fork
        N40 34.958 W111 36.812
2.8   Fork L uphill (R = to campground)
        N40 34.740 W111 36.476
3.5   At pass, Great Western Trail
        N40 34.851 W111 35.921
        L = to Ant Knolls, Ridge 157
        R = to Mineral Basin
Route through campground:
0.0   Pass guard shack to Albion Basin road
        N40 35.526 W111 37.865
2.1   Stay on Albion Basin Road (L = Catherines)
        N40 34.969 W111 37.102
2.6   Straight south in campground
2.8   Turn L (east) N40 34.503 W111 36.736
2.9   R on ST as road turns left
        N40 34.554 W111 36.605
3.4   R uphill (L = to Albion Basin road)
        N40 34.740 W111 36.476
4.1   At pass, Great Western Trail
        N40 34.851 W111 35.921
Getting there:
From I-15, take the 90th South exit and drive east towards the mountains. This will take you directly to Little Cottonwood. When you arrive at the stop sign in the canyon, with the giant illuminated Little Cottonwood conditions sign on your right, turn right uphill and drive 8 miles to Alta. Keep straight until the end of the road. Park on the right side of the road just before the information booth (the booth is between the lanes of the road just before it turns to gravel).

Riding resources:
Single-page riding guide
GPS track files (right-click and "Save as..."):
    Albion road to Catherines Pass
    Multi-track Albion Basin GPX  (includes ST, Catherines, Germania)
    Devils Castle loop via Catherines connector 
Albion Basin Road only   Intercanyon connections file!
High-res topo for printing:   View map 
Lodging, camping, shops:   Links to area resources

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