Utah is full of amazing outdoor activities, but many residents refrain from enjoying them for various reasons. Perhaps the most prevalent one is they don’t know anyone to introduce or accompany them to hike, ski, bike, camp, snowshoe, river raft or participate in other adventures.
History of the Wasatch Mountain Club
For 100 years, the Wasatch Mountain Club has been inviting people to meet up and explore Utah’s ample splendors, make friends, and get exercise to boot. In 1920, 13 men who had been hiking together for years, created the club, held meetings, and in 1922, started publishing “The Rambler”, which includes highlights of trips, an activities calendar, and minutes from meetings.
Possibly the greatest hurdle and accomplishment was taking almost nine years to build a lodge near the present Brighton Resort. It was completed in 1937, at a time when traveling up the rough Big Cottonwood Canyon road was sketchy at best.
The Uncertain Present of the Club
Today, the club has about 1,000 members, but the fate of the lodge is uncertain because of the lack of funds for upkeep and possible renovations. They are trying to drum up support by renting the fabled facility for weddings, ski club festivities and other events.
Julie Kilgore, the group’s president, is wary of losing that monument representing the hard work, great times and history of the club. She set her sights on leading the WMC after being a board member to publicize the 2020 Centennial, and encourages others to join and share in the camaraderie and memories that can result from the group’s gatherings.
Born and raised in Utah, Kilgore, 56, started hiking in her 30s and was immediately hooked. She joined the WMC in 2000.
“I’m like so many Utah natives who just see these mountains as a backdrop. We would go on picnics but didn’t hike that much,” she says. She found the important components that her grandmother told her led to having a happy life in hiking, which include feeding your mind, body and soul in equal proportions.
The memories of members are countless and run from humorous to almost perilous. Small wonder, since they were often in the great outdoors with threats of wildlife, ever-changing weather, and occasionally, even inhospitable people.
For love of hiking in Utah
When asked about some of the most remarkable happenings, several members pointed to John Sloan, who came close to death in Neff’s Canyon after a rattlesnake bite in 1980. Larry Swanson and others gave Sloan first aid, but it took almost eight hours to get him via helicopter to a hospital since there was difficulty finding a landing place and summoning help in the days before cell phones.
“At the hospital, we got word that he was minutes from death,” Swanson says. “His renal functions were shutting down and the swelling of his arm had cut off all blood flow to his hand. They ‘filleted’ (sliced open) his entire arm to allow the swelling to expand. He was in the hospital for a long time.”
Another bitter-sweet but more uplifting story is that of Connee and Joe Gates. In the ‘50s, they met at a WMC river-rafting outing, in which Connee, a Midwest native, was launched into rough waters and almost drowned. From another boat, Joe witnessed the ordeal and later sparked up a conversation with his future wife. It’s doubtful they would have become friends, gotten married, spent their lives together, and raised two daughters if they weren’t WMC members.
Now, 52 years later, Connee recalls the importance of meeting people who share the same passions and recommends joining to all age groups. “Whether you’re new to the area or have lived here all your life, [the WMC] gives you so many opportunities to find interesting places. The trips are planned so professionally. I was amazed when I saw all that was here,” she says.
Annual memberships are $35 for singles and $50 for couples.
Key Events for the Centennial
Centennial Kick Off Event and State Proclamation, Utah State Capitol Rotunda
Annual Membership Meeting, Board Election, Club History Presentation
Winter Sports Weekend at the Wasatch Mountain Lodge
WMC Official Centennial Anniversary Event—Red Butte
National Trails Day, Selected WMC Centennial Project TBD
Life Member Celebration and Multi-Sport Weekend at the Lodge
Awards and Historic Photo Collection Reveal at the Lodge
National Public Lands Day, Selected WMC Conservation Project
Carrying on the Tradition—Halloween at the Wasatch Mountain Lodge
Closing Event/Christmas Party, Alf Engen Ski Museum