Monday, July 25, 2016

bear canyon loop

I just don't get to sleep in anymore.  Way back in high school and college, I was all about sleeping in until 9 or 10, whenever I could.  I don't do that anymore.  My back gets too stiff if I lie in bed past 8:30 a.m., plus there's no time for sleeping late when we've got to get out and get doing stuff!  In the winters it's not so bad: we can get up at 7 or later, depending on the roads, since Alta doesn't open the lifts until 9:15 a.m.  But in the summer, we like to get an early start to avoid the crowds and the heat of the day.  And when you pick a hike in American Fork Canyon, which is a much further drive than the hikes along the Wasatch Front (and well away from the valley smoke caused by the 13,000+ acre Antelope Island wildfire), you have to get up at 5:15 a.m. to leave the house at 6 a.m. to get on the trail at 6:50 a.m.

Backside of Timpanogos with
moon in the sunrise

Things were just starting to get going in American Fork Canyon as we parked at the Pine Hollow trail head.  We had thought that this hike - an 8.4 mile loop that we found on utahmountainbiking.com - was further up the canyon but we really only had to drive in to where the road closes in wintertime.  We were armed with our GPS, a good map and a print-out of the loop, plus the backside of Timpanogos was looming overhead at all times, letting us know where we were.  We didn't figure that this would require any navigating but we don't know this area as well as the canyons closer to home and thought it would be better to be prepared.

Almost moonset

The trail out of Pine Hollow is fairly steep right away, nothing I would want to try riding.  (Actually, except for a short stretch on the Great Western Trail up on the ridgeline, this loop would be very challenging on a MTB: not only with the Pine Hollow climb, but the final descent into Mutual Dell is very steep, loose underfoot and narrow, dropping 1,300 feet in two miles.)  After the climb, we turned right on the GWT towards Salamander Flat.  At this point, the mileage in our trail description seemed off, but the trails were well signed and since we knew we were doing the loop clockwise, we just kept turning right.

Timpooneke Road #056

We  stayed on the GWT for a while until it brought us to the Timpooneke parking area, overflowing already at 8:25 a.m. with people hiking Timpanogos.  We turned left out of the parking lot, following the Timpooneke road (identified as #056 on the signs and our map) past some campground loops, where it turned to gravel.  Our trail description said that we would stay on the road for 1.25 miles and then turn right, downhill, onto some single track that was signed as the "East Bear Canyon Trail," which was listed as #174 on our map.  Walking on this dirt and gravel road was quite pleasant, however, steadily climbing uphill and mostly shaded, so we decided to follow it out a ways, keeping an eye out for single track but mainly looking to put some extra easy miles on our legs.

Sure is purty out there

We turned around when #056 turned a corner and started heading into a totally different drainage.  When we got back to where we had found single track heading down into Bear Canyon, however, it was not signed as either "East Bear Canyon Trail" or as #174: we found #178 and #179 instead, neither of which were on our map.  We checked the GPS coordinates which were close but not exact to what was on our trail description and then decided to just take a chance on #179.  It was heading the right way and we figured that even if it wasn't exactly what we wanted, it would eventually dump us out on the American Fork Canyon road and we could figure things out from there.

A rare flat spot in Bear Canyon

This trail turned out to be the west fork of the Bear Canyon trail and it joined up with the main Bear Canyon trail before too long.  Whoever built this trail didn't mess around too much with switchbacks, instead opting for a steep, straight descent that was rocky and often loose.  It was pretty, though, entirely shaded as we moved through pine forest and aspen glades.  We came out at the LDS Church-run Mutual Dell campground, then crossed the main canyon road and climbed (steep, loose, more exposed to the sun) the short connector trail back to the truck.

Same photo as the first one: less the
moon, plus the beer

Post-hike beers and sandwiches were on the tailgate, with an excellent view of what we'd just hiked spread out in front of us.  The extra distance we'd gone on the #056 road gave us enough mileage to be a little tired; the fact that it was a MTB-able trail meant that it wasn't too rugged for walking; and while the inconsistencies with the trail description, map and signage had been a little annoying, it certainly hadn't mattered in the long run.  Again today, it's all good, out there on the trails.

Bear Canyon Loop (plus extra #056 lollipop)

Hike stats:  9.2 mile loop; 3 hrs. 27 min. walking plus 41 minutes of gawking/eating/etc.; 2.6 m.p.h. moving speed; 3 mule deer spotted;  1,900 feet elevation change.

Hike profile so you can see how steep the
descent to Mutual Dell was

Saturday, July 23, 2016

yet another blue sky day

A coworker recently teased me about the fact that we do the same MTB ride at Round Valley all the time.  "Don't you get tired of it?  Can't you go on different trails?"  I don't get tired of it - I still can't ride the whole thing without some hike-a-bike, although I almost can - and it's still challenging enough that I have to stay focused and engaged or otherwise fall over into a sagebrush.  We certainly could go on different trails, and we've got our eye on the addition of a different section that would cut out some pavement, but as it stands, this loop is a good distance and difficulty level, especially if we've done a more challenging hike the day before.  H may be getting a little tired of it by now, but he has said that if given the choice between two hours/20 miles on a MTB and 35 miles on a road bike, he'd pick the MTB every time.  It's just more FUN.

And Sunday was fun.  The wind wasn't nearly as strong as it had been the last weekend, which was much appreciated.  We started at 8:30 a.m., which meant it was just a touch warmer with just a few more people out there, but trail traffic was still pretty light.  We had a nice conversation with a local woman, out walking her eight year old golden retriever (dog's name: Lola; woman's name: ???), talking about Round Valley's recent move to off-leash status and Vail's recent withdrawal of their application to trademark the name "Park City."  [Note: locals are in favor of the off-leash and were vehemently not in favor of Vail trying to co-opt their town's name.]

My shirt matches the sky

I was focusing better and seemed to be more on my game than the weekend before.  That is also more FUN.  Things are dry and dusty out there - we could really use some rain to pack things down and cool things off - but it is all rideable and, as my legs get stronger as the summer winds on, rideable better.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

millcreek canyon meander

Feeling emboldened by our recent scrambling success, H pieced together Saturday's hike by looking at our map and saying, I think we can get a loop out of this.  The plan was to go up to the saddle at the top of the canyon, bushwhack up to Murdock Peak for some peak-baggin', head south along the Great Western Trail towards Big Cottonwood Canyon and then catch a historical trail to make a loop back to the trail head.  As always, I was up for it.  We got up early and left the house a little after 6:30 a.m., heading up to the very top of Millcreek Canyon.

Not even dirty yet 

The parking lot was filling but not full, hikers and MTBers (MTBs are allowed on the upper trails on even-numbered days; off-leash dogs are allowed on odd-numbered days) gearing up.  Several trails depart from that trailhead and we veered to the left on the Old Red Pine Road, leaving the hoi polloi behind.  We had taken this trail once before, when we hiked to the saddle and bushwhacked to Murdock Peak in July 2011.  The trail is very nice, gently but consistently climbing, hard-packed and level dirt underfoot.  The flowers were spectacular, especially a nice stand of fireweed.  Botany sidenote: Fireweed is interesting because it is one of the first flowers to appear in an area after a forest fire; then, as more vegetation returns, fireweed gets squeezed out.  It's also a cool flower because it tells you where you are in the summer:  it starts blooming at the bottom of the spike and when it gets to the top, you know summer is over.

Fireweed: summer ain't over yet

From the saddle, we followed game trails (sort of) south along a shoulder to the ridge separating Millcreek Canyon and the Canyons ski resort in Park City.  We walked along the boundary line up the ridge to Murdock Peak, taking in the fantastic 360-degree views.  We found a shrine up there - two skis strapped to a fence pole and two full cans of beer (PBR and Uinta Cutthroat) - honoring a local skier/ski patroller who died in 2015.  We also found a trail register and signed in, noting that despite the almost complete lack of trail, lots of people have found their way to the peak.  We went down the way we came up (sort of), bushwhacking through the grasses and shrubs and slicing up our shins pretty well.


We hopped on the Great Western Trail when we got down from Murdock - after pausing to pull all the tiny hitchhiking burdocks from our socks and shorts - and headed south, towards Big Cottonwood Canyon, keeping a look out for that historical trail.  We started to meet MTBers at this point, most of them coming towards us.  Even though technically we hikers had the right of way, we were happy to step off the trail to let them by since it was easier for us to maneuver.  Almost all of them thanked us and/or wished us a good hike.  This portion of the GW Trail was really nice and something I could definitely ride.  I'd just have to be able to ride my MTB up the canyon to get to it.  Maybe later.

Murdock summit

A little ways on was where it fell apart a little bit.  We had examined our map closely and were on the look-out for a historical trail heading off to the west/northwest, to bring us back down into the Millcreek Canyon drainage.  We thought we found it once but the trail, although starting strong, petered out into nothing quickly.  We got back on the GW Trail and continued on, thinking we hadn't gotten to the turn-off yet.  But when we reached a trail junction above Desolation Lake in Big Cottonwood Canyon, we knew we'd gone too far.  Frustrated, we turned around and started going back the way we came.  H was disappointed because we KNOW how to read a map and there should have been a trail.  We even tried again in the vicinity of where we'd looked before, briefly considering just going cross-country/off-trail before ultimately deciding against it.

Looking back at Murdock Peak

It's a good thing we did too because not far from that spot, H noticed a narrow trail heading the way we wanted it to go.  We looked at each other - could it be? - and took the plunge, noting that at some point since the last time it rained, someone had ridden a MTB on the trail.  That seemed like a good sign.  And it turned out to be exactly what we had been looking for.  It was a great trail, descending steadily through gorgeous meadows and aspen groves, and with no one on it but us.   We startled up giant dragonflies, a couple of woodpeckers and some butterflies but otherwise had it to ourselves.

Gorgeous mountain meadows

When our trail emptied us out onto the GW Trail down canyon a ways, it was a bit of a slog (3+ miles), dodging MTBers back to the trailhead.  With just a mile to go, we left the GW Trail for the steeper Little Water Trail: more exposed but no MTBs.  By the time we were back at the car, we were ready to be done - feet and hips sore, arms and legs dusty, hot and sweaty - but ever so pleased that the hike had turned out the way H had planned it.

Gorgeous aspen stands

Our adventure was not quite done as we met a trail runner in the parking lot who needed a ride down Millcreek Canyon: she and her running partner had taken a wrong turn ... their car was in Big Cottonwood Canyon and she was out of water.  We dropped her at the mouth of Millcreek Canyon, where her husband was going to pick her up, and continued on our way.  It was after 2 p.m. by the time we got home and although we had initially planned to go up to Snowbird for their Cool Air Concert (we haven't been to one yet this year), we knew we were too beat.  Maybe we'll make it next Saturday - unless we find ourselves with another long-form meander in the Wasatch mountains.


Hike stats:  12.34 miles (by far our longest hike of the year); 4 hours 40 minutes of hiking, plus 1:05 of standing around looking at stuff/stepping off the trail for MTBers; 2.6 m.p.h. average speed; 2,700 feet of elevation.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

blown away

Sunday was a stunner of a day and we made sure to get after it quickly with a nearly 8 a.m. trail time, despite a later-than-usual night (we went to Rio Tinto to watch Real Salt Lake vs. Montreal - it didn't end up being that exciting a game but RSL salvaged a tie and it's always fun to go to a game).  The skies were clear and blue, with the sun beating down and the wind already blowing.  The wind blew all morning, in fact, and only got stronger as the hours passed.

Working my way up Rambler

There really weren't many people out there, perhaps because they were recovering from/gearing up for the Park City Food and Wine Classic, which was fortunate for me because I was all over the place.  I don't know whether I was unfocused or just tired from the Days Fork hike, but I was definitely off - either making poor decisions or having bad timing.  I never went down but I had a couple close calls on spots that I usually ride fine.  Plus the wind was everywhere: the front side by Quinn's Trailhead, the Rambler uphill, the Rambler downhill (which we actually rode without seeing a single other person, making it much more fun to swoop through the sagebrush switchbacks), the short portion of the bike path, in amongst the scrub oak, on the Nouvelle Loop ... the wind was terrible.

I suspect that's more grimace than smile

I got my hopes up that we would be getting a tailwind for the last uphill back to the truck; when there's a headwind on the Round Valley Express, there is often a tailwind for the homestretch.  Not this day.  This day it was headwinds for everybody everywhere.  I really struggle with headwinds but am trying to improve my attitude about them: at least my legs are getting stronger.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

days fork

I felt like I had some pressure on me to pick a good hike after H's stellar selections last weekend.  With the help of the Trib's Hike of the Week listings, supplemented by Hiking in the Wasatch, I came up with Days Fork, located just over halfway up Big Cottonwood Canyon.  The trail head is located in the Spruces campground which has a parking lot; they charge $8 for parking (!), however, which explains why all the dayhikers park out along the canyon road.  We weren't about to pay $8 for parking so we parked out along the canyon road.

Looking up Days Fork towards the upper meadow

We were on the trail at 7:20 a.m. and despite the campground just starting to stir, were the only ones headed up Days Fork.  The trail is an old mining road and alternates between steep grinds and gentler inclines, passing through distinct ecosystems:  marshy fields, pine woods, lush meadows and high alpine meadows.  There weren't any switchbacks as we progressed right up the drainage, first on the east side and then crossing the creek to the west side.  The wildflowers were in full riot in the meadows - orange and fuschia paintbrush, lupine, bluebells, cow parsnip (taller than me), coneflowers, penstemon, Lewis' flax, sticky geranium, not-yet-blooming clover-headed mint, scarlet gilia, columbine, nettleleaf horsemint, buttercups, sunflowers; gentian, anemone and sulfur buckwheat once we got higher up - it was just beautiful.

It was so bright that the colors have washed
out a bit in the photos, unfortunately

The trail ends at the Eclipse mine, which must have been a decent-sized operation given the rusty machinery remnants left behind.  We picked our way up the basin past the mine, searching out a flat boulder on which to have our snacks.  There was just a little snow left in the basin and big robins were clustered around it, snapping up emerging insects.  We also saw a big mule deer doe, a couple of ground squirrels and a marmot.  As we sat there, looking around at the outstanding scenery, we wondered why there wasn't a trail up the basin to the ridge.  Then we decided that the basin didn't seem that steep and why couldn't we just scramble up it - it wasn't that much further to the top.  We strapped our hiking poles to our packs and headed up.  The sides of the basin soon got much steeper and we were on all-fours more often than not; it was doable but it was a lot more strenuous than most of our hikes, mentally as well as physically, since we were without a trail and had to choose our route.  The ground underfoot was soft, which makes me a little nervous, walking on loose stuff, so I decided to change my route up, veering to the right towards some rock outcrops that continued up to the ridge along a cliffside; H stuck with the original route, continuing up the soft, grassy stretch.  In hindsight, we probably shouldn't have gotten separated like that.  It was fine and we both reached the ridge, but it would have been smarter to stay together, in case something had happened.  Duly noted for next time.

Old mining equipment

The views from the ridge were phenomenal: we looked over into the other side, finding Alta far (far) below us, and Superior out along the ridge to the west.  (There is a faint trail heading towards Flagstaff and Superior along the ridge but man, getting to Superior looks sketchy.)  We talked for a moment about how to get back down, now that we were up there.  I was unsure about going down the way we'd come up, nervous about the extremely steep incline and the soft footing, so we considered our options.  The ridgeline trail was fairly clear to the east, towards Silver Fork, and we were more familiar with that area, having hiked it (and lost the trail on it, if I'm being honest) twice.  We decided to go along the ridge to Silver Fork and, if we couldn't find a trail back down into Days Fork, we could always descend through Silver Fork and walk back to the truck along the canyon road.

Halfway up to the ridge

The ridgeline trail seemed to peter out when we got to a knob above the lush Silver Fork basin, but we spotted three trail runners on a well-established trail a ways below us.  They appeared to have come from Silver Fork and were headed back down the drainage, plus they clearly weren't route-finding so we decided to follow them out.  We had to scramble down to that trail, picking our way down a steep bowl (but not as steep as what we'd clawed our way up), and I was a little nervous again what with the soft, loose footing.  We landed on the trail and headed north, down the drainage.  When the trail turned west, crossing the ridge and heading back into Days Fork, we shrugged and followed along, not really sure where we'd ended up but figuring we'd at least be in the right drainage.  The trail was steep but nice underfoot, mostly packed dirt and pine needles.

Peeking over the edge towards Days Fork

It dumped us out right on the main Days Fork trail, just a little ways below the Eclipse mine, and we headed down, happy that we wouldn't have to walk from Solitude to the truck on the canyon road.  The trail was actually rockier than I remembered from going up it, with lots of loose gravel that I tend to slip on.  Still, it was a beautiful day on a beautiful hike and we had had it almost entirely to ourselves.  We were pretty beat by the time we got back to the truck but we felt like we'd accomplished something and seen some stunning scenery while we were at it.

The ridge we walked along towards Silver Fork

Hike stats:  8.54 miles round-trip; 5.1 hours trip total, with 3:44 hiking time and the rest gazing around at the views; 2.3 m.p.h. average speed; 2,900 feet of elevation.  Special hike stat: our GPS data showed a maximum grade of 76% = really, really steep.


Thursday, July 7, 2016

front to back to front

H really outdid himself with hike selection this past weekend, starting with Clayton Peak for Saturday and then coming up with Lambs Canyon for Monday.  We had done Lambs Canyon back in May 2013, starting on the Park City side trail head, hiking up to the pass and then retracing our steps.  This time, H suggested, we'd start on the Millcreek side, hike up to the pass and then down through Lambs Canyon to that trail head, then turn around and go back up and over to end up at our car in Millcreek.  That would mean a decent amount of climbing and about eight miles total and I thought it sounded perfect.

Columbine

We planned ahead Sunday night, getting our gear and clothing laid out, so we were able to get out of the house early, getting onto the trail head at Elbow Fork in Millcreek Canyon at 7:20 a.m.  We could tell that it was going to be a very busy day for Millcreek Canyon: trail heads and picnic areas were already starting to fill up, even at that hour.  The trail starts at the Mt. Aire trail head but splits off from that trail after about .2 miles.  Like the Mt. Aire trail, this trail to Lambs Canyon is steep, mostly shaded and easy to walk on (except for being so steep).  It was pretty humid too - for out here in the high desert - with all the creeks and heavy vegetation.

Sunflower

The wildflowers were absolutely spectacular, especially on the way up to the pass.  At the end of a particularly steep grind, we ended up on a ridge for a little bit and it was like walking shoulder-deep through a garden.  The vegetation crowded the trail and we had to just push through; every now and again we would see flattened spots where deer or moose had spent the night.  There were paintbrush and bluebells and sunflowers and lupine and wild roses and horsemint and columbine and geraniums.  Stunning.  I love the wildflowers out here.

Wild rose

We crested the pass and continued down the other side.  The trail widened and got even smoother, very easy to walk down.  Not too far along, H stopped and waved me forward: there was a huge young male moose standing in the middle of the trail.  He wasn't that impressed with us - refusing to stand still long enough for a photo - and continued down the trail a ways.  We trailed behind him until he got off the trail and went crashing through the underbrush, far enough way from the pesky humans.  That was our first moose of the year and a very welcome sight.

After the first up and down

The Lambs Canyon trail descended very quickly.  It was drier on this side, although there is a creek running down the drainage, and some different flowers, including mountain mallow (possibly - H disagrees with me on that one), common cow parsnip and not-yet-blooming coneflowers.  At this point we started to meet people coming up from the Lambs Canyon trail head side and we started to wonder if we'd catch any of them when we turned around and headed back up.

Mountain mallow (maybe)

We stopped for just a few minutes down at the bottom at the trail head, fueling up with some beef jerky, apples and trail mix before girding our loins for the return trip.  The trail on this side is not nearly as steep as the Millcreek side but we still climbed steadily, sweat soaking our hats and dripping off our chins.  There were a couple of spots where the sun broke through the trees but for the most part it was shady and for that we were grateful.  We did pass several of the hikers whom we had seen on our way down, including one girl who exclaimed, "Wait - did you already do one trip? That's awesome!"  We told her that we had left beer in the car in Millcreek as motivation and she laughed at that.

After up and down and up again

After reaching the pass, we got down the Millcreek side very, very quickly, despite the steepness of the trail.  We started to meet people and dogs on their way up, including a fairly sprightly fourteen-year old Lab mix, but we were fairly sure that none of them were going to do the front to back to front that we had just accomplished.  The beers in the car tasted pretty good post-hike - as did the garlic cheeseburgers at the Cotton Bottom, where we stopped on the way home.  Everyone has burgers on the Fourth of July, don't they?

Hike profile

Hike stats:  8.09 miles; 2:52 hours hiking, plus a half hour standing around; 2.8 m.p.h.; 2,786 feet of elevation.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

carpe ridem

Knowing that the crowds would be out in force for the long holiday weekend, we endeavored to get an even earlier start to our MTB ride on Sunday, getting our wheels on the Park City bike path at 8:15 a.m., half an hour earlier than the week before.  The temperature was quite pleasant, although definitely warmer than it had been the last weekend; throughout the morning, it would stay fairly cool although the wind picked up on the last leg of the ride.

Heading up the switchbacks formerly known as My Nemesis

We started out without seeing too many people - surprisingly, not even many dog-walkers in the cooler, earlier time - but that changed as the morning wore on and by 10:30 a.m. (the magic hour), there were lots of people out and about.  There were some very strong trail runners out there but most of the MTBers we saw seemed to be pretty new at it, and some were not very good at trail etiquette.  Despite playing dodge 'em with the other riders, we had a really nice ride.  My legs weren't as energetic as they had felt on our last ride and I struggled a little on the middle riser of the three steps in the Staircase.  But I did feel like I kept up with H a little better and he, for his part, thought he had a very good ride.

Coyote Country

There are new signs put up in the middle of Round Valley, warning people that coyotes have claimed territory there.  We saw scat that we were pretty sure was coyote but didn't see any of the actual critters.  I would love to see some out there - we're big enough that they probably wouldn't bother us - the last time we've seen any in the wild was out at Antelope Island years ago.  It's to be expected that they would move in and set up shop in the Round Valley hills:  there are tons of rabbits, potguts and other small and delicious critters out there, just perfect for coyote snacks.