Tuesday, November 21, 2017

holding pattern

We are absolutely in a holding pattern in greater Salt Lake: winter has not yet arrived and it is almost Thanksgiving.  That is not good: the ski resorts are pushing back their openings because there is scarcely any natural snow, plus it has been so warm that they haven't been able to make much snow either.  Last year at this time, it had been a bare early November but had starting snowing in earnest right around now; right now, the forecast looks pretty bleak for the near future.

We did get over to Park City (again) last Saturday to have lunch with our friend Ted, with whom we skied once last year.  He has a condo in Park City and was in town to set the place up for winter so we met him at Squatter's to catch up.  And then on Sunday, we drove up to Alta and picked up our season passes ... so if winter does actually show up, we're ready to hit the slopes.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

once more 'round the valley

We have a complicated relationship with Utah.  For example, we enjoy the heck out of the cool mountains of the Wasatch and yet we are never happier than when we are in the desert rockscapes near Moab.  And while we are impatiently awaiting the arrival of cold, wet weather so that we can go skiing, we were pleased when it was mild and dry enough for us to go MTBing one more time at Round Valley on Sunday.  The skies weren't perfectly clear and blue and it was slightly breezy (which picked up to gusty by the time we'd finished) but it was certainly pleasant. We weren't the only ones who thought so either: the Quinn's Trailhead parking lot was fairly busy when we got there noon-ish.  We saw a number of people out on the trails as well - not summertime crowds (and everyone out there was experienced enough to practice good trail etiquette) but there were definitely folks looking to get more trail time in.

Given H's research last weekend, we didn't exactly do our usual route (either backwards or forwards), but changed up some pieces here and there.  We started out the same but when we had finished the [former] My Nemesis* climb, instead of staying straight at the four-way intersection to head to the bottom of Hammerhead*, we turned left to make our way out along Cammy's Trail to Rademan Ridge.  We went down what H had gone up last weekend, landing at the bottom of the Sagebrush Switchbacks* of the backside of Rambler, then climbed up Rambler.  At that point, we went down Rusty Shovel, which has some tight turns but also some beautifully banked corners - so if you aren't a chicken descender like I am, Rusty Shovel would be super-fun to ride down.

Lean in

At this point we found our way back to Rambler (see, everything leads to Rambler) and went up as far as turn #8 of the Sweet Sixteen* switchbacks.  I passed two other riders going up in this section AND managed to ride turn #6 for the first time ever since we've been riding this loop.  Riding that turn had been my goal for the summer and I was psyched - now there's only one turn (#8) that I haven't been able to ride.  New goal for next summer, I guess.  At turn #8, we left Rambler for Highside and then Kari's, which brought us back to the top of the Practice Loop.  While H did some extra climbing, I started riding out, now retracing the first bit of our ride.  Despite riding further than I did, H made it back to the truck first ... because I had to stop to pat a couple of golden retrievers.  (I always stop for golden retrievers.)

If that was truly our last MTB of the season - and we really, really hope it is because it needs to start snowing - then that was an excellent way to close things out.  And I'm still psyched about riding turn #6!

*  Apologies for using all these pet names for pieces of the trails.  Since so much of our loop seems to be on the Rambler trail, we've taken to re-naming sections for our own identification.  You certainly won't find "My Nemesis," "Hammerhead" or "Sweet Sixteen" on any Round Valley trail map.

Monday, November 13, 2017


We have, the past few years, done a hike at Solitude/Brighton after the first snow of the year, to say goodbye to summer and welcome winter.  The original route was from Silver Lake to Lake Solitude, up and over the back of Solitude, past the Twin Lakes dam and along the Sol-Bright trail back to Silver Lake.  Last year, since the snow situation was looking dire in the early season, we did that loop backwards and lo, last winter we had the best snow we've had in years.  H, who is not superstitious about anything, announced on Friday that we would be doing the Sol-Bright hike on Saturday and, since it worked so well last time, we would again be doing it in reverse.  So much for not being superstitious.

Silver Lake, early winter style

It was pretty chilly in the morning so we busied ourselves with some chores: house-cleaning, laundry, making oatmeal-dried cranberry cookies.  We got up to the Solitude Nordic Center at Silver Lake around 12:30 and were surprised to find plenty of parking places; the Big Cottonwood Canyon road had been pretty busy on the way up and the various hiking trailheads had been quite full, so we assumed Silver Lake would be jam-packed too.  Happy to be wrong!

View of Brighton

We went clockwise around the lake on the boardwalk, teetering on the ice, then turned off onto the Twin Lakes trail.  Although the snow wasn't super-deep, we were walking on snow for the most part, unlike last year when there wasn't any at all.  It was mostly sunny, with a light breeze, and temperatures were in the low 30s but noticeably colder in the shade.  We warmed right up climbing up to the Twin Lakes dam, then kept the grind going on up to the top of Solitude's Summit lift.

Top of Summit lift

Once past the dam, there was more snow and so many animal tracks.  Deer, porcupine, coyote, squirrels and smaller critters - the snow was positively trampled in spots.  We stumped our way up to the top of the lift to enjoy the views of Honeycomb Canyon, Brighton and Guardsman Pass across the canyon (now closed for the winter).  Then, before we could get too chilled, we retraced our steps for a ways before turning off onto an access road down into Solitude.  The snow was deep in some spots here, coming up to nearly my knees, and we found a couple of short pitches where we were surprised no one had come up to ski.  No fat bike tire tracks either - just critters.

Totally skiable

We went around Lake Solitude, the snow depth dropping with our elevation, crossed through the woods and under the Sunrise lift, heading back towards Silver Lake.  In a shady grove we happened upon a small herd of mule deer: a buck and what we guessed were two does and two fawns, now old enough to have lost their spots and look like mini-mes of their moms.  The buck was skittish but the does were not, standing their ground and watching us, warily and interestedly, but not at all scared.  We watched them for a little while and then continued on our way, letting them go theirs.

Very much unafraid

Back at the car, we were surprised to find the parking lot busier than before; there seemed to be lots of photographers taking advantage of the afternoon light.  We paused at the Silver Fork on our way down the canyon, stopping in for a couple of beers and some chips and salsa (they have a restaurant license and have to serve food, even if you're just sitting at the bar), and talked with another couple (transplants from New Jersey/Maryland) about how awesome Utah winters are.  And we're ready for another one.  Let it snow.

Hike stats:  4.92 miles; 1:59 hours; 1,400 feet of elevation

Friday, November 10, 2017

h gets in another one

I was unconvinced Saturday morning that I wanted to go MTBing.  It was stormy-looking over the mountains and a chilly 43 F in Park City at 9 a.m., with dropping temperatures and showers forecasted for early afternoon.  H, however, was jonesing to go, so I shooed him out the door with the thought that he might do some more exploring on the Round Valley trails we don't normally ride.  There were a few people out on the trails with him; he saw twenty or so, and seemed to be mostly women.  It never warmed up and actually dropped a couple of degrees as the day wore on, so he wore long sleeves and leg warmers against the chill.  Here's what he rode, doing 19.78 miles and 2,200 feet of climbing in 2 hours and 18 minutes of riding time:

Dark and stormy over the mountains

He started out our usual way, taking Fast Pitch or Hat Trick (one of those) and doing an out-and-back to the top of the PC hill, which was narrow, overgrown and not good for riding.  Then he got back on our regular route, Matt's Flat and up what I call "My Nemesis," then down the Round Valley Express to the RVE/Rambler junction.  He then continued riders' left up to Rademan Ridge, then linked up with Cammy's Trail, looping back to Valderoad.  He went down what we call the "Nouvelle Loop" above the National Ability Center, then climbed back up the Practice Loop, turning left onto Somewhere Elks.  Somewhere Elks is a long climb with tight turns and he took it to Nowhere Elks.  Then down Rusty Shovel with its many, many switchbacks, turning left onto Ramble On.  He went down to the jeep road, then back up Rambler (climbing the "Sagebrush Switchbacks") and then down the other side on Rambler (the "Sweet Sixteen" switchbacks), turning off onto Highside around the eighth turn.  From there, he took Highside to Kari's, then reconnected with Rambler again (Rambler is seemingly everywhere!) back to the Practice Loop and then back to the truck.

He got to almost all the trails

H said he didn't really want to stop riding but he had gone through several snow flurries throughout the morning, and the last few minutes of the ride it was actively sprinkling.  Rather than get cold and wet, he opted for a beer and a veggie burger at Squatter's before coming home - always a good choice.

Pretty good amount of climbing, eh?

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

possible last mtb of the season

H was not so banged up on Sunday that we couldn't go for another MTB ride.  At this point in the year, every MTB ride we do has the potential for being that last one of the season.  Sunday was pretty gorgeous - breezy, just a few thin clouds, slightly cooler than the Sunday before - so we figured we should take advantage of the day. 

We still waited a little while for it to warm up to comfortable, if cool, temperatures in Park City.  Quinn's Trailhead had some action but did not seem overly crowded, and the cooler fall weather meant that nearly everyone had a dog or two with them.  I suggested that we do our usual route but backwards again, to give our brains a bit of a work out.  The climb up Rambler on the sagebrush switchbacks side is so much easier than the way we normally go up and I was thrilled to ride the whole thing except for that one really rocky corner.  Going down the other side is actually not as fun; the top half is good hard dirt but the bottom bit is rockier and makes me nervous - I am a very nervous descender. 

Apparently I'm wearing the same outfit as last time

When we were almost out (and H was way ahead of me, speedy on the double track), I scared up a herd of about seven or eight mule deer, who bounded away from me up a sagebrush-covered hill.  Then I had to stop and pet a 150 lb., 7 year old wolfhound who was walking with his person.  The man warned me that I'd get slobbered on but it was worth it to say hello to that giant, gentle dog.  We got a little more dog-time a little later, when we stopped by the Park City Brewery.  They don't serve food, so they're dog-friendly, and the picnic tables outside have carabiners screwed into them so you can park your dogs there.  We hung out with three dogs for a beer or two, chatting a little with their people, before heading home.  If that's going to be the last ride of the season, it was a pretty good way to finish up.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

going glenwild

While I was out tromping around at Alta, H met up with a buddy from work for a MTB ride in Park City.  Darren is a really good MTBer so I was more than happy to bow out, knowing that there was no way I could keep up with those guys.  They drove through Parleys Canyon to Park City, parking at a trailhead behind the Park City Brewery to get onto the Glenwild Trails.  It has been years and years since H and I have ridden at Glenwild and all I could recall is that the trails seemed rocky and there was a lot of climbing.

Darren on the trail 

After their ride, H reported that while he didn't find the trails too rocky, they definitely did a lot of climbing: 1,700 feet right from the start, up a wash and then switchbacking up and over a ridge, with a total of 2,200 feet climbed by the end of the 17-ish mile ride.  For comparison, the 16+ mile ride we regularly do at Round Valley has only 1,300 feet of climbing. 

The guys were evenly matched on the climbs but H was a little more cautious than Darren on the descents.  Caution aside, H still managed to overcook a turn on one descent, and then hit the brakes a little too hard, launching himself over the handlebars and into a sagebrush bush.  His MTB was unscathed and he only got some cuts, bumps and bruises, so all ended well enough.

Friday, November 3, 2017

wolverines and grizzlies

While we anxiously wait for it to get cold, we are trying to take advantage of the remaining good weather.  H had made plans to MTB with a friend from work on Saturday; since I cannot keep up with them, I decided to take a hike up at Alta.  I didn't want to do the usual route, though, and thought I might change it up a little by going up to Catherine's Pass, then up and over Tuscarora and Wolverine, around Wolverine Cirque, down to Twin Lakes Pass and out through Grizzly Gulch.  That was the plan - I love it when a plan comes to fruition!

Blue sky start

After waiting for it to warm up a little, I got to the parking lot above Albion base lodge at Alta around 11:30 a.m.  There was a helicopter working hard, transporting pieces of the new Summit lift towers from the Goldminer's Daughter parking lot up to the mountain, and there seemed to be a fair number of people up there just to watch it work.  To keep out from under the flight path, I decided to go up the Summer Road to the Catherine's Pass trailhead instead of making my way up through the bunny slope.

Lakes Mary and Martha from Tuscarora

By the time I reached the trailhead, I was warm enough to take off my gloves.  It was still cold enough in the shade to keep the trail frozen but out in the sunny spots the mud had warmed and softened.  It was a bit of a challenge in places to stay out of the mud, but I did my best, wanting to keep from messing up the trail.  I came across just a few hikers as I neared the pass but otherwise had it to myself.

Wolverine Cirque, Superior and the Salt Lake Valley

From Catherine's Pass, I turned north and climbed up to Tuscarora.  My only concern about this hike was if the ridge would be icy with leftover snow from the last storm we had.  From my vantage point on Tuscarora, there looked to be snow on the Brighton (east) side but the top of the ridge looked okay.  I met another hiker, coming the other way, and he confirmed that the ridge was okay with just a couple of snowy spots.

Giant floating selfie head

There was some snow to cross between Tuscarora and Wolverine but I stayed in the footprints of those who had gone before.  At the top of Wolverine (around 1:30 p.m.), I could see the whole trail around the top of the cirque and could confirm that it looked okay.  I took my time going around the cirque; luckily, the trail tends to go to the western/sunny side of the ridge and there were no issues with slippery footing. 

Snow-covered boulder field

The only sketchy bit was on that last boulder field coming down off the ridge to Twin Lakes Pass.  There was a lot of snow here so again I stuck to the footprints that were there, avoiding having to break trail and post-hole.  I met another hiker here: he was on his way up and seemed under-equipped with sneakers, no gloves and his shirt off.  He asked some questions about the trail - had never done it before - and then we continued on our ways, him up and me down.  I lost the trail for a little once off the boulder field and into the woods where the snow was sparser, but it was easy enough to get down to Twin Lakes Pass (2:15 p.m.).

Flowers are past-peak in Grizzly Gulch

After that, it was all downhill and out through Grizzly Gulch.  I started seeing a few more people there but again, it was certainly nothing like the summertime crowds.  I followed the old mining road down, then the flap poles directing hikers to the final bit of trail down to Alta and my car (3:00 p.m.).  That helicopter was still working hard - got to make hay while the sun shines, I guess, with winter coming - and I watched it as I had my post-hike beer.  Gorgeous day in the mountains of northern Utah - and I hoped H had had as good an outing as I had.