October 17, 2009, Saturday. On Friday night, before going to the Cotton Bottom, H and I stopped by the local REI for new light hiking boots - we had plans to hike in the mountains on Saturday and thought the snow might be over the tops of our low-cut trail shoes - fully aware that buying brand new boots sixteen hours before hitting the trail is dumb.
On Saturday morning,we headed out early, leaving B at home alone (in her crate) for the first time. We stopped at a Dan's Market (open 6 a.m. to midnight, 7 days/week!) where it took us twenty minutes to find trail mix fixins ... and also band-aids, just in case (see: above re: new hiking boots). We drove east into the rising sun to Park City, noticing that the temperature bottomed out at 31F, where we met Captain Mike. Our friend ARJ in Portland had connected us with his friend, Mike, a former airline pilot, Maine-to-Utah transplant and all-around powerhouse of energy, athleticism and knowledge about his adopted state. Even though we'd not met Captain Mike before, we knew it was he when a Subaru (a very Maine car) drove up to meet us. Since it had been snowing recently in the Uintas, he was a little concerned about the conditions and brought three pairs of snowshoes, three pairs of hiking gaiters and an alternate plan in case the trail he intended was impassable. The forecast, however, was for mid 60s and sunny, so we just went for it.
We drove on Route 150 through Kamas - stopping at the Samak Smokehouse for a package of cherrywood smoked local trout - then paid for our $6/3-day pass to Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forests, accessible via the Mirror Lake Scenic Byway. After stopping at a couple of scenic overlooks, we parked at the Crystal Lake trailhead. Now, ARJ had warned us that Captain Mike was a "hiker extraordinaire." With the trailhead at about 10,000 feet, the captain was a little concerned for us: usually this is a 4-6 hour hike, depending on how long one lingers over the views; we really hoped not to make this his first 7+ hour hike, and I really hoped to avoid headaches and vomiting at this altitude.
The hike was stunning. We didn't gain a whole lot more elevation, but we saw so many beautiful little lakes (not in any order): Wall, Clyde, Cliff, the Twins, Lily, the Three Divides, Crystal, Trial, Petit ... I had no idea that there were so many lakes and ponds around here. The trail conditions varied from slightly muddy open ground to frozen crusty snow to having to post-hole in snow over H's knees. (As both Captain Mike and A are somewhat vertically challenged, it's H's legs that were the benchmarks.) We stopped up at the Notch for lunch (that smoked trout = awesome) and H and I were relieved to hear from Captain Mike that we were fifteen minutes ahead of his normal schedule. The lunch spot was a known mountain goat haunt but although we seem to have shed our Bad Weather Karma, our talent for not seeing wildlife is alive and well: no mountain goats.
Although the trails we took out and back were not technically connected, Captain Mike, through his prior aerial surveillance, had determined that they were connectable and successfully bushwhacked us through. Seems the captain believes that a loop is better than an out-and-back, just like my dad does. We finished the hike without embarrassing ourselves high altitude-wise and then, rather than retrace the road back through Kamas, Captain Mike suggested a scenic loop through Wyoming to Park City (again, a loop is always better). His knowledge of the area's history and geology were seemingly unlimited, and he also suggested several additional natural and historical sites for our future exploration.
Captain Mike invited us back to his house in Park City for a post-hike beer: Moose Drool Brown Ale, from Big Sky Brewing Company (brewed in Montana, which means regular levels of alcohol!). We got to meet his wife, Nancy, and their very personable Welsh corgi, Dudley. Captain Mike and Nancy seemed to suggest that we ought to focus our housing search in Park City, no offense to SLC (none taken).
Afterwards, the drive from Park City to SLC was much less terrifying (read: not at all) than when we were pulling the trailer upon our arrival here in Salt Lake. We noticed that H's face and my legs were sunburned - from the sun's reflection off the snow. We liberated B from her kennel: she was glad to see us and, since there was no nasty note on our door saying that she'd been barking for hours, it seems she did just fine. And so did our feet: despite the brand new boots, no blisters!
Random notes for the day: Whilst partaking of a post-post-hike beer at the Porcupine, we chatted with the young couple sitting next to us who were thinking of moving to NYC. Since we recently accomplished a pack-up-and-leave-behind-everything-you-know ourselves, we encouraged them to follow their dream. Also, the bartender remembered us as being the people from Maine; we're pretty sure he'll call us by name next time we're in there. Finally, dinner was takeout pizza from Wasatch Pizza (2065 E 7000 S, Cottonwood Hts) - yummy and we think they use a lot of rosemary in their crust.