Thursday, September 5, 2013

honeycomb and silver forks

What's a good way to kick off a long holiday weekend?  Go on a really fun hike that you've never done before!  The Labor Day weekend weather forecast for greater SLC was not great: overcast with 30% chance of thunderstorms after noon for Saturday and Sunday, 50% chance of storms on Monday.  So when Saturday morning came around, we got up and got going, out the door by 8 a.m., so we could safely knock off a new hike.  A couple of years ago, while we were skiing in Honeycomb Canyon at Solitude, we wondered if there was a way to hike up Honeycomb Canyon.  Turns out there is.  Also, as it turns out, the guy who wrote that hike description should have been a little more descriptive.

I wish you could see how steep this was

We parked on Big Cottonwood Canyon road just outside of the Solitude entrance and walked in, finding a service road on the north end of the parking lot that ran under the Eagle Express lift.  The morning temperature was cool, especially under the trees with the sun still behind the mountains, but the dirt road got steep in a hurry and we had no trouble staying warm.  We passed the bottom of the Honeycomb Return lift and continued up the drainage, following a clear but not heavily traveled path that ran alongside a dry creek.  As we continued up Honeycomb Fork, we gained a lot of elevation quickly: it seems like all hiking at ski mountains is steep.

Honeycomb Cliffs (before the clouds moved in)

We crossed the drainage under the looming white cliffs, pausing to explore some mining ruins (there are TONS of old mines in this area) - and even finding an accessible mine entrance.  You could see some of the wooden beans beams and posts supporting the mine tunnel; the entrance to the mine wasn't blocked and was big enough to enter, but it sure didn't look safe (and I'm slightly claustrophobic and enough of a horror movie fan to know that you shouldn't go crawling around in old mine shafts).  We kept grinding up the canyon - whoever cut this trail didn't waste any time making switchbacks - finally coming out at the top of the Summit lift.  We then went through the cut to the south and promptly lost the trail, having to pick our way over a boulder field to get back on the trail below us.  This took us to Twin Lakes Pass, which has great views of Brighton on one side and Alta on the other.

Would you go in there?

And then this is where things got interesting.  We knew we had to get to Davenport Hill, above Grizzly Gulch, before dropping over the other side into Silver Fork, a canyon that parallels Honeycomb and which joins up with it at the bottom.  But the trail was indistinct at best when we got to Davenport: we followed a clear trail marked with cairns for a while ... and then the cairns stopped and the trail disappeared.  We could see where we were headed - an old dirt road at the bottom of the canyon - and luckily the terrain forced us down towards it.  But for 90% of our descent we were bushwhacking.

About the last time we had a clearly defined trail

It was really a lot of fun.  We were never in any danger of being lost since at all times we could see where we wanted to go.  And when we looked at our GPS track, we were moving purposefully and in a way that made sense.  There just wasn't a trail.  Oh, we would happen upon a "trail" (or possibly just a game trail) and then lose it, and we would find these random cairns that would just stop after five or six.  We only had to backtrack from a cliff once and we made it down to the road with only a few cuts and scrapes.

Well-earned battle scars

We had just reached the road out when a HUGE clap of thunder reverberated above us in the clouds that had been steadily gathering since we left the ridge.  We walked briskly out, following the dirt road that turned into a paved road (that we had found ourselves on a couple of years ago whilst inadvertently skiing out of bounds at Solitude) that led us to the service road that took us back to Solitude.  Just a few minutes later, we were cozily ensconced in Brighton's parking lot, toasting (with PBRs, naturally) the successful end to one of the more fun (if less clearly defined) hikes we'd done in a while.

Stayin' dry, drinkin' PBR

Hike statistics: 8.11 miles, average speed 2.3 m.p.h. (told you it was steep - both up and down), 3 hrs. 29 min., elevation gain 2,287 ft.

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