Saturday, December 27, 2014

a quiet christmas

This was a quieter Christmas than usual for us.  H had taken the week off to go skiing, as he's done in the past, but was sidelined by a monster head cold starting Sunday night.  I managed to pick up a little piece of that cold and by the time Christmas rolled around - complete with a lovely snowstorm - neither of us was in the mood to go skiing.  And you know we must be feeling poorly if we don't go skiing with new snow!  Instead, as the snow fell in the mountains and in the valley, we curled up on the couch with the increasingly frail B, watching The Christmas Story, eating fancy cheeses and opening the presents sent to us from our families back east.  (Thank you for the books and socks and snacks and gift certificates, everyone!)

The Christmas storm turned out to be a pretty good one, all things considered.  Alta reported a 19" storm total; Solitude got 13"; and Brian Head, down south a ways, scored the jackpot with 34"!!!  That storm has moved out now and left some cold air in its wake, ahead of the next system due to move in this weekend.  The Friday mid-morning mid-mountain temperature at Alta was 5 F, with the high not expected to go over 16 F; the weekend is forecast to be about the same, with wind chills well into the negative numbers, and with the possibility of up to a foot of new snow by Monday.

At this point, I'm not making any predictions about the skiing for the weekend.  We'd obviously like to get out there but we're going to take it as it comes, factoring health (or lack thereof) and cold temperatures - and the reality that the resorts are going to be crazy-crowded with holiday-goers - into it.  Regardless, we hope you all had very happy and healthy holidays yourselves!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

wet and wild

Just in time for the solstice, winter arrived in the mountains of the Wasatch with a decent storm, lots of heavy, wet snow and big winds to boot.  Temperatures started in the mid-20s but got warmer, ensuring that the falling snow remained heavy and dense.  It wasn't the lovely, fluffy Utah powder that everyone loves, but it was a solid cement base to build upon.  Up in the mountains it snowed like crazy all day, with the gusty, blustery winds getting stronger as the day went on.  Alta ended up closing all of its lifts except Sunnyside and Cecret by 2:30 p.m. due to the winds - while wind holds are common back east (Sugarloaf, I'm looking at you), it is a rare occurrence in the Cottonwood Canyons.  Alta was claiming five inches overnight Saturday into Sunday; they would end up claiming eight more inches during the day Sunday.

We got up there at 9 a.m., noted the full corral at Collins and decided to wait, warm and dry, in the truck until they started loading the chair.  Once out there, it was immediately apparent how heavy and wet snow was, good for laying down a base but tough to ski in - there were people falling all over the place after running into the heavy clumps.  It was a lot busier than Saturday as tourists had come in for the holiday week, plus the locals were not about to miss out on the new snow, heavy or not, and it seemed a little crowded since lots of terrain was closed due to wind-loaded avalanche danger.

On our first run down Collins, the groomed* snow felt good but the strong wind gusts made for poor visibility - often around zero.  We moved over to Sugarloaf, looking for protection from the wind, and again, the snow was quite good but heavy.  The trails clumped up fast, sending people flying.  We then moved to Supreme where there were fewer skiers.  Challenger was in much better shape than it had been the day before with some more coverage over the giant hard swells and rocks.  There were no "groomed" trails per se off of Supreme, however, and the heavy clumps quickly took a toll on my legs.  Despite the avalanche work we could hear going on around us, a lot of terrain never opened: Catherine's Area, Supreme Bowl, Rock n Roll, the EBT, the Backside, etc., so we entertained ourselves with ventures into the woods where we could.


In an attempt to avoid the crowds, we went in for lunch early, finding a table with no problem.  Also a good thing:  as H stood in the very long line at the grill at Alf's, one of the line cooks noticed him, asked if he just wanted the usual medium fries (yes) and then let him jump the line to pick up said fries, hot out of the frier.  Hooray for being regulars!  When we went back out after lunch, the winds had picked up even more.  We did a run down Sugarloaf - where skier's right of the Sugarbowl was all wind-buffed and skied great for a change - then tried it back at Supreme to see if the wind was any less there.  It wasn't, and they were running the lift slowly because of the gusts.  The visibility was terrible and the wind was very unpleasant, grabbing at our skis and rocking the chairs, so we decided to call it a day.

We skied out of Supreme via Big Dipper - which was also wind-buffed and consequently skied better than it had all morning when it was all clumped up.  We had to go out through the Sunnyside bunny slopes since the EBT back to the top of Collins was closed: the wind was coming right up the trails and one big gust stopped us cold - and also blew a little kid backwards into H.  We finally got down to the rope tow and dragged ourselves back to Collins base that way.  The drive down canyon was a little sketchy as we wound our way through the Alta bypass (part of the main canyon road between Alta and Snowbird being closed for wind-loaded avalanche danger), but the snow level stopped around the White Pine trail parking lot and the road to home was clear from there.

Monday morning reported the following: 21" storm total at Alta (thus far), but they didn't open Monday until 11 a.m. and then only opened Collins, Wildcat and Sunnyside lifts.  That was better than some as Solitude didn't opened at all, the 'Bird only ran the Chickadee lift and PCMR was rumored to have had no power at the resort base.  Wild weather for sure - but it brought much needed snow.  And there's another smaller, colder storm heading our way for Christmas!

*  Since Alta tends to run its groomers as soon as the lifts stop turning for the day, all the groomed trails were covered over with the overnight snow, which makes it difficult for newbie skiers.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

the calm before the storm

It hasn't been entirely calm here, what with Christmas parties and cookie-baking and limoncello-making and mailing gifts and cards and putting up the "Christmas tree."  All that is what we've been doing while it hasn't been snowing very much.  All that was about to change, with a big, wet storm heading our way for Saturday afternoon through Monday, and then another, colder storm for Christmas Eve.  But when we headed up to Alta Saturday morning, there had only been about five new inches during the week - I was hoping that was enough to keep the bases of my skis safe.

It was lightly snowing when we got up there, about 30 F at the base and in the 20s at the summit, with very flat light.  On the plus side, it wasn't at all crowded and would remain that way all day.  The groomers were in great shape with those five additional inches, smooth and flowy.  The ungroomed trails were less enjoyable: a few inches of fluff on top of rock-hard bumps.  We fared better off piste in Catherine's Area: we took good two runs down around So Long where the snow was soft and the rocks pretty well covered.

That's the most sun we saw on Saturday

It was a fairly social day for us as well, as we chatted with some of our favorite Skier Services folks, Martha and Stef, and met Ben, a liftie from Vermont with whom we commiserated about the mosquitoes back east.  We also rode Supreme with this hilarious local seventeen year old who was super outgoing and who apparently spends more time on the slopes than in school.

We skied until about 2:30 p.m., at which point my quads were hollering pretty loudly.  The snow had held up pretty well all day and we were hoping that it would even be better for Sunday.  With this latest storm system, it looks like we may be finally getting some winter weather this winter.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

the little storm that could

We were not entirely psyched up about the storm that was due to hit Friday night; despite dropping big snow on California, the folks in the know were only predicting 3-6 inches here in the Wasatch.  So when H ended up having to get on a conference call for work Saturday morning at 8 a.m., we were disappointed but not distraught, knowing that we weren't missing out on anything deep.  While H was on the phone, B and I took care of holiday-type stuff - running errands, packing boxes for mailing back east, stopping by the neighborhood holiday food drive/get-together (last year here).  By the time H got off his call around noon, we decided to write off the day and get after it on Sunday.  It rained and snained (snow-rain) off and on in the valley all through the rest of the afternoon, and it remained socked in up the canyon - which is always a good sign.

Sunday morning we got up to go skiing.  The storm had stuck around all night, dropping about seven inches (already more than had been forecasted) and it was pretty chilly up there, mandating some thought on my part about (1) layers and (2) skis.  I ended up taking a risk on some new gear: my new (2014) Salomon Pure White skis and my new (to me) Flylow shell.  I figured the new snow was enough to cover some rocks but not so deep that I would need my powder skis; I wore my heavy long john bottoms, an UnderArmor base layer, plus a light fleece, plus a down vest, plus the Flylow.  Both would end up being the right calls.

I like the snowflakes caught mid-air in front of my jacket

Supreme lift had opened on Friday so I headed straight there, riding up Collins, through Sugarloaf and over to Supreme.  It was pretty quiet over there - avalanche control bombs in Supreme Bowl notwithstanding - and I did some laps while H finished up some work stuff.  The groomers were in great shape.  The ungroomed runs, like Challenger and Upper Sleepy Hollow, were puff on crust: the new snow was lovely but hid rock-hard moguls underneath.  I skied both groomers and bumpy runs, trying out my new Salomons.  I liked them a lot: they were very turn-y and the wide tips didn't submarine in the deeper stuff.  Success!

When H caught up to me, they had just opened Catherine's Area and of course we went in - with lots of other people.  The beginning of the traverse was pretty rough and I managed to ding up my brand new skis several times both on the traverse and on just-covered rocks deeper in.  But the snow was light and in pretty good shape, and we ended up going in three times.  I still have the bad habit of picking up my inside ski when I turn in deeper snow - something else to work on.

After a late lunch break, we moved over to Sugarloaf.  There was only one run open, however, and there were snow guns running the whole way down.  We did a couple runs and then moved over to the front side to see how Collins was holding up.  The snow was okay but the visibility was terrible: low clouds and very flat light.  The wind was picking up and the temperature seemed to be dropping ... we decided that enough was enough and called it a day.  By late Sunday afternoon, Alta was reporting 14 inches thus far (with the storm not calling it quits yet) - that's the best 3-6" I ever saw.

PS - Hopefully soon we'll be skiing enough to get back into the habit of two posts a week.  We just need the weather/snow to cooperate.

Thursday, December 11, 2014


The thing with the start of each ski season is this: it takes me a while to remember how to do everything, like look at the weather report and figure out the correct layers to wear.  Case in point: last weekend.

Saturday was mostly overcast and so I played the ski snob card (no new snow and no blue skies = no skiing) and remained down in the valley, doing laundry and running errands while H went up to Alta.  He skied for about half a day, returning to report better conditions than my first time out and no lift lines.

Saturday's Supreme lift - not yet open

Sunday was a beautiful day, however.  I looked out the window and saw no clouds; I took a quick look at Alta's website and saw that the forecast was for 30s and not windy.  So that's what I dressed for ... instead to looking at the actual temperature which was low 20s.  Low 20s means a heavier base layer and my boot covers - not what I wore.  I was a little chilly (and my feet got cold) and ended up having to go into Watson Shelter lodge to warm up for a bit.  Lesson learned: look at ALL the weather information when planning one's ski outfit.

Looks good but not quite warm enough

Even with my outfit deficiencies, it was a pretty nice early-season ski day.  Sugarloaf lift was running and we split the (half-)day between that lift and Collins.  Ski patrol was still doing avalanche control and setting rope lines in East Greeley and the available runs were limited, but the snow was pretty good, albeit firm.  We even did an off-piste cruise over to Supreme lift, which was turning but closed to skiers.  Soon!  

In addition to the snow having improved slightly, I took advantage of having to ski mostly on groomers to try to improve my technique: H suggested that I try bending my knees more for a less static posture.  So I practiced that, and keeping my hands forward, and pole-planting, and there's really a lot to remember after a whole spring/summer/fall off the slopes.  If I keep it up, and we get lots more snow, my skiing - and the skiing in general - will just get better.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

what's going on here?

Well, not that much, as you can tell from the dearth of posting of late.  We had a very nice visit with H's folks over Thanksgiving.  The weather was meh - not too cold, but overcast and just not that nice - so we didn't get out and do much.  Breakfast at the Silver Fork one day, dinner out at Fratelli one night, but mostly just hanging out and spending time with each other, watching football, doing card tricks and reading.
Just before sitting down to eat

We also haven't gotten much new snow.  H went skiing the morning his parents arrived and reported that it was much better than my first day out.  Since then, however, we've only gotten six inches or so and the current weather pattern has settled into a bit of a ridge that won't bring any storms to the Wasatch Front any time soon.  It's still early season, we keep saying, but it would still be nice to get some snow.  I have new skis I want to try!

Skiing = smiling, no matter what the conditions

And that's really it since Thanksgiving around here.

More of this, please!

Friday, November 28, 2014

consistency plus

On Thanksgiving morning, I did my fifth running of the City Creek Canyon Cold Turkey 6K.  H's parents had come into town on Tuesday to join us for the holiday, so I had a larger than usual cheering section.  It had warmed up a bit since that lovely snowstorm: 50F at the finish, so the onlookers didn't freeze but not too warm for running.  The road was dry too so we had the standard course: start at the capitol to City Creek Canyon, up the canyon about a mile, turn around and run down with the finish in Memory Grove.  The start was a little disorganized and my legs felt very tired for the first half mile or so; I was just coming off a three week cold and was also worried that I might have overdone it at the gym Wednesday night.  Once we started climbing up the canyon, however, my legs loosened up a bit.  I'd been practicing hills so the up-canyon portion wasn't too bad.  Once we hit the turnaround though, a lot of people started passing me - I have short legs and just don't cover much ground with my strides.

Totally beat the girl in pink

I kept up with a guy in a green shirt for the all of the uphill and half of the downhill, then passed him as we entered Memory Grove.  After that, I kept a girl in a pink shirt in my sights, trying to close the gap.  She picked up the pace when the finish line was in sight - so I had to pick up my pace to stay with her - but she went out too soon and I ended up passing her, plus two other people right at the finish.  We hung around for just a bit so I could get a snack and some water and coffee, then headed home.

I didn't really have a feeling for how I ran this year.  I had hoped to beat last year's time (that's usually my only goal) but my legs had felt so heavy at the beginning that I wasn't sure I'd done it.  We had to wait a while for the results to be posted ... but when they were, I was pleasantly surprised:

Race results (and history)
2014:  34:14.58 (crushed last year's time!!!), 10 out of 26 in age group, 174/656 overall
2013:  35:44.40, 7 out of 24 in age group, 243/682 overall
2012:  n/a (Thanksgiving in California)
2011:  35:41.33, 249th out of 656 overall
2010:  37:22.76 (course changed due to ice/uphill finish), top half of finishers
2009:  35:53.32, top half of finishers

As you can see, I'm pretty consistent with three finishes within twelve seconds of each other.  Beating last year's time by nearly 30 seconds is a big jump tho' - I'm really going to have to train next year!  Here's somewhere else that I'm also consistent -  the pre-race photos.

This is this year, 2014:

And this is last year, 2013:

Same hat, same purple fleece, same goofy pose.  If nothing much changes, expect to see this again in 2015.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

it's a start

The first big snowstorm of the season has rolled in and wreaked havoc; we're still way behind normal for snowpack this time of year but at least it's not a historical low anymore.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Each year, as my first day back on the hill approaches, I realize how much I've forgotten over the sum - mer.  Things like: where did I put my stash of hand-warmers?  And: how long does it take me to get ready in the morning?  And: which socks do I wear?  And: what do I wear in general for the conditions?  And (afterwards): Do my boots always hurt this much on the first day?  Each year, without fail.  This year, this past Saturday was my first day skiing for the 2014/2015 season and I grilled H unmercifully about the weather forecast and current conditions, determined to get my layering right the first time.  We knew the storm was coming - everyone had been getting very excited about it for several days now - but it wasn't due to arrive in the mountains until the afternoon.  Based on H's experience on Opening Day, we didn't think we were likely to be skiing into the afternoon so I dressed accordingly: lightly insulated jacket, no neck gaiter.

Not dressed for a snowstorm

When we got up to Alta, the lot was less than a quarter full.  We waited in the corral for the lift to open at 9:15 a.m., watching the overcast skies and chatting with the skier services folks.  When we got on the lift, the first snowflakes were falling.  And they kept falling the whole time we were there: the storm had arrived early!  It wasn't cold (mid- to low 30s F) but it was a little windy and I had to go back to the truck to get my neck gaiter to keep the swirling snow from going down my jacket. At first the conditions were as H had experienced them the day before: firm corduroy, getting skied off in high traffic areas (and since there were really only one or two trails open off of the Collins lift, everything was a high traffic area even though there weren't all that many people there).  But the snow kept falling - big fluffy flakes, tiny particles, graupel - and laid down a nice surface on top of the groomed runs.

We skied mostly on the front side of Collins - Mambo to the newly-resdesigned Corkscrew - but did take a couple of runs down through the Sugarloaf side - Waldron's Way to Devil's Elbow and down through Sunnyside to the rope tow.  Hardly anyone was going over there so the snow stacked up nicely and it was skiing pretty well.  We even scared up a partridge in among the trees along Waldron's Way.  By 1 p.m. it was evident that my legs were giving out (running is not good pre-ski training and I need to start doing lunges and squats post-haste) and we skied out.  It was still snowing.  The canyon road was messy until we got to Snowbird and then it was wet but not slippery all the way home.

When we got up Sunday morning, it was still snowing in the mountains and was even snowing in the valley.  The canyon roads were restricted to four-wheel drive or chains and - horror of horrors! - Alta had announced that all the new snow required a lot of preparation and avalanche control, so they were not opening for the morning and might open at 1 p.m.  They had received eleven inches overnight, on top of the four they got during the day Saturday, and the early season conditions meant unstable snowpack, even in-bounds.  We were disappointed but spent the morning doing chores and cleaning the house in anticipation of Thanksgiving, checking our FB and Twitter feeds obsessively for updates.  Around noon Alta announced that they had been unable to finish the control work - because it was still snowing and snowing - and they would not open at all until Monday.  Again, we were disappointed, but the tweets H got from the Utah Avalanche Center throughout the about the numerous slides in the Cottonwood Canyons convinced us that Alta had made the right call.  As of 4:45 p.m., the storm had dropped 25 inches at Alta with more to come.  Like I said, it's a start.

Friday, November 21, 2014

opening day 2014

Today was Opening Day of the 2014-2015 season at Alta.  H, obsessive diehard that he is, took the day up and hustled on up there.  Here are a sampling of the texts I received today while I was grumpily at work:

"Looks ........ thin."

"Front of the singles line"

Front of singles line

"Not really [crowded].  But cars are starting to pour in."

"Just spoke with Martha [the tough little skier services woman who recognizes and, now after several years, likes us].  She asked about you."

"Naomi [the 93 year old H rode first chair with last year] just arrived with her 90+ sticker on her helmet."

"4th chair."

In response to my question about the conditions:  "It was very eastern and got pretty scraped off."

"Still awesome."

Sunday, November 16, 2014

buttoned up

The little storm that came through (also known as the biggest storm of the season thus far) snowed for Friday night through most of Saturday, leaving a storm total of sixteen inches up at Alta.  It's a start.  We're already behind historical total-wise for the date, but it's a start.  Because the storm went through most of Saturday, we weren't inclined to get out and tromp around in it; because of the new snow the storm left behind, we didn't go out and tromp around Sunday either, despite the clear skies - we struggle on our snowshoes because there's so much side-hill hiking out here.  The lower trails would be super wet if they weren't snowy ... so we decided to hang out at the house.  I could only do laundry for so long so I needed a project.

Note the instruction manual at the ready 

Our dog Becky is getting pretty old.  We adopted her as a young adult stray and we don't know exactly how old she is, but we think she's probably about fourteen.  She had to have some dental surgery this summer - two teeth pulled and the rest cleaned - and that seemed to take a lot out of her.  She still eats, although she won't eat anything but tuna or grilled chicken; she still jumps up on the couches and bed; she still takes short walks but she's a little wobbly; she sleeps a lot.  And her fur is not quite as thick as it used to be.  I'd looked around at some stores and hated all of them (pink or froufrou or just plain hideous) - so I decided to make her a coat.

I definitely don't got cutting skillz

On Saturday, I picked up a flannel shirt and a chamois shirt at Goodwill.  Following the instructions I found here and here, I cut out a pattern on craft paper and then cut out the pieces.  Let me be clear: this took me a really long time.  I don't have good fabric shears and the edges were ragged; when I laid the lining (orange chamois) on the outside piece (blue plaid flannel), they only just barely lined up.  I am NOT a seamstress.

That looks like it could hold together

On Sunday, I pinned the coat body and the belly strap pieces together and prepared to sew.  I have a Singer Featherweight 221 sewing machine that my mom gave me.  I think it's a 1954 - I know it's an antique at this point.  It is amazingly good shape and, despite the fact that I don't know at all what I'm doing, works really well.  (Also amazingly, the sewing machine still has its instruction manual, without which I would be lost.)  After some false starts (i.e., it helps if you put the feeder foot down on the material before attempting to sew - who knew?), I stitched the coat body and the belly straps together.  I turned the pieces rights side out, topstitched the body and attached the belly straps, then put on button/rudimentary buttonholes.

Good sniffs

Incredibly, it (sort of) fit the dog, especially after I put in a couple of pleats on the sides to snug it in.  She wasn't psyched about wearing it but I think she forgot about it after we got into our little walk.  The temperature was 27 F in the sun and that silly coat must have felt good.  Martha Stewart doesn't have to worry about any competition from me over here, but I still felt a tiny little bit of pride that I actually accomplished what I set out to do.  And I have a HUGE amount of respect for those of you out there who are good with fabric - kudos to you.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

bookend to the season

It is sleeting in the valley right now, as I type this, a couple of storm systems finally moving through and hanging up over the mountains where it's snowing and snowing.  It's cold enough to make snow too and the ski areas are all counting down until Opening Day - next Friday, for many places.  What that says to me is that we were right last Sunday, when we thought we might be taking our last hike for the year.  With that in mind, we headed over to Round Valley once again to try to walk a big chunk of what we regularly ride.

We parked at the Quinn's trail head, cutting out the paved rail trail portion from town.  It was a beautiful day, sunny and very pleasant, not too warm.  We started off at a pretty quick pace and maintained it pretty much throughout the hike.  Although we didn't see very many people at the beginning, by the time we'd clawed our way up Hammerhead [Pladsen] Hill, we started to see lots; we would end up counting 100 MTBers - there were definitely lots of folks out there, enjoying one of the last, warm great days.

When we got to the end of Rambler's downhill sagebrush switchbacks, we decided to change it up a bit and try a new section of trail to see if we might want to incorporate it into our rides next year: we took Ramble On around the backside of the hill instead of taking the jeep road to the paved path.  Ramble On is well-named - or maybe should be Ramble On and On and On.  We finally joined up with the "new" section of trail, not too far from the Staircase, and headed for the truck.

As we finished up, we tried to guess how far we'd walked.  We were hoping for around fourteen miles, to match up with the City Creek half marathon we did to start the hiking season.  We were a little dismayed to learn that we'd only gotten 12.4 miles from our traipsing around Round Valley, but afterwards, sitting on the tailgate with our PBRs, our legs stiffening up, we decided that 12+ was pretty good for the day and a nice way to finish up (hopefully) the 2014 hiking season.  Let it snow!

Hike stats:  12.41 miles, 3 hours 39 minutes, 3.4 m.p.h., 100 MTBers, nine dogs.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

lemons lemonade

 We're already behind on snowfall this year - Alta is supposed to open in two weeks! - but the weather really is supposed to be changing in the next day or two.  So we had one more weekend of glorious weather to deal with and decided to make the most of it.  The short track speed skating World Cup tour was in town at the Olympic Oval in Kearns and we were tempted to go check it out.  But the sun was shining and it just seemed criminal to be indoors.

November hiking outfit

We did yard work first, mowing and raking and cleaning up the flower beds for the winter.  It never seems to look good after we've worked in the yard, but it always looks better so I guess that counts for something.  After getting cleaned up, we got our hiking gear together to go up to Solitude/Brighton, first stopping at the Wasatch Powder House to pick up our Alta season passes.  We were in and out quickly and headed up Big Cottonwood Canyon, finding a parking spot in the busy Silver Lake parking lot.  The plan was to head up to Lake Solitude, follow the access road up towards the summit and then take the Sol-Bright trail back around to Silver Lake.  We'd done this hike last in October 2012, right after an impressive early snowstorm; there was a little snow on the ground this time but not nearly so much as two years ago.

Rock skis recommended for now

We didn't see anyone else on our way up, following the well-packed trail through the shady woods and across sunny clearings.  The temperature was in the 50s: pleasant in the sun but cool in the shade.  There were deer tracks everywhere (but no actual deer sightings) and we also saw porcupine tracks, trundling off into the trees (but no actual porcupine sighting).  We lost the Sol-Bright trail for a little bit as we started to descend, but it was easy to pick our way down the hillside to pick it up again.  The packed snow was slippery in places and we were glad to have our hiking poles for extra assistance.

Evergreen Peak cliffs

When we got back to Silver Lake, we looped around the lake on the path and boardwalk, which was also pretty slick in the shade.  We had our post-hike beers and homemade jerky in the waning sun, watching other people come and go.  Yes, we would have rathered it have been nuking snow - but still, what a nice day.

Silver Lake still just barely in the sunshine

Hike stats:  4.05 miles, 1 hour 53 minutes (10 minutes of stoppage time), 2.4 m.p.h. moving average.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

shoulder season

Shoulder season is tough for outside folks: we want to go skiing, but it's not ready yet; we can't (or don't want to) go MTBing or hiking because of the conditions of the trails.  On Sunday we finally got some stormy weather - it's been a dry fall and this was a much needed storm, snow-wise; unfortunately it didn't drop as much as we hoped and we're in another dry patch now - enough to keep us inside as about a foot of snow hit the mountains and rain hit the valley.

When that happens, we're rather at a loss for what to do and thus at a loss for something to post here.  What we did do was make a batch of homemade beef jerky using our new food dehydrator and start a new batch of homemade wine.  For the jerky, we used ground beef and a spice packet that came with the dehydrator; it turned out tasting like Slim Jims, so that can't be all bad.  We'll try sliced beef and a homemade spice rub/marinade next time (we've been collecting recipes).  For the wine, we started another Chilean Carmenere because the first bottles turned out so well ... after three years of aging.  If the same holds true, we should be enjoying this newest wine in about 2017.  (We may have to make some quicker-drinking white in the meantime.)  Even though it's a little chilly in the house, the yeast is still bubbling away happily in the primary fermenter as I type, a very good sign.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

timing is everything

Although mountain-biking may be over for the year, we thought we could sneak in a hike on Saturday morning: the weather report called for a storm moving in early afternoon but when we got up, the sky was clear and bright.  Because of the inclement weather potential, we wanted something down a little lower, something protected in case things changed quickly.  We decided to go up to Millcreek Canyon and do the Terraces-Elbow Fork trail (like we'd done by accident last October) but this time in reverse.

Clear skies as we started

We parked at Church Fork, out along the canyon road since the picnic area/trail head gates are closed for the season, and, along with oodles of dogs and their people, walked up to the trail head.  We walked up-canyon along the Pipeline Trail to the Burch Hollow trail head, sharing the broad, gradually climbing trail with many other hikers, trailrunners, MTBers and dogs.  Lots of dogs - we were nearly the only people out there without a dog.

Foliage is definitely past peak now

At the Burch Hollow access point we came off the Pipeline Trail and walked up the road a little bit to the road into the Terraces picnic area (also gated for the season).  We walked up the steep paved driveway and then hopped on the trail that would climb up to the ridge and then descend to Elbow Fork.  The trail here was soft underfoot - packed dirt and pine needles - but was much steeper than we remembered.  We were working pretty hard as we climbed and climbed and climbed to the top of the ridge.  The weather was just starting to turn at this point - clouds building up and swirling overhead as the winds increased - so we didn't linger much.

Here comes the weather

The trail descended pretty sharply to Elbow Fork, where we crossed the canyon road and got back on the Pipeline Trail for the descent.  The wind was definitely stronger, the sun peeking in and out as the clouds raced by.  The walk down canyon went quickly since the Pipeline Trail is such an easy grade - except for the sharp switchbacks going down to the Burch Hollow access point.  (Point of interest: this time we actually found the missing Burch Hollow Trail - much further out than our book had led us to believe.  Now that we know it's really there, we'll have to go back and do it in the spring.)

Protected side-hill walking

By the time we got back to the car, the sun was definitely gone, so we'd timed it just right.  We had one quick beer (earning us an "All right!" from a solo woman hiker headed back to her own car) and then headed home as the first raindrops hit the windshield.  Shoulder season is always tough for us - we love to be outdoors but are not keen on tromping around in the rain - so it was nice to have been able to get out before the weather moved in.  Plus, a rainy, post-hike afternoon is the perfect excuse to make chocolate chip cookies - which we did.

Little waterfall in Church Fork

Hike stats:  (These are slightly different from the first time we did this hike.  Not sure why.)  9.95 miles; 3 hours 16 minutes moving (only eight minutes of stoppage); moving average speed 3.0 m.p.h.; 2,075 feet elevation .

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

gone with the wind

The calendar pages are a-turning and soon enough the temperature is going to drop and it's going to start snowing in the mountains.  We can't wait.  But last Saturday, the lovely weather clung to northern Utah and we had another good day MTBing at Round Valley.  We decided to go on Saturday because there was supposed to be a weak storm moving into the area on Sunday.  What we didn't know was how crowded the trails might be.  We needn't have worried: there were a few more folks out riding than the prior weekend but not many by any stretch of the imagination.

It was, however, very, very windy, with gusts above 40 m.p.h.  Normally the wind is only an issue on the paved bike path portion; this day it affected us [me, really] for much of the ride.  Although I climbed My Nemesis pretty well, I was handling the bike like a bit of a spaz and ended up walking more of the Sweet Sixteen switchbacks than I have been doing, spinning out on a rock on one corner and having my front wheel bounce too much on another.

Heading out after Hammerhead Hill

H climbed Hammerhead [Pladsen] Hill no problem, however, and I did fine on the Staircase of the new-to-me section of trail.  In fact, I've decided that I really like that new-to-me section and wish I'd gotten the courage to start riding it sooner in the season.

After riding, we drove over Guardsman Pass but it was far too blustery to sit in our usual picnic spot - the swirling dust would have made it miserable.  We instead opted for beers and sandwiches in the Brighton parking lot.  Perched on a stone wall and soaking up what sunshine we could as the winds whipped the clouds overhead, we people-watched the erst-while hikers until our bums got cold from the rocks.  (Then we had to blast the heat in the truck until we got back down into the valley where it was warmer.)  When we got home, H washed our MTBs, letting them dry in the sun before moving them into the mudroom, thinking that the weather could change at anytime and this could have been our last MTB ride until spring.  If it was the last day on the MTB trails until after skiing, then it was a pretty good way to finish up.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

another fine day

Man oh man, the fall weather has just been so good lately!  We had another spectacular day on Sunday and went over to Round Valley to take advantage of it with a MTB ride.  Bonus: no huge high school MTB race!  We had to wait a while for it to warm up as it was in the 30s in Park City when we got up.  So we puttered around, had bacon and eggs and watched the sun come up over the Wasatch Mountains before we deemed it warm enough to go.

My shirt matches the sky!

It was just a great day to ride.  The sun was warm and the wind nearly non-existent; there was hardly anyone out on the trails.  I had a strong climb up My Nemesis and H got applauded by two hikers when he rode to the top of Pladsden (a/k/a Hammerhead) Hill.  I happily rode the new-to-me section of trail instead of taking the bike path and, as I neared the top of the Staircase, had just enough breath to gasp out, "Behind you!" to the guy walking his bike up this hill.  He jumped out of the way and I pedaled past, gratified to have actually passed someone on a hill for once.

We stopped at our picnic spot en route to Guardsman Pass and it was extremely pleasant: still sunny, still no wind.  The aspens are all but past now, with just a few patches of gold yet blazing from the surrounding hillsides.  We drank our beers and ate our snacks and soaked up the sun.  Who knows how many more days like this we'll get before winter decides to settle in!

Sunday, October 19, 2014


Summer-ish weather is desperately clinging to northern Utah (but due to change in just a couple days) and we went out on Saturday to take full advantage, heading up Little Cottonwood Canyon to hike up to the Maybird Lakes.  We'd done the Red Pine Lake and White Pine Lake hikes earlier this summer; Maybird would be the third of those three major hikes out of the same trail head.  We got up there early enough (before 10 a.m.) to get one of the last parking spots in the lot but late enough that the sun was up, warming it enough that I didn't have to wear my gloves for too long.  We'd only done this Maybird Lakes hike once before: just over a year ago, after an early snowstorm that left us hiking in six inches of snow for most of the hike.  This time, we crossed thin patches of snow but our boots stayed dry.

More moose!

We started right off on a good note, finding a herd of at least five moose browsing in the aspens just a quarter-mile into the hike.  There was a good sized male with antlers, several cows and a teenager or two.  They were completely unconcerned as we and several other hikers paused to take their pictures.  We continued up the trail, passing people on the old mining road to the Red Pine/White Pine intersection as well as on the Red Pine trail.  Once we turned off Red Pine, we still were in the company of a few other hikers although the Maybird Gulch trail is not nearly as popular as Red Pine and White Pine.

One of these days, Pfeifferhorn ...

Without the snow cover, the trail was easy to follow (steep and rocky in places but not the steepest or rockiest we've encountered by any means), and we climbed steadily until we reached the three little lakes.  They were pretty low and we could see lots of deer tracks on the muddy shores.  The Pfeifferhorn loomed above the steep talus slopes surrounding the lakes; under the sunny skies we made a mental note that we'd need to climb it one of these days.

One of the Maybird Lakes

The trail head to the White Pine, Red Pine and Maybird lakes is such a popular spot.  We saw tons of people as we descended, both coming up and going down and with a whole range of preparedness and skill level.  We did not, however, see any more moose - they had probably tired of people gawking at them and moved off further into the brush to continue their browsing.  After changing into dry clothes at the car, we continued up the canyon to Snowbird to take advantage of their Customer Appreciation Days (free tram ride with food donation to the Utah Food Bank or $3 donation to Wasatch Adaptive Sports).  We weren't the only ones with that idea - there were approximately a zillion people up there, all in line for the tram - but we were pretty much the only ones who took post-hike beers and snacks to the top of the tram for consumption atop Hidden Peak.  It was likely one of the last beautiful days of the fall and it was nice to see folks out enjoying it.

The last of the aspens

Thursday, October 16, 2014

return to desolation lake

Hard to believe it had been snowing the day before

Weather moved in on Sunday, bringing clouds to the valley, rain to the foothills and snow to the higher elevations - not ideal for hiking.  We did take a walk in Dimple Dell, went out for beers at the Beer Bar and had dinner at the Red Iguana.  It wasn't exactly what we had planned but it was a fair enough last day with my folks before they headed back to Maine.

Moose family, enjoying the day

H and I had Monday off and after we dropped my parents off at the airport, and after it had warmed up a bit, we decided to knock off the hike we had meant to do with my folks the day before: Desolation Lake.  I had done it by myself last year, and it had been since 2012 that H had been up there.  There were a fair number of cars at the trailhead but we didn't see too many people on the trail itself.  We did get to see three moose, a momma and her twins.  They were standing next to the creek, about .3 of a mile from the Dog Lake/Desolation Lake intersection, and we had to wait while they sauntered across the trail and up the hillside.  Although they watched us pretty carefully, they didn't seem at all concerned that we were there.  They were beautiful.


We continued up the trail, turning right towards Desolation Lake at the intersection.  Almost immediately I noticed something was different: instead of the trail getting steep and going straight up the drainage, there were wide, soft switchbacks.  Someone had re-routed the trail, making it longer but easier, and much more MTB-friendly (which is important because quite a few MTBers descend this trail from the Great Western Trail up on the ridge).  It was really nice to walk on - thank you to whoever did all the work!

Look at that gorgeous new trail!

There were a few other people sitting around the lake when we got up there, so it was not entirely desolate.  It was, however, a little cold and breezy - there was a fair bit of snow in a shady spot just above the lake - and we didn't linger long, not wanting to get chilled.  Our descent was pretty fast, due to the gentler slope and good footing of the new trail.  We didn't see the moose on our way down but we did see (a) a nearly all-white snowshoe hare and (b) three college-age kids heading up to camp out at Dog Lake, carrying a huge cooler.  The rabbit was moving quickly; the cooler-carrying kids were not - but they were probably going to have fun later on.

Snowy section

Hike stats:  7.67 miles; 2 hrs. 15 minutes moving, with 30 minutes of stoppage time; 1,947 feet of elevation.

Desolation Lake itself

Monday, October 13, 2014

introducing my folks to catherine's area

My folks returned to SLC after a great five days in Capitol Reef National Park; they scored a tent site in the park's Fruita campground and did a ton of hiking with very good (if a little hot, even) weather.  When they got back to the Wasatch Front, the weather was starting to change, however, as a cold front was due to move through over the weekend.  H and I had planned on hikes up to Desolation Lake (Big Cottonwood Canyon) and to Sunset Peak via Catherine's Area (Alta), and when the forecast looked like the clearer skies would be on Saturday, we decided that the Alta hike would be the one to do since the views are more spectacular up there.

The gang on Catherine's Pass

It was definitely chillier than it had been the weekend before, which boded well for the hike.  We were able to get a parking spot in the small, Catherine's Pass trail head lot, saving ourselves at least a mile.  There were a few other people up there, including some bow hunters who were scouting the hillsides around Grizzly Gulch for deer.  We headed up to Catherine's Pass, pointing out various Alta landmarks to my folks as we went (such trivia as: "There's the cliff H skied off last year!").

My dad atop Sunset Peak

We paused for pictures on Catherine's Pass, then kept going up to the Sunset Peak/Great Western Trail junction.  While H, my dad and I cruised up to Sunset Peak, my mom found a sheltered, sunny spot and waited for us, then we all continued on to the top of the Supreme chair, finishing the loop down through the ski area and Albion campground.  A chilly breeze was picking up as we all had a post-hike beer, thin clouds swirling high overhead - hopefully the front moving in wouldn't keep us off the trails for Sunday.  [Spoiler: it would.]

Pausing before an icy patch

Thursday, October 9, 2014

nice day for a hike

My folks came out to visit us - technically, visit us, then go to Capitol Reef National Park, then visit us again - and on their first full day, before they'd really had any time to acclimate to being more than fifteen feet above sea level, we took them hiking.  They are experienced hikers, being 1998 Appalachian Trail thru-hikers and, most recently, having climbed Mt. Katahdin (Maine's highest peak) for the umpteenth time just a couple of weeks ago, so we tried to come up with a hike they would enjoy.  My first thought was Bowman Fork to Baker Pass, but when we remembered that it was 9.1 miles round-trip, we thought that might be a little longer than we wanted to do.  I then suggested Grandeur Peak: at around six miles round-trip, it was deemed more manageable and off we went.

Looking into Millcreek Canyon from the switchbacks

We've been having a stretch of spectacular fall weather - sunny and 70s - and Sunday was no exception.  It was hot even, on all those south-facing switchbacks, and we made sure to drink lots of water, especially the folks from back east.  The sky was a brilliant, cloudless blue and the trees were still clinging to their fall colors, a few pinks and oranges splashing the hillsides and groves of golden aspen standing out among the evergreens.  It was also an off-leash dog day there in Millcreek Canyon so we met lots and lots of friendly, happy dogs: shi-tzus, labs, golden retrievers both young and old, a Weimaraner, a Schipperke, mutts galore and the sweetest eight-month-old pitbull puppy.

Me and my dad on the ridgeline

What I had perhaps neglected to emphasize while selling Grandeur Peak as a hike was the elevation gain: about 2,600 feet.  That's a lot if you've just come from sea level the day before.  My mom, who was fighting a bit of a cold, opted to hang out on the ridgeline, leaving H, my dad and me to climb the last, steep quarter-mile to the summit.  At 8,299 feet high and perched right on the edge of the Wasatch Front, Grandeur Peak has great 360-degree views - Antelope Island, the Oquirrhs, the whole Salt Lake Valley, the peaks above Big Cottonwood and Emigration Canyons and the snow-capped Uintas.  Our descent was smooth and quicker than our climb, although I think my folks finished their water before we were down.  By the time we got back to the car, the post-hike beers felt well-deserved.

There's some fall colors for ya

Monday, October 6, 2014

race course

We were itching a bit to get back on our MTBs since we hadn't ridden since Moab - one rainy weekend throws everything off.  This weekend was to be gorgeous, however, so we got up and headed over to Park City Saturday morning, expecting a sunny, cool ride on the Round Valley trails.  What we didn't expect: a massive high school MTB meet with approximately six hundred riders from all across Utah and Idaho.

Although the course crisscrossed our regular route in several places, and actually went along the same trails in places, the course was not closed and we were able to ride nearly our whole loop.  We stopped and waited for racers to go back at some intersections, chatting with the friendly race officials who waved us through when we wouldn't disrupt the young riders, everyone happy and mellow in the warm sunshine.  We got through My Nemesis, Hammerhead Hill and the Sweet Sixteen switchbacks without seeing any other MTBers at all which was a treat.  When we started down the backside of Rambler, we did have to pull off to the side to let the freshman and sophomore girls ride through the other way.  "Thank you!" most of them said to us as they passed, incredibly polite even while racing.

Inadvertent filter use.  But wouldn't that
look great if there was snow on the mountains?

For the return, I opted to ride back on the paved bike path rather than the trail I recently conquered, since the downhill portion of the Nouvelle Loop was along the race course and I didn't want to have any racers have to come up behind me.  H, who is a much faster and nimbler rider than I, opted to stick with the trail and ended up pulling over so the pack of racers could go through.  It looked like a great event, well attended and well run, and they couldn't have asked for better weather for it.

Friday, October 3, 2014

five years

Today, Friday, October 3, 2014, marks the fifth anniversary of our arrival in Salt Lake City.  We left Maine on September 30, 2009, and never looked back; our transplantation from east to west has been such a good thing for us (despite our families wishing we were just a little closer).  We have loved the skiing (obviously), the access to the outdoors, the weather, the dearth of mosquitoes and blackflies, watching the Tour of Utah grow, having folks come visit us so we can share our Utah with them.  In celebration of our fifth move-iversary, here are some specific highlights from the past five years.

Year 1: October 2009-September 2010.  In our first year, everything was new!  We learned that Alta was our favorite ski mountain; A was zookeeper for a day; our friends P and C visited, plus T, plus H's folks, plus A's folks, plus we got the first installment of annual ski guests just a month after moving into our new house; we climbed Timpanogos and Timpanogos Cave; we saw the races on the bizarrely beautiful Bonneville Salt Flats; we got up close to mountain goats at Ben Lomond.

Year 2: October 2010-September 2011.  We had lots of visitors in our second year: H's folks; my best girls; P; R; and the ski guests.  We got an incredible 723.5 inches of snow to ski on!  And after skiing ended, we got MTBs.  We watched some impressive speed skating. We went to St. George, the Ashley National Forest and began our Moab tradition.

Year 3: October 2011-September 2012.  By our third year, we were beginning to settle in.  The ski guests came back; H's parents came back; and H's brother and his family came out to see what all the fuss was about.  We had a great hike up Timpanogos with all those mountain goats, plus some other good hikes, including along the Mormon Pioneer Trail.  We went camping in the Uintas in June and then again in September with B, and went back to Moab.

Year 4: October 2012-September 2013.  The return of the ski guests.  The return of P.  A went to MTB camp (Trek Dirt Series).  H's folks went to Moab with us.  We went to Lake Powell with A's family.  We camped at Capitol Reef National Park (well, just outside), went to Jackson, Wyoming, for our anniversary, and went back to Moab.  We had a great hike up Honeycomb Canyon (at Solitude) and down Silver Fork Canyon.

Year 5: October 2013-September 2014.  This last year, well, it was another good one.  H got first chair of Alta's season.  We had two rounds of ski guests: my brother and C.  We finally got into East Castle!  Once the skiing ended, we did some fantastic hiking: some particular favorites were Bowman Fork, Storm Mountain/Ferguson Canyon and the Brighton Ridge Loop.  We went to Sun Valley, Idaho.  And our Moab trip was, as usual, fantastic.

And now we start our sixth year in Utah (where does the time go?) and there's still so much we want to do.  Thank you for following along with us thus far and stay tuned right here for the continuing adventures.

Monday, September 29, 2014

2014 long weekend in moab, pt. 4

As the cliche goes, all great long weekends in Moab must come to an end, and ours ended on Sunday.  Our luck had held with the weather until then, with showers and thunderstorms scheduled to roll in late morning/early afternoon.  That was okay - it would make it easier to head home.  We switched things up a little for our last day by not getting up at 6 a.m., aiming for 7-7:30 a.m. instead.  We packed up all our stuff, putting on MTB gear and leaving aside a change of dry clothes - we couldn't leave without one more time on the trails!

Looking northwest from Rusty Spur

Breakfast was different too since the Moab Diner is closed on Sundays (which is just baffling to us: a breakfast joint, in a tourist town, closed on Sundays).  We went to the Love Muffin Cafe (139 N. Main Street, Moab) instead, which was a great, busy, local place where the average age of the staff and customers skewed much younger than the Moab Diner.  They have a full coffee bar and serve breakfast until noon and sandwiches all day, so you can get your lunch to go when you stop in for your morning caffeine fix.  The sandwiches sounded delicious but we stuck to the breakfast side of the menu: I got a "breakfast muffin," with blueberries, maple and bacon; H got a Wescial burrito stuffed with eggs, bacon, chopped green chile, cheddar cheese and salsa.  The food was fantastic and the line was out the door when we left.  We'll go back again for sure and maybe grab a muffaletta, Cuban or bahn mi to go.

Looking east from Bar M

Since the Moab Brand trails are right on the road out of town, that's where we rode, doing our Rusty Spur/Bar M loop twice.  When we finished up, there were close to twenty other cars in the lot but we'd seen scarcely anyone out on the trails.  I'm definitely getting stronger with my climbing skills, but seemingly having the place to ourselves - not having anyone charging downhill at me - helps with the confidence.

And that's how we roll

After that, there was nothing left to do but change, drink a PBR and head to Green River, where we scored seats at the bar at Ray's Tavern for their fantastic burgers and hand-cut fries.  We stopped for gas and a famed Green River melon; the skies opened up; and we headed north in a downpour.  Once again, a damn fine trip to Moab - can't wait until we get back down there again.