Thursday, May 29, 2014

holiday hordes

Memorial Day itself was just gorgeous, with blue skies and bright sunshine, and we were eager to get our MTBs back over to Round Valley for a rematch.  Since it was going to be about ten degrees warmer than the last time we rode, we were over in Park City by 10:30 a.m.  My legs felt pretty strong - likely due to only having walked four miles the day before as opposed to 13.3 - and I was happy to be back on the bike.

Demonstrating mad descending skillz

We weren't the only people out enjoying the glorious holiday weather: the Round Valley trails were as busy as we've ever seen them.  This meant that in some spots (like the sagebrush switchbacks on the backside of Rambler), we had to pull over at nearly every other turn to let uphill riders pass by.  Still, it was a great day.  I only had to walk on three of the Sweet Sixteen (uphill) switchbacks and managed to pass a guy on another gentle uphill section; H rode right up Hammerhead (technically, Pladsen Hill) again like a boss; and best of all, there was hardly any headwind for the return to the truck.

You can see why they close the road for the winter

After our ride, we headed for Deer Valley to take the just-opened-for-the-summer Guardsman Pass.  We paused for snacks at the saddle, sitting on the tailgate and gazing at still snowy Timpanogos, then continued up.  There was quite a crowd admiring the view at the top of the pass - motorcyclists, cyclists, tailgaters, folks glissading in the snow.  We paused for a bit ourselves before heading down the Big Cottonwood side. One quick pop-in at the Porcupine for a pitcher and we were headed home.  Now that the pass is open, it's starting to feel like summer.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

the case of the missing trail

The Saturday of our three-day Memorial Day weekend was a washout, cloudy, cool and raining until about an hour before sunset.  We were determined, therefore, to make the most of the rest of the weekend and picked out a new hike to do on Sunday: the Burch Hollow Trail in Millcreek Canyon from the Pipeline trail to the ridge.  It wasn't a long hike, only about five miles round trip, but with the south-facing slope, it looked to be warm and dry in the bright May sunshine.

We parked on the road a little ways up from the Burch Hollow trailhead and started walking around 10:30 a.m.  Since this hike was new to us, we'd consulted both the official Wasatch Mountain Club trail map for the Millcreek and Cottonwood Canyons as well as Hiking the Wasatch (p. 82).  We walked a little ways up the connector trail and turned right onto the Pipeline trail.  The book, which is an intentionally vague guidebook, said that the trail up to the ridge "branches from the Pipeline Trail 900 feet east of the point where the trail levels off."  We followed the Pipeline trail for a while, up a series of switchbacks.  The trail then sort of leveled off, but did continue to gain some gradual elevation, so we continued along, keeping a close watch on the uphill side for the trail up Burch Hollow.

View from the Pipeline trail

After about an hour, we stopped.  We hadn't seen any side trails.  We looked at the map again with our GPS and determined that we'd come 1.4 miles, far past where the trail - a secondary trail climbing the east side of the Burch Hollow drainage - would have branched off.  Slightly annoyed, we turned around and walked back the way we came, staring intently into the brush, searching for the Burch Hollow trail.  We got back to the top of the switchbacks without having seen anything but continued back down until we reached the junction of the connector spur and the Pipeline trail.  Nothing.  We'd seen nothing that looked like any sort of passable trail.

Just to be sure we covered all the bases, we kept going down-canyon along the Pipeline Trail, towards Grandeur Peak.  After about a quarter mile, we found what possibly could have been an old trail but what really was a dry creekbed going up a drainage.  We walked up that a ways before looking at the map again (and the book) and deciding that no, there was no way this was Burch Hollow - we were in a whole other drainage.  Frustrated and really annoyed now - this is Millcreek Canyon! Tons of people hike and bike here every day! How could we not find the Burch Hollow trail? - we briefly debated doing a different hike.  But the wind had been taken out of our sails and, since we had managed to log four miles walking back and forth in search of the trail, we decided to cut our losses and find a sunny place by the creek for a consolation beer.

Not Burch Hollow (but it sure is green!)

Millcreek Canyon allows dogs, unlike the Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons, and on odd-numbered days, they are allowed off-leash (on even-numbered days, dogs must be leashed and MTBers have free rein on the trails).  Both while we were searching for that damn, unfindable trail and while we were hanging out by the creek, we met a bunch of really nice dogs: golden retrievers, labs, border collies, mutts, two gorgeous doberman pinschers (the female was a beautiful fawn color) and the sweetest bull terrier.  The bull terrier (think: Spuds McKenzie, if you're old enough to remember) was awesome and so solid: he wasn't any bigger than B is but he weighed in at 85 pounds (!!), twice her weight.

When we got home, we both searched the internet and our other hiking books, searching for proof that the Burch Hollow Trail actually exists.  I found a photograph from 2012 of a sign marking the trail, but we definitely didn't see a sign; other information said that the trail was very difficult to spot since it isn't a highly-used trail.  Needless to say, H and I are highly skeptical that the Burch Hollow trail even exists anymore.  If someone knows exactly where it is - latitude and longitude would be super-helpful - we'd love to be proved wrong.  Until then, the Burch Hollow trail falls in the same category as the Loch Ness Monster as far as we are concerned.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

going 'round round valley

We were still the walking wounded when we got up Sunday morning, legs and backs stiff and H's blistered feet very, very sore.  We lurched through our morning, finishing up household chores, and then pulled out the MTB gear.  H reinflated the tires and checked the chains; we found our helmets, gloves, shoes, shorts and spare tubes; and we headed to Park City in the early afternoon.  As it moves more into summer, we'll go in the mornings because the afternoons will be too hot but this time of year is pleasant, cool in the mornings and only warm in the afternoons.  We'd checked the trail conditions and determined that Round Valley was dry enough to ride (when we'd skied at PCMR and Deer Valley this winter, there was no visible snow on the MTB trails even then) - we only hoped that our legs and feet would be up for the challenge.

As we cruised down the paved rail-trail from our in-town parking lot to the dirt trailhead, H noticed the brisk tailwind.  That would not bode well for the return.  It was quite windy for the whole day, switching from headwind to tailwind to crosswind depending on the twists and turns of the trail.  We rode our regular loop and I was surprised that there were not more folks out on the trails; we ran into (not literally) a couple other duos and groups, but not the hordes we'd found on our first ride last year.

I always get a little nervous on my first day back on the bike or the skis and I was again this time, but it all came back to me pretty quickly as I remembered to keep my elbows wide (except for on the climbs), to keep my eyes looking ahead and to shift my weight.  My legs were not conditioned enough yet to stay out of the saddle as much as I was supposed to, and I was overly cautious on the downhill portions.  But I managed to ride up My Nemesis, which I hadn't expected to do, and I rode a downhill, right-turning, rocky corner on which I usually put my foot down, so that was confidence-boosting.  I didn't ride as many of the uphill Sweet Sixteen switchbacks as I was doing by the end of last season but I attribute that to tired legs from the prior day's hike.  Most impressively, H rode all the way up Hammerhead Hill (please note: these are all our own personal names for these features and are not found on any maps anywhere) which is a massive feat - I can barely push my MTB up that hill, much less ride it.

The return on the paved rail trail was, as I expected, a slog into the wind.  We were feeling pretty good when we got back to the truck, though, because no crashes! and H's blisters hadn't bothered him on the bike at all.  We did 18.7 miles (slightly less than our normal route because we missed the Nouvelle Loop due to trail changes/improvements) with an average speed of 9.5 m.p.h.  That's not fast - but it's faster than our first day back on the trails last year, so we were proud of that especially in view of stiff legs and the blustery conditions.  We finished out our Park City expedition with beers and snacks in the PCMR parking lot, perched on a wall and gazing up at the ski mountain.  As much as we love skiing, it is always great to get back on the bikes.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

beer bar recovery

After our more-epic-than-intended hike up City Creek Canyon, we drove down to 200 South and limped into one of SLC's latest eateries/drinkeries, Beer Bar.  We like the name because it is so on point; as H said, you don't know what you're getting with "Lucky 13" but with "Beer Bar," you know exactly what you're going to find inside.  Located right next to Bar X at 161 E 200 S (and sharing a co-owner: Ty Burrell, from Modern Family), Beer Bar opened just a couple months ago and if what we experienced Saturday night is any indication, it's going like gangbusters.

They have at least twenty microbrews on tap, mostly Utahn but also some from Idaho and Oregon, and a massive catalog of bottled beers - pale ales, IPAs, Belgians, ambers, browns, Scottish, porters, stouts, lagers, wheats, strongs, ciders.  If you can't find something you like to drink here, then you aren't a beer drinker.  They also have a small selection of wines (red, white and rose), aperitifs and digestifs, so unless you really want booze, you should be good to go - and if you do really want booze, you can just go through the interior connector door and get a fancy cocktail from Bar X.  It's slightly self-service for drinks, where you stand in line at one of the two beer stations and then carry it back to your table yourself; it's a little unusual but I think the service is pretty quick that way.

It ain't all drinking in Beer Bar, however, because they've also got food: handmade sausages, Belgian style frites with dipping sauces, salads and strudel.  We were absolutely starving when we got there so we sat down at the small bar (the rest of the large, open space is filled with communal tables, plus there are a few tables and benches out on the sidewalk) and perused the menu.  Food ordering is at the counter too and then they bring it out to you.  I got a Louisiana Hot (Cajun pork sausage with smoked paprika) with sweet peppers and carmelized onions; H got a traditional bratwurst with spicy peppers and sauerkraut; we shared a large fries (hand-cut and double-fried) with a chipotle aioli and a sambal aioli (no, I didn't know what sambal was before I ordered it but it was slightly spicy and very tasty).  The prices may be a little high for how much food you get - just under $20 and the sausages weren't huge as H was still hungry afterwards) but omigosh it was so good.  My Louisiana Hot was simply delicious, the casing blackened and snappy, just how I like it.  The frites were fantastic too - I'm not sure I've had that double-dipped Belgian style before, but dang I'm a fan now.

By the time we left (after 9:30 p.m.), the place was jam-packed with hipsters, and because the space is so large and industrial, it was very loud.  We were clearly the oldest people there; we wondered if there might be a more diverse late afternoon crowd.  Still, hipsters aside, Beer Bar is a great, new place and SLC seems to be welcoming it with open arms.  Days later, I'm still thinking about how good that Louisiana Hot was - gonna have to go back soon.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

city creek half marathon

With the end of the ski season comes the start of the hiking and biking season, weather-dependent, of course.  Although the prior weekend had been a wash-out, this last weekend was a looker, mild and sunny.  H was able to get back onto his road bike for a ride; we puttered around the house doing springtime chores like repotting plants and sweeping out the garage.  We were all caught up by mid-afternoon, however, so we threw our hiking gear together and drove up to downtown Salt Lake City for a hike up City Creek Canyon.

City Creek Canyon was our selection because there is still so much snow in the other canyons.  The trailhead, just steps from the State Capitol, is at 4,705 feet, and there isn't a whole lot of elevation gain so wet conditions weren't going to be an issue, plus the "trail" is actually a paved road, super-popular with walkers, runners and cyclists year-round - easy footing.  We'd been in the canyon on several occasions, for short walks and for my Thanksgiving morning road races, but we'd never been all the way up and thought we'd give that a try.

We hit the pavement at 4 p.m., making our way up-canyon at a good, steady pace, leaving the rest of the foot traffic behind the further up we went until the only other recreationers were cyclists, churning their way up the incline.  It's very pretty up there, with the creek chortling away alongside the road and lots of birdsong coming from the dense trees and shrubs.  We hadn't really read the trail description before we left so we didn't really know how long the trail was; we just kept going and going, as the scrub oak and grassy meadows gave way to tall pines and rocky cliffs, figuring that we'd come to the end around each next corner.  Finally, at 5:50 p.m., we decided that we'd just go until 6 p.m. and then turn around - and then the pavement ended at a gate.  The trail kept going - foot traffic only, no bikes - but we'd already been walking for two hours and had to go back down again, so we left further exploration for another day.

That's as far as we got

Now, when we checked the GPS before starting down, we were startled to learn that we'd come 6.67 miles (in two hours) up the canyon.  That would make for a much longer round-trip than we'd intended but there was nothing to be done but go back down.  We thought that we'd make good time since the footing was easy and the grade not too dramatic.  What we didn't take into consideration was that doing a 13.3 mile hike (even an easy one) as the first hike of the season would take a toll on our bodies.  By the last 1.5 miles, we were trudging in silence, pain spiking with each step: my lower back had tightened up, as had my hips, the tendons behind my right knee were sore and my feet, especially my toes, were throbbing; H's main problems were two massive blisters, one of the ball of each foot, that made each step excruciating (and his legs and ankles were tight and sore too).  To add insult to injury, we weren't using our hiking poles - because hiking poles on the paved City Creek Canyon are pretentious - and our hands had swelled up dramatically.  We couldn't have taken our wedding rings off if we had wanted to and all the little lines and creases in our puffy, sausage-like fingers had been erased, plumped right out.

City Creek itself

Needless to say, we did not break any land speed records on the descent, just barely getting back to the car by 8 p.m., making it two hours up and two hours down.  The evening was cool and pleasant, and several cyclists and runners passed us as we changed shoes, heading up the canyon themselves.  We wished them well and wished we had some Advil ourselves.  We didn't, but we were in the city where we were pretty sure we could find some beers with which to convalesce.  But that's another post...

Sunday, May 18, 2014

tin roof grill

H and I (and B too) are creatures of habit.  Once we find something we like, we tend to stick with it.  We like to explore new things too, of course, but we do tend to return to the same well over and over again, like going to Moab each year, camping twice in one season at Cobblerest, going to the Porcupine when we don't want to think of someplace else to go.  With respect to dining, part of why we repeat the same places over and over again is because we live about fifteen miles south of Salt Lake City: while there are tons of places to go out for beers or dinner in SLC, options are rather more limited where we are, and those options tend to skew towards the national chain variety.  I hate eating at chains and avoid it as much as possible.  So when we learned about the Tin Roof Grill, only a short drive from home, we knew we had to check it out.

The Tin Roof Grill (9284 S 700 E, Sandy, UT) is a small casual dining establishment, recently featured on Diners Drive-Ins & Dives (no, we have not seen that episode yet).  We got there around 8 p.m. on a recent Friday night, finding several available tables and spots at the bar; a number of tables would fill after we sat down, making for a decent later crowd.  The menu is not overwhelmingly huge, with a variety of appetizers/small plates, salads, hot sandwiches, pizzas and pastas.  Since it was a warm evening, I struggled a little to find something that sounded appropriate - I don't find pizza and pasta appealing in warm weather - ending up with a house salad and order of pot stickers.  H got the steak sandwich and we both had Moab Dead Horse pints - a bargain at $3.39.

The food was fine although nothing spectacular.  H wished the roll for his sandwich had been crusty rather than chewy; I thought the house balsamic salad dressing and the sesame/soy/ginger dipping were too oily.  The pot stickers were flavorful, served with a very nice Asian slaw, and the salad itself was fresh and good-sized.  We were too full for dessert but were impressed with the list of homemade cheesecakes - over eight varieties, by my count - with the day's special being a chocolate maple with bacon cheesecake (!).

We won't go back to the Tin Roof Grill right away but it's nice to know about another decent local place in town - and we'll have to check out the cheesecake the next time we do too.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

first weekend without skiing

Ah, shoulder season, in which we are a bit at a loss as to what to do.  Alta has shut down for the summer (although Snowbird is still open and has gotten a bunch of snow this week; they did have to shut down today because of 65 m.p.h. winds, however).  There's too much snow to hike in the canyons and some cold, wet weather has settled in (feels like 39 F in the valley), making hiking on the Bonneville Shoreline trail unappealing.  We had intended to go to Moab this weekend but something came up so we couldn't go; they have been getting a ton of rain down there too - over 1.25 inches at Arches National Park and over 2 inches at Canyonlands - so even if we'd gone, activity would have been limited.

So we've just been skulking around the house, doing laundry, vacuuming, making chocolate chip cookies, watching cycling (Tour of California) and soccer (RSL and the Premier League), and looking forward to better weather.  One thing to get excited about: Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort has announced the line-up for its family-friendly movies outside under the night skies.  It's mostly pretty fantastic:

  • The Incredibles - the best superhero movie
  • The Princess Bride - beloved classic
  • The Sandlot - filmed right here in SLC
  • The Truman Show - meh
  • Frozen - where the audience is sure to be packed with tiny girls
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark - again, classic
  • Rocky IV - it's the one in Russia, apparently
  • Willow - hooray for 1980s fantasy!
  • Jurassic Park - those dinosaurs totally hold up
  • Hook - aw, Bob Hoskins as Smee
  • The Dark Crystal - double-hooray for 1980s puppet fantasy!

Nicely done, Snowbird.  There's something for everyone there: a couple of sports movies, a couple of animated flicks, adventure and fantasy, all under the cool skies and bright stars over the Wasatch Mountains.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

closing day

Alta's first closing day was April 20th was a gorgeous madhouse of a day.  Alta's second closing day, the real last day of the ski season, was Sunday, May 4th, and it was a little cooler, with more clouds than sun (unfortunately), and didn't have the rowdy ski jump competition party to rev up the crowds.  Still, the parking lot was nearly two-thirds full with several groups already tailgating when we drove in at 10:30 a.m.  There was live music at both the Collins base and Watson Shelter, kids were doing double back somersaults off a jump under the lift, there were plenty of costumes, and everyone was in a mellow mood.  There were even three more naked skiers!

This is why I love Alta so much: everyone there is so weird and mellow that no one even cares about naked skiers.  They got cheers from the chairlift, sure, but it was no big deal.  Everyone is weird at Alta.

Over by Supreme with Devil's Castle in the background

Our first several runs were pretty good.  There is still 100" of snow up there - melting and evaporating quickly - and the slightly cooler temperatures, cloud cover and constant breeze kept things from getting too sticky too quickly.  We did our regular lap across Sugarloaf, over to Supreme and down Sunnyside to catch the rope tow back to Collins; it went much better than Saturday since we could still get some glide out of our skis at that point.  Once it warms up enough and gets sticky, however, there's no going back.  My theory is that eastern resorts get corn snow in the spring because they do a lot of man-made snowmaking, which is much more granular.  I love skiing in corn snow: it's heavy but it slides and it doesn't get too sticky.  Out west, and especially at Alta where only 2% of their terrain is covered with man-made snow, the snow's crystals are much smaller.  This means light, fluffy powder when it falls ... and horribly sticky mashed potatoes when it warms up.  Many times today I almost went over the handlebars as my skis seized up in a sticky spot, halting all forward momentum.  This spring snow is very dense and heavy too - it's soft but it's difficult to turn in and despite having decent strength in my legs from skiing all winter, my quads were screaming by mid-afternoon.

View from Shoulder Traverse

With only Collins lift running (they did open the Wildcat lift for a couple of hours to take the pressure off Collins and we did one ride/run through there), we mostly played on the front side like we did on Saturday.  We did take a run out off of the Shoulder Traverse, under the Baldy chutes, where it was incredibly soft but actually turn-able.  The crowds thinned out as the afternoon wore on, as people got tired of skiing the mush and turned to tailgating instead; we figured there'd be a big rush after 4 p.m., though, as folks would be trying to get up and across the High Traverse for the traditional, final group run down High Rustler.

No blue skies for the last 2013/2014 Alta selfie

My legs couldn't last that long and our very last run was back through Sugarloaf again, cruising through the deep slush on Cecret Saddle and out Devil's Elbow, getting back to base at about 3 p.m.  We had a couple of farewell beers while we sat on the truck's tailgate, watching the partying going on around us.  It wasn't the best season - the lifties had a sign up apologizing for the "unpowder" this year - but we still had some pretty good days: our climb up and run down East Castle; the February weekend with my brother; the spring storm days in early April and March.  H ended up with 53 days and I had 45 (last year: 52 and 44, respectively) and we tried a couple of new ski resorts (Park City and Deer Valley).  It's always sad when the season ends but we figure that if we got to ski ALL the time, it wouldn't be so much fun.  Now we have summer (MTBing and hiking and camping) to look forward to ... and before we know it, it will be November and we'll be strapping on the boards again.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

next to last, 2013/2014

On Saturday it felt like it had been ages since we'd gone skiing.  With the weather behaving a little better and this being Alta's final weekend of the season, there was no question that we would be going up and hitting the slopes.  We pulled into the sparsely populated Goldminer's Daughter parking lot at 10:30 a.m. (just like last year); unlike last year, it was already 60 with high, thin clouds.  This meant the snow was very soft already and would just get stickier as the day wore on.

We did our usual lap for the first run, cruising through "backcountry access only" Sugarloaf (no ski patrol over there this time of year) and making our way past the bottom of the Supreme lift.  The mashed potatoes snow was very grabby already, making for challenging skiing.  We had to do a lot of poling since our skis would scarcely glide, and once we dragged ourselves back to Collins via the tow-rope, we knew we wouldn't do that run again.

Aggie's Alley

For the rest of the day, we took slow laps on the front side, trying out the Ballroom, Main Street, Mambo, Strawberry, Aggie's Alley, searching for runs with as little sun-bake as possible.  It wasn't really possible.  The snow was heavy and sticky, exhausting to push through.  But it was soft and there weren't enough people around to bump it up.

Maybe it'll be sunnier tomorrow

After lunch at Watson's Shelter, we did a few more runs before calling it quits around 2 p.m.  We sat on the tailgate and had a couple of beers, letting our winter-pale legs soak in what sun there was.  Sunday, Alta's second closing day and the last day of the 2013/2014 season, would be much busier and crazier, with costumes and tailgating and all kinds of Alta weirdness.  It was kind of nice to sit there, in the quiet, to reflect on the ski season.  Even though we've been doing nothing but skiing since November, it's hard to believe it's almost over for another season.