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.

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