Thursday, July 24, 2014

such an animal

Despite moaning and groaning and not wanting to get up when the alarm rang at 6:30 a.m. on a cloudy Sunday morning, we managed to get up and out and were on our bikes in Park City by 8:35 a.m., a half hour earlier even than we had been going.  It was a little bit cool, due to the early hour and the cloud cover, but there wasn't any wind and the riding temperature, once we got moving, was fantastic.  There were noticeably fewer people out and about, again due to either the time or the clouds (or both) and that was enjoyable too.

NOT falling off the bridge on Rambler

We did our usual route - Hat Trick to Matt's Flat, to Round Valley Express, to Valderoad, to the Practice Loop, to Rambler (up and up and up and then over and down - lots of time on Rambler), to Round Valley Express, to Silver Quinn's (or, in H's case, Rusty Shovel to Ramble On to Rambler to Practice Loop) and back to the trailhead - and only got sprinkled on a couple of times.  By the time we were heading back to the truck via the rail-to-trail bike path, the clouds had cleared and the sun came out, along with lots of fair weather bicyclists and runners.  Didn't matter to us: we'd gotten a good ride in without having to share the singletrack with too many other people.

And the title of this post?  It refers to H, first of all, because he rode really well up Pladsen Hill.  But it also refers to the coyote he spotted (in the Pladsen Hill area) and the ermine he saw (as we were leaving the Quinn's Trail Head and heading back to the bike path.  I missed seeing both critters of course - and am totally envious because they were really good ones!  I did see this flower, though, up at our picnic spot on Guardsman Pass.  We have been unable to identify it - can any of you?

Mystery wildflower: all by itself with no others within sight

Monday, July 21, 2014

something old, something new

This week's hike was a loop at Alta: up from Collins base to Germania Pass, then down through Albion Basin.  We did this hike back on June 16, 2012, and there was still a lot of snow then. We didn't figure that would be an issue for us this time.  We started early, as we have been doing, parking at the Albion lot and walking along the tow rope line to Collins, then blatantly ignoring not noticing the "Collins Gulch is closed for construction" signs and walking up the access road through Collins Gulch.  Alta is currently working on reconfiguring the Corkscrew/Nina's Curve area, trying to (we believe) open it up and straighten it out since that is how everyone gets filtered back to the main base area.  The earth-moving machines weren't going early Saturday morning, however, so we made our way up and past them without incident.

Possibly moss campion(?) - spectacular color

Every single time we hike at a ski resort, we marvel at how steep beginner and intermediate trails are to walk up.  We gained ground quickly, rising above the angle station.  It was very quiet and we thought we might see some deer, but while we did see lots of tracks, the deer themselves stayed out of sight.  We continued up the access road, switchbacking through Spring Valley, Strawberry, Mambo and Main Street.  When we got up to the bottom of the Ballroom (no snow left in the Main Baldy Chute anymore), we saw a couple of marmots, one of whom chirped warningly and at length at us, the sound echoing off the cliffs.

Top of Sugarloaf in a new hiking shirt

At the top of the Collins chair, I found a faint trail that wrapped around the peak.  As we walked through glorious lupines, I startled up a big partridge - actually, I don't know who was more startled, me or the bird.  From the ridge, we had a gorgeous view of the backside, with Yellow Trail below us, the EBT curving away to the right, Sugarloaf straight across with Devil's Castle looming behind.  We walked around the EBT to the top of the Sugarloaf lift, scaring up quite a few more marmots and scores of chipmunks and Uinta ground squirrels, before backtracking a little and following a path down through Little Dipper and Gravy Boat.  Once below the Sugar Bowl, we climbed up to the rocks on Razorback.  Again, more marmots, folks rock-climbing above Cecret Lake and other people sunning themselves on the shores.

Self-evident, also in a new hiking shirt

We picked our way down Razorback and then walked up the access road a little bit to connect with the road under Keyhole - there's still snow on Keyhole and we ended up passing a couple hiking up with their skis on their packs, heading there to make some turns - and East Greeley.  The wildflowers were out in force on the East Greeley slopes, making for a pretty walk down past the Glitch and Glatch chutes to the base of Sugarloaf.  From there, we continued down through Sunnyside, making our way through the HORDES of people clambering up to view the flowers.  Seriously: there were hordes.  It was nice that we'd had such solitude on the frontside hike because we certainly weren't alone anymore.

Cecret Lake from Razorback

We finished up back at the Albion lodge parking lot and managed to score a picnic table for our post-hike snack.  H doesn't spend much time at Alta in the summer, and when I hike up there it's usually on the Catherine's Area/Supreme side.  It was fun to recognize the summertime faces of trails we know so well from the winter.

Keyhole (snow hidden in gully to the left)

Hike stats:  total distance: 7.48 miles with 1,987 feet of ascension, topping out at 10,569 feet; average speed 2.7 m.p.h.; hike time total (moving): 2 hrs. 48 min.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

getting back in the groove

More earlier, more cooler is definitely the watchword for this summer's outdoors activities.  Although our Saturday night was a little bit late - we'd gone up to Snowbird for the Cool Air Concert Series and saw the fantastic Andy Frasco and the U.N., which meant that we didn't sit down to eat dinner until after 10 p.m. (note to self: plan ahead better next time) - we got right up when our alarms blared at 6:30 a.m. so we could be on the bike path in Park City a little after 9 a.m.

Once again it was a beautiful, clear, cool morning.  There was a little bit of mud to contend with since Park City had had a "gully-washer" on Friday but 98% of the trails we rode were dry, and the few remaining puddles were easily avoidable.  Because our Saturday hike had not been as long as some we've done, my legs weren't quite as fatigued as they've been and H thought that I was riding a little more quickly, at least on the front half of our ride.  As for him, he rode up Hammerhead Hill (Plasden Hill) like a champ.

When we got to the back half, I felt really good on the Sweet Sixteen switchbacks.  H got annoyed on his way up since a struggling MTBer didn't pull off to let H by, even when the guy stopped in the middle of the trail, forcing H to stop as well.  By the time I caught up with the guy (with H long gone, of course, and already at the top), he was standing in the shade of a switchback, panting, face beet-red.  Me, I rode right past him and even had [just] enough breath to say hello.

Finishing the Sweet Sixteen
Coming through Moose Alley

We didn't come across any other MTBers on the Rambler sagebrush switchbacks - which made them superfun to ride; I beat H in our bike path vs. single track race by 45 seconds; and the headwind for the final run back to the truck wasn't too onerous.  And no crashes (although my calf was bleeding just a little from a scratch I picked up somewhere)!

Monday, July 14, 2014

grizzly gulch

Even when you have a good hike to look forward to, hearing the alarm at 5:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning is not that much fun.  But we rallied - up, dressed, fed and walked the dog, shoveled healthy breakfasts of granola bars and PopTarts down our gullets - and headed up Little Cottonwood Canyon to Alta.  We had decided to hike up Grizzly Gulch to find the Prince of Wales mine; we'd been up in Grizzly Gulch back in 2011 but we hadn't made it all the way up to that mine due to some icy conditions.  The conditions weren't going to be icy this time.

Still a little snow on Superior

It was pretty quiet when we parked in the top parking lot of Alta's Albion Lodge but cars were already starting to file up the canyon.  It's the right time of year for the alpine wildflowers and Albion Basin gets extremely busy with looky-loos.  We started up the steep dirt trail from the sign in the parking lot, getting our heart rates up quickly before we joined the old mining road that would take us up the gulch.  Even on the road we gained elevation fairly quickly, however, passing by innumerable mine dumps and piles of tailings, rusted mining wreckage poking out of the underbrush.

Looking down the PoW mine shaft

We followed the old road up the gulch, paralleling a creek for a while before consulting the GPS and bearing left when the road split.  The right fork headed up to Twin Lakes Pass (where we'd just been the weekend before) but the left climbed steeply, curving through fields full of flowers and leading us up to a pass to Silver Fork Canyon.  We kept to the right this time, following the less well-traveled trail into up to the Prince of Wales mine.  There is some mining equipment still there - a boiler, steam engine and winch (from Ames Iron Works in Oswego, NY), installed up there in 1875 - and the nearly vertical shaft into the mine is caged over to keep people out, although they stopped working the profitable mine in the 1930s.

Part of the steam engine


After getting a little chilled from checking out the mine ruins in the shade, we backtracked to the pass and hiked up Davenport Hill in the sunshine.  The trail was quite faint in places but as a couple of trail-runners passed us and didn't come back, we figured it had to go somewhere.  The trail crossed sunny, steep, flower-filled meadows, switchbacking and losing elevation quickly.  We weren't crazy about the footing - steep and very loose in spots - but it was gorgeous, with Alta spread out below us, red-tailed hawks circling above and deer bounding away from us through the trees.

Davenport Hill false summit

When we got back to the car, we sat at one of the picnic tables, chatting with road cyclists and having a second breakfast of trail mix.  This Grizzly Gulch hike isn't one of the longer or more physically challenging hikes in the Wasatch (but you do have to focus on the footing, so it's a bit mentally challenging, plus the elevation would be a factor for non-locals) but it's quite pretty - especially this time of year with all the flowers - and loaded with local historical significance.

Hike stats:  4.73 miles; 3 hrs. 18 min. total (2:18 moving, with moving average speed of 2.0 m.p.h.)

Friday, July 11, 2014

earlier birds

In keeping with our new "let's get started early so we don't wilt in the July heat" program, we got going with the MTBing quite a bit earlier than we've been doing thus far this season.  We were in Park City and on the bike path just after 9:00 a.m. (as opposed to 11 a.m.), heading out to Quinn's Trailhead.  This earlier start meant a whole different crowd on the bike path: there were lots of people out there, running, biking, walking their dogs, taking their cruisers in town for breakfast.

Two hours earlier made a big difference, temperature-wise.  It was clear and sunny but didn't get hot until we started climbing.  Although I was still pretty cautious on the downhills, I had my best time riding up My Nemesis and I only had to walk two of the Sweet Sixteen switchbacks, which helped boost my confidence.  There were a good number of other riders out there on the Round Valley trails but it wasn't too crowded.  The coolest thing of the whole ride happened when we were on the back half of the ride, cruising down Rambler: three unicycle MTBs were riding up the sagebrush switchbacks - one rider was a chick!  Another regular MTB rider and I pulled off to the side to let the unicycles go by; as they passed us, this other guy muttered, frustrated, "I can't even do this on two wheels!"

Starting the downhill Rambler switchbacks

Because we'd started earlier, we were up at our picnic spot on Guardsman Pass right at noon.  The sun was strong but the breeze was still cool, making the pause for post-ride refreshment pleasant.  I'm slowly regaining the ground I lost after my crash a couple of weeks ago - this very nice ride definitely took me in the right direction.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

"six" x 10,000 by 10:00

The plan had been to do the Brighton Ridge Loop, nailing six summits over 10,000 feet.  The execution, due to terrible/non-existent trail signage and some user (hiker) error, was only five summits over 10,000 feet.  But we nabbed all five by 10:00 a.m., so that's got to count for something.  Plus, it was an AWESOME hike and now we'll have to go back and do it again to get that sixth peak.

Summit #1: 10,321 ft.

Mountain meadow, Heber Valley side

We started at 6:55 a.m. at Brighton Ski Resort, heading up the same trail towards Dog Lake and Lakes Mary, Martha and Catherine.  At the sign for Dog Lake we turned left, then turned left again and headed up a shady trail to Snake Creek Pass.  When we got under the Crest Express chairlift, we consulted our hiking book, our map and our GPS and decided to follow the access road.  This is where we think we went wrong: we think we should have taken the narrow foot trail that entered the woods instead of taking the road.  But because there were no trail signs (come on, Wasatch Mountain Club!) and our book (Hiking the Wasatch published by the Wasatch Mountain Club) is so very, very vague, we went by the route we'd put together for our GPS and took the road.  We believe that the trail would have taken us to the top of the first summit (10,315 ft.) but the road took us to the top of the lift instead, which was between the first and second summit.

Pioneer and Sunset ahead

Summit #2: Pioneer Peak

Silver Lake, Lake Mary and Dog Lake

No matter.  We started up the faint trail and found our way to the top of the [second] summit at 10,321 feet.  From there, we basically continued along the ridge around the bowl above Brighton.  Here's the problem with ridge hikes: there's a lot of up and down and it's too narrow for switchbacks.  As we looked ahead to Pioneer Peak, with Sunset Peak beyond it, I was a little nervous because in most places the trail was faint at best and the footing looked rocky and loose.

Looking back at Pioneer Peak

Summit #3: Sunset Peak

I didn't need to be nervous, however, because the walking was better than the looking supposed.  We would have to focus to ensure secure footing and we went much more slowly than our usual hiking speed because of having to locate the faint trail, as well as the sketchy footing.  The views and the solitude (we saw no one from the Snake Creek Pass turn-off all the way to Sunset, and then from the base of Tuscarora to the descent to Twin Lakes Reservoir) more than made up for it though. As we descended and then climbed back up to Pioneer Peak (10,450 ft.), the Heber Valley was to our left and the Brighton Lakes (Dog Lake, Silver Lake, Mary, Martha and Catherine) were to our right.

Looking back at Pioneer and Sunset from Catherine's Pass

Summit #4: Mt. Tuscarora

Just before and just after Pioneer Peak we found mine remnants, but we didn't pause long because we were too busy picking the trail out of the loose sand and rocks.  There were three people atop Sunset Peak (10,648 ft.) and a number of hikers hanging out down on Catherine's Pass as we cruised through, intent on Mt. Tuscarora (10,654 ft.).  We'd been skunked the last time we tried to summit Tuscarora, stymied by the poor visibility and weather.  This time, luck was on our side and we followed the faint trail up without a problem.  Again, the views from this side of the bowl were spectacular and we loved seeing Alta, which we are getting to know so well, from a completely different angle.

Summit #5: Mt. Wolverine

Looking back at Wolverine Cirque

At this point, we were determined to get all the summits on our loop (six, we thought; five, in actuality, although there was a false summit at the start and one last high point on the descent from Wolverine ... so we could count it as seven, if we wanted) by 10 a.m.  The trail faded in and out but we kept on, summitting Mt. Wolverine (10,795 ft.) with three minutes to spare.  Again, stunning 360 degree scenery, including Wolverine Cirque, a favorite with local backcountry skiers, spread out below us.

Descending to Twin Lakes Pass

Not feeling like bushwhacking down to Brighton over Mt. Millicent, we opted to continue along the ridge (rocky and quite narrow in places) towards Twin Lakes Pass.  We started to run into other hikers again after descending a small boulder field from the last high point, and then it was easy walking as we came across the pass and walked out along the reservoir, wildflowers just starting to burst into bloom around us.  The final stretch out was on an access road to/from the dam on the reservoir, a less glamorous finish to a wonderful hike.

Twin Lakes Reservoir

We perched on the back bumper of the Subaru to enjoy our post-hike PBRs with the cool breeze, watching the many, many people coming and going.  We guessed that 99% of them were headed up to the lakes (with most not making it any further than the first one, Mary, based on the observable fitness level and footwear of most of them), none knowing the wonders of the Brighton Ridge Loop, circling above them.  And that was fine with us - we loved that hike and would love to keep it to ourselves.

Hike stats:  7.1 miles; 4 hr. 45 minutes total/3 hrs. 30 minutes hiking time); 2.0 m.p.h. average moving speed; 3,413 feet elevation gain; 10,795 feet highest point; 48% of the hike was above 10,000 feet in elevation.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

holiday hordes

We had big plans for July 4th: we were going to get up early, throw the fishing gear and the dog in the truck and drive out to Mirror Lake in the Uintas.  But H has been going into work really early (like, getting into the office at 6 a.m. early) the last few weeks to sync up to his team back east and we just really, really didn't want to get up early again on a day off.  So we slept in a little, and puttered around making breakfast, and just generally dithered about until it was after 10 a.m.  I wanted to go for a hike and H wanted to go for a bike ride ... it would be a divide-and-conquer kind of day.  It would also be very hot - Salt Lake City is stuck in the mid- to high 90s for a bit - so I would be getting the better deal, going up to Alta where it was a little cooler.

Just waiting for it to snow again ...

Indeed, it was about 75 F with a nice, light breeze by the time I got on the trail to do my go-to Catherine's Pass loop.  I was not alone, however, as it was very, very popular up there.  That's the problem with holidays, H says: you have to share them with everyone else.  It was mostly families and I blew by everyone else laboring up the Sunnyside bunny slope.  The crowds dropped off a little once I moved over to the trail up to Catherine's Pass.  I still managed to pass everyone I encountered, except for a couple of trail runners.


There was just a little snow to walk over across the top of Catherine's Area and when I got to the top of the Supreme chairlift, the alpine buttercups were out in force, with the other wildflowers just on the verge of coming out.  I cruised down the access road, through the not-yet-open Albion campground and back to the Albion base area, still swarming with people.  I poked my head into the Albion Grill, which is newly open this year for visitors, serving sandwiches, snacks and beverages; I was checking to see if "beverages" included beer but, alas, no.  But I had brought my own and drank down the requisite post-hike PBR while I changed out of my hiking boots.

There's actually still enough snow 
in the Apron for a few turns

Back down in the valley it was hot-hot-hot and we hunkered down for the duration.  The rest of our Independence Day involved watching World Cup soccer games, snarfing down burgers and listening to the neighbors shoot off a ridiculous amount of fireworks.  Luckily, B has become quite deaf in the last year and did not hear a thing - which is great because we have spent the last four Fourth of July holidays trying (and failing) to keep her calm and unafraid.  She may not hear us when we call her name but at least she's not afraid of thunder and fireworks anymore!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

no crashes

I'll admit it: my MTB crash last weekend shook me up more than I thought it would have.  All told, the injuries were quite minor - all sizzle and no steak as H says - and yet the tumble knocked my confidence level back to early season levels when we got back on the MTBs on Sunday.

Riding, not falling - yay!

It was a gorgeous day out in Park City, sunny, cloudless and warm, with a slight breeze (which would, OF COURSE, turn into a headwind on the last leg home).  The trails were busier than last week but not terribly so; the recent rains had packed down the dust, leaving the riding surface in good shape.  Although H bounced back completely, riding up Pladsen Hill again* and easily conquering the corner that he'd had trouble with last weekend (afterwards he noted that it was much better to ride over the rocks as compared to falling on top of them), I was very cautious, especially on the rocky bits, putting my foot down on all three of the corners that worry me - including getting off the bike and full-on walking down last weekend's crash site - and having to walk up five of the Sweet Sixteen switchbacks (instead of my usual three).  I was disappointed in my performance but happy to not have fallen over at all.  Hopefully next week I will be back on track, using this more timid/injury-free ride as a confidence builder.

* He got some applause from four other MTBers who were paused at the top of Pladsen Hill and saw him ride up.  He thanked them, after he'd caught his breath enough to speak.  I got no applause from pushing my bike up that hill, however.

It's all about the apres

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

rocky road

A couple weekends ago we had meant to hike up Mineral Fork again but changed our minds at the last minute due to the Big Cottonwood Canyon Marathon that would snarl traffic for the whole morning.  We decided to follow up and hike it this Saturday, trying for another early start.  We didn't manage quite as early as our Butler Fork morning, but we did get our boots on the trail by 7:45 a.m., which is still earlier than most folks - we were the first people parking at the trailhead.  Mineral Fork is a good one to get going early on: once you get up to the top half of the trail, it is completely exposed as it zigzags (or switchbacks, if you prefer) across the bowl, baking in the sun.

We're going up into that bowl, way far away

The first time we did Mineral Fork was over Labor Day weekend a couple of years ago.  This time, at the end of June and after a big thunderstorm had moved through, there was quite a lot of water flowing down the drainage.  You have to cross the creek several times before the trail decides on a bank and simply follows it up the drainage.  An old mining road, the extremely rocky trail (rocky in part because this is one of the only trails in the Cottonwood Canyons that allows dirt bikes) rises steadily.  It was pretty humid (for the high desert) and we were sweating pretty good, despite the cool morning.  We had hoped to see some critters with our early start but all we scared up was a little family of chukars.

Just before hitting all the snow

Once we got out of the trees, we started hitting snow.  At first, we just had to cross patches of the white stuff as we made our way up the innumerable switchbacks crossing the bowl.  As we gained elevation, however, there was more and more of it until finally we gave up trying to stick to the trail and just hacked our way straight up the snow to the trail's end point.  Because of how rocky the walking is, Mineral Fork is not my favorite trail for walking but the views are undeniably spectacular.

A direct line is much more efficient than following the trail

We could see glissading tracks coming down from the ridge above us and H suggested that we scramble up there, take a peek at Lake Blanche and then slide down ourselves.  I was game and we started up, but it didn't take long before the steep and very loose shale underfoot made me chicken out.  Instead we glissaded down from where we were, making it down and out of the snow very quickly by skipping the trail.  The bowl is pretty steep (hence the need for all those dang switchbacks) and I slipped once, sliding on my butt for about eight feet before I could dig my heels in and arrest my fall.

Straight shot

On the way down we stopped for a couple of minutes to talk to some dirt bikers who had brought skis up with them to make a few turns on the remaining snow.  It wasn't that good, what with all the rocks and dirt, but still ... skiing at the end of June.  We continued back down to the car, only running across another ten or so hikers - which is pretty incredible given this trail's proximity to the city.  I don't know whether Mineral Fork is less popular because of the possibility of encountering dirt bikers or because it's so rocky or because the hike is on the longer side (9.1 miles with glissading; 10.03 miles sticking to the switchbacks).  Regardless, it's a gorgeous hike and it's a gift not to have to share it with hordes of people.  Additional hike stats: total time 4 hours 47 minutes, with stoppage time; 6,598 ft. at the start and topping out at 10,244 feet; average speed 2.0 m.p.h., again factoring in stoppage time.

View from trail's end

Coda:  We went up to the Snowbird Cool Air Concert Series Saturday evening to hear the Jaden Carlson Band.  We'd heard them last year - they're slightly different this time around as a more funky jam-band trio - and they're soooooo good.  What's simply incredible is Jaden herself: she's thirteen years old and plays the guitar like, well, a rock star.  She needs to work on her stage presence a little bit but she can make that guitar wail.  If you ever get a chance to see her, do yourself a favor and go; press play on the audio on her website and see if you would have guessed that was a thirteen year-old girl playing.