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.

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