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.