Saturday, June 28, 2014

for the birds

I'm not sure when it happened exactly but H's and my crappy weather luck finally caught up with us.  We had planned to take B camping up to the Mirror Lake Highway in the Uintas for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, thinking that it would be cool enough for her up at that elevation and quiet enough for all of us going midweek, and we could all get some good fishing time in - I even got myself a Utah fishing license!  But we couldn't go Wednesday because the A/C crapped out and we had to wait around for the repair guy to come fix it (on the plus side: fixed, just in time for the hot weather!).  And then we looked closely at the weather and decided not to go for Thursday and Friday because of the high probability of thunderstorms and rain on those days.  The weekend weather was looking good but we ended up scrapping the camping entirely because that would put us in a campground on the weekend, meaning busy and noisier than we'd like.  So we sat around on Thursday, watching the U.S. men's national team play Germany (USA!) and feeling that we'd made the right choice as a massive thunderstorm rolled through, drenching the valley and the Wasatch and then moving east, where it would end up hanging out over the Uintas for a while.  (On the plus side: B is now so deaf from old age that she didn't hear the thunder at all!)

By the time Friday rolled around, however, we were feeling antsy and just couldn't stand to be housebound even with the winds and dark clouds roiling around the mountain peaks.  We decided to knock a city thing off our to-do list - the Tracy Aviary - with the option of a trip to the Hogle Zoo afterwards to check out their new savannah exhibit.  The Tracy Aviary is located in the southwest portion of Liberty Park in Salt Lake City.  They'd done a bunch of construction/remodeling work a few years ago and most of the exhibits are quite nice for a facility of this size.  There are over one hundred species of birds in the Aviary, with a particular focus on South American species.  The Aviary is divided into fourteen exhibits, including pelican and waterfowl ponds, the King of the Andes Andean condor, eagles, owls, macaws and king vultures, a variety of Argentinian birds, African hornbills, a rare birds exhibit and a South American pavilion.

Neither H nor I are huge bird fans but we did find several species quite interesting.  Our favorites were the Andean condor, the hornbills (they have l o n g eyelashes for protection against blowing sand - birds with eyelashes!), the stunningly colored scarlet ibises, the guira cuckoos (who looked like they'd just gotten out of the shower) and the eagles and owls.  Admission to the Tracy Aviary is only $7 for an adult ($5 on Mondays between 5-8 p.m.) and it's well worth a visit.

Golden eagle

Afterwards, we went to Dick N' Dixie's to regroup and plot our next move.  We decided to keep the zoo trip for another day and opted to return south for a late lunch of garlic burgers at The Cotton Bottom.  There was a decent crowd there for a 3 p.m. Friday "late lunch," prompting H to wonder why all these people weren't at work.  I just shrugged, tucking into my burger - if we were on vacation, they could be too.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

round valley still has teeth

H works with a guy (a good MTBer) who gives him a hard time about riding at Round Valley every weekend, wondering that H doesn't get bored with it.  H replies that it's a place that I enjoy MTBing and so it's something we get to do together; other, more challenging places tend to intimidate me and I don't like MTBing as well when I'm pushing my bike more than riding it.  Pluswhich, both H and I have found that any MTBing requires our full concentration and focus - if we start thinking about something other than what we are doing, we're going to crash or hit something or ride off the trail - even at little ol' Round Valley.

This Sunday was, I believe, our sixth time out on the MTBs.  By now, I can remember the features and quirks of the loop we do and am riding with more confidence.  I'm trying to ride with both feet clipped in more (because you get a lot more power out of your pedal strokes that way) and I'm trying to ride a little faster in places I feel safe.  I made it up My Nemesis and the Nouvelle Loop switchbacks with both feet clipped in, finding that much easier; H conquered Hammerhead/Pladsen Hill again, making that six out of six.  I even had a much better day riding up the Sweet Sixteen switchbacks, only having to walk two of them this time.

Cruisin' up the Nouvelle Loop

When I caught up with H at the top of the switchbacks, however, I noticed dirt on his bike shorts.  He'd actually crashed out on switchback #7, the really rocky one I always have to walk: just as he was starting the turn, his front tire hit a rock and turned ninety degrees right; H turned ninety degrees to the left, landing on the rocks with his forearm and hip taking the brunt.  His arm was already bruised and starting to swell up by the time I reached him and it was all looking pretty impressive ... until we started down the switchbacks on the backside of Rambler and I crashed out on a rocky, downhill, righthand turning corner that always gives me problems.  I was moving cautiously into the turn but had my outside foot unclipped and as the bike started to fall over to the inside, I knew I was in trouble.  I had just enough time to shout out an F-bomb before I landed on the rocks with my shoulder hitting first, followed closely by my head, hand and hip.  Hooray for helmets!

That's gonna leave a mark

I was fine, just a little shaken up, but my shoulder looked pretty gnarly, as you can see.  It's more bruised than scraped and I anticipate that it's going to stiffen up quite a lot overnight.  There was nothing to do but get back on the bike and finish our ride (I even beat H in our race section - by nearly a minute, even wounded - because he got held up by a big family).  We're happy that neither of us actually got hurt, bruises notwithstanding, but the day certainly served as a remainder that even little Round Valley can bite you if you're not paying attention.

Ride stats: 20.34 miles, 1 hr. 50 minutes (including injury time), H's average speed: 11.0 m.p.h.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

summer solstice

We thought we'd try something new on Saturday: getting an early start on the day, (a) hoping to avoid hiking in the heat, now that the cold front has moved on, and (b) hoping to see more wildlife in the morning light.  It was with much groaning, therefore, that we got up around 5:30 a.m. - the dog could not believe we were getting up that early - and got going, having had the foresight to lay out our gear the night before.

Heading up Butler Fork towards Reynolds Peak

We were hiking up the Butler Fork trail at 7 a.m., the sun just barely peeking over the mountaintops; it was a chilly 47 F but we got warm quickly since Butler Fork trail is very steep at the beginning before the grade eases as it makes its way up the drainage.  Our goal for the morning was Reynolds Peak, following the loop that H and our friend Paul had done back in 2011, although we knew we wouldn't encounter nearly as much snow as they did.  The walk was quite nice, cool and shady and full of trees, the air full of birdsong.  We didn't see any people on our way up the drainage but H spied a young mule buck deer mule, his antlers still covered in velvet, moving through the aspens on the hillside above us.

View to the north towards Millcreek Cyn

We crested the saddle between Big Cottonwood Canyon and Millcreek Canyon, where several well-trodden trails converged, and then kept going up a ridge towards Reynolds Peak on a much less well-traveled path.  The ridge trail was steep in spots too but the view rewards were worth it, with 360 degree views of Millcreek, BCC and even Sugarloaf, Devil's Castle and East Castle at Alta in Little Cottonwood Canyon.  I looked over the lip of the bowl H and Paul had glissaded down on their hike - it was really steep and even if it had been full of snow, I would have been nervous starting down it.  Now, with no snow and full of wildflowers, we had to retrace our steps down the steep ridge path.

Working our way up the ridge to the summit

Intending to make a loop, we continued down to Dog Lake after we came off the ridge, then cruised down that trail to the road.  In contrast to the solitude we had on the way up, lots of people were making their way up to Dog Lake, folks with big packs for overnight camping, folks with fishing poles, big family groups, MTBers.  When we came out at the canyon road at the Dog Lake trail head, we had to walk along the road down canyon for about a half mile to get back to the car.  The whole hike had been just over seven miles roundtrip and we were finished with it before 11 a.m.  Hike stats: 7.08 miles; 3 hrs. 32 min. total time; 2,257 ft. ascended.

Wildflowers just coming out in alpine bowls

Although I had had grand ambitions of running errands and getting things down during the afternoon, all that fell apart when I had to take a nap to counter the effects of getting up so early.  We did rally for the evening, however, heading up to Snowbird for their first Cool Air Concert series of the summer.  We didn't know anything about the band, Chatham County Line, and were pleasantly surprised when they turned out to be a funny, very talented bluegrass band from North Carolina.  A fantastic end to the first day of summer.

Reynolds Peak summit

Thursday, June 19, 2014

cold front

Oopsie - that week just got away from me in a hurry.  I need to be better about writing posts right after we do the stuff that the post will be about - otherwise I forget that I didn't post anything and then the next thing you know, we're practically at a weekend again and I'm all behind.

Red Pine Lake covered with ice and avalanche debris

After being rather warm in early June, an unseasonable cold front moved in for the weekend, keeping temperatures in the valley in the low 70s and the temperatures in the mountains of the Wasatch Front much, much colder than that.  For Saturday, we had intended to hike Mineral Basin but changed our plans at the last minute due to the Big Cottonwood Canyon marathon that was scheduled to clog up the canyon road between 6-10 a.m.  We switched to Red Pine Lake instead since we hadn't hiked it for several years (2011).  It was sunny but breezy and in the low 50s when we parked at the trailhead, with ominous clouds slowly accumulating over the peaks across the canyon.  The forecast had a 20% chance of rain/snow; we thought we could roll the dice with only a 20% chance.  The parking lot was pretty full and we saw a number of other hikers throughout the day, including quite a few who were descending after having camped out overnight by the lake.  We asked if it had been cold up there and the answer was an emphatic YES - we took that to mean that the campers weren't expecting such unseasonable lows.

The ice was still fairly thick, but punky

With my fall hat and windbreaker on, I stayed warm enough on the uphill portion.  About 2.5 miles into the hike, we started walking on snow. But whereas two weeks ago above Bowman Fork we were post-holing over our knees, here it had been so cold that the snow stayed frozen and we were able to walk right on top of it.  Another bonus: the snow filled in the steep step-ups so even though we were going up the steepest part of the trail, it wasn't that taxing.  It was chilly up at the lake, with the wind picking up and more clouds rolling in.  We stayed up there for about fifteen minutes, long enough to walk along the shore a bit and get chilled snacking on beef jerky.  We added layers for the descent, but still got cold until we were down out of the snow-covered slope and into the trees.

Pausing for snacks near the lake

Back at the car, we changed into dry clothes, shivering in the brisk wind, and drove up to Snowbird for the brewfest.  Amazingly, for us, we didn't stay because it was so dang cold: 45 F, windy and cloudy, too cold for us to stand outside, drinking cold brews.  We walked in, walked around and then walked back to the car without buying any beers.  It was kind of sad, really, because we had gotten there two hours after the festival started and there were hardly any people there at all - I felt really badly for the brewers and vendors.  But not badly enough to stick around.

Cruising the sagebrush switchbacks

Sunday was slightly warmer but not hot, very pleasant for MTBing at Round Valley.  My legs took a little while to warm up but H cruised up Hammerhead Hill with no issues and then proceeded to trounce me by over a minute in our race section.  I didn't care, however, because I scared up a huge mule deer on Rambler, and then had to wait while a big fat non-rattling snake took his time crossing the trail.  Also a bonus: much less of a headwind for the return to the truck.  (There was still a bit of a headwind, but much less than we've had lately.)

June 17, 2014, from our driveway

The cooler weather persisted into the week too, culminating into a completely unusual, very wet storm on Tuesday that drenched the valley in rain and dropped over a foot of SNOW in the mountains.  The local skiers went crazy, hiking up and skiing down Superior, Brighton and Gunsight (at Alta).  Faceshots in June - almost unheard of!  The peaks along the Wasatch Front were frosted white again, beautiful over the still-green summer vegetation.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


Despite my ingenious new quad-saving technique, I was a bit sore Sunday morning although it was more localized in my calves for some reason.  It was another gorgeous early summer day in Utah - blue skies, warm sunshine, temperatures in the 70s/mid-60s in Park City - and we of course went MTBing.  Also of course: windy.  I am not a bike + wind fan.

I was a little worried that I wouldn't be able to do our whole loop because I was really pretty slow when we started out; H even waited for me before we started in on the singletrack section to see if I wanted to reroute and do a shorter ride.  No!  I can do it!  And, in fact, by the time I'd muscled my way up My Nemesis I was feeling better.  H was also feeling pretty good and conquered Hammerhead/Pladsen Hill yet again, going four for four so far this season.

Finishing the Sweet Sixteen switchbacks

We saw hardly any people on the first half of our ride but once we got to the Practice/Nouvelle Loop section the traffic picked up, although it never got as busy as the last two Sundays - maybe because this was the first Park Silly of the summer.  I managed to do the Sweet Sixteen switchbacks with only walking three of them and counted that a raging success; I also managed to beat H by just over a minute in our race section - he got held up by several other MTBers (and also thinks that maybe the rerouted trail is longer than it was last year, when I never beat him - I'm not convinced).  One of these days I'm going to follow H back on the dirt trail, when I have enough legs to do it, but until that time, I hope I keep beating him.

The headwind on the return uphill paved slog back to the truck was awful - even H commented on one of the gusts.  I persevered and made it back - legs very stiff and sore at that point - and we stopped again on our spot on Guardsman Pass for beers and snacks before heading home.  It does frustrate me that running one 8k race takes so much out of me ... but I got back on the bike and shook out the cobwebs and am all the happier for it.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

crack of dawn, part 3

Well, I did it again.  Because I'm crazy and/or a bit of a masochist, I signed up for the Crack of Dawn 8k road race, which careened down the Millcreek Canyon road starting at 6:30 a.m.  This is the third time I've done this race (first time here, second time here).  The first two times had 6 a.m. starts so I was grateful for the extra half hour.  I assume they pushed the start back for visibility/safety reasons: cars heading up Millcreek Canyon early have the sun right in their faces and certainly wouldn't be expecting hundreds of runners staggering downhill right at them.

V for victory at the finish on Wasatch Boulevard

H dropped me at the start - the seasonal gate closure - around 6:15 a.m. It was a very nice temperature for running, cool but not cold (although my hands got cold) and we didn't get to the sunshine until we were almost out of the canyon.  I picked out a couple of like-paced people to follow and headed down canyon.  I actually felt really good on this run, even though I had only done the full 8k distance once in my training.  Knowing how hard the all-downhill had been on my quads in the past - as in, not being able to go downstairs later that day - I tried a new technique on the steeper sections: taking really small but quicker steps.  The main downhill portion seemed to pass pretty quickly (I was pointedly not looking at my watch) and it was only the final, slight uphill finish that was difficult.  H met me at the finish; I got a piece of chocolate and some water; we watched the rest of the racers finish before departing for my prize: breakfast at Ruth's (omg that bacon was delicious).

This is why I run the dang race: breakfast!

I like this race a lot.  It's low key, it's easy on the lungs, it gets me five miles under my belt before breakfast.  But it does effectually ruin me for the rest of the day.  My quads were much less sore this time than previous runnings, no doubt due to my new technique, but I still had to take a 1.5 hour midday nap and when we just hung around the house for the remainder of the day (H was having some work stuff come crashing into our weekend), I wasn't too upset about it.  Still, I struggle with this every year when it comes time to sign up: it's fun and I like it, but I'm not entirely sure it's worth sacrificing that much of my precious weekend time.  But I don't really have to worry about that for nearly another year now, do I?

Race stats:  40:53.07 race time (down from prior best of 41:09.75); placed 65th out of 174 overall; placed 5th out of 23 in my age group/

Thursday, June 5, 2014

welcome to june

Apparently our Bowman Fork hike was slightly steeper than I thought it was because I was a little stiff and sore Sunday morning when we started to gather our MTB gear for a Round Valley excursion.  It was another gorgeous day, clear and dry and in the comfortable 60s - just perfect.  There was a little wind, oriented for a tailwind on the Silver Quinn portion (more on that later) and a headwind on the return slog to the truck (typical).

We didn't do anything new, just our regular route.  My legs seemed heavy, although I felt pretty good climbing My Nemesis, and H told me that he thought I came up that hill faster than I'd been doing.  I also managed to ride all but three of the Sweet Sixteen switchbacks and passed one woman going uphill.  H is now three-for-three on riding up Hammerhead/Pladsen Hill; to me, he looked really strong, especially at the top.  That hill is SO steep.  I don't know how he does it.

You can sort of tell how steep this hill is by
how tiny the trail is behind me.  It's wicked steep.

Speaking of three-for-three, we ended up racing each other on the end of our loop, where I went back on the paved Silver Quinn bike path and H hopped back on the single track, returning via Rusty Shovel, Ramble On, Matt's Flat and the Practice Loop.  This is the third time we've "raced," and I had won the last two times, so H was determined to beat me this go-round.  He really pushed himself out of his comfort zone, drifting through turns and riding faster than he normally would.  Even with my slight tailwind, he might have beaten me ... except he got stuck behind a poky couple on Ramble On and then had to pull over five times for uphill riders on the Practice Loop.  I pushed myself too and as a result crushed him by over a minute!  (I would end up paying for the extra effort with very sore quads the next day.)  I never get to win when I compete against H - I've got to take it when I can get it.

We smartened up and brought camp chairs with us this time, so our apres on Guardsman Pass were quite comfortable.  The skies stayed clear and we watched a silent glider plane float overhead as we drank our beers.  So far, it's been a good start to the summer.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

bowman fork to baker pass

We decided upon Mt. Raymond for our Saturday hike, but going up from the Millcreek side as opposed to the Big Cottonwood side that we'd done in 2012.  We weren't sure we'd make it all the way to the top since there's still a bunch of snow at elevation but we figured we'd go up as far as we could and see where that got us.  We parked in the small lot across from the entrance to the Terraces picnic area in Millcreek Canyon and hiked along the drive a quarter-mile to the Bowman Fork trailhead.  It was another beautiful day, with a 20% chance of afternoon thunderstorms; we planned to keep an eye on the clouds so as not to get caught in an exposed place.

Southwest view from Bowman Fork 

Right from the start we liked the trail.  It was totally shaded, lush and green, following a small creek up the drainage.  Underfoot was wonderful: packed dirt with a little give to it, which felt nearly cushiony to walk on; the only rocky bits were once we exited the Bowman Fork drainage and were on the ridge into Baker Fork.  The climb was steady but not extreme, although the next day my stiff legs told me that it was, in fact, steeper than we thought it was.  It was a little humid there by the creek but the temperature was very pleasant.  Because of all these factors (good footing, water, lots of shade, manageable incline), it was a fairly popular trail; because it was in Millcreek Canyon and an odd-numbered day, there were friendly off-leash dogs with almost every other hiker we met.  It was great: sweet golden retrievers, lots of labs, a Great Dane-lab mix, border collies, samoyeds, a golden-doodle and mutts of all kinds - we must have seen close to fifty dogs, most friendly, all polite.

And the snow begins

We ran into our first patch of snow at about 8,000 feet, after White Fir Pass, and the trail became mostly snow-covered not too long thereafter.  We climbed a ridgeline and then began to traverse a bowl on the north/northwest slopes of Gobblers Knob.  This bowl was very steep and mostly snow-covered; we were very careful with our foot placement because a fall would mean a very long slide down.  (It looked like it would be awesome back country skiing in there.)  We finally climbed out of the snowbanks to stand on Baker Pass, with Gobblers Knob on one side of us, Mt. Raymond on the other side and Big Cottonwood Canyon laid out in front of us.

Wishing we had our skis for this bit

Even though we were just a ridge walk and a rock scramble away from Mt. Raymond's summit, the winds were picking up a little, bringing more clouds in, plus some of the scramble looked to have a fair amount of snow on it.  Prudence won out and we turned around, heading back down the way we came.  The snow in the bowl had softened in that little time and we were doing a lot of post-holing, scratching our calves and soaking our boots.  Once out of the snow, however, the descent went pretty quickly and we continued to appreciate the soft conditions underfoot.  We really liked this hike a lot.

The summit, so close and yet so far

The round trip had taken us 4 hours 20 minutes for 9.1 miles (3,265 elevation gain) and we were pretty psyched to change out of our wet foot gear when we got back to the car.  We were also psyched to see that we had enough time to get to Dick 'N Dixie's for beers and the second half of the Real Salt Lake game vs. Seattle (except that RSL got their butts kicked 4-0).  That's what's so cool about Salt Lake City - world class mountains just minutes away from funky downtown bars.