Wednesday, July 8, 2015

this time in reverse

The tricky part about holiday weekends is trying to find things to do that aren't inundated with people.  This includes hikes and any regular Wasatch Front hiker will tell you that it is getting more and more difficult to get the trails to yourself.  I don't mean to complain about this - it's wonderful that people are getting outside to appreciate these beautiful mountains.  But a less-traveled trail is, to me, a thing of beauty.  We figured we'd find a trail less-traveled by doing a hike from a couple years ago, over at Solitude.  When we did this hike before, hiking up Honeycomb and down Silver Fork, we had lost the trail at the head of Silver Fork Canyon, having to bushwhack down through cliffs and trees.  The thought was that if we did it in reverse - up Silver Fork and down Honeycomb Canyon - we wouldn't lose the trail.

This hawk was huge

We got another early start (up at 6 a.m., on the trail at 7:20 a.m.) and were only the second car in the lower Solitude parking lot.  We crossed under the Eagle lift on the Queen Bess MTB trail - where a mule deer doe and fawn watched us from a distance - and walked up the paved driveway to the Silver Fork cabins, stopping to watch as a huge hawk silently landed in a pine tree above us, causing all the songbirds and squirrels to chirp and chatter excitedly.  When the pavement ended, we continued up an old road, put in originally for mining operations.  When we got to the portal mine, we consulted our book and found the trail, hidden by fallen trees, and noted with some humor that this trail was clear on the other side of the canyon bowl from where we had descended last time - no wonder we hadn't been able to find it.

Wildflowers are peaking early this year,
due to low snow and a hot June

As we continued up the steep west side of the bowl, we passed one other hiker.  She was just planning to go up to the Prince of Wales mine and mentioned that the trail did get a little sparse up ahead; our book said the same thing.  We kept going up, soon finding ourselves climbing over mine tailings (Silver Fork was chockablock full of mining operations back in the day) and past old mining equipment as we followed the faint trail and sporadic cairns.  Then the cairns just stopped and voila! we'd lost the trail.  Again.  We knew where we had to go, however, and ended up picking our way up the mine tailings, cringing at the loose footing and trying very hard not to disturb anything, heading to the old mining road that connects Grizzly Gulch and the Prince of Wales mine.  Our book wasn't any help, of course: "The wagon road is reached by scrambling up the spur ridge which lies just north of the end of the lower road, then following the ridge a short way southeast."  Um, okay.

An old boiler, mining ruins, rusting away in Silver Fork

We made it up to the old road, crossed over into Grizzly Gulch and then utterly failed to find the faint trail that would keep us up high en route to Twin Lakes Pass, instead following the jeep road down and across the gulch, and then back up to the pass.  We ran into a few people there but once up and over the pass we had the place to ourselves again.  We had to trudge up the ski lift access road to the top of Solitude's Summit lift; the road has seen some heavy use since Deer Valley, Solitude's new owner, is replacing the lovely old double Summit lift with a brand new quad.  (We are sad to see the old lift go: it had a lot of character, plus the top of the lift is pretty small and I'm not sure how it will handle a lot more skiers dumping out off a fast quad.)

Honeycomb cliffs

From here, we headed down Honeycomb Canyon, sticking to the old road on skier's right.  I'd forgotten how very steep that road was and even though my knees were complaining a bit, I was glad not to be going up it.  The trail crosses the canyon, traversing through a meadow, then continues down a seasonal (now dry) creek bed.  This section was also very steep, which I'd forgotten as well.  We passed the bottom of the Honeycomb Return lift and headed out on the access road.  There were a few more cars in the parking lot when we got back to the truck, a fisherman in the creek and several MTBers pedaling around.  But for the most part we had had the hike to ourselves, just the way we like it.

Go that way

Hike stats:  7.96 miles; 2,400 feet elevation gain; 3:07 moving time; 3:52 trip time.

We started at the top of the map (at the ski area) 
and walked counterclockwise for the loop

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