Wednesday, September 30, 2015

headwinds for everybody

For some reason, our Island Lake hike hit me really hard Saturday night, sending me to bed unusually early.  This translated into not really seeing the need to get a particularly early start to the day on Sunday and thus we didn't get on our MTBs in Park City until 10:00 a.m.  Given the lateness of the hour and how beautiful the day was (sunny, breezy and unseasonably warm, actually), I assumed the MTB trails would be overrun.  I was, thankfully, wrong as we encountered very few folks out there.  What we did encounter was lots and lots of wind: strong, warm and blusterier than we've had in a while.

Just before heading up the Sweet Sixteen

H has gotten his legs/lungs back but although I cannot keep up with him on the flats and the downhills - he is braver than I have descending, plus his MTB's 29-inch wheels eat up the ground faster than my 26ers - I did manage to hold my own on the climbs.  I wasn't far behind on My Nemesis and held onto his wheel for the approach to Hammerhead Hill.  After that, my get up and go got up and went, in part, I think, because there seemed to be a headwind no matter which way we were going, and I climbed the Sweet Sixteen switchbacks rather slowly.  We both felt like we descended through the downhill portion of Rambler well; having the place to yourself allows a bit more freedom to let it ride.

I didn't get away entirely unscathed, however, and had my first crash since Moab in May.  I was focusing on the trail when a bird exploded out of a scrub oak next to me, surprising me.  I tried to put my foot down - this was in a section of trail that I usually ride with my left foot unclipped - but my biking shoe had gotten clipped in without me realizing it.  I couldn't get unclipped in time and just fell over into a sagebrush bush, feet still locked onto the pedals.  It scarcely counted as a "crash," although I did manage to scratch up my arm a little and it amused H to no end for the rest of the day, that a bird startled me enough to knock me off my bike.

H sent me this later that night, captioned "BOO!"
I was not so startled that time.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

island lake

It had been just over a year since we were last in the Uintas: we just never made it out there to go camping this summer and now, with a busy October ahead of us and then ski season, we have just run out of time for camping, unfortunately.  So when we were thinking of a hike to do this past weekend, we thought a drive out to Mirror Lake Highway would be in order; there are so many day and overnight hikes out in Utah's High Uintas and we've scarcely done any.  We consulted our book, checked a blog or two, and came up with Island Lake.
A perfect reflecting pool 

We got a fairly early start, leaving the house at 7 a.m.  It takes a while to get out there, past Park City, past Kamas and twenty-seven miles down the Mirror Lake Highway, plus we had to stop a couple of times to wait for the range cattle and herds of deer to get off the road.  By the time we got to the Crystal Lake trailhead parking lot, it was pretty full and we ended up parking down the road a piece, at the horse trailer parking lot.  Since the High Uintas are not a population watershed, horses and dogs are allowed and, judging from the size of the horse parking lot, the Crystal Lake area is quite popular with trail riders.

Hiking horses

Our book said that this would be a seven mile out-and-back of moderate difficulty, with a steep section at the start and then another steep section right before Island Lake.  The hike ended up being quite a bit longer than that but was on the easy side of moderate and, compared with what H and I have hiked in the past, there is nothing on this trail that can be classified as "steep."  The trails are well-marked with wonderful cut-out metal signs.  Underfoot, the terrain ranged from sandy to hard-packed dirt to rocky, and sprinkled with horse apples from time to time.

H at Long Lake

There are hundreds of lakes in the Uintas - amazing, given how dry Utah is - and we walked by a whole bunch of them on this hike: tiny, still reflecting pools and nameless meadow potholes, as well as many named bodies of water:  Washington Lake, Weir Lake, Duck Lake, Long Lake, Long Pond, Pot Lake, Fire Lake.  

Glimpse of Long Pond

The fall colors were lovely, red and gold and pale yellows and the temperature was ideal, with a light breeze blowing depending on which side of a ridge we were on.  The glaciers must have carved out all the features - lakes, ponds, rocky ridges, cliffs - and moved on, leaving fields full of large, irregular cobbles and slabs of smooth rock behind.  It really felt like we were in the middle of nowhere.

The island of Island Lake

Despite how full the parking lot had been at the trailhead, we saw very few people.  As we went in, we met three small groups of backpackers who had spent the night at Island Lake; we spied about six people on the other side of Island Lake; and we came across several parties, most with dogs, coming in as we were going back out.  Surprisingly, we only saw two trail riders.  It would have been a lovely day for a trail ride - it was certainly a lovely day for a hike.

Nice colors

Hike stats:  10.02 miles (including the .6 mile x2 between where we parked and the trailhead); 3:49 hiking time, 4:20 trip time; average speed 2.6 m.p.h.; 1,200 feet climbed, but it was all up and down in small gains and losses.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

like having our own private trails

I had been a little concerned about the state of the Round Valley MTB trails after all the rain northern Utah had had earlier in the week (it was a LOT of rain).  I needn't have worried.  I don't think the Wasatch Back got as much as the Wasatch Front but, regardless, the nice dry weather Friday and Saturday put things to right.  There were a couple of damp patches but we didn't encounter any mud requiring us to reroute our route.

Roller-skiing is totally cooler than roller-blading

Amazingly, there were just not that many people out there on Sunday, even with how spectacular the day was.  Oh, sure, the Canadian national nordic ski team was there, doing some dry land training on roller-skis.  But we hardly saw anyone out on the Round Valley trails: there was no one on the Nouvelle Loop; I saw only two other MTBers on the Sweet Sixteen climb; and for the first time in recent memory, there was no one either coming up or going down the sagebrush switchback portion of Rambler as we descended.

Wide open and covered by blue, blue sky

H had gotten his legs and lungs back but I have definitely been improving, gaining ground on him on the climb up My Nemesis and sticking to his wheel on the approach to Hammerhead Hill.  I even took back some time on the Sweet Sixteen climb: it took me 2:08 longer than H to do the climb last week and 1:58 this week.  I've absolutely gotten stronger as the season has progressed.  I don't have any goals per se but the improvement is good to gain.

Monday, September 21, 2015

spending some time at snowbasin

The weather changed this past week and, seemingly all of a sudden, summer was gone.  We had a cold front move in for Monday-Wednesday, bringing lots of rain and even snow up top of the ski mountains.  The storms moved on then, leaving crystal clear air, lovely cool temperatures and clear skies, and we were lucky enough that the weather then held through the weekend.  Weekends like this past one are such a treat and we really tried to get out and enjoy as much of it as we could.

Scenic Snowbasin

The XTERRA National Championships were at Snowbasin (triathlon Saturday, trail-running Sunday).  The triathlon consists of a one mile swim in Pineview Reservoir, then an 18-mile MTB ride from the reservoir to the ski resort, climbing 3,000 feet, and finishing up with a seven mile trail run.  We got up there early and it was 41 F: the water would have been warmer than the air, making a comfortable swim but a cold transition from swim to bike and a chilly first few minutes on the MTB until the blood started pumping.

Currie and Middaugh leaving T2

We positioned ourselves along the fence at the second transition where we could watch the pros bike in and change into their running shoes.  Transition times can be very important and fumbling with shoelaces is a big time suck; everyone had their gear laid out very precisely.  We knew when the race leaders were approaching because the helicopter filming for the [later] television broadcast hovered overhead.  Shortly thereafter, American Josiah Middaugh and Kiwi Braden Currie came charging in, hanging their bikes on the T2 racks, slipping on their running shoes and then heading back out onto the course.  Middaugh actually struggled a little with his shoes and Currie was in front as they left T2.  Some time later, local girl Emma Garrard was the first pro woman in and out of T2.  Although race radio had been reporting a close race on the MTB climb, she was all alone in transition and would never have a challenger on the run.

Josiah Middaugh just seconds from the finish line

After watching more athletes in T2, we moved to the finish chute.  The trail run seemed to be largely on what H and I have ridden when we've MTBed at Snowbasin: Needles trail to Snowbasin trail to Green Pond trail and back to Needles.  We could see them approaching the finish, coming across the lower ski trails, ducking back into the woods and then coming back out under the gondola towers.  Josiah Middaugh was out in front, beating Braden Currie by more than thirty seconds.  Emma Garrard won for the women, with the second place pro coming in nearly five minutes later.

Emma Garrard approaching the finish

We watched a bunch of the athletes finish and then, when the T2 cutoff was enforced, we changed into our hiking gear and headed out onto the trails ourselves.  We followed Needles for a while, then stayed with the access road when Needles dove off into the woods, only to rejoin our dirt road later.  We were climbing steadily and relentlessly but it was never super-steep, even when the dirt road died out and we started climbing up the switchbacks.

Shadow from the cool metal cut-out trail signs

The Needles trail had taken us east, way away from the center of the ski resort.  We consulted the trail map and took the Diamond trail (very switchback-y and an unbelievable amount of deer sign (hoof prints/poops)) which cut off a fair amount of the distance we would have done if we'd stuck with the Needles trail.  We did rejoin Needles for the last climb up to the eponymous Needles Lodge, coming across a family who had taken the gondola up and who were very impressed that we'd hiked up from the bottom.


We checked to see what time the last gondola ride down was and realized we had plenty of time to climb up the cirque to the ridgeline.  There were lots of other people doing the same thing - although all of them had ridden the gondola up - and it was a bit of a shock, having to share the trail after having had it to ourselves for the last two hours.  It only took us twelve minutes to crest the ridge where the views were spectacular:  the Great Salt Lake and Ogden laid out to the west and Pineview Reservoir and the rolling hills of Morgan County to the east.

Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake

After coming down off the cirque, we hopped on the gondola for a quick and easy descent (we ended up climbing 2,400 feet around six miles, and the gondola ride was approximately two miles down).  We were pretty hungry by then and since we were so close to Huntsville, we cruised on over to the Shooting Star Saloon.  We hadn't been there in ages and we certainly have never been there at dinnertime on a Saturday: it was pretty busy with both locals (I talked with a cowboy who had been bringing cattle in from the hills and was still wearing his spurs) and tourists (there was a group of Finns who were buying t-shirts, putting money in the jukebox and flirting with the bartender).

This place is one of a kind

Our burgers were delicious and we inhaled them, washing them down with a very nice Sockeye session IPA.  It was going on a long day at this point and we headed home as the sun crept towards the horizon.  We finally got home after 11.5 hours out, wind-blown and a little sunburned (me, anyway), but fully pleased with the very nice day we'd had.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

getting h back in the saddle

With the recent local wildfires, the sky on Sunday was hazy and full of smoke.  This did not dissuade us, however, and after some lovely H-cooked scrambled egg breakfast burritos, we loaded up the truck and headed to Park City for MTBing.  H was grousing a little bit about his legs feeling puny but I knew he'd be fine.  (My legs were feeling puny too after Saturday's 3,200 feet of elevation.)  It was warmer than it had been last weekend but the wind was light and I was grateful for that.

Heading up My Nemesis

Again, there were very few people on the trails (and afterwards, as we drove over Guardsman Pass and down through Big Cottonwood Canyon to home, there were a fraction of the recent hordes out and about).  We saw dog-walkers and trail-runners and just a few other MTBers.  The trails are dry and very dusty and although my legs did feel okay on the climbs, my tires spun a bit in the loose surface.  We're due for some rain this coming week and that will do wonders for tamping the dust down into hardpack again.  Despite his worrying, H did just fine, climbing Hammerhead Hill and the Sweet Sixteen switchbacks, although a little slower than his usual speed.  (I was ahead on My Nemesis and he didn't catch me!)  I could have used a few more calories and was pretty beat by the time I clawed my way up the Staircase but by then, we were on the homestretch.

The long view from the picnic spot was hazy and not its best but we did have some pretty spectacular aspen groves to look at, glowing bright yellow and gold across the hills.  As much as I enjoy summer, I sure do like fall: colorful leaves, cooler temperatures and, of course, the entryway to winter.

Monday, September 14, 2015

baldy loop

As I mentioned in my last post, H's work schedule has been rather invasive lately, including a recent stint back in Maine.  When he got back to Utah, he did get back on his road bike but when this past weekend rolled around and I started tossing out words like "hiking" and "MTBing," he equivocated a bit, concerned about his legs and lungs after so much time at sea level.  I was not to be dissuaded, however, and with a mention of Snowbird's Oktoberfest thrown in managed to get him on board for a Alta/Snowbird loop hike for Saturday morning.  Because the only way to get re-acclimated to altitude is to get back to altitude.

Scrambling up to Baldy

We drove up to the Bird where, due to Oktoberfest and the Hidden Peak Challenge (a 6k with 3,000 vertical feet of climbing, a/k/a suffer-fest), things were already hopping.  Snowbird is charging $5 for parking during Oktoberfest but if you get there before 10 a.m., you can park for free.  We got there before 10 a.m.  We also had planned the loop so that we would do all the climbing first, finishing at Hidden Peak and then riding the tram down.  This meant that we had to walk on the roads from the Bird to Alta.  It was actually kind of fun because at walking pace we could look at all the ski houses perched on the hills above the bypass road; the only times we've driven the bypass is when the weather is about as bad as it can be and that is certainly no time to be gawking around at houses.

When we got to Alta, we continued climbing, following the dirt access road up from Collins/Wildcat base, under the angle station and continuing up the intermediate trails, across the Ballroom to the top of Collins.  It is definitely fall now: the meadows are pale brown and crispy and the trees are beginning to turn, mostly maples right now.  We paused for a quick snack at the top of the Collins lift and then continued walking up the EBT, which seems so flat when you're poling along it on skis but which actually has some pitch to it.

Baldy summit

At the saddle between Alta and Snowbird, we got off the dirt road and started scrambling up to Baldy.  The first bit is steep and loose - the loose footing not being an issue when you're bootpacking up in the winter (or so I imagine) - but once we got past that, it was a steady climb on narrow singletrack up the ridge, through dried wildflower meadows, to the summit.  It's an excellent bit of trail.  There are 360 degree views and you see just how far up you've come.

From there, it was a quick descent down a ridge on the Snowbird side to the Peruvian Gulch trail (dirt access road), then some more climbing up the dirt road to the tram station at the top of Hidden Peak.  We didn't linger up there - we've been up there plenty, plus there were lots of people milling about - instead catching the first tram back down.  For future reference:  taking a tram ride down 3,000 feet is much easier on the knees than hiking down.

Getting ready to board the tram

We went back to the truck, changed clothes and perched on the tailgate to people-watch and drink our post-hike beers.  People were just pouring in for Oktoberfest.  One guy laughed at our bringing our own parking lot beers to Oktoberfest but, frankly, the fest's prices are pretty steep.  We could have brought our mugs from years past (which would have saved us $10) but even then, to fill said mug is $7.50.  Instead, we drank our PBRs and then went back up to Oktoberfest, wandering through the vendors, listening to polka music and getting some food: bratwurst for H and potato pancakes for me.  We were fading fast, however, with the hike and the sun and the heavy food, so we didn't linger too long despite the festive atmosphere.  Plus, we needed to get back home and rest up because I was making H go MTBing with me - at altitude - the next day.  No rest for the weary!

That straight shot?  That's the tram ride down

Hike stats:  3,200 feet of climbing; 7.95 miles; moving average speed of 3.0 m.p.h. (but that includes the speedy tram ride down, so that's cheating a bit).

Friday, September 11, 2015

brighton ridge run (modified)

A scan through recent blog posts will quickly show that our hiking has been way down this summer.  H's work schedule has been particularly onerous lately and this has unfortunately impacted our playtime.  Case in point: this past Labor Day, H had to work and I was left to my own devices.  I first thought about revisiting the Brighton Ridge Run but since I was going to be hiking alone, I didn't think the first few peaks would be a good idea as the footing is loose and almost no one goes up there - no one would just happen across me if I fell - best to play it safe.

First glimpse of Lake Martha

It was an absolutely gorgeous day, sunny and cloudless.  I waited a little while for it to warm up, arriving at the Brighton parking lot around 9:30 a.m.  I was far from the first person there - I knew the trails around the Brighton Lakes would be busy but I was hoping to lose the crowds once at higher elevations.  The temperature was 48 F but felt warmer in the sun; I started out wearing my arm warmers but quickly took them off.

Looking back at Martha

As I thought, the trail was pretty crowded up through the ski area to the first lake, Lake Mary.  I was able to dodge the large family groups, however, and pressed on past the second lake, Lake Martha, steadily climbing in the tall evergreens.  Once beyond Martha the crowds thinned dramatically.  I spoke briefly with a couple of people who had camped overnight at Lake Catherine: they said it was beautiful but chilly, and the wind had howled all night.  It wasn't chilly as I headed up to Catherine's Pass; the sun was warm and the climb short but fairly steep.

Working up to Catherine's Pass

There were just a couple people resting on the saddle of Catherine's Pass, although I could hear voices coming up the trail from the Alta side.  Up above me, I saw two hikers disappearing into the short trees near the top of Tuscarora.  I caught up with them and then passed them on the ridge to the summit, managing to spend several minutes in complete solitude on the peak.  It's quite a spectacular view from Tuscarora (and also from Wolverine) because to the east is Big Cottonwood Canyon and Brighton, with glimpses of the Heber Valley further on, and then to the south and west is Alta, then a long view past Snowbird down Little Cottonwood Canyon to the Salt Lake Valley.  You really get a sense of how close and connected the Wasatch is ... and yet there I was, with it all to myself.

Brighton and Lake Mary from Tuscarora

I continued along the ridge, dipping down a bit and then regaining elevation to the top of Wolverine, again getting the summit to myself as a family headed down the other side as I was coming up.  The grand view from Wolverine is similar to Tuscarora, with the added awesomeness of Wolverine Cirque and the Millicent portion of Brighton.

Looking across Big Cottonwood Canyon from Wolverine

I had been moving along at a pretty quick pace until Wolverine and then things got much slower.  The footing from the summit to the ridge trail around the cirque is sketchy with boulders, loose rock and dramatic drop-offs - not an environment conducive to quick movement.  I followed the ridge around, stopping often to take pictures and just enjoy the solitude.  After finishing the ridge, it was more slow going down through the boulder field towards Twin Lakes Pass, but my frequent pauses to find the "trail" gave me the chance to watch numerous pikas as they scampered around the rocks, chirping at me and each other.

Impressive tumbledown cliffs in Wolverine Cirque

At Twin Lakes Pass (one side Grizzly Gulch/Alta, the other side Brighton), I picked the trail less-traveled.  Instead of taking the main trail that traverses the hillside without losing much altitude, I picked a fainter trail that plummeted down the side of the grassy bowl to the reservoir below.  This was quite steep (and made me grateful that I wasn't struggling up it) and with loose, sandy footing in spots.  This path did come out right on the shore of the reservoir/lake, however, and then continued along its edge to the dam.  it is definitely beginning to look like fall out there: the grasses and wildflower remnants in the bowls are dry and crispy and the leaves are just beginning to change.

Looking across the cirque towards BCC

The last bit was on the access road and as I walked out, many people were walking in - the little bit of peace and quiet I'd found was long gone.  As the access road deposited me back at the ski resort parking lot, next to the Millicent lift, I was dumbstruck to see how busy it was.  The parking lot was completely full and yet people kept pouring in, looking for parking spots.  I have never seen so many people at Brighton/Silver Lake and, as I drove out of Big Cottonwood Canyon after a quick snack/beer, the madness continued - the trailheads were completely slammed with hordes of people out enjoying the spectacular holiday weather.  I can never be upset to see people enjoying the outdoors but at the same time I was super-glad that I had started when I did and managed to avoid the crowds as much as I had.

View back at Wolverine Cirque

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

nearly private trails

As it turns out, the Sunday of the long Labor Day weekend is a really good time to MTB in Round Valley.  On previously holidays (Memorial Day, I'm looking at you), the trails have been swarming with people and it has felt like we were spending more time off the bike than on it.  But not this past Sunday, not this Labor Day weekend.  I guess most people had other places to be and you know what? I'm fine with that.

The sky was actually blue - just too bright
and washed out my phone

It was actually pretty chilly first thing in the morning on Sunday, temperatures ranging from 46 F at home and down to 40 F in Park City.  This necessitated a later-than-usual departure (9:30 a.m.), which got me concerned about how busy the trails might be; I like it when we go early because, as mentioned in prior posts, the guided rides don't seem to hit the trails until 10 a.m.  It had warmed up to 55 F upon arrival at our usual in-town trailhead.  I started out wearing my arm warmers which was a good idea for the downhill start, but by the time we got to the dirt trails at Quinn's Trailhead I had warmed up enough to shed them.

We should plant something like this in our yard

There were a number of trail-runners and dog walkers out at that point (a lot of the dog walkers were wearing lightweight down jackets which I, in my shorts and tank top, thought was perhaps overkill) but at first we didn't share the trails with any other MTBers.  We largely had the place to ourselves for the first third of the ride, only coming upon other riders on Valderoad, after Hammerhead Hill.  From there wheeled traffic was sporadic: the Sweet Sixteen switchbacks were all-clear but there were a bunch of folks right at the top, but the descent through the sagebrush switchbacks down to Round Valley Express was empty again, and Ramble On/Rambler for the return were pretty sparsely populated too.


It was a really good ride, which I hadn't expected: light trail use, bright sunshine (although high, thin clouds started moving in after noon) and great temperatures, cool but not cold.  It was 62 F and the wind was picking up at the picnic spot near Guardsman Pass, so I got cold and we didn't linger too long.  I have to say, that spate of cooler weather has gotten us jonesing for a change in seasons. Whitefish, Montana, apparently got some snow yesterday or last night - we're ready.  Bring it on.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

herbie, not to be

Sadly, we are dog-less once again as we had to give Herbie back to the rescue.  We sure do miss him.  He's a super-sweet little dog who loves walks, the big old Nylabone we bought him and belly-rubs.  During the time we had him, he immediately liked every single person and dog he met - everyone was his brand new best friend forever.  But he just could not handle being left home alone while we were at work.  It was far too stressful for him and, as much as we liked him, we weren't the right family for him.  We're good dog owners, Herbie is a good dog.  It just wasn't meant to be.