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