Wednesday, November 18, 2015

more than we thought

Shoulder season strikes again!  We only managed to get out into the mountains on Sunday this past weekend, but only one day is better than none.  After tossing around a few ideas about what to do (drag the MTBs out again?  drive to Antelope Island for a snow-free hike?), we settled on this: we needed to pick up our season passes at Alta and then, since we would be already all the way up there, we would hike up Grizzly Gulch or up to Catherine's Pass, depending on how much snow was up there.  Alta was saying that they had gotten just over a foot in last week's storm; given the warmer temperatures of the last couple of days, I figured that would have settled out to be easily walkable.  I planned to wear bread bags on my feet between my socks and my no longer waterproof hiking boots but I didn't bother with gaiters.

In the scrub near Patsy Marley

When we pulled into the Wildcat base area parking lot, we were astounded to see well over one hundred cars in the parking lot.  As we walked up to Skier Services for our passes, we could see scores of people hiking up and skiing down Corkscrew; up above on High Rustler, we could see a ton of tracks where intrepid skiers had come down, ostensibly on their early season rock skis.  After getting our passes, we parked in the upper lot above Albion base and that too was full, with people heading out to hike, cross-country ski and skin up the slopes.  Alta fans are clearly itching for the season to start.

Superior looks good in white

We headed up the Summer Road, taking some mileage off by cutting up Patsy Marley, and then got on the trail to Catherine's Pass.  The trail had been well-packed so we didn't have to worry about post-holing.  In the bright sun it got quite warm quite quickly, but stepping into any shade dropped the temperature right back down again.  The wind would pick up sporadically too which encouraged us to keep moving so as not to get chilled.  From Catherine's Pass we continued upwards toward Supreme and at the Sunset Peak trail junction, we lost our packed path.  Some skiers had been in there (including a couple of them just taking the skins off their skis in the Sunset section of Catherine's Area) but we were breaking trail and post-holing for the most part, the snow well over my knees in many places.  (And as the snow came into my boots from over the top, my bread bags failed.)

Someone got first tracks in Catherine's Area

By the time we were at the top of Upper Big Dipper, we had had enough of flailing around on the access road.  We dropped in over the edge, continuing down Upper Sleepy Hollow to Sleepy Hollow.  The snow, while still quite deep, was drier and lighter here and we were able to descend quickly.  We found ourselves having to veer to skier's right to avoid a cliff area and ended up in the White Squaw Area chutes near the Elephant's Butt.  This was trickier going since it was steep and we had to be careful not to get caught on any rocks or downed trees hidden under the snow.  If we'd had our skis, we would have been out of there in no time.

Picking our way down Upper Big Dipper

We finally got out of the woods and returned to the car via Patsy Marley and the Summer Road.  Our feet were soaked but our spirits were high as we toasted with a couple of IPAs from a newer Utah brewery, Park City Brewing.  Winter is coming and Alta is getting ready for it.  Let it snow.

Updated with our route map:

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