Thursday, July 30, 2015

a little leg stretching

We had been visiting family last week, flying back to Salt Lake City with a 12:30 a.m. Sunday morning arrival (which felt like 2:30 a.m. to us since we'd been back east).  We slept in a little and then puttered around the house until about noon, making half-hearted stabs at the giant pile of laundry.  It was on the hot side down in the valley, however, so when we decided we needed to get out and get some exercise, we headed up to the cooler heights of Alta.

Fields of lupine

It was the last day of the Wasatch Wildflower Festival and although the festival's main focus on Sunday would be at Snowbird, I expected a lot of people milling around Albion Basin even so.  It actually wasn't as crowded as I expected; H commented that with the long weekend (July 24th is a state holiday, Pioneer Day), folks may have gone out of town.

Paintbrush and asters

We parked in the upper lot at Albion Base and worked our way up through Sunnyside to the summer road, and then getting on the trail that would take us up to Catherine's Pass.  No one passed us going up and, per usual, the crowds thinned the higher we got.  Once we kept going above the pass, we didn't see anyone until we had descended through Alta's ski trails to the campground.

Not a cloud in the sky

We both noticed that we were sucking wind after spending nearly a week at sea level in Maine, so the frequent stops to admire the just-past-peak wildflowers served two purposes: beauty and rest.  When we completed our loop and returned to the truck, the parking lots were slowly emptying.  The afternoon light was beautiful, as it usually is up there, and the temperatures pleasant - a good way to get our legs back under us again after a little time away.

View towards Brighton from Catherine's Pass

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

please stand by

Posting will resume shortly!  In the meantime, enjoy these Snowbird wildflowers:

Saturday, July 18, 2015

flower power

The plan for Sunday had been to get up early and head down to American Fork Canyon for a brand new and rigorous hike.  But when the alarm went off at 6 a.m., we both were all, "Blurrrgghh" and hit snooze instead, getting up an hour or so later to another beautiful morning.  H decided he wanted to go for a road ride and headed out for a couple of hours.  That left me to head on up to Alta to do my favorite loop - the one we did with our friend R about a month ago, less the spur to Sunset Peak.

Albion Basin 

Lupine and little sunflowers

Word has been going around that the wildflowers are peaking early this year due to the winter's low snow and the scorching hot June, so I figured it would be a good time to take some photos.  I got up there just a little after 9 a.m., nabbing a prime parking spot at the upper lot at Albion base.  There were a few other cars there but not the hordes I figured I'd come across later.

Death camas

As I started up, I saw more potguts (Uinta ground squirrels) than I've ever seen in one place.  Some of them, the smaller, younger ones usually, were pretty brave, standing their ground as I trudged up the hill.

Gentian (almost as tall as me)

There really weren't that many people out there at first.  I passed eleven people on my way up to Catherine's Pass and was only passed by three trail runners.  There were several hikers pausing on top of the pass, eating snacks and admiring the view.  But once I was going across the top towards Supreme, I only ran into one other person ("Is this Brighton?"  No, dude, this isn't Brighton) until I got back down to the Albion Basin campground.  There was also a young bull moose hanging out under the Cecret lift but I didn't get a photo because he was pretty far away.

More lupine and an unidentifiable white flower

Still more lupine

When I got back to my car, the lower lot at Albion was full and there was a big line of flower-peepers waiting for the shuttle.  I de-booted, texting H to let him know I was done, and then sat down to enjoy my post-hike beer.  The temperature was just perfect - high 60s and so pleasant in the strong sun - and I just sat there and grinned at the mountains.  I love Alta covered in snow best but it's pretty awesome dressed in green too.

Beer with a view

Tuesday, July 14, 2015


H and I are soccer fans, enjoying the fact that Salt Lake City has its own team, Real Salt Lake (who are doing terribly right now, by the way).  We watched a lot of the men's and women's World Cups and we have gotten into the British Premier League.  We even have our own BPL teams to root for: he's for Arsenal and I like Swansea, the only remaining Welsh team.

While watching the most recent men's World Cup, we were introduced to Michael Davies and Roger Bennett, also known as Men In Blazers, and then once the World Cup was over, we kept watching their BPL recap show on t.v.  Some people find their shtick tiresome but we think it's just the right amount of bonkers.  (H does miss a lot of their pop culture references; I explain where I am able.)  When we learned that the Esquire channel had hired them to cover the annual running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, we knew we'd watch, despite not really having much foreknowledge of or interest in the event.

We've learned a lot, actually, because Rog and Davo have done a good job of adding historical and cultural context, including lots of interviews with notable Spanish and American bull-runners, Pamplonan restaurateurs and local figures, all in between calling play-by-plays of the action and being dutifully horrified at the gorings.  For the record, they seem to be on the bulls' side more often than not, especially when the runners display above average idiocy.  One thing they've been doing with each episode is featuring a local beverage or food.  One that piqued our interest was kalimotxo, a half and half mixture of red wine and regular Coca-Cola.  It's a recently developed beverage, starting in the Basque region of Spain, and the revelers at the Sanfermines festival and encierro, a/k/a the running of the bulls in Pamplona, drink it by the liters.

"Poor man's sangria," you betcha

We tried it and ... amazingly, it isn't that bad, with a sangria sort of feel to it.  Even the New York Times is on board.  We didn't drink enough of it to kill the whole two liter bottle of regular Coke I bought, but it was certainly quaffable.  (Next up?  The Men in Blazers also have been enjoying the uniquely Basque combination of chocolate milk and cognac ...)

Sunday, July 12, 2015

summertime stuff

Since we've been mixing things up a bit lately (i.e., still hiking and MTBing but varying the days and start times), we though we'd see what MTBing at Round Valley would be like on a Saturday morning.  We did the same early start (up at 6 a.m.), noticing less traffic on the interstate than there had been July 3rd but more than there would have been on a Sunday morning at that time.  The bike path was not in heavy use and the cool (59 F) temperatures were great.  When we got to the Quinn's Trailhead, however, we were shocked to find it full of cars, even without any Little League or soccer games going on at that time.

Park City Trail Series runners

As we got out on the trails, we started seeing race route signs and, soon enough, started seeing lots and lots of folks out there trail-running.  We learned that it was the second race of the Park City Trail Series, a progressive series of trail races throughout the summer, apparently all out on the Round Valley trails.  The first one was a 5K in June; this one was a 10K; there's a 15K in August and the series finishes up in September with a half marathon.  It looked like a lot of fun.  We timed our ride quite well with all those runners too, since part of the course was up the sagebrush switchbacks of Rambler; if we'd been coming down as they were going up, it would have been a bit of a nightmare.  But instead we largely had the trails to ourselves.  The recent midweek rain had packed the dust and sand down a bit and with fresh legs I climbed My Nemesis, Sweet Sixteen and the Staircase pretty well.

Pretty sure my helmet is on crooked

There was someone hanging out in our regular picnic spot on the Guardsman Pass road so we drove over to Brighton and set up our cooler and chairs in the parking lot there.  The afternoon was spent back at home, watching le Tour de France and the running of the bulls in Pamplona.  We rallied, though, and went up to the Snowbird Cool Air Concert Series to see the Young Dubliners.  I'm a little embarrassed to say that neither H nor I were familiar with the band ... but a whole lot of other people were and the crowd on the plaza deck was way bigger than any other we've seen for these free concerts.  It was a lovely evening with good music and great people-watching - Snowbird's first Dirtybird obstacle race had been that day and there were lots of muddy participants limping around with grins and beers - and just an excellent summer day all the way around.

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

Saturday, July 4, 2015

the more you know

With the heat and what is for most people a three day long holiday weekend, we decided to go MTBing even earlier on Friday morning.  We got up at 6 a.m. and were on the road around 7, getting wheels on the bike path at about 7:50 a.m.  And what did we learn from this?

  • The temperature was a delightful 59 F when we started.  The shadows on the trails were different, of course, from the sun being lower in the sky and that took some getting used to.  But even as the morning wore on, it stayed fairly pleasant and comfortable for riding.
  • There was more traffic on the interstate but less on the trails.  We saw hardly anybody out on the dirt trails - we got stuck behind one slowpoke on the way up the Sweet Sixteen switchbacks but there wasn't anyone on the Rambler descent on the other side - which was fantastic.  As we came off the dirt at 10 a.m., there were a number of White Pine Touring groups heading out and we were grateful that we had timed that right, so as not to be coming upon them on the singletrack.
  • The earlier hour and cooler temperatures meant that it was rabbit-palooza out in Round Valley.  We saw so many desert cottontails on the trails, crossing the trails, trail-adjacent, and those bunnies are never visible later in the day.
  • We had to play some dodge-the-thistles.  The big purple thistles are getting really big now.  I took one corner too tightly and brushed my knuckles along a trail-side thistle.  Ouch!  Not twenty minutes later, H did the exact same thing and confirmed the ouch.  Like I don't struggle enough to stay upright on the singletrack - now I have to watch out for biting plants?  (Hilariously, as we stood aside for one of the tour groups coming in, I said to the tour leader, "Watch out for the thistles out there."  One of the newbies in the tour group: "What's a thistle?"  Seriously?  You don't know what a thistle is? Yikes.)
  • Fresh legs totally make a difference.  This was one of the only times we've done Round Valley with fresh legs, not having done a hike the day before.  My legs felt really good, tired while climbing but recovering quickly as soon as the climbing topped out.  I climbed the Sweet Sixteen really well, as fast as I ever have and only having to walk the two turns that I always walk.  Maybe we have to switch things up and bike Saturdays/hike Sundays.
  • You can't drink all day if you don't start early in the morning.  I'm kidding, really: we didn't drink all day but we did have a celebratory post-ride beer before 11 a.m., at our usual Guardsman Pass picnic spot.  (We had sandwiches too so it was sort of like brunch.)

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

trying to stay ahead of it

In an effort to stay ahead of the heat of the day, we got an earlier start on Sunday than we've been doing, getting over to Park City and out on our MTBs a little before 9 a.m.  We could tell that it was warmer than it's been but the temperatures were still fairly pleasant, at least as we were starting out and in the shade.  It's funny the difference an hour or so can make, though.  The shadows were different, changing the contours of the trail.  And there were more animals out and about: in addition to all the marsh birds, ducks and ducklings in the wet section along the rail trail, we spotted a muskrat, happily paddling about and eating reeds; and just before we got to Quinn's Trailhead, I caught a glimpse of an ermine (in his brown/cream summer fur) sitting on top of a fence post before he dove for cover into the tall grass.

Another difference was the dearth of people out on the Round Valley Trails, although whether this was due to the earlier timeframe or the general heat is tough to say.  There seemed to be more trail runners than MTBers out there and there weren't very many runners.  H did have to deal with a couple of clueless newbies who were descending the Sweet Sixteen and didn't get out of his way as he was climbing up, forcing him off into the sagebrush.  Another MTBer, off the side and out of the way, commiserated with him, "Some people have no manners."  That same guy became my cheering section - "Come on, girl, you can do it!" - as I sweated and struggled my way up a couple minutes later.  My legs were still fatigued from Saturday's 11+ mile hike and I had to channel Jens Voigt several times to keep myself moving: Shut up legs!  It must have worked because although I was pretty slow, I rode all but two of the Sweet Sixteen switchbacks and made it up both My Nemesis and the Staircase.

Clawing my way to the top of My Nemesis

We finished up a little after 11 a.m. and hightailed it to our picnic spot.  The sun was intense there, though, and there was no breeze to speak of so we ate our sandwiches, drank one beer and called it a day so as to get out of the heat.  Well, we did make a quick stop in at the little store at Brighton for an ice cream first.  And then we called it a day.