Friday, December 30, 2016

boxing day 2016

As I mentioned, the storm moved out late on Christmas Day, leaving behind blue skies and cold temperatures.  Boxing Day was even colder than Christmas, starting at 0 at the summit/3F at the base and warming to 5F summit/18F base by the afternoon.  The cold didn't seem to deter many people, however, as it was standing room only on the ski bus for both the inbound and outbound trips.  There were clearly more folks out on the trails but we did the singles lines mostly and never had to wait all that long.

H in action (PC/copyright: Peak Photo)

The biggest news of the day was that ski patrol got more terrain open, specifically the Ballroom and the Backside.  My legs were shot from the prior two days so I was back on my comfort skis, the skinny Salomons, and didn't attempt anything deep.  H went into the Ballroom and found it heavier than expected, but when he got into Yellow Trail and East Greeley, the snow was amazing.  While he did Backside laps, I skied Extrovert and Chartreuse off of the Sugarloaf lift; although it was completely tracked out, it was still soft.

Looking soft in East Greeley

We met up for an early lunch, in part to thaw our frozen toes, then headed back out, starting with a Cabin Run (amazingly not too trampled, plus H managed to stay out of the creek this time), then over to Supreme.  By then, the Supreme Bowl was pretty well pounded past its prime but Rock N' Roll was open and hadn't been groomed.  It was nice and soft (and not too busy) and we did it a couple of times. 

Bottom of No. Nine Express

At one point, I hit a compression and launched myself out of my left ski and down the hill a ways; I didn't hurt myself this time (although I would be stiff and sore for the next several days) and a nice skier brought me my ski so I didn't have to climb back up for it.  A couple runs after that, we called it a day, with enough time before our down-canyon bus to stop at Goldminer's Daughter for a couple of beers while our toes thawed.  There's not much storm action in the close-range forecasts so we'll have to be patient.  But this past holiday weekend has been a treat for sure.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

christmas 2016

Christmas 2016 was one for the books!  The storm continued overnight and into the early afternoon on Sunday, finally petering out after leaving Alta with a storm total of 20".  This was considerably less than forecasters had thought but still - twenty inches of new snow for Christmas!  No complaints here.  Nor were there any complaints about the crowds: while it was noticeably busier than Christmas mornings past, it was still pretty empty and we never stood in line after the initial wait for the lifts to open.  Part of this, I'm sure, is because it was cold, ranging from 3F to 13F while we were there.

Still, you just have to ski off-piste to warm up and with all the new fresh, that's just what we did.  Not everything was open, of course, but we had some great runs through Fred's Trees and West Rustler, where the snow was DEEP and light.  H and I split up for the late morning and he did laps on Chartreuse Nose while I headed for Supreme.  I had the sense to wear my fatter Rossignols which was the right thing to do with all the new snow.  I did a gully run first, then tied on my powder cords and did two runs into Catherine's Area.  It was empty in there - I had to break trail for the traverse past the first meadow - and I had first tracks both times.

Obligatory Christmas selfie (in flat light)

After lunch we did a Cabin Run, where we were first people in there and where H landed himself in a hole when he didn't quite avoid a creek.  Then we went back to Supreme, playing around in Catherine's, the gullies, No. Nine Express and the low gates into Vicky's and White Squaw.  There was just a ton of snow in there.  It was fantastic.  What a great way to spend Christmas Day.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

no groomers

Just in time for Christmas, another wonderful storm moved into Utah.  It started late afternoon on Friday and then just settled in for a while.  It was fairly warm on Friday into Saturday, so we just got rain down in the valley.  Temperatures up at Alta were pretty warm too: 20 F at the summit and around 30 F at the base on Christmas Eve Day.  The best part is that the storm stuck around all day on Saturday so (a) there were hardly any people because people out here don't like to ski when it's snowing and (b) the day got better as it went on, with tracks getting filled in quickly.  And I was pretty sure it was going to be a good day when there was a 150 lb. St. Bernard greeting skiers - Toby, certified therapy dog - outside the Goldminer's Daughter Lodge when we got off the bus.

We did four runs off of Collins to start.  Since Alta reported only three inches overnight (which had increased considerably by the time we got up there), I was skiing on my Salomons.  They were clearly too skinny for the actual amount of snow but I had figured that the snow would be kind of heavy/wet and would get chunked up quickly, and my Salomons are much easier to turn than my wider Rossignols.  And I was right: nothing at all had been groomed out so Corkscrew quickly became a bumped-up mess.  I abandoned it after two runs and found Collins Face to be skiing much better with less traffic.

Top of Collins Face

H then announced that he was going for Gunsight.  I wasn't feeling it so I decided to head for Supreme and we made plans to meet for lunch at Alf's.  The Gunsight run ended up being pretty good but a long slog: he was one of the first people in there and the traverse/sidestep had started low - it took him 35 minutes between the hiking up and the skiing.  The first ten meters in the chute were a little gnarly too but he said that after that, the snow was fantastic.  Over at Supreme, it was very windy.  The conditions were mixed at the top but were excellent in the trees: deep, soft and light.  With my skinny skis I didn't dare go into Catherine's but had a lot of fun on No. Nine Express, the Erosion Gullies and the ropeline/low gates into Vicky's/White Squaw.

View from Gunsight

After lunch (where we were pleased to see our favorite cashier, Carrie, back at work during her month-long winter break from UVM), we both went to Supreme.  With the free refills from the continuing snow, it was just so good - and there was hardly anyone there so our tracks were getting filled in between runs.  (The storm total by Christmas morning would be 17" for Alta.)

With several more days of skiing ahead of us. we didn't fight it when our legs started to holler, catching the 2:30 bus back down to the valley.  Soon enough we were in our soft pants, the Christmas tree lights glowing softly  Dinner was a New Mexican green chile stew and a brut pink champagne and entertainment was Elf.  Outside, the temperatures dropped and the snow started to fall in our yard as well as up in the mountains.  It would be another good day for skiing on Christmas but, frankly, it would be hard to beat what we'd just had on Christmas Eve.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

bundle up

Even though it was still wicked cold Sunday morning, the sun was shining in a clear blue sky and we knew we were going skiing.  We bundled up in all our warm stuff - down parkas, heavy longjohns and face masks (just in case) - and hopped on the ski bus, getting up to Alta about 8:40 a.m.  As we rode up, we wondered what sort of crowds we might find.  Last Sunday, the day after a decent storm, was crazy-crowded in the morning.  This Sunday, the day after an impressive storm ... was basically deserted.  I guess the morning high temperature of 0 scared people away.  We hung out in Goldminer's Daughter until 9:10 a.m., then went out and got in the short singles line.  The lifts starting turning on time at 9:15 a.m. and that was the last (only) time we had to stand in a lift line.

I mean, don't get me wrong: it was cold.  Temperatures were inverted to start: 0 at the peak and -6 at the base.  But the sun was out and it wasn't windy.  After one run on Collins I could already tell that I was getting cold, despite my down coat, and we moved to Sugarloaf which has a little more sunshine on it this time of year.  If nothing else, it was nice to not have to ski in flat light.  We did a second groomer and then our third run was down Extrovert since we needed something off-piste to warm up.  I was skiing pretty tentatively, leery of falling and injuring my shoulder again.  I was on my Rossignols, which like to turn less than I like to turn, and I was struggling a little in the chop.  I suggested to H that we split up for the morning so he could get some solid runs in without waiting for me, and we planned to meet up a little before noon at Alf's.

Yay down parka with a hood!

After lunch, temperatures were right-side-up and slightly warmer: 3F at the summit and 10F at the base.  We did a Cabin Run, which was great, soft and fluffy, and then went to Supreme for another Catherine's Area run.  After that, we were both overheating and needed to do some groomers to cool off.  Several more Supreme runs later, we realized we could make the 2:30 p.m. bus down-canyon.  And fifty minutes after that, we were back at the car.

It's going to stay cold for the week, with some small storms moving through, just enough to refresh things for Christmas.  With these last two storms, however, we're in great shape snow-wise, certainly better than we've been for the last couple of years.  Makes us hopeful that we might have a decent ski season even.  Here's hoping!

Monday, December 19, 2016

hunker down

We got a very exciting storm across Utah, starting Friday afternoon, through the overnight and moving out Saturday morning.  Amazingly, it was almost all in the mountains, dropping several inches of very wet, slushy snow in the valley before getting hung up in the higher elevations and just nuking up there.  Here are the storm totals (thanks to WSF, who has an in-depth analysis of the storm and the current snowpack):

The other thing this wonderful storm left behind was wickedly cold temperatures.  So cold, in fact, that we did not go up skiing on Saturday.  When we got up, Alta was reporting a -15 F mid mountain temperature, with brutal windchill in the forecast, and with all the new snow, they would have very limited terrain open.  We've skied in 0 degree weather before and it's tough; I have to go in to warm my fingers and toes every couple of runs, even with hand-warmers, and frostbite is a real concern.  From our vantage point, the canyon looked socked in and we made the call to stay inside instead.  I wasn't even tempted to go for a run as temperatures only got into the 20s in the valley.

The day wasn't a total loss.  We got the Christmas stuff out and worked on Christmas cards and I packaged up some homemade cookies to hand out at work.  I also dug out all my warmest layers and laid them out.  Sunday we would ski no matter what.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

wheels on the bus

As much as people around here don't like storm skiing, they do like skiing the day after a storm, so we anticipated heavy traffic and a post-storm slushy road for Sunday.  This encouraged us to try something new: the UTA's ski bus.  There is a park-n-ride five minutes from our house and with our Alta season passes, the ride is free.  It involved a little more organization than our usual morning routine (we did have to leave the house earlier and I had to commit to an outfit since I wouldn't have the truck in which to leave multiple layering options) but it was super-easy.  The bus driver was friendly, we got seats and we got a stress-free ride up the canyon to Alta (with three stops at Snowbird first to offload passengers).

When we got up there, it was PACKED with hordes of people trying to organize into the lift lines.  I don't like to say anything negative about Alta because I love it so much but whoever set the corrals Sunday morning did a terrible job: they didn't make the lanes nearly long enough, so it was just a mob of people pressing forward, and they only set up one singles line instead of two.  Poor planning.  That being said, even if they had done a better job with the corrals, there were still ridiculous amounts of people there; by 11 a.m., the corral at Collins was still full.  Supreme was still closed at that point (avalanche control) and so people only had Collins, Wildcat and Sugarloaf (and Sunnyside) to choose from.

The reason there were so many people?  Eight new inches of snow (12" storm total) and clearing skies.  The snow was really pretty good: it wasn't light and fluffy - the high water content made it dense and heavy - but it filled in a lot of spots and was soft.  I was wearing my wider Rossignols with mixed results: they floated in the deeper stuff but with the heavy snow and so many people skiing it, things got chunked up quickly and those skis are more difficult to turn.  After a couple of warm-up runs (and a high five from Martha, who was in a good mood despite the crowds), we went into Racecourse/Sunspot where the benefits of new snow were evident: it was really quite good in there.

It did a number on my legs, however, so for the next run, as H went back in, I did a groomer run down Mambo (Main Street was closed for avalanche control).  I took a digger there - must have caught an edge or something - and ended up jamming my left shoulder pretty badly.  I got up and skied down to the bottom of the lift where I figured out that while I hadn't dislocated my shoulder, I was pretty sore.  Here's where the genius of the ski bus comes in: instead of me moping around the ski lodge all day, or H having to cut his ski day short to take me home, I just got the keys from him and then took the bus back down to the valley while he got back in line.  He was worried about me but I wanted him to keep skiing - no sense both of us missing out, especially when I wasn't seriously hurt.

So while I puttered stiffly around then house, H had a pretty good day of skiing.  He stayed on the front side for the whole morning, then switched to Sugarloaf and Supreme after lunch.  By 2 p.m., the crowds had dissipated - everyone went up in the morning, tracked everything out and then left, I guess - and he was skiing onto the lifts with no waiting.  Catherine's Area even stayed in good shape: he did two runs through there, nabbing fresh tracks each time.

When H was done, he got on the ski bus, texting me to come pick him up in 45 minutes.  The bus was actually ahead of schedule and he had been waiting for a few minutes, sitting on the bus stop bench to give his tired legs a break.  At home that evening, as we were both muttering about how creaky and sore we were - my shoulder, his legs - we both agreed that the ski bus experiment was an unqualified success.  The weather looks fairly active in the near future too, so maybe we'll get back aboard soon.

Monday, December 12, 2016

storm skiing

They had been talking about this storm for days - fairly slow-moving with lots of water in it - and although it seemed to hit the Wasatch Front later than expected, it definitely delivered.  When we got up Saturday, the mountains were all socked in and we knew it was snowing up there even though it was just raining down in the valley.  The forecast said that the snow would start slow and then get heavier in the afternoon, then continue through the overnight before moving out on Sunday.  That meant storm skiing on Saturday and storm skiing is awesome for two reasons: because the conditions improve throughout the day AND because people don't like skiing when it snows.  This would mean no lift lines/skiing right onto the lifts throughout the day.

Because it was a little warm, the snow levels were up above 7,000 feet, so that the canyon road was clear until we got past Snowbird.  After that it was a little slippery but we pulled into the Wildcat Base with no issues and with the parking lot less than a third full.  Alta had gotten nearly a foot of snow since we'd been up there last and so things were beginning to fill in.  It was snowing - sharp, prickly ice bits - and the gusty wind was definitely moving things around.  But it was fairly warm (upper 20s) and as soon as we moved off the groomers, we warmed right up.  My feet hardly got cold for the entire day - amazing.

We are still suffering from poor leg fitness and did a couple of runs on Collins's groomers before heading into Racecourse and Sunspot.  The snow was quite good in there, if you didn't mind dodging a few rocks in the especially-windswept spots.  After that, I couldn't wait any longer and struck out on my own for Supreme, which had just opened on Friday, with H planning to take a couple more Collins runs and then meet me over there.  My first ride up Supreme was with a chatty ski patroller (who chastised me for not wearing my fat skis) who recommended the tops of the Gullies and Catherine's.  I took him at his word and went down the Gullies, then following lower Sleepy Hollow out.  I went wide on my next run, Big Dipper (Rock N' Roll was closed for avalanche control), and then spotted H coming up to the lift just as I was loading onto a chair.

Snowing on Devil's Elbow

I waited for H in the wind on top of Supreme and we went into Catherine's Area.  The very first little boot-pack up was a bit of a struggle since it hadn't been groomed and we were postholing in others' footsteps.  But once we got in there, the snow was absolutely terrific ... and that patroller was right - my wider Rossignols would have been a much better choice.  After lunch, the wind seemed to die just a little bit and the snow picked up.  We did some Sugarloaf runs, then back to Supreme for No. 9 Express, Challenger (and skiing the rope line to the right at the bottom of Challenger was really fun), Sleepy Hollow, etc.

Around 2 p.m., the combination of my legs getting fatigued and not wanting to drive down the canyon on a very snowy road urged us to call it an early day.  We skied out through Sunnyside (the EBT was closed for avalanche control) and along the rope tow back to Wildcat base.  We needn't have worried about the road conditions as the snow levels had stayed high and it was clear almost all the way down.  The tired legs were real, however, and with the storm set to continue through the night, we'd need to rest up for Sunday.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

digging the crowds

Conditions-wise, Sunday was a repeat of Saturday with the snow holding its own.  We stuck with our rock skis because there were a few stones making their way up to the surface but since we also stuck with the groomers - stiff legs - our bases remained largely unscathed.  The weather was about the same as well, although we did have sunshine for the first three runs which was a nice reprieve from the flat light, with the clouds moving in mid-morning.  It was a few degrees warmer all day, however, and my fingers and toes appreciated that.

The crowds were down from Saturday, with the novelty of opening having worn off and no new snow to entice many more than the diehards.  We, the diehards, appreciated this: we were at the front of the line when Collins opened and then we never had to stand in line the rest of the day.  While pre-Christmas skiing can be hit-or-miss with the conditions, we absolutely love the fact that so few people are skiing then.

Before the clouds rolled back in

The most amazing part of Sunday was this: as we were coming through the gates at Collins for the second time, we got a huge hug from Martha from Skier Services, also known as She Who Must Be Obeyed in the Lift Lines.  We only ever see Martha from going through the lift lines but she knows our names from the season passes.  Usually she just says hello but this time we merited a hug!

Monday, December 5, 2016

first day legs

Per our usual tradition, my first day of the ski season was the day after H's - and Alta's - first day.  We didn't feel a whole lot of urgency on Saturday morning: opening day had been busy and all that gorgeous snow was tracked out by midday on Friday, so it wasn't like we needed to hurry up there for fresh tracks.  The forecast was chilly, with cloudy skies, light winds and temperatures ranging from 10 F - 22 F at the base.  We got up there and in the singles line at the Collins lift a little after 9 a.m.  The corral filled in behind us but H said that it wasn't anywhere near as busy as it had been for opening day.

The conditions were really quite good - certainly better than other opening weekend conditions we've experienced.  Coverage was good (we both were on our rock skis - our old Volkls - in case of any errant rocks working their way up through the snow) and there was a lot more terrain open than on opening days past.  They even got the Backside open after lunch and we could hear the hooting and hollering as skiers bombed down the untracked slopes.

We stuck to the groomers, however.  H had skied pretty hard on his own on Friday and neither of us had done much preseason training, so we both had early-season legs going on.  At one point, I inadvertently found myself in an ungroomed section; after three quick turns I got out of there and back on the groomers, legs singing.  It was a good way to warm up - despite our light down jackets, we were both cool/cold from skiing groomers all day in 11 F - but I just couldn't sustain the effort.

By 2 p.m., I was done.  The snow held up surprisingly well, with only the highest traffic areas getting skied off at that point, but my legs were shot.  Good thing is, we'd be able to get after it again on Sunday.  Hooray for ski season!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

opening day 2016, at last

Two weeks delayed, Alta opened Friday, with much anticipation due to the recent, wonderful storm that brought the snowpack right up to where it was on the same date a year ago, only with all the snow coming from one storm rather than spaced out over several weeks.  H was up there, per usual, and as in prior years, I got some texts throughout the day, keeping me apprised of the goings-on:

".. found my [ski] pants. Leaving momentarily."  (8:00 a.m.)

"Alta.  Corral full."  (8:28)

"In line.  Singles.  Out past the end of the ropes.  Crazy."  (8:38)

"Sun is coming out.  All sorts of tracks on the other side of the canyon."  (8:57)

"And we're off" (9:16)

So pretty

Then I heard nothing until 1:45 p.m., when he reported that he was done skiing and was having a PBR on the Goldminer's Daughter patio to celebrate.  When I asked how it was, he replied "Very good.  For an opening day I'd say it was excellent."  Because of this latest, terrific storm, they had a lot more terrain open than they usually do on opening day: Collins, Wildcat and Sugarloaf lifts were all turning.  And that, my friends, is how you finally open the ski season.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

finally winter is here

After that Thanksgiving Eve teaser, winter finally arrived in Utah in the form of a very nice storm that started Sunday night.  It went all day Monday, finally moving on out of here late that night, and left behind some wonderful snow totals:
Little Cottonwood Canyon resorts (Alta and Snowbird): 40-42 inches
Big Cottonwood Canyon resorts (Brighton and Solitude): 28-32 inches
Park City side (Park City and Deer Valley reporting): 20-25 inches
and Eagle Point cleaned up with 58 inches - too bad they're not open yet
We're catching a midweek break, with a small system that could hit or miss Thursday, and then sunny and cold for the weekend.  We are ready - with our rock skis ready to go!

Friday, November 25, 2016

thanksgiving 2016

Thankfully (see what I did there?), a storm moved into northern Utah Wednesday evening, bringing 1-3" in the valley, 4-6" along the benches and Alta claiming a foot.  By Thanksgiving morning, the storm had moved on and it was beautiful, cold and clear, about 30F at our house.  I had signed up for the annual Cold Turkey City Creek run and H and I drove up to Salt Lake City to join all the other turkey-trotters.  The usual race course is a 6k: starting at the Capitol, running up City Creek Canyon a ways before turning around, then descending to the finish line in Memory Grove.  This year, because of the storm, the race organizers were concerned about the snow and ice up the canyon, so just before the start they announced that they had moved the turnaround and we would only be running a 5k.  Everyone cheered!

The traditional pre-race purple fleece photo

My legs seemed a little heavy at the start and I wasn't passing anyone, to my dismay.  The first part of the road was pretty clear but when we turned up into City Creek Canyon, it got pretty slippery.  And as we picked our way up the canyon, I started getting confused: this was the seventh time I'd run this race, so I knew the course pretty well; when we got to the usual turnaround spot, we kept going.  And going and going - a lot more uphill.  I kept going, head down, and didn't stop, finally reaching the turnaround.  On the descent, I could go a little faster but still had to be very careful on the snow and ice.  The portion in Memory Grove was largely clear of snow and ice so I tried to stretch my legs out a little bit.  My back and hips were getting tight but I tried to take advantage of the dry road and managed to pass a few people.  I was still confused though - they said only 5k, but moved the turnaround further up so maybe they were going to move the finish line in?

Charging to the finish

Nope.  The finish line was right where it always is.  As I crossed it, race volunteers called out, "Congratulations! You just ran 10k, not 5k!"  Apparently they weren't paying attention when they reset the course, making it longer instead of shorter.  My very first 10k!  (I really hadn't trained for that - no wonder my back was stiff.)  To be honest, we don't really know how far we ran - so the race results are not going to be that meaningful, timing-wise - but it was a good race, a fun race, and I figured the extra kilometers would just translate into extra pie.


Race results (and history)
2016:  53:23.51, 4 out of 14 in age group, 159/544 overall, +/-10k 8.4k* distance
2015:  35:17.18, 6 out of 19 in age group, 186/593 overall
2014:  34:14:58, 10 out of 26 in age group, 174/656 overall
2013:  35:44.40, 7 out of 24 in age group, 243/682 overall
2012:  n/a (Thanksgiving in California)
2011:  35:41.33, 249/656 overall
2010:  37:22.76 (course changed due to ice/uphill finish), top half of finishers
2009:  35:53.32, top half of finishers

* So with it being an 8.4k (technically 5.2 miles = 8.36 km), my time is much less impressive, but still takes into account the treacherous footing.  Also, that's still the longest race I've ever done - although now I wish it really had been a 10k.

Monday, November 21, 2016

opening day delay

Due to our too warm, too dry weather, Alta (and many other Utah resorts) have had to push back their opening days, something that had not happened in the seven years that we've been in Salt Lake City.  Alta's opening was supposed to be Friday, November 18th; at this point, they are saying that opening will (hopefully) be Friday, December 2nd.  If they have to push it back again, there's no way I will be able to get in my usual 40 days/season.

In prior years, H has taken opening day off from work to ski, and then I have joined in for the weekend.  The skiing has sometimes not been great but we have been able to ski.  And here's the thing: ski season is so easy because we don't have to think about what to do.  There's no deciding whether to going hiking or biking, and no figuring out what trail to do.  Sure, there's some anxiety on my part about what to wear ... but it's really just get up and go skiing.  No brainer. 

When ski season is delayed, it throws us all off.  We have to make decisions again and sometimes that just proves to be too much.  Like this past weekend, for example: the weather was okay but not ideal (too warm and extremely windy) and we just couldn't decide on what we wanted to do, so we ended up doing chores and housework, cleaning out the DVR, going for short runs and making a really delicious mulligatawny soup (it was a mongrel of a couple recipes and what we had in the house, but these are close: here, here, here, here and here).  Fantastic soup aside, that's not our most ambitious weekend - but it looks like some more active weather is moving in so hopefully the ski season won't be delayed too much further.  Until then, time to investigate more soup recipes!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

surely this is the last mtb of the season

In an attempt to make lemonade out of no-winter-yet lemons, we went over to Park City on Sunday to do our Round Valley ride.  Even though it feels like we're riding there all the time, we really haven't done it that much this summer: we didn't do rides because of house guests, the Alta Dry Fork/Mineral Basin monster hike (which ruined us for Sunday), the big Echo Reservoir/Park City rail trail ride, our trip to New Mexico and my visit back east.  It had actually been two months since we had been there!

It was pretty windy (of course), sunny and cool for our return.  It wasn't too crowded, with the busiest section being the Rambler sage brush switchbacks, and we figure we saw more dogs than MTBers out there.  Lots of dogs, all off leash and all pretty well behaved around MTBers.  At one point, as we were going up the Sweet Sixteen, I had a scruffy wolfhound-ish-looking dog running with me, patiently trotting alongside my rear wheel.

Autumn riding

In our absence, the trail crew has been doing some maintenance work on the trails, smoothing out ruts and, in the case of the front side of Rambler (a/k/a our Sweet Sixteen), rerouting the trail entirely to put in wider, banked turns.  H didn't think the new trail sections made that much difference but I thought they made the climb easier.  I also made a huge breakthrough on lower Sweet Sixteen, finally riding one switchback that I have never been able to ride before.  For some reason, as I came up to that turn, my legs felt good and I thought, "I'm pretty sure I can ride that," and then I did.  There was no one around to witness my triumph but I was stoked.  Of course, now I have no excuse for walking that one ever again.

We wrapped up our ride with a strong headwind and drank our beers, squinting in the sun.  It was a great ride - I felt really good about my climbing although my downhill technique was dismal - but surely, surely we will be able to put our MTBs away now and get our skis tuned up.  Surely winter is coming soon.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

sol-bright, switched

Winter is definitely late to Utah this year.  Ski resorts have begun pushing their openings back because there is just no snow in the mountains and it's not even been cold enough to make snow.  In the past we have gone for a hike at Solitude/Brighton right after the first snow of the year; this year this first snow really hasn't come yet but we decided to do the hike anyway, in reverse this time, in an effort to jumpstart winter.

No snow at all down low

We sort of puttered around in the morning, finally getting up to the Silver Lake Nordic Center in Big Cottonwood Canyon to start our hike around 11:30 a.m. Saturday morning.  Because the weather was so [too] warm and beautiful, there were lots more people out hiking around the lake and Brighton's reservoirs than we would see in a normal November.  Most were inadequately dressed in city boots or sneakers and we soon pushed past them as we headed up the Sol-Bright trail from Brighton to Solitude.

Just a little snow on Millicent

The trail was variable, muddy in the exposed spots and snowy/icy in the shade.  The temperature was variable as well - sweaty on the sunny uphills but chilly for shady descents - and there was a light, cool breeze blowing.  Once we got past the other people, we were delighted to hear and see several pikas scurrying around the rocky slopes and piling up grasses to dry for storage.  We also saw tons of deer and coyote tracks.

A skim-coat of snow in Honeycomb Canyon

Since we hadn't seen the fully-installed new Summit chair, we ground our way up the very steep access road to the top of Solitude to check it out.  Where the old two-seater unloaded in a narrow space surrounded by rock walls, the new quad dumps its people out into a characterless wide open since they blasted huge chunks of the cliff away.  I'm sure lots of people are thrilled but I wish they'd kept the old chair.  I like old stuff.

The new Summit quad

We headed back down before the breeze could chill us, following the access road under the lift to Lake Solitude, then picking up the trail on the east side of the lake back to Silver Lake.  The lack of snow was really a bit shocking; you just don't expect to see bare ground under Utah lifts in mid-November.  We finished the hike by going around Silver Lake and then lifted a beer in the parking lot (pouring a little bit out in a hopeful tribute to Ullr, just in case), as more and more cars poured in, people taking advantage of the mild weather.  It was a nice little hike on a pretty day but we are over mild weather.  Bring on the snow.

Hike stats: 5.07 miles; 1,300 feet elevation; 2:03 hiking time, plus 24 minutes of standing and gawking; moving average 2.5 m.p.h.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

november long weekend in moab - pt. 4

It ended, our long weekend in Moab - they always seem to end and we have to drive north back to lawns that need raking, and jobs, and mountains of laundry. But first: one more MTB ride at the MOAB Brand Trails.  (After breakfast at the Moab Diner, of course.)  The loop we put together there (Rusty Spur and Bar M) is much less technical than the other stuff we'd been riding.  We did take a look at the map and decide to add another trail (Sidewinder) to the mix on our next trip but this time we were sticking to what we knew.

Chilly enough for arm warmers

There were only a few cars in the parking lot when we got there and we only saw two other riders when we were out for our two hour, 19+ mile ride.  The weather was perfect - clear, sunny and cool - and the trails were in good shape.  I only hopped off my bike twice, on a tricky uphill cattle guard and on a tricky rocky uphill corner, and H of course didn't have to walk at all.  We really like that loop, feeling that if Rusty Spur was 5x as long we would love to ride it, plus enjoying the climbing and cruising for the Bar M.  I know it's easy for H but sometimes it's fun to just ride without worrying that you're going to fall off a cliff.  Much more relaxing.

Love the desert

After our ride, we had our beers and chatted with a friendly MTB guide who had just finished a short ride with a tour group of private school kids from Arizona.  None of the kids had been on a MTB before and she also had one girl who had never ridden a bike at all, but who really wanted to learn at age 18.  The guide's joy at helping that girl ride was fun to witness.  After that, it was cheeseburgers at Ray's Tavern in Green River and then the drive home.  And that's all she wrote for our most recent Moab excursion.  We've already started planning for the next one.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

november long weekend in moab pt. 3

Monday morning found us breakfasting at the Moab Diner, then picking up sandwiches and more water at the grocery store, and then heading out to try some new-to-us MTB trails: Navajo Rocks. This trail system is actually fairly new to Moab too, having just been opened in spring of 2014, but it has already developed quite a following: when we drove by the trail heads on Saturday and Sunday, the parking lots were packed.  This, plus the fact that the trails are described as intermediate to upper-intermediate to advanced, encouraged us to go early on a weekday.  I get nervous enough on new trails without having to dodge - or be dodged by - hordes of other riders.

Monitor and Merrimac from Big Mesa trail head

There were only a couple other cars in the lot when we got there and got on the trails at 9 a.m. and we ended up only seeing nine other MTBers while we were out there.  That was fortunate because within the first quarter mile, I was already hike-a-biking.  The trail descriptions we read suggested doing the western loop - Big Mesa/Big Lonely/Coney Island/Middle Earth - for intermediate riders; these trails were definitely more technical than we usually ride. I ended up walking a lot and even H was off his bike more than he usually is due to some high and narrow bridges, steep slickrock climbs and drop-offs.  One thing for sure: these are trails with consequences.

Not so much with the consequences here but still focused

Despite the technical challenges, we had a great time.  The views were spectacular and the trails, when not terrifying, were in good shape, a mix of slickrock, sand and dirt.  The loop we did was 10.31 miles, which took us 1 hour and 48 minutes of riding plus 40 stoppage minutes, with an average speed of 5.7 m.p.h. (!!) and a maximum speed of 14.6 m.p.h., which must have been on short section of Coney Island that was easy double-track.

Looking out towards Lone Mesa 

After our ride, we hung out in the parking lot for quite a while, consuming our sandwiches and beers and chatting with people.  Several more vehicles had shown up while we were out there but the numbers were still way less than the weekend crowds. Before our legs stiffened up entirely, we decided we should walk at least a little and settled on the rim trails at Dead Horse Point State Park.  Amazingly, we had never done this four mile loop that, as the name suggests, goes all the way around the point, right at the cliff's edge.  We went outbound from the visitors' center on the East Rim trail, paused to watch some aerobatic ravens at land's end, then returned via the West Rim trail.  It was easy walking with spectacular views - highly recommended even for non-hikers.

View from the East Rim

Neither of us was all that hungry when dinner time rolled around but we did manage to get over to Zax on Main Street for a couple of beers and some pizza.  Things were pretty quiet at the motel when we got back - the off season was clearly descending on Moab.

View from the West Rim

Friday, November 11, 2016

november long weekend in moab pt. 2

We hadn't made much of a plan for this Moab trip but we did decide to do a long hike on Sunday.  We geared up, stopping at the grocery store for breakfast and lunch fixings first before heading up to Canyonlands National Park's Island in the Sky.  We had hoped to renew our parks pass on the way in but Canyonlands is on winter hours currently and the visitors' center didn't open until 9 a.m.; when we got to the trail head, we stuck our expired park pass in the window and hoped for the best.  (We were able to renew our pass on the way out.)

Finishing my doughnut before hitting the trail

There was only one other car at the Murphy Point trail head when we got there.  We snarfed down bagels and doughnuts while putting on our boots and then hit the trail at 9 a.m.  We'd done the shorter Murphy Point overlook trail a couple years ago - our trail this time was the Murphy Loop, a lollipop that started out down the face of the mesa. 

Looking out over the rim

The descent wasn't as intense as going down Gooseberry had been, but it felt a little sketchier than the Syncline Loop descent.  Still, since we were following switchbacks down the face of the cliff, we descended really quickly.

That's what we came down

At the bottom of the cliff, we were presented with a choice for the loop portion: to the left down Murphy Wash or to the right across the Murphy Hogback.  Since our books recommended a counterclockwise route, we headed out across the hogback.  This was a fantastic trail, dry and level, hardpacked dirt winding its way through the desert vegetation.  The views, as they usually are in Canyonlands, were spectacular, with the winding canyons below and in front of us and the red cliffs of the mesa behind us.

H heading out across the hogback

After 4.8 miles, we turned left onto the famed White Rim Road, a 100-mile dirt MTB/OHV trail.  We met a couple of MTBers who were doing the whole thing, a multi-day trip supported by a Jeep carrying water, food, camping equipment (and beers, presumably).  They had just finished a brutal climb and were pretty gassed - but not so much so that they couldn't gawk at the gawk-worthy scenery. 

Don't know what it is but it's pretty, even dry

We continued along the road, down that hill and into the Murphy Wash which would complete the loop at the base of the mountain.  Walking up the wash was a little more challenging than the trail across the hogback had been - the footing was loose sand and pebbles - but the ascent, though constant, was gradual and made up for all the elevation we had lost on the White Rim Road rather painlessly.

View out towards the White Rim and the river

Just as we started the climb back up to the mesa, we met three other hikers who had just descended.  This was around 1:00 p.m. and we were a little concerned for them: we had already been out for four hours and were now on our way up; they didn't seem to be as strong hikers as we were and the sun would be setting at 5:10 p.m., leaving them just over four hours to do the loop and get back up the cliffside.  Maybe they had head lamps with them but climbing back up to the mesa was not something we would want to do.  They didn't ask our opinion, however, so we wished them well and all parties continued on their respective ways.

From whence we came

It took us 39 minutes to get back up to the mesa, the cliff walls baking in the afternoon sun.  The beers and sandwiches that were waiting for us at the truck were very well received at that point (10.68 miles; just over 4 hours of walking, 56 minutes of rest/looking around; 1,500 feet of elevation; 2.6 m.p.h. moving average speed and 2.1 m.p.h. overall average speed).  It was a great hike over varied terrain with few other humans around - doesn't get much better than that.

Heading up the wash towards the cliffs

We repeated the routine back at the motel - showers and then beers in front of the room whilst listening to the music from the Folk Festival wafting from a few streets over.  Then the evening's entertainment included a quick drink at Woody's, followed by a walk to Milt's Stop N' Eat for cheeseburgers and chocolate shakes under the tree out front.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

november long weekend in moab pt. 1

Winter is taking its time in getting to northern Utah so we thought we'd take advantage of the continuing nice weather by going to Moab for a long weekend.  It was a good time to go: despite the Moab Trail Marathon and the Folk Festival both being in town, it generally seemed less busy than our previous visits in September, October and May.  The woman who owns the Kokopelli properties said that this weekend is really the end of the season - things will really be slow until March now.

Cool temperatures, great trails

It was cloudy and sprinkling lightly when we got to Dead Horse Point State Park late Saturday morning.  There were a fair number of cars in the parking lot but we only saw six other MTBers when we were out on the Intrepid trails - delightful!  The trails were in good shape too, not nearly as sandy as we have found them on prior visits.  We did the Big Chief loop on the east side, then went across to the west side for Whiptail and Twisted Tree.

Looking west-ish from Whiptail Trail

After our ride (16.5 miles, 2 hours with standing around gawking at scenery), we chatted for a while with a friendly Kiwi (New Zealand) who was dirt-bagging around the American west, then headed in town to check in at our motel.  The cooler temperatures were allowing tourists to bring their dogs with them to Moab; we met Sophie (6 mo. old mastiff) and Felix (5 yr. old border collie mix) as we sat in front of our room, enjoying a beer as the sun set.

Post-ride refreshments

As we often do on our first night in Moab, we walked to the Moab Brewery for dinner.  It was super-busy (lots of runners who had done the Saturday trail run) but we managed to score seats at the bar without waiting too long.  A chile verde burrito, gyro wrap and a couple of Johnny's IPAs later, we headed back to our room and called it a night.

Friday, November 4, 2016

shoulder season snippets

Oops - that week just went and got away from me!  We are in full shoulder season around here, extended by the fact that after a bunch of warm rainstorms, a ridge of high pressure has parked itself over the mountain west: first it was too damp and blustery to get out on the trails, and now, even though it's gotten a little colder, it's dry and sunny and there is no snow to speak of in the mountains.  We'll have to see how this plays out - some ski areas, including Alta, are supposed to open in just a couple weeks.

We did pick up our season passes, which is always a joyful day, but other than that, haven't been doing much.  We've put away the patio furniture and cleaned up the backyard.  But I've refused to do any raking until more leaves come off the big tree out front, plus it's been too windy to rake anyway.  This must annoy our neighbor to no end - he prefers a spotless lawn - but since he's retired, I figure it gives him something to do, picking up the leaves that blow from our yard to his.  (Plus the neighbors on the other side of him haven't raked yet either and they have way more trees/leaves than we do.)

Hopefully the weather will change soon, giving us storms and snow and something to write about here!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

snowbird appreciation

I had been back east*, visiting family for a week and returning to SLC late Friday night.  Saturday morning I wanted to stretch my legs and H suggested going up to Snowbird.  The last two weekends in October are Snowbird customer appreciation weekends: bring a food or monetary donation for the Utah Food Bank and get a free tram ride.  We thought instead that we might hike up the mountain and then ride down, getting the benefit of the exercise but also saving our knees.

Looking at Superior from about halfway up

We waited a while for the sun to get up above the mountains before heading up the canyon.  The weather was mild and mostly sunny with a light breeze.  There were some cars up there but we didn't expect crowds like we had seen for the final weekend of Octoberfest.  After double-checking that the mountain was now closed to MTBers, we started heading up the Big Mountain Trail, which is a downhill-bike-only trail in the summertime, winding its way up the Gad Valley to the top of the ski resort.

Coyotes are allowed in Little Cottonwood Canyon

Within minutes we had warmed up and I had to delayer, then shortly thereafter putting on my arm warmers for an optimal outfit.  The trail covers a lot of ground via long switchbacks; because of all the switchbacks it is never really steep although you do gain ground steadily.  They put a lot of work into this trail, augmenting it with plank bridges and smoothly bermed corners.  It was good to walk on too, with not too many rocky sections.  I had been a little concerned about re-acclimating to the Wasatch after a week at sea level but the gradual ascent made it easy.

After we got above the mid-mountain Mid-Gad lodge, the trees opened up and we were traversing an open bowl.  There were tons of deer hoofprints everywhere, in the dirt/mud/snow, but we didn't seen any of those critters.  We did, however, see a coyote.  S/he saw us too, stopping to stare for a moment before continuing on down the mountain.  After that sighting, we saw its pawprints along the trail as well - all the animals take advantage of the human-installed trails, it seems.

Atop Hidden Peak

The Big Mountain Trail comes out under the last tram tower, with the steepest portion being that final short push to the top.  We had only seen five hikers on our way up but there were lots of folks milling about at the summit, having taken advantage of the "free" tram ride.  One guy asked us if we'd come up all the way from the bottom and then told us "good job!" when we confirmed that we had.  He asked us how long a hike it was and when we told him 7+ miles, he seemed markedly less interested in going down that way.  Hike stats:  7.2 miles (all up); 2,500 feet elevation gain; about 3.5 hours because we weren't trying to break any speed records, plus we had to watch that coyote for a while.

*  PS - This is what fall near my family's house looks like:

Monday, October 24, 2016

h takes another walk

More snow, please

H had taken the whole week off when our friends G&T were in town and thus had to entertain himself again on Thursday, when I was at work.  This time he went up to Lake Blanche.

Aspen grove

We haven't done this hike for years now: because the Mill B trailhead in Big Cottonwood Canyon is one of the most popular in the canyons, we have avoided it at all costs.  Even on a Thursday in mid October, H was surprised at how many people were out hiking.

I love this photo

He did it pretty quickly, charging steadily up the hill, which is steeper than I always remember it to be, but took his time walking around all three of the lakes up there.

There are actually two moose in this shot

The foliage is on its way out around here but there are still some few stands of aspens refusing to let go and glowing golden against the dark hills.  There are also some moose still hanging around at the higher elevations before the snow convinces them to descend.

I love this photo too

Saturday, October 22, 2016

h takes a walk

G and T left Wednesday morning, heading south for Bryce Canyon National Park before their family rendezvous in Las Vegas.  This left H with the whole day ahead of him and he chose to spend part of it doing my favorite Alta loop hike: up through Catherine's Area, across the top to the Supreme lift and down through the ski area.

Lake Catherine from Catherine's Pass

When he was done, he'd put in 1,800 feet of climbing and seven miles, and seen twenty-two people and two deer.  Plus scenery.

Sunset Peak from Catherine's Pass

It wasn't a blue bird day but it sure beat going to work.

Devil's Castle

Thursday, October 20, 2016

visitors: city stuff (plus)

Since G and T were new to the greater SLC area, we thought we should do a little civilization touring along with all the woods and mountains.  After an exceedingly pleasant breakfast on the deck at the Silver Fork Lodge, we drove up and over Guardsman Pass - although T was not a huge fan of how that road drops off to the outside - to the Park City side.

Taking advantage of the continuing gorgeous (if blustery) weather, we did a short walk in the Round Valley foothills to stretch our legs before heading to Park City's Main Street,  Since we usually find ourselves in Park City on weekends and/or during big sporting events, it was quite refreshing to find uncrowded streets, not to mention available parking in the free garage.  We strolled up and down Main Street, window-shopping and going into art galleries, before stopping in at the No Name Saloon for refreshments.  Again, it was nice to be in there when it wasn't bursting at the seams.  There is definitely something to be said for the shoulder season.

The next day I had to go back to work, but H, G and T ventured north to Antelope Island State Park.  It has been several years since we've been up there but the biggest change, frankly, was the damage done to the big barn at the Fielding Garr Ranch: recent high winds peeled off the roof, while leaving the ranch houses and giant trees unscathed.  H reported that you could also see the burn scars on the mountains from this past summer's massive wildfire.

 Lone wolf bison

After Antelope Island, H thought it would be a good idea to introduce G and T to Crown Burger, which apparently went over quite well.  Next on the list: Temple Square.  They found a friendly missionary who took them into the Convention Center, the Visitors' Center and the Tabernacle, answering all their questions.  They made it back home not long before I did and it was fun to hear their impressions of the day.