Wednesday, June 15, 2016

gobbler's knob via butler fork

Lo and behold Sunday morning was dry, with the sun shining through partly cloudy skies.  I slept through my first alarm, finally getting up at 7:20 a.m., and when H confirmed that the Round Valley trails would be too wet to ride, we quickly determined that it was dry enough for hiking.  After some scurrying around to find gear and clothing, we were out the door just before 8 a.m.  I suggested heading up Butler Fork, thinking that (a) the south-facing slopes would be clear of snow and (b) we could summit either Gobblers Knob or Mt. Raymond, depending on what we felt like.  When we pulled into the trail head lot in Big Cottonwood Canyon just before 8:30 a.m., we realized that we hadn't been alone in deciding upon this trail as the small lot was full.  Once again I determined to get an earlier start next weekend.

Pretty green looking up Big Cottonwood Canyon
I don't really know why Butler Fork is so popular: although much of the trail up to the Butler Pass saddle is lovely packed dirt, it is quite steep in sections, including a long steep bit right at the start, which I think winnows out a lot of would-be hikers who weren't expecting such a pitch.  The temperature was fantastic - very cool, especially in the shade - but it was pretty humid, with the foliage still wet from the recent rains.  After the initial steep section, the trail flattens a little bit but it does gain elevation steadily, following switchbacks up the drainage through gorgeous aspen groves.  Some wildflowers are just beginning to come out and those aspen groves were thick with bluebells.

Looking down the avalanche path

As we continued up Mill A Basin, we got above the snow line and also crossed the debris path of an avalanche from this past winter.  There was a wide swath of broken aspens sweeping down the hillside; it didn't seem to have started at a particularly steep spot and so served to reinforce just how dangerous the backcountry can be in the wintertime.  We passed a few hikers here and then came upon a larger group of trailrunners, pausing for snacks at Baker Pass.  The trailrunners all went down the mountain, back the way we'd come up; a solo hiker headed off for Mt. Raymond; and we, looking to have the trail to ourselves for as long as we could, opted for Gobblers Knob.

Where's my skis? Totally could have skied that

At this point, the trail gets steep again and rockier, so our speed dropped a bit.  The wind picked up too as we gained elevation.  The views were good, with unusual low clouds stuck in the valley and the low drainages.  Once we got to the first (false) summit, we continued along the ridge as far as we could, at times walking along the remnants of what must have been an impressive wintertime snow cornice.  The ridge turned just enough that the wind died out when we got to the (real) summit, so it was warm enough for us to pause for snacks.  A very bold chipmunk showed up, quite interested in our snacks as well: if I'd wanted to hold out a peanut for him, I'm sure he would have taken it from my hand.  But human food isn't good for critters so we declined to share with him, and he eventually took off in search of other food sources.

View towards Alexander Basin

We came across lots more folks as we descended back the way we came, H noting that the increased foot traffic probably meant that the trail head lot would be overflowing with cars.  He quickly outpaced me once we got below the pass as I just can't keep up with him on the downhills unless it is very steep and/or rocky.  We descended more quickly than we'd climbed, even with having to step off the trail to let the late-starters ascend.  Our knees, calves, ankles and feet were plenty sore by the time we got back to the car, however, because that Butler Fork trail really is deceptively steep, with a 3,000+ foot elevation gain from road to summit.  But a pitcher of Full Suspension and a chicken quesadilla at the bar at the Porcupine made the pain go away, or at least subside for a while.

Hike stats:  8.02 miles round-trip; 3,082 foot elevation gain; 3 hours 36 minutes hiking time, plus 52 minutes of standing around gawking at stuff; 2.2 m.p.h. moving speed (the steeper it is, the slower we go).

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