Wednesday, August 2, 2017

our own private wildflower festival

The Cottonwood Canyons Foundation puts on the Wasatch Wildflower Festival every year in July.  In the past, they have crammed all into one long weekend: Big Cottonwood Canyon on a Friday and Little Cottonwood on Saturday and Sunday.  This year they split it up, doing Brighton and Solitude the weekend before; this weekend, Alta's guided tours were on Saturday and they were closing out the festival Sunday at Snowbird.  We had done the guided walks at Snowbird twice before, in 2012 and 2016.  They are well-done and informative but you are at the mercy of the other people in your assigned group, and if they are overly talkative or struggle with the hiking, it can be a little frustrating.  We decided that we weren't up for a group activity and so, armed with our CCF's Wildflower Guide to Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons, we started hiking up.

Fireweed, lupine and a coneflower

Lupine, sunflowers, paintbrush and 
horsemint (at a minimum)

As anyone who has ever hiked at a ski mountain can attest, ski trails are steep to walk up, even if they are bunny slopes, and Snowbird is a seriously steep mountain.  We figured we would just go up the way we had come down on the guided tours since that seemed to go by lots and lots of flowers.  This meant the Peruvian Gulch trail, which starts off extremely steep right from the get-go, until you are able to crest the first ridge.  But the wildflowers were simply everywhere, also right from the get-go, including fireweed, penstemon, geraniums, showy daisies, paintbrush, cow parsnip, elderberries and columbine.  This section was also where we spotted most of the wildlife: four deer, including a doe and still-spotted fawn; potguts galore; pikas; squirrels, both the red and least ground varieties; and marmots.

What big ears you have!

Amazingly, this pika held still for a photograph

About halfway up we were presented with a choice: continue along the Peruvian Gulch trail, which we had done before, or try the Peruvian Ridge trail, which we had never done.  We picked the ridge trail and it was fantastic.  At first, the trail meandered across a drainage with a gushing brook and the flowers were just thick there, including lots of Lewis's monkeyflower and more elephant-heads than we had ever seen.  Then the trail started to climb, first switchbacking through a stand of trees and then crossing a sun-drenched and flower-filled bowl.  At once point, I just stopped on the trail and noticed: lupine, clover-headed mint, gentians, scorpionweed, paintbrush, Wyeth's buckwheat, sulphur buckwheat, horsemint and sunflowers - all just in that one spot.

Crossing under the tram line

Gorgeous bowl with top o' Snowbird in the back

When we reached the edge of the bowl, the trail turned back and followed the ridge between Peruvian Gulch and Gad Valley, all the way up to the summit.  The views were spectacular; the footing, while not scary, was definitely a walk-or-look situation, as opposed to a walk-and-look.  After a last scramble up a short, steep, loose section, we were underneath the tram tower.  We ran into an Alta acquaintance there and chatted with him for a while, trading hiking and camping recommendations, then continued up to the top of Hidden Peak.  We checked out the new(-ish) lodge, which was quite nice, with excellent views and $6/12 oz. draft beers, and then contemplated getting back down the mountain.

H on the ridge

The last little steep (and loose) bit

Not wanting to hike back down if we didn't have to, we first thought we might just take the tram back down to the base area.  But then we noticed that the Peruvian chair was getting ready to open (12-5:30 p.m., summer schedule) and traipsed down the access road to load the chair instead.  When we got back to the patio, the place was teeming with people - tourists, MTBers, trail runners and wildflower enthusiasts - and a live band was playing.  We hurried down to the truck, changed out of our hiking duds and then brought our cooler back up to the patio.  There, sitting on a shady bench, we managed to spend a very pleasant couple of hours, listening to the band, eating lunch, drinking beers and people-watching.  If you're ever in the area during the Wildflower Festival, stopping by one of the venues is highly recommended.

The more you know

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