Sunday, August 13, 2017

this was a good one

There is a trail run series out here - the Discrete Peak Series - that starts at the base of a ski resort (Deer Valley, A-Basin, Alta, Alyeska and Snowbird) and then runs up and then down the mountain. I am by no means a trail runner but I found the route description online and wanted us to hike it since it covered some ground that we didn't usually hike.  [Note: I now can't figure out where I got the route description that we tried to follow; the route that seems to be listed on the company's web site is different.]

Paintbrush close-up

We got an early start to get ahead of the heat and the people, leaving the house at 6:30 a.m.  It was nice and cool up at Alta, with some clouds overhead and the sun not yet above the mountains.  There were few other people up there at that time, a couple of trail runners and a lone cyclist, and none of them seemed to be heading where we were going.  We parked at the upper Albion lot, then walked down to the rope tow, crossing the creek on a woodchip road and then getting on some singletrack.

Heading up Greeley Hill

We followed the singletrack through the trees below the Sunnyside lift, coming to the edge of the Snake Pit (a permanently-closed area) before switchbacking away.  We saw three curious but cautious mule deer amid the lush green foliage and spotted an cement lift tower footing, from the old Lucky Boy lift.  At this point, our trail description said, "You'll come to the edge of Snake Pit with a view of the waterfalls.  Don't take the trail down into Snake Pit. Turn right and start climbing straight up."  We did get to the edge of Snake Pit, with its waterfall view, but we never saw a trail going off to the right.

Waiting out the rain

So we kept going, continuing towards the base of Greeley Hill.  At this point, we did see a trail going off to the right, through the willows and heading straight up.  It wasn't clear whether this was an actual trail or a game trail, but we took it.  (This would later be a point of discussion between me and H: he though we should have kept going further along the actual trail; I thought we had already gone too far, based on the route description.)  Whatever it was we were on, it did go straight up and we kept to the trail/game trail as it faded in and out, which kept us clear of the wildflowers.

Scree field. Not pictured: noisy pikas

The flowers were spectacular, even though we are a couple of weeks past peak.  Also spectacular: there were so many hummingbirds, literal flocks of hummingbirds, zooming around the flowers and buzzing past us, chirping.  It was slow going, with the necessity for route-finding, plus all the stopping and looking at the scenery/flowers/hummingbirds, but we eventually made it to the ridge.  At this point, however, we had to stop for a rainstorm to blow through.  We huddled under some evergreen trees for about fifteen minutes, waiting for the storm to pass; once it did, the air was clear and the wind brisk but pleasant.

Sugarloaf Pass with Timpanogos in the distance

We picked our way along the ridge (above Eagles Nest, High Nowhere and North Rustler) to Greeley Pass, where the green plastic carpet led us to the other ridge of the ridge to pick up the High Traverse.  I don't ski out on the High T very often, and I certainly have never hiked it, so this was pretty new territory.  We were able to follow the traverse until a large scree field above Sunspot; after we rock-hopped across the scree field - getting scolded by pikas the whole way - we found an abandoned mining road, simply carpeted with wildflowers, that brought us to the access road to Collins.

Heading up to Mount Baldy

At the top of Collins, we continued around the EBT to Sugarloaf Pass, then scrambled up to the top of Baldy.  The flowers were incredible even up here, at 11,068 feet.  We paused for snacks and were very entertained by a bold, chunky chipmunk who scrounged a couple of granola bar crumbs.  Thus refreshed, we headed down the northwest ridge of Mount Baldy, pausing for a good look over the edge into the Main Chute.  There is still some snow at the very top.  It's very steep and gets pretty narrow just a little way down; I probably could ski it (in the winter), but I would have trouble convincing myself to drop over the edge to start.

Main Chute entrance

There was an actual trail down the northwest ridge, although it was quite steep and loose underfoot, so it took us a long time.  We also had to stop to marvel at the flowers - paintbrush and lupine, in particular.  The trail spit us out at the top of the Wildcat lift and then all that was left was to follow the access road out.  It was here that we finally started to see people on the trails and when we got back to the truck, both the upper and lower Albion parking lots were packed.

Imagine a whole hillside of these

This was a fantastic hike, one we both enjoyed greatly.  We like scrambling; we like route-finding, especially in a place like Alta where we're sure we won't get lost.  This loop took us on some hitherto untrodden territory and was absolutely gorgeous.  Our post-hike beers tasted especially good after this one.

Looking back at what we'd just come down

Hike stats:  6.47 miles; 4:42 total time; 2.2 m.p.h. moving average; 2,700 feet of elevation.

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