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.

Monday, June 29, 2015

desolation lake to butler fork

It is hot in northern Utah right now.  Like we're having a heatwave hot.  This means that people who want to do stuff outside need to make adjustments, like going extra early or extra late.  We're early people.  It's not my natural tendency but when I know we're going to go do something, I can get up and get going.  When we decided to hike to Desolation Lake on Saturday, we decided to make it a little longer by coming down through Butler Fork, rather than just retracing our steps down Mill D.  We weren't sure exactly how long this would be but we knew we needed to get going fairly early so that we could finish and be out of the sun before it really started to bake.

Mule deer doe, watching but not worried

We got up at 6 a.m., leaving the house around 6:30 a.m. or so.  As we drove up Big Cottonwood Canyon, we were amazed/impressed to see other hikers already parked at the various trailheads; clearly we weren't the only people trying to beat the heat.  We parked at the Butler Fork trailhead and continued walking up the road, heading for Mill D.  The temperature was very pleasant, cool even, and there were lots of folks out taking advantage, including runners, road cyclists and moose - we caught a glimpse of a mother and her twins heading deeper into the forest from the Big Cottonwood Canyon creek.


No matter how often we hike this trail - and it's fairly often because it's pretty and a good workout - I forget how tough it is in spots.  It starts pretty steeply from the trailhead until it gets up onto a bench, then continuing more gradually along the drainage under the aspens.  From the Dog Lake/Desolation Lake junction, it gets steep again but the trail underfoot is packed dirt, pleasant to walk on, and it is shaded, which is a bonus.  After climbing for a while it finally flattens out for a stretch of what H calls possibly his favorite stretch of hiking trail ever.  The trail stays in the trees but follows a field up the valley; we saw a mule deer doe on the other side of the creek and she was completely unconcerned with our presence.

Desolation Lake

It gets a little steeper just before the lake - which is just so pretty, a turquoise color surrounded by the green hills - and then, as we continued past the lake towards the Wasatch Crest Trail on the ridge, it gets steeper still, the long switchbacks helping to eat up elevation.  The wildflowers are really ramping up now and we walked through hillsides covered with them:  paintbrush, buttercups, columbine, wild roses, sticky geranium, bluebells, fireweed, penstemon and lupine.  We reached the Wasatch Crest Trail and walked just a bit further up until we could see over the back side, down into Canyons Resort.  This is a view we don't often get and it was interesting to see Park City from that angle.


To get to Butler Fork, we had to retrace our steps all the way back down to the Dog Lake/Desolation Lake junction and then hike up to Dog Lake.  I know people like that hike - it is very popular with novice hikers (who do not know trail etiquette) because it is not too long - but it is a steep, sweaty, miserable grind straight up the drainage to the lake.  Not my favorite.  We didn't linger there but continued up past the lake to the left to the Butler Fork trail.  This trail is not nearly as heavily used as Dog Lake/Desolation Lake and, as we headed down the drainage, it was quite overgrown with the early summer vegetation well over my head in places.  At one point, just as H passed an aspen grove, a young mule deer buck jumped to its feet, startled out of its resting place.  If that deer hadn't stood up, we would have walked right by, never knowing it was there, hidden by all the greenery.

So green!

We finished the last, steep and rocky bit of the Butler Fork trail just as H drank the last of his water - just in time.  It was unshaded by the truck and we were hot and sweaty but still were able to manage a beer as we changed out of our hiking gear.  This was a long hike but due to the early start, the mostly-shaded trail and the finish down through upper Butler Fork, we were able to stay out for a long time without seeing too many people.  It was a pretty good critter haul too: the moose, the mule deer, hummingbirds, a small snake and scores of potguts, chipmunks and squirrels.

Perilous stream crossing

Hike stats:  11.32 miles; 2,900 feet elevation gain; total hike time 4:36; moving hike time 3:45.

Friday, June 26, 2015

pcmr: park city mountain resort

Sunday morning it was determined to be important that we go out to breakfast.  H and I had planned on Ruth's Diner, since that's always such a great place to take visitors.  We had completely forgotten that it was Father's Day, however, and our jaws dropped when we rolled up at 8:30 a.m. to see a completely full parking lot and what looked like a 45+ minute wait.  R and I needed coffee too badly to suffer that line so we drove back into town, sitting down right away at The Other Place.  It wasn't as scenic as what we had planned but we all got plenty to eat, they kept our coffee mugs filled and we were in and out in less time than it would have taken for us to get seated at Ruth's.

Father's Day call from the kids

After breakfast, we drove back through Emigration Canyon, taking the scenic route to Park City and ending up on the Jeremy Ranch road.  We were hoping for moose in the creek but were out of luck on the large animal front, not even getting any range cattle standing in the middle of the road.  We continued into Park City, pulling into the lot at Park City Mountain Resort.  The plan was to do a modification of a hike we'd done back in 2012:  we were getting a late start and the sun was strong, so we just wanted enough to stretch our legs and perhaps earn a beer or two.

Getting into summer means getting under this hat

We started on the Spiro Trail - which has undergone a LOT of work by local trail crews and is in great shape - which brought us to Eagle and Crescent Mine Grade.  Instead of grinding away on the sunny ridge, we stayed on CMG which was mostly shaded and which brought us back down to the center of the resort. 

Park City Mountain Resort

There were lots more wildflowers in bloom here on the Park City side, including gentians and columbines, both of which aren't even close to flowering yet in the Cottonwood Canyons.  There were also lots of MTBers on the trails; we always stepped off the trail to let them by, no matter who was going uphill/downhill, and 99% of them were friendly and cheerful about sharing the trails - as everyone should be, because who could be cranky being outside on such a beautiful day?!

Hike stats:  4.09 miles, 900 feet of elevation gain, 1:33 moving time

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

bringing the heat

This weekend brought the official start of summer - complete with seriously hot temperatures, nearly ten degrees above normal in the mid- to high 90s range - and also our good friend R.  He had a work thing scheduled in Salt Lake City and asked if he could come out early to do some hiking with us.  The last time he'd come out was in 2011 and the last time we've seen him was 2012, when we had Thanksgiving with him and his family.  We picked him up at the airport and had dinner at Squatter's (no Full Suspension on tap - scandalous!), then went home and stayed up far too late talking and catching up, as we always seem to do when guests come to visit.

R and A on Catherine's Pass

There was some debate Saturday morning about what we should hike.  H was adamant about not going back to Millcreek Canyon since we've been hiking it so much lately.  I wanted to make sure that we did a long enough hike that R didn't feel like we were taking it easy on him, coming right from sea level and all.  We decided to do my beloved Catherine's Loop, figuring it was a good, medium length hike with some (but not too many) steep spots and fantastic views.  H suggested that we throw in the Sunset Peak spur, R and I were game and we were off.

H and R with Lake Catherine behind them

We parked above the Albion lodge in bright sunshine over the very green mountains.  The gate across the Summer Road is still closed - it will likely open in July when the campground opens - so we began our hike from there, grinding up the Sunnyside bunny slope, cutting back on the Summer Road and then heading up the trail to Catherine's Pass. It wasn't long before we got to some snow, lingering in patches in the shadier spots and then, as the elevation mounted, even across the sunny fields.  We didn't see any moose (although we were hopeful of it), just a bunch of potguts, a couple of marmots and a small herd of campfire-scented Boy Scouts, heading home after a couple of nights camping out.

View of Superior from Sunset

There were a few people up on Catherine's Pass but when we summited Sunset Peak, we had it to ourselves.  We continued along the loop, crossing the top of the in-bounds Catherine's Area on top of snow and then continuing down the access road to the campground.  The wildflowers are just beginning to come out in the meadows, sunflowers, early lupine and sticky geranium mostly.

Making our way across Catherine's Area

We briefly thought about going up to Cecret Lake before returning to the base, eventually deciding against it because of the up involved.  Cold beers and snacks were waiting for us at the truck and we felt like we'd earned them.  It was pretty warm there in the sunshine, warm for Alta anyway, and it was be much, much warmer back down in the valley when we got home.  There was some discussion about whether we should go back up Little Cottonwood Canyon for Snowbird's first Cool Air Concert of the summer but the lure of central air, a fridge full of beer and televised soccer games proved too seductive for us to resist.

This map is kind of fun, with Alta's ski trails and lifts listed

Hike stats:  7.84 miles; 2,000 feet elevation gain; 3:16 walking time, 4:01 total trip time.

Friday, June 19, 2015

the secret to my success

H washed our MTBs after the rather muddy ride we did the previous weekend and in doing so, discovered that my rear tire had a small slice in it.  Whatever had cut the tire hadn't gone through to puncture the tube, but it was a big enough cut to merit a new tire.  When we went to the bike shop, they handed us a tire, then asked where we we rode, then handed us a different tire with "more aggressive treads," saying that if we were just riding in Corner Canyon (Draper), the first one would have been fine.  We went home, H put the new tire on my rear wheel and we were good to go.

Mo' treads, mo' better
(H's worn tire on the left for comparison)

Back at Round Valley on Sunday, it was evident that summer had arrived.  The squishy spots had all dried up and the trails actually seemed to be in pretty good shape and not too torn up from people riding in the wet.  The dry trails also meant that we could get back to our preferred loop.  Part of what I like about our loop is that we've got the climbs spaced out fairly evenly:  Hammerhead Hill comes close after My Nemesis but since I have to hike-a-bike Hammerhead, that doesn't matter much to me; then there's some nice, rolling double- and single-track before the Sweet Sixteen climbs; then more flow until the Staircase, which is steep but short.

Apparently there was some sunscreen on
the camera lens.  I think it's Impressionistic.

My legs were a little stiff from the Mt. Aire hike but I seemed to be climbing pretty well.  I was pleased with my performance on Sweet Sixteen, riding fourteen out of sixteen switchbacks including one that has stymied me thus far this season (I shout-whispered, "Yes!" when I got around that one.)  It wasn't until the Staircase, however, that I realized how great my new tire was.  I've been able to ride the Staircase on prior rides although my rear wheel has usually spun out in the steeper pitches.  This time, I could feel those "more aggressive treads" bit right into the dirt and was amazed at how much easier the climb was.  I was actually grinning at H when I got to the top (in addition to the gasping for air).  New treads make a huge difference - I highly recommend them.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

who keeps picking the steep ones

H came up with steep ol' Porter Fork a couple of weekends ago but this Saturday, the precipitous Mt. Aire was my selection.  I hadn't hiked it since 2010 and it's been since 2011 for H (who did it when our friend Paul came for a visit); I couldn't recall the trail very well, except for remembering that it went up alongside a creek and was thus a little humid, at least for out here in the high desert.  We got an early-ish start (we'll have to start earlier from here on out, however, because it's going to start to get hot), nabbing one of the last remaining parking spots at the lot next to the gate five miles up Millcreek Canyon at about 8:15 a.m.

H at the saddle

With all those cars so early, we were sure that the trails would be inundated with people, but once again, we got lucky: three trail runners exited the Mt. Aire trail just as we headed up and one trail runner with two dogs went up ahead of us, but that was it.  Maybe it wasn't luck, however, but other people having better sense than we do, because Mt. Aire is a steep little bugger of a trail, grinding straight up the drainage (alongside a lovely little stream which was (a) humid for us but (b) great for thirsty dogs) with nary a switchback.  Despite its steepness, it's a nice trail, mostly shaded and packed dirt underfoot.

View to the east from the Mt. Aire summit

We came out of the shady trees at a sunflower-studded saddle and then turned east up switchbacks to the summit.  This section of trail is rocky underfoot and less shady, with only gambel oaks and junipers at that elevation, and while there were long switchbacks crisscrossing the hillside, it still gained elevation quickly.  We met up with the two-dog trail runner at the top, just as they were heading back down.  H asked him how his run was and he laughed, confessing that due to the steepness of the trail, it had really been more of a hike.

Where's the snacks?

At the summit, we climbed out on the ridge another 200 yards or so and perched there to eat our snacks.  There was a light, cool breeze, very pleasant and enough to keep the flies away, and we had the place to ourselves with a 360 degree view.  An early forecast had threatened midday thunderstorms but that had later been recanted and we enjoyed our trail mix, beef jerky and granola bars under cloudless skies.

View to the northeast-ish

I was slipping on the loose rock on the first part of the descent but once we got below the saddle, we were back on that lovely packed dirt trail and we cruised back down.  We ran into a few other hikers who were on their way up - and also a young moose, shy enough not to stick around for long - but the trail was still pretty quiet for busy Millcreek Canyon.  Things picked up a bit as we walked down the road from the trail head back to the car, and as we drove out of the canyon, the lower picnic and parking areas were full to bursting, but once again we were thrilled to have found some peace and quiet along the Wasatch Front.

The moose is loose

Hike stats:  6.75 miles RT; 3 hours 20 minutes trip total (2 hrs. 32 min. hiking); 2,300 feet of elevation gain.