Saturday, December 31, 2011

One Last Bit of Badassery for 2011

top of the first climb, near the base of Black Mountain
Well, if we're going to have a low snow year and 50 degree temperatures, I might as well make the most of it, don't you think?  I spent Wednesday at the USGS map store, pouring over topo maps and all the possibilities of going places.  Picked up some maps of central Nevada of a place I really want to go to, passed on some maps of western Utah that I could live without, and ended up with a new Wasatch Front map which has been occupying my thoughts for the past few days.

I found myself looking at the map and finding routes, and saying to myself, "What if... " Oh, the possibilities seem endless.

I even took the map over to a friend's house and he said, "You should have been a cartographer," when I pointed out a few minor inaccuracies in the map.  Yeah, maybe I should have.  So I ran the route by two of my friends that night, and they looked at me like I was insane.  Rightfully so, not many people plan out this type of 20-mile route for one of the last days in December.  My response to their stares was, "Hey, I've got all day to do it.  Might as well make the most of my day.  It's supposed to be 50 degrees and sunny tomorrow."

Well, I ended up staying out a little later than I had planned that night, and probably shouldn't have had the second glass of wine, so I got a little bit of a late start.  Still, hiking by 10am didn't seem so bad.  It was sunny and beautiful to start out the route on the Shoreline trail and begin the climb up to Black Mountain.  I had a short phone conversation with my friend as I was starting out, and promised to check in throughout the day.  I was estimating a minimum time of completion of 6 hours, which may have been spot-on if it hadn't been for the snow.
false summit of Black Mountain, nearly to Smuggler's

I got up to the crux of the climb on Black Mountain, and the snow was slick.  All these warm days had turned a lot of it into ice.  And I had left my spikes back in the car (you can only carry so much gear, you know?).  I made it up to the crags section and started seeing what I thought was mountain lion scat, and was telling myself that it was only coyote scat, but all the while was thinking, "This would be a perfect hangout spot for big cats."
Black Mountain Summit

It was really windy on the ridge top, probably 30-40 mph steady winds, and the sunshine had gone away behind the high clouds.  Indeed, the entire valley was clouded and I started rethinking my decision for this route.  But I held myself to just re-evaluate along the way, and not make any decisions in the present moment except for getting through the current section of the route.

glassy lake below, 30mph ridge top winds above
I made it to Smuggler's Notch after about 3 hours, and rather than scramble across the rocks that I had just come across on the ridge (it was kind of a scary section what with the ice on the rocks and being alone on a precipice... ) I was committed to going down the Smuggler's trail.  It was snow-covered, but the route was distinguishable, and I've traveled it enough times to know where I was going.  The snow was for the most part supportable, but every so often I would break through to my knees.  I had worn my capri-length tights, and my lower legs were starting to get an ice burn, but I shrugged it off as part of the adventure.

About a mile down the 1 1/2 mile Smuggler's trail, I was really starting to look forward to getting to the City Creek Road.  First I would have to follow the creek, through a bunch of moose-track potholes for about a half a mile, then finally... pavement!  I took the opportunity to reconnoiter the map, and saw that my next destination, if I chose to carry on with the plan (plan B was to just run down the City Creek Road and call it a day... ) would be at Rotary Park.
from whence I came ~ the East Ridge with Black Mountain

near Rudy's Flat atop the West Ridge

I had a little trouble finding the North Fork trail to Rudy's flat and went up and down the road for a half a mile or so, but then found the trail following a side creek up the west side of the canyon.  There were some fairly fresh footprints on the trail, and I attributed them to hunters, as it seems most hikers have abandoned this trail.

I made it up to Rudy's Flat, which was covered in several feet of soft, sugary snow.  I had traveled the last 1/2 mile or so uphill in the snow, and was really starting to feel the ice burn on my legs.  At the top of Rudy's Flat, I had been traveling for just over 5 hours, and knew that my 6 hour estimate would not be reached.  I still had probably 8 miles to go along the west ridge but rather than go back the way I had come (back down the North Fork trail, which was plan C), I carried on.  I had scoped out the ridge as I was on Black Mountain, and saw that there were 4 significant hills that I would have to climb on the west ridge before having a consistent downhill the rest of the way to Meridian Peak.

The first two hills were difficult, because the snow was still about knee deep.  But some friendly elk had plowed quite a nice path, and it appeared as though people come up from the Bountiful side to access the area, so the going was smoother than I thought it would be, for the amount of snow present.  I was even able to run a bit, rather than hike, which was a definite plus!
descending the West Ridge to Dude Peak

I kept my eyes open for the opportunity to veer left (rather than follow the well-established trail down to Mueller Park) and found it about a half mile later.  I was able to run along on some dirt on the ridge, until I came to the next section of snow, that is.  Each time I encountered a section of snow at this point, I thought it would be my last, but I was frequently mistaken.

I climbed over the four hills that I had seen earlier from across the way, and on the fourth hill as I was climbing up to Dude Peak the evening sunshine was gloriously yellow, the wind had died down, and there were robins chirping in the bushes.  It was magical.

I followed the well-established double-track road at this point, down the ridge, and thinking to myself, "It's all downhill from here!"  Until I realized that I had missed a fork in the road, and was actually headed down to North Fork above Bountiful, in the wrong direction.  I had only gone about a quarter mile the wrong way, but it was heartbreaking to have to climb back up that hill again, let me tell you!
Wasatch aplenglow

After I got back on track, I continued on down the west ridge, with the antennas of Meridian Peak as my destination.  The sky had turned pink off to the west, and the Wasatch peaks were glowing off to the east.  I was texting my friend that I would be at Meridian Peak within a matter of a handful of miles.  He sent me words of encouragement that I would get the route done.

I got to Meridian Peak just as it was getting dark, and thankfully I had a headlamp with me.  The last two miles of single track down into City Creek were in the dark, and I spooked a herd of mule deer along the way (I apologized to them).  I was elated that I was almost finished.  I found some energy in my legs and trucked the last little bit to the car.

sunset on the West Ridge
I had finished my massive route:  19.6 miles, 8 hours, 6,600 ft of vertical gain.  One last bit of badassery to finish 2011.  What an incredible day (and year) it has been.

link to GPS route:


  1. Here's to more badassery in 2012. Much love to you, my amazing friend!

  2. thanks Belle! maybe we can create some badassery together. like, involving cookies too!