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d.rees Author Dalton is a Salt Lake City local with burning affinity for the transcendental wilderness outside of our constraining concrete jungle. He is also an undergraduate student of English and Philosophy, prospective Peace Corps volunteer, and aspiring English professor. A spoken word poet, writer of fiction and critical prose, with eventual hope of becoming published. Most active when the snow has melted, Dalton enjoys composing hiking guides, satire, and local issue exposés.

Wasatch Winter Mountaineers

Through each season, the peaks of the Wasatch transform with the elements to take on a radically different façade,

Courtesy of Jonathan Scott.

and during the period of snowfall and cold, this range is an entirely different beast. While the notion of climbing to the apex of one of the many cloud-carving goliaths seems intimidating and prohibitive to most in the valley during the summer, doing so while the Wasatch is encased in snow is downright unimaginable. For some impetuous local mountaineers, however, the endeavor is exhilarating, sublime, and worth the struggle and risk. If you’re an individual with a bit of cardio, grit, and interest in learning, surmounting one of the glistening peaks in the winter is merely a matter of will and determination.

Sports like this, of course, are contingent upon connecting with a community; knowledge is often best passed-down by a mentor, as it is not wise to approach these expeditions alone (particularly on one’s first attempt). While social media may be among the modern practices keeping people either indoors or buried in their smartphones, it has served as an incredible mechanism for bringing together like-minded folk from all walks of life. This sport is no exception.

Courtesy of Tanner Maxwell.

While many local groups have existed long before the induction of social media in contemporary consciousness, platforms like Facebook have played an essential role in uniting and organizing mountain junkies and their activities. The most prominent and active among them include the longstanding Wasatch Mountain Club and the accurately named Wasatch Mountain Wranglers, collectively comprised of 7,375 members (the latter having the most at 5,502). Each group routinely organizes a variety of expeditions into these mountains throughout the year, serving as an inclusive environment in which locals at any level of practice can get connected with exhilarating trips, as well as experienced, knowledgeable, and passionate mentors.

Over the course of the past few weeks, I reached out to some of the impetuous Utahns to determine just why they do it, what it takes, and what advice they may have for newcomers. At every level of expertise, these determined individuals all have something that drives them to these peaks.

Nicole Frazier Condie is a lifelong Mapleton local, mother, self-proclaimed mountain-lover, and is relatively new to winter mountaineering. She explains that while she has spent her entire life treading the slopes of the Wasatch, she has found recently that “the winter brings a gift: a quiet extreme. You experience this rush while at the same time you feel so at peace —  safe but not safe at all. It is an absolute juxtaposing experience. Its beauty is truly something straight from Narnia.”

Courtesy of Nicole Frazier Condie.

This quiet extreme is something Condie came to learn most profoundly on her perilous group expedition up South Thunder Mountain (11,154 feet) last March. While the weather had fared well for her group throughout the day, Condie says “the wind changed dramatically up after 10,500 feet to 50-60 mph gusts. One smaller woman on the team was actually lifted and fell from the wind during the last push to the summit. As sharp ice flurries burned past my face I worried that the wind would pick up one of those large pieces, sending me over the edge. But I pressed on, unable to see or hear the others in my party.” Despite the treacherous conditions, including — at one point —  making a wrong turn  toward a precarious ravine and later having to learn how to glissade with an ice axe on-the-spot. Condie persevered nonetheless, leaving her with the sense of accomplishment.

Courtesy of Nicole Frazier Condie.

“I really had done something. I really lived in that moment. Something beautiful truly awoke in me,” she says.

Each individual capable and driven in winter mountaineering seems to develop their own intimate relationships with the mountains and motivations for climbing them. Joe Butcher, an experienced mountaineer and Kaysville native, affirms his motivation for climbing “really is spiritual.”

“I enjoy being reminded how small I am in the grand scheme of things. I also enjoy the difficulty, and training my mind with the fortitude to overcome some of the most difficult obstacles I have ever encountered. My experiences in the mountains have provided me with the wherewithal to endure many other trials in my personal life,” he says.

Jonathan Scott, a Utah County native and active all-season mountaineer in the Wasatch Mountain Club, finds himself drawn to these peaks in winter due to the sublime challenge they hold.

Courtesy of Jonathan Scott.

“[In the winter] there are more variables that make it more difficult, but also more rewarding, like solving a 1,000-piece puzzle as opposed to a 100-piece puzzle. I like challenges, and the winter offers that for me,” Scott says.

Scott urges newcomers not to shy away from the challenge, however daunting it may seem.

“Don’t be so afraid of a winter objective that you don’t try it,” he says. “Just like when you project a boulder problem or climbing route outside of your current abilities, start at the bottom and work your way up the mountain, even if it takes you 10 times.”

Tanner Maxwell is an avid Wasatch Mountain Wrangler and photographer. He finds a sublime aesthetic and self-actualizing potential on these ridges.

“Solitude and incredible beauty that can only be found in high places in the winter is what drives me to the Wasatch in the winter months,” Maxwell explains. “Challenging myself and setting summit goals is what keeps me sane. There is no place like the mountains, and seeing them firsthand in all types of weather and seasons is what makes it worth undertaking. I feel like I better myself when I am up there.”

Courtesy of Tanner Maxwell.

Each of these practicing winter mountaineers had their own perspectives on the greatest risks associated with the mystifying sport and tips to ensure a safe and positive experience, but one thing that remained consistent in their responses was that avalanches are among the greatest possible dangers. One must always be mindful of conditions on the mountain — to “know before you go,” if you will.

Mike Gibby, a well-seasoned climber and mentor figure in the Wasatch Mountain Club with dynamic experiences both domestic and international, claims that the ideal conditions to keep an eye out for are “low avalanche danger, snow consolidation, cold weather — to help stabilize the snow — good visibility, and no wind.” It is ultimately best to pick a cold, clear day and push-off as early as 2 or 3 a.m. This is such common practice in the sport that it has been named an “Alpine Start.”

Gibby also advises aspiring winter mountaineers to recognize that safety must be taken as the primary objective, and to always “be prepared to turn around if conditions change.”

Other potential dangers associated with this sport are dehydration, exposure to the elements, snow and ice hazards, like melting cornices and snow bridges, and, of course, involuntary sliding and falling.

Regardless of outdoor experience level, potential newcomers to winter mountaineering are encouraged to 1) begin by practicing in shorter and less precarious winter hiking locations to familiarize themselves with the equipment and conditions, 2) take at least one avalanche course, 3) develop a habit of assessing snow-levels on the Utah Avalanche Center site, and 4) acquaint themselves with people well-experienced in the practice, like the Wasatch Mountain Club and Wasatch Mountain Wranglers. It is also important to 5) be transparent with yourself to ensure you have the composure to lead your body up such an icy mountaintop. Aside from a firmly level and clear head, the essential equipment for winter mountaineering largely depends upon conditions, but the basics include:

Courtesy of Jonathan Scott.

>ice axes

>crampons

>full-shank boots

>many layers (top and bottom) for varied conditions

>multiple glove layers

>water with freezing prevention methods

>helmet

>sunglasses/goggles

>gaiters

>trekking poles with snow-baskets

>snowshoes or skis with climbing skins for the approach

>short, mountaineering, or climbing rope depending on route

>avalanche safety equipment (like a beacon, shovel, and probe)

>knowledge of weather and avalanche conditions

Courtesy of Tanner Maxwell.

While you don’t necessarily need to break the bank when attaining equipment, particularly while you are still uncertain whether or not the sport is for you, you should always err on the side of quality equipment, since cheap and unreliable gear can either ruin your day or even cost you your life. It is a general rule of thumb that any gear you will trust your life with — this includes ropes, harnesses, carabiners, etc.— should not be bought for just this reason.

Though virtually any snow-covered peak or route can be taken on with sufficient gusto and preparation, some of the most popular and appraised are the Pfeifferhorn, the Everest Ridge, and Timpanooke routes on Mount Timpanogos, South Thunder Mountain, White and Red Baldy, Lone Peak, Mount Olympus, and the Tripe-Traverse goliaths: Dromedary Peak, Sunrise Peak, and the Broadsfork Twins.

Stay safe out there.

Title photo courtesy of Tanner Maxwell.

d.rees@wasatchmag.com

 

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Satire: Extreme Sledding at ShredFest

The previous decade has served witness to a plethora of new and unusual pastimes emerging from the hearts of a listless population and the internet. With most recreational mediums having already been exhausted, outdoor adventure junkies have deferred to radical remixes of past traditions. These remixes have come to fruition in the form barefoot mountain climbing, unicycle fly-fishing, umbrella base jumping, competitive rock and bark chewing, and most notably, the controversial activity of extreme sledding.

Following the announcement of a large-scale extreme sledding extravaganza in Salt Lake City this November, the SledShred420 Tributary SledFest, what was once an isolated internet phenomenon has drawn fiery scrutiny from concerned Utah locals hoping to rescind the event altogether. At present, one question rests on the minds of local legislators and media representatives alike: What on earth is extreme sledding? And how did it come to be?

The singular traceable origin of this practice is a sequence of YouTube videos published between 2013 and 2014 by a bearded young man identifiable only by the screen name SledShred420. Over the course of that year, the YouTuber accumulated mass viewership as his videos grew progressively more outrageous; what began as tame sled and snowsuit reviews quickly transitioned into death-defying sled runs. The Colorado local took his collection of sleds — some circular, some railed, and in one instance simply a tarp under his knees — to some of the state’s most precarious slopes and plummets, including the Capitol Peak knife-edge ridge. SledShred420 became a spark, and subsequently a martyr, for the emergent sport when he tragically perished in New York City after sledding down the Statue of Liberty’s nose — his death a result of choking on a gourmet hot dog at a food cart in downtown Manhattan later that day.

With the help of online forums and social media, SledShred420’s supporters and extreme sledding activists coalesced to form the Extreme Sledding Federation (ESF). They are behind the SledShred420 Tributary SledFest.

On the event’s final day, festival attendees plan to link hands and perform an unprecedented ‘Flying W’ run, sledding down from the Millcreek ridge, up and over the Cottonwood Divide between Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons, and ultimately land (ideally) somewhere near Red Pine Lake, where they will have lunch and take a group photo.

At the moment of the festival’s announcement, fervent protests ensued, primarily from concerned parents and environmentalists — the latter claimed sledding on bare inclines damages natural foliage and ecosystems. Many of the demonstrators present were unfamiliar with the organization and were drawn out by the insatiable compulsion to protest something.

A startling detail not present on the ESF’s website is the fact that over 65 percent of its members are children. While the organization requires a permission slip for all minors aspiring to join its ranks, Utah mothers fear that even the presence in the city is harmful.

One exasperated mother at last week’s anti-ESF rally believes the organization puts her daughter at risk.

“Last week, Sally said that she wanted to go to sledding. I told her that we couldn’t go, since it hasn’t snowed yet,” the mother, Brittany Smith says. “Shortly after, she took her sled and flew right off the roof, destroying our garden and covering herself in scrapes and bruises. Sure enough, the first item on her search history was that darn extreme-o website. These maniacs must be stopped.”

Another parent I spoke to, however, was supportive of the ESF and its upcoming festival.

“Well, the kiddos have been raving about this fad for weeks now,”  Jim Bumps says. “It’s a little dangerous, sure, but as long as it gets them outside and off the Xbox, I’m okay with it. So what if they get a little beat up? When I was their age, I used to chase rattlesnakes with a stick and wrestle the neighbor’s horse. I turned out okay.”

His children are currently practicing members, and they plan to train for the festival on Olympus’ northern face later this week.

At present, it is uncertain how long protests will continue, though it certainly appears that the festival is still on. A recent tweet from Powers advises that “[Utah locals] better wax their sleds or stay inside — it’s going down, and going down quick.”

The outcomes of this largescale event are anyone’s guess, but it is advised that you wear a helmet if you plan to participate and avoid hiking in the canyons that day if you do not.

d.rees@wasatchmag.com

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Snowbird Makes Most of One-Star Review

In recent years, the digital review economy has legitimized itself in the consumer world and now acts as a pivotal influence in how companies evaluate and conduct themselves in the public eye. Everyone and their dog is given a voice on the internet, and a negative review could be greatly detrimental to a company, particularly in its early stages. Fortunately for the Wasatch’s local Snowbird Ski Resort, this hasn’t been the case as they’ve brilliantly converted a negative review into positive press just in time for the upcoming ski season.

Snowbird’s first ad in its new One-Star campaign features an ironically hypercritical review by Greg from L.A., who complained that the resort is “Too advanced — I’ve heard Snowbird is a tough mountain, but this is ridiculous. It felt like every trail was a steep chute or littered with tree wells. How is anyone supposed to ride in that? Not fun!” Rather than taking this scathing review in humility or shame, Snowbird’s advertising team imposed Greg from L.A.’s quote onto a high-definition photograph of a skier carving through thick powder on a steep run, a sublime snow-covered Cottonwood ridge looming in the background.

What Greg from L.A. may not have recognized while composing his critique is that Snowbird prides itself on providing a uniquely advanced, challenging experience on the mountain; many visitors, in fact, find steep chutes and tree wells to be particularly appealing. Juxtaposed against an alluring photograph taken at the resort, this negative review is contorted into praise, and it even serves to challenge prospective visitors to take on the mountain that was too advanced for Greg from L.A.

In a recent interview with the Associated Press, Dave Amirault, Snowbird’s director of marketing, attributes this bold approach to the contentious and polarizing tone that the public currently resonates with most, reflecting, “What we’ve realized is in print advertising, advertising in general, nobody wins the middle. What we wanted to do is be unique to ourselves and make something that will challenge the reader.” For Amirault, Snowbird’s technicality is foundational to its identity: “If you value great terrain, deep snow, and long runs then Snowbird might be for you.” In direct response to the notorious reviewer, Amirault states that “This person, Greg from Los Angeles, didn’t quite understand what Snowbird is all about. We welcome people from all around the world but be on your ‘A’ game. This is a very unique resort compared to some other places.”This wildly compelling ad serves as the first iteration of the One-Star campaign that promises at least four more treatments of similarly scathing reviews in the near future. This ad and the others to come are projected to appear in Freeskier, Powder, Ski, Transworld Snowboarding, and Ski Utah magazine, in addition to Snowbird’s social media channels.

d.rees@wasatchmag.com

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Opening Minds to the Oquirrh Mountains

Veiled in mystery by the legalities and the eminence of the adjacent Wasatch mountains, the Oquirrh Range serves as the 10,000 feet dividing line between the Salt Lake and Tooele valleys. Equipped solely with the knowledge of a BLM public lands route provided by an outdated hiking guide, and a strong desire to summit a couple of the Oquirrh’s more prominent mountain tops, I took to the westernmost ridge of Kessler Peak.

It seems that the majority of Salt Lake residents simply lack the desire to trek into the Oquirrhs, given the close proximity of the sublime, and comparably larger Wasatch Range. Those who have opened their minds and weekends to the western green peaks have often suffered for it. They are met with the intimidating barrier of red tape and prohibitions deterring even the most intrepid outdoorsmen from entering for fear of hefty fines — or worse. Painfully evident by the violently dissolved mountain that is now the main Kennecott mining facility, the Oquirrh Range remains in a perpetual state of contractual inaccessibility since Rio Tinto’s colossal 1872 land grab that still holds control to this day.

With this corporate acquisition and grand expanses of private purchases, virtually the entire eastern face of the Oquirrhs is restricted to public use (with some exceptions to the far south). While some exploit the negligence of private landowners and trail-blaze in this region outside of the law, those who prefer risk-free, legal natural emersion are ultimately out of luck. Thankfully, the back westernmost face of the range offers a patchy network of BLM land allowing access to those extra-determined to explore Oquirrh terrain without paying heavily for it.

Following the guidance and antiquated advice of a 7-year-old online hiking guide, I made my way to that western back side with hopes of surmounting the ridgeline connecting Kessler and Farnsworth Peaks without deliberately breaking any laws. The guide I relied on did accurately get me to the approximate location of an access point, though it failed to compensate for the nascent housing developments along the base of these mountains.

The overlying drawback of hiking in a largely neglected public land is the total absence of trails, and the consequential abundance of wildlife and wilderness left to flourish independently of human obstruction. When I arrived, I was without the helpful understanding that the access point was at the perpendicular bend, and I began much farther back than I ought to have. I was thus left to bushwhack through dense, arid fields of overgrown dead grass, and the ubiquitous webs of hobo spider webs strung among them (yes, hobo spiders). Long pants and socks are highly recommended in this area in anticipation of the venomous arachnids that call it home — exercise caution.

Aside from the apparent danger of overgrown desert wilderness, the back face of the Oquirrh Range is beautiful. It serves as a tangible reminder of the desolate nature the remaining untamed American West provides.

While my lack of preparation and foresight forced my dejected party to turn back before completing the trek, an impetuous push up the ridge will eventually place you atop Kessler Peak. It is connected by an extended ridgeline to Farnsworth Peak, the more dominant of the two. Note: A section of this ridgeline is private land. Trespassing is not encouraged and would be done at your own risk.

Even if not for the explicit purpose of surmounting some of the more obscure peaks surrounding the Salt Lake Valley, exploration west of the Oquirrhs is sure to provide you with a palpable sense of connectivity with our forgotten 19th-century wild-western past. At the very least, you will come across the disheveled rusted railway spikes, and the scattered animal bones that are evocative of it. The radiant and largely untouched natural beauty is something worth seeing.

Immersion into this incredible yet inhospitable expanse requires only preparation and consciousness; all else is scenery.

d.rees@wasatchmag.com

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Trump Train Puts National Monuments on Trial

Another step in his fervent scramble to dissolve all measures undertaken to preserve the environment within the past three decades, President Donald Trump’s April 26 executive order prompted Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review — and potentially revoke — national monuments created since 1996. The results of Zinke’s review are recognized as a preliminary indicator as to how public lands are to be treated under the Trump administration. This heavy-handed exertion of government power, the president claimed in a speech made when he signed the Antiquities Act Executive Order, will “end another egregious abuse of federal power.”

Photo by Dalton Rees.

The national monuments now under scrutiny were designated by Theodore Roosevelt’s 1906 Antiquities Act, permitting the acting president to take unilateral action in the protection of natural resources and historical points of intrigue on federal land under threat. While federal land protected by this law remains entirely accessible for public, recreational use, commercial exploitation (i.e., mining, lumber work, and oil-drilling) becomes strictly prohibited.

A firm advocate of the commodification of nature, Trump asserted in the same speech,“The Antiquities Act does not give the federal government unlimited power to lock up millions of acres of land and water, and it’s time that we ended this abusive practice.”

During the presidencies of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, a collective 26 monuments were ratified, and they will soon be under review. Choosing to retain a degree of ambiguity while approaching this sweeping review, Zinke suggested in an April 25 press briefing on that executive order that he will base his decision upon whether a respective designation had resulted in “loss of jobs, reduced wages, and reduced public access.” Zinke went on to assert that he is “not going to predispose what the outcome is going to be.”

This recent executive order has put Utah in the spotlight as Obama’s end-term designation of Bears Ears was evidently the initial inspiration for this move. The monument’s particularly extensive size has drawn immense criticism from Utah conservatives, for at over 2000 square miles, Bears Ears is currently over four-times the size of Canyonlands National Park, the largest in the state. Following the continual pandering of Utah’s Sen. Orrin Hatch and Gov. Gary Herbert, Trump directly asserted he was eager to reduce the boundaries of the 1.35-million-acre designation when signing his executive order. Recent events have indicated this wish is  likely to be brought to fruition.

After his definitive trip to the Bears Ears Monument, Zinke delivered a statement to Congress asserting the designation is “not the best use of the land.” He went on to recommend that Trump reduce the monument as to solely encompass the areas of historical and prehistorical intrigue, like residual cave dwellings, and archaeological sites. This recommendation remains purely sentiment until the president reaches his final decision in August following Zinke’s remaining 25 reviews, including that of Grand Staircase-Escalante.

For many environmentalists and tribal advocates of the designation, Zinke’s recommendation is perceived as a vulgar affront to the initial intentions of the monument, namely, respect for the five sovereign tribes holding sacred ties to the area, and conservation.

Adam Sarvana, a representative for Democrats on the House National Resources Committee, was reported in The New York Times as responding to Zinke’s recommendation for Bears Ears stating, “If you look at a map, that area is only about five percent of the monument area. … It seems like what they’re describing is a few stops on a boardwalk arcade, a few isolated areas, rather than a professionally conserved landscape the way national monuments are typically designated.”

Photo by Dalton Rees.

While Zinke’s recommendation did concede to permit additional protections in certain locations within the existing monument in the form of national recreation and/or conservation areas, it is clear that what the secretary is proposing entails a mass reduction of Bears Ears as we currently know it.

d.rees@wasatchmag.com

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Peakbagger’s Double Traverse: Mount Raymond and Gobbler’s Knob

Resting along the jagged divide bordering the Millcreek and Big Cottonwood canyons, Mount Raymond and Gobbler’s Knob are two idiosyncratic peaks connected by a single mile-long ridge, both surmountable in a single day. While these peaks are closer to sea-level than some of the Wasatch’s more formidable, with Gobbler’s Knob at 10,246 ft. elevation, and Raymond a mere 5 ft. lower,  this hike is strenuous and not for the faint of heart… or lungs. Courageous mountaineers willing to brace the summer heat and an 8.3-mile trek, however, will be rewarded with access to sublime wildflower meadows and a unique perspective of the Cottonwood Divide, Salt Lake Valley, and beyond.

Gobblers Knob (Left) and Mount Raymond (Right) at a distance

Getting there

The ridgeline connecting these peaks is accessible from two routes: Alexander Basin from Big Cottonwood Canyon, and Bowman Fork from Millcreek Canyon. Which route is preferable/easier is a subjective question wrought with controversy; since I have only had the opportunity to undergo the latter, though, I’ll stick with that one.

To reach the Bowman Fork trailhead, follow Millcreek Canyon Road approximately 4.5 miles to the Terrace Picnic Area. It’s very easy to miss, so keep your eyes peeled for signs. A narrow, paved road will lead you up several curves to a small parking lot near the trailhead.

Not far from the trailhead, you will be presented with signs directing you towards either Elbow Fork or Bowman Pass — keep towards Bowman pass the entire duration of the hike. Like other trails in Millcreek, dogs are permissible (off-leash on odd-numbered days). If you intend to summit Gobbler’s Knob, bring your pup; Raymond is a bit too technical for paws.

The trail progresses along a winding stream and later converts to steep switchbacks, flourishing alpine forests, and meadows. Midway, a fork presents itself between Alexander Basin and Baker Pass. Continue towards Baker Pass. Note: particularly during this time of year, the trail is near overgrown with varied foliage. It is quite beautiful, though be prepared for mild bushwhacking — long pants are recommended.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The trail eventually lets off atop the smooth ridgeline between Gobbler’s Knob and Mount Raymond. At this point, you can progress either way. Continue left (North) for Gobbler’s Knob, and right (South) for Mount Raymond.

Mount Raymond 

Summiting Mt. Raymond requires an additional 1 to 2 hours and a good bit of scrambling. The trail carves along the ridgeline south, which grows progressively steeper until stabilizing before the final ridge. This section is not recommended for dogs.

 

Summit ridge at a distance. The beaten trail is barely discernable in the photo.

 

 

 

 

 

Wildflowers along Mount Raymond.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The traverse becomes a bit dicey as the slope transitions into a jagged knife-ridge. While daunting in appearance, this ridge is not entirely too difficult or exposed and requires only class-three scrambling. Be conscious of your step, and you shouldn’t have too much difficulty.

Initial push up the knife-ridge. Climb along its jagged spine.

Approaching the peak.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photographs fail to adequately capture the beautiful perspective atop the apex. The chain of jagged peaks ahead is the Cottonwood Divide (Broads Fork Twin Peaks far right).

Mount Raymond is the tail-end of the Wildcat Ridge separating Big Cottonwood Canyon and Millcreek. Expert mountaineers braver than me can traverse the entire ridgeline as far as Mount Olympus — this precarious traverse demands technical climbing skills over 11.5 miles of exposed ridgeline known for its significant rattlesnake population.

Climb down the way you came.

Gobbler’s Knob

Gobbler’s Knob is the most recognizable of the two due to its clear visibility from the Salt Lake Valley and distinctive saddleback shape. Powder-hounds are known to summit the mountain in winter months to carve through its untouched snowpack and steep incline; this activity is typically discouraged in consideration of the periodic avalanches occurring along its slope each year — and the skiers who have lost their lives to them. The Folklore circulated by the Wasatch’s earliest settlers warn of a supernatural presence in the knob’s forests after dark— more on that here. While steep and exhausting in and of itself, Gobbler’s Knob is the easiest of both peaks by far. Nothing technical, bring your pup.

 

The mountain’s saddleback apex — a great place for lunch before making your way down. To return to the car, you need only follow the trail back down in the same direction. Another trail from the connecting ridgeline carves into the Alexander Basin route — shuttle cars if you would like to do both (note: dogs are prohibited in Big Cottonwood Canyon, however, so any pup you bring to the other would need a stop-off point if you want to do both).

Transient sun rays captured from Gobbler’s Knob at dusk.

Aspen forest near the ridgeline.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Be conscious of your body and exercise caution; food, water, and sun-protection are essential — best of luck.

d.rees@wasatchmag.com

 

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Quick Escape to the Foothills: The Triple-Tower Loop

In the midst of these final weeks of the semester, you may crave a bit of decompression in the beautiful wilderness surrounding us. You probably lack an entire day you can expend on a long excursion, so why not get your nature fix with something local, accessible, and doable in a single morning? Something like the Bonneville Shoreline Triple-Tower Loop.

In two to three and a half hours, the average hiker can reach each of the three large radio towers overlooking the Salt Lake Valley. Entirely visible from the valley, these towers stand directly over the capitol building and the iconic Ensign Peak. From atop these sloping green hills reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands, ambitious hikers are met with an expansive view of the city, Oquirrh Mountains, and Great Salt Lake. Plus, it’s dog-friendly.

Getting there:

Begin this hike at the Ensign Peak trailhead on Capitol Hill and park along the street (prohibited between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.). While there are alternative routes, it’s best to follow the regular trail leading to Ensign. Once atop the ridge, you’ll see a fork in the trail and a monumental plaque: left towards Ensign Peak, and right towards the Bonneville Shoreline. Go right. From this spot, two of the towers and the underlying basin are visible, the last remains obscured by the ridge that the trail is soon to guide you up.

Once you’ve followed the trail up the ridge, you will enter a small scrub oak forest. Continue toward the Bonneville Shoreline Trail, but before you are directly connected along the basin, you’ll run into a steep, unmarked trail leading to the first, southernmost tower. This trail is essentially at the very end of the scrub oak forest. Upon this next ridge, the route to Tower 1 is obvious, particularly since the tower is in sight for most of the traverse. Caution, this ridge gets very windy, especially in inclement weather.

After reaching the first tower, simply follow the beaten trail toward the remaining two. At the last tower, you’ll find an access road. Follow this down about a half-mile until you reach the Bonneville Shoreline trail to the left, which is clearly marked with a large sign. Follow the trail along the lower part of the basin until you’re reconnected with the original trail. Retrace your steps back to the car. Note: don’t be fooled by the subsidiary trail to the left on the way back. If Ensign Peak isn’t visible, don’t start hiking down the hill or you will end up in the backyard of a home in a gated community (yes, this comes from experience).

This hike isn’t difficult, but it’s still important to wear good boots and remain hydrated. Take a break from your studies and head to these lookouts for some inspiring views.


d.rees@wasatchmag.com

Photo by Dalton Rees

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Hiking When the Snow Melts

As any grizzled Utah native will tell you, “if you don’t like the weather, wait five-minutes.” This hackneyed anecdote never rings truer than during spring. While each surprise snowstorm means an extended season for local powder-junkies, those of us who prefer deep-canyon excursions are left waiting. Fortunately, the grand ol’ Wasatch is much more accessible than you may think. The handy rule-of-thumb is stick to the foothills.

Stand on an elevated surface and look towards the mountains. You’ll notice that the range remains bare, dry, and accessible from the radio towers and smaller peaks from behind the University of Utah (like Mount Wire) to Mount Olympus and continuing along the Wildcat Ridge. This stretch may seem limited, but there’s plenty to explore without getting your feet wet.

The first more challenging peak-bagging excursion available is almost always Mount Olympus, which can be done without specialty equipment as early as late April. See here for a guide up this grueling summit.

The most important thing to recognize when spring hiking in this bipolar range is that conditions are always in flux. While weather reports will give you a general idea of conditions-to-come, they are ultimately tentative until you wake up that day and look at the sky.

Also, if you do intend to take your hike higher than the Bonneville Shoreline (which carves along the lower reaches of nearly the entire range), prepare to get muddy. Residual snow at higher elevation melts in spring, and wary hikers often find themselves sludging through the mud. Wear sturdy boots and bring an extra layer, regardless of how easy the hike may seem.

When warmer temperatures arrive, Millcreek, Neff’s, and the Cottonwood Canyons will gradually open themselves up to adventurers—though don’t be surprised if you run into mud and snow in the shadows. Late-spring is a wonderful time to catch a view of the violent and impetuous spring run-off in the rivers that carve the canyons and the blooming wildflowers beside them.

d.rees@wasatchmag.com

Photo by Dalton Rees

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Up in Flames: Crews Prep for Wildfire Season

When April showers subside and May foliage is dried out by incessant sunlight, Utah firefighters brace themselves for another season of near-constant summer wildfires along the Wasatch Front and beyond. Wildfires occur on a sporadic, unpredictable basis, but their regimented human counterparts remain on-the-ready, prepared to address developing infernos at any hour and in any condition.

The environmental influences of fires, both wild and man-made, are a mixed bag. “Fire has positive and negative impacts on ecosystems,” explains Jason Curry, Public Information Officer for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire & State Lands. “Historically, fire has been a key component of ecosystem health in the West. Fires keep vegetation from getting overgrown and keeps things in balance.”

With the continually increasing human population and temperature in Northern Utah, this equilibrium becomes disrupted profoundly. “Since the early 1900s, the role of fire has changed: instead of small fires keeping vegetation in check, we get large fires that do catastrophic damage to ecosystems,” Curry says. “If fire burns at a low pace, it’s generally a good thing. Extreme fire behavior is generally negative.”

There is ultimately no ideal rate at which wildfires should occur. Most agree with Curry when he says they should happen “as often as nature will allow.” However ardently Smokey the Bear attempted to instill his message over the years, humans still remain responsible for over 90 percent of wildfires (in Utah’s case the remaining 10 percent can be attributed to lightning and other natural anomalies). Between these, there will likely be a wildfire every day of the summer, and that is not natural.

Fortunately, most wildfires are controlled within the first hour or two, but every year, a handful slip through the cracks. A fire on Antelope Island last July burned a whopping 15,330 acres, and another 20,614 acres blazed in Northern Utah’s Broad Canyon the following month.

The awe-inspiring capabilities of firefighting teams are due to efficiently connecting a massive network of individuals. According to the Utah Department of Natural Resources, every incident begins in virtually the same way: A wildfire is reported through 911, the operator dispatches fire engines, and the call is referred on to one of five Regional Interagency Fire Centers (IFC).

The IFC dispatches all available local resources capable of combating the fire, regardless of affiliation. The first firefighters on scene initially take command and report back to the IFC to assess the complexity of the fire. “As the fire increases in complexity, command may be transferred to someone with higher qualifications and more expertise.”

The “complexity analysis” ranges from the less technical Type 5 through severe and technical Type 1. Type 4 and 5 are representative of around 98 percent of Utah wildfires and require little more than a handful of local personnel to effectively extinguish them. When a fire progresses to Type 3, it enters the realm of “extended attack,” requiring multiple days and the assistance of personnel from outside of the local area, around 200 collectively. At Type 2 or 1, a pre-formed Incident Management Team comprised of 20-40 “overhead personnel” from various agencies oversee the fire. That might mean several hundred personnel dedicated to fighting the fire over several weeks, if not months. They pull out all stops, from fixed-wing “Air Attack” platforms to 10-12 person “Helitack Crews,” helicopter bucket ships then can drop more than 2,000 gallons of fire retardant or water.

Utah is the only state, aside from Alaska, that has Hotshot Crews employed and managed directly by the state government — all others are recognized as federal resources. These elite teams (of which our state has two) are hand crews of 20 firefighters vigorously trained in wildfire suppression tactics and are distinguished by exemplary physical fitness, expertise, and the ability to tackle the most stressful and technical of situations.

Rising global temperatures and ever-multiplying irresponsible outdoorsmen correlate with increasing wildfires in our high desert state. Local firefighters vigilantly stand by, ready to protect Utah’s ecosystem and people from the most ravenous of elements.

d.rees@wasatchmag.com

Photo courtesy of FEMA

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Hold onto Your Handlebars- Here Come the Chargers

Hailing from Corner Canyon High School in Draper, UT, the Chargers constitute the largest high school mountain biking team in the country. With 138 active riders in 2016 alone, this fine-tuned trail-carving machine is continually on the rise. Through unassailable devotion and vigor on the behalf of its members and supporting staff—all of which are volunteers, including head coach Whitney Pogue and the nearly 30 adults that facilitate each practice—the Chargers and other teams like it are dissolving boundaries and raising high school sports to dimensions previously inconceivable, off the field and into the outdoors.

More unbelievable still, the Corner Canyon HS Chargers are merely a constituent vessel of an extensive network supporting over 80 racing teams in Utah alone. The Utah High School Cycling League is the fastest growing program in the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA), with 2,400 participating athletes and 856 coaches just last year. To compensate for this colossal turn-out, teams are divided between size-determined Division 1 and Division 2 in tournaments.

Since the Chargers’ inception in 2013 (only a single year following NICA’s arrival in Utah), it has been among the most contentious teams in the league. Through fervent practice and cooperation, the Chargers reigned victorious at the 2016 State Championship in St. George, where they placed first in Division 1 against fifteen other teams and was later featured in an ad campaign for Trek Bicycle. This achievement is undoubtedly influenced by the momentum accumulated and upheld by their first-place victory in 2015 and second-place victories the preceding two years.

The Chargers train primarily along the extensive trails of local Corner Canyon Regional Park three times a week. “With a group as large as ours, we aren’t able to train elsewhere without a major circus to get everyone there,” Pogue recounts, “we do pull off the circus weekly during the season when we go to pre-ride race courses, and then bring our army to race venues every other week in the Fall.” Despite the team’s colossal size, members still manage to grow close through routine informal meetings and team-building exercises. “Our team culture is like one family,” Pogue says, “these kids are family.”

The Chargers’ close-knit family dynamic is tangible and authentic, to say the least. The team sticks out boldly in the school as if a separate tribe, often adorned in their tee-shirts and gear. “Being a part of the MTB team has defined the high school experience for so many of these kids,” Pogue says.

Photo courtesy of Tyler Doman

Senior and longtime rider for the CCHS team, Tyler Doman, endearingly reflects, “I don’t even know how to describe my love for the mountain bike team.  It has been everything to me in my high school career and it’s been really sad to watch it slip away as I completed my last race, and graduation creeps closer.” A beginner to the sport when he started at the school, Doman came to embrace mountain biking and the Charger team fully, continually ascending in skill and rank while developing invaluable friendships along the way. “The sport of mountain biking and being on the team has changed my life.  There’s nothing that I’ve been more proud of than being a part of it— I will definitely be biking for the rest of my life, and will remain close to my group of friends that I’ve made for forever.”

Like any family, the CCHS Mountain Bike Team has faced profound challenges along the way, particularly last year when one team member and a classmate tragically died in a roll-over car accident, in the presence of several other team riders in the car. It had a profound effect on the team, but further united them to help one another through the grieving process.

“The kids worked really hard to make some good come from this,” Pogue reflects. “They worked hard to put together a service project in December to support local ER’s, as many of us spent that night in the ER.”

This family is inclusive as well, meaning although there are hefty fees associated with joining, scholarships are available and students can check out “loaner” bikes if they don’t have their own equipment. Plus, there are no try-outs and no real parameters aside from the desire and physical ability to participate.

“Our league is founded on five core principles that guide everything we do, every decision we make: Equality, Inclusivity, Strong Mind, Strong Body, and Strong Character,” Pogue says. “We are not only trying to make these kids bikers but more importantly, we are striving to help shape them into good people.” This outlook of positivity and inclusivity is exemplified by all involved. “The best thing about the team is the people,” Doman says. “I’ve gotten to know some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met in my life.”

d.rees@wasatchmag.com

Photo courtesy of Whitney Pogue

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