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


>full-shank boots

>many layers (top and bottom) for varied conditions

>multiple glove layers

>water with freezing prevention methods




>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.





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Enjoying the Snow in Snow Canyon

Utah is famous for its five beautiful national parks, Zion being the most famous of them all.

While lesser known, there are plenty of state parks in the area that offer many of the same views and amenities as the more popular Zion National Park for a fraction of the cost and a fraction of the crowds.

Photo by Esther Aboussou-Shaw.

Snow Canyon State Park located in Ivins, UT just outside of St. George is a wonderful example of this. This beautiful state park is located just one hour west of Zion National Park, and, while not as large, contains a very similar landscape and quite the selection of hikes to keep you busy.

At $6 per vehicle, the entrance fee for Snow Canyon State Park certainly won’t break the bank. Camping is $20 a night for a basic site, and $25 for a campsite with hook-ups, water, and electric. The 27 campsites are set against a backdrop of stunning red and white sandstone that southern Utah is famous for.

Snow Canyon was founded as a state park in 1959 and was named after Mormon settlers Lorenzo and Erastus Snow. The park is famous for its cinder-cones, lava flows, and tubes that have formed over the years after the Santa Clara volcano erupted.

Photo by Esther Aboussou-Shaw.

Though the campground is small there is plenty to keep you busy. Hiking, biking, and horseback-riding trails are available to explore in the 7,400 acres of Snow Canyon State Park. Out of the 38 miles of hiking trails, I would recommend the Johnson’s Canyon, Whiptail, and Cinder Cone trails. Johnson’s Canyon is an easy two mile hike that leads to great views of an arch spanning 200 feet, reaching it after winding through lava flows and red rock canyon. Whiptail is a bit longer at six miles roundtrip but is still fairly easy and accessible. The Whiptail trail is great for hikers and bikers alike and it’s a great way to take in the flora and fauna, with many plants that are native to Snow Canyon observable along this trail.

If you’re looking for something to challenge you, Cinder Cone trail is the way to go. This hike is difficult — even being only one and a half miles round trip. What makes the effort worth it is the end sight of a crater that was left behind when the Santa Clara volcano erupted.

While Snow Canyon certainly has its own unique features because of its volcanic origins, there are still many similarities in its landscape to Zion National Park, such as the eroded sandstone waves, red rock towers, and sandstone cliffs. Additionally, because of the mild weather year round in the St. George/Ivins area, Snow Canyon is open year round. The campsites are also accessible year round. Hikes may sometimes close due to flash flooding or maintenance, but updates are usually posted on the park’s website ahead of time.

Photo by Esther Aboussou-Shaw.

Until word gets out about how awesome Snow Canyon is, you can avoid the crowds and enjoy the solitude while taking in all the beauty that southern Utah has to offer.



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Snowshoeing Guardsman Pass

When snow hits the ground, temperatures drop, and days become shorter, it can be a struggle to find motivation to do anything outside. Utah’s most popular snow attractions are skiing and snowboarding, but what is there to do besides this?

I’ll tell you: snowshoeing up Guardsman Pass in Big Cottonwood Canyon. This scenic byway connects Brighton to Park City. While the main road is actually closed during the winter, it is still an option to drive up, park at the road, and take off on the snow.

First things first, you have to find the best snowshoe rental. Our own Outdoor Adventures department at the University of Utah rents snowshoes for $10 a day, or $15 for the weekend. The rental also includes a set of poles if interested. It is suggested to make rental reservations in advance. You can make them by calling (801) 581-8516.

Photo credit Sierra Marty.

If there are no open rentals at OA or if you can’t make it up to campus to grab a pair, you can also rent a pair of snowshoes at the REI Sandy or Salt Lake City locations. Members can get a pair for $12 the first day, and non members can get a one day rental for $15, and $10 for every additional day with a deposit of $100.

After you’ve got your snowshoes, you’ll need some other equipment. A water resistant pair of snow boots and snow pants, a warm coat, a pair of gloves, and a beanie to keep yourself comfortable in the cold canyon temperatures are highly suggested. Another thing you should make sure to bring is a camera, because you won’t regret capturing the beautiful winter snow around all the forest trees, trust me.

Guardsman Pass is a great place to go snowshoeing because it is just far enough that you can get away from any city life, but only about a 40 minute drive from campus. The trails aren’t very steep, the snow is always great, and the landscape is beautiful. Getting there is typically easy also, because Big Cottonwood Canyon is maintained all winter long. The best time to go snowshoeing in Guardsman is definitely around 3 or 4 p.m. when the sun is barely starting to go down, but there is still enough light and the temperature is still bearable. At this time, the sun will be hitting the snow and the trees just right, making for some fantastic pictures.

Snowshoeing is a great winter outdoor activity and it is something for all ages and experience levels. The best part is that it keeps you completely dry and warm  as long as you put your snowshoes on the right way. Winter snow can last up to February or March in Utah, making it a perfect activity anytime during the winter and even early spring. Before the snow melts, whether it’s at Guardsman Pass or anywhere else in the Wasatch, I highly suggest going out to explore the greatest snow on Earth on foot.



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Hiking Through the Mental Illness Struggle

Contributor piece by Jenna Baker of Wildhorn Outfitters. Published first at https://www.wildhornoutfitters.com/blogs/sessions/its-like-going-home on January 30, 2018. 

Almost everyone today has been, or knows someone who has been, affected by anxiety, depression, or some kind of addiction. In the words of Jessica Grambau, “we’re in a heavy epidemic right now–whether it is drugs or depression or anxiety,” which is why she started New Heights Hiking.

New Heights Hiking is a nonprofit, Utah hike group for anyone who has struggled with any type of mental illness. As Jess herself has anxiety she understands how overwhelming it can be. The group supports people in all walks of life and helps them to find happiness and wellness in nature. They meet for hikes throughout the year to explore trails in the Utah mountains.

She invites everyone who wants to come and states how if you’re having a bad day, a hike can be the perfect remedy to help you heal. You can make new friends, get outside, and experience something you haven’t before.

Through New Heights Hiking, Jess has found a way to share her passion by encouraging others to get outside and enjoy the wild around them.

When asked what “share the wild” meant to her she explained, “for me I guess ‘share the wild’ is just showing everyone how beautiful it is and how magical it can be for your life to just take that hike or take that walk or take that hour to just experience something that you wouldn’t have seen otherwise. I feel more alive, I feel way more alive out here than I could ever probably feel at home. I think when I’m traveling and hiking, I am at home. That is where my home is…that’s where my heart is and that’s where I feel the most alive.”

With the following Jess currently has on Instagram, she wanted to use it for more than just pretty pictures of her on a mountain. She wanted to give a purpose to her platform, to voice her thoughts on the sometimes taboo topic of mental illness.

We fully support Jess in her cause. To raise awareness, we are selling Jess’ Session T-shirt, where 100% of the proceeds go to New Heights Hiking. Help us raise awareness for mental health while sharing the wild!



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Keeping Warm in the Great Outdoors

Raise your hand if you’ve been personally victimized by the ice-cold temperatures while trying to enjoy the great outdoors. Whether you’re hiking or camping, staying warm is the only way to have a safe and enjoyable trip. If anyone claims they like being cold, they’re lying. Here are a few tips and tricks to staying warm during your winter adventures.

Keeping warm requires a variety of tools and tips during Utah’s cold months. Photo by Annie Duong.

Pack the Hand and Toe Warmers 

Keeping your hands and feet warm is essential to not losing a finger or toe to frostbite. No one wants to go through the trauma of that, so listen to the nagging voice of your parental figure in the back of your mind, and pack some hand/toe warmers, some nice thick socks, and gloves.

Stick to the Three-Layer Rule

This may be common sense but it’s important to make sure you have a tight-fitting base layer, a middle layer, and an outer layer. For your base layer, it’s best to have a synthetic or wool article of clothing. DO NOT WEAR COTTON. Cotton is very loosely knitted and takes a very long time to dry. Your middle layer should retain heat. Fabrics like merino wool, down and/or fleece are suggested. Finally, your outer layer should protect you from the elements so it should be windproof, waterproof and well ventilated. Just remember the three Ws: wicking, warmth, and weather.

Two Beanies are Better than One

Not only will you be the most stylish individual in your group, but you’ll also be the most prepared. If you didn’t know, you lose a lot of heat from your head, so it’s best to always have a beanie or warm hat. Bringing two can ensure you’ll have a dry and comfortable beanie to wear at all times. This goes for clothing, too. Wearing wet clothing will 110 percent make you colder than if your clothes were completely dry, so doubling up is a necessity.

Chug Olive Oil

Apparently chugging things like olive oil, and eating avocados and other foods high in fat content, will help keep you warm. The burning of calories leads to an elevated body temperature, so bottoms up. I’m sure to most people olive oil does not sound appealing to drink, so any alternatives that are high in carbs and fat (like chocolate and/or nuts) will keep your internal furnace well fueled.

Keep Your Butt off the Ground

Never leave the fire or you’ll freeze your butt off, and try not to sit directly on the cold ground or on rocks. That goes for sleeping as well. Be sure to sleep on a sleeping pad or a cot to ensure maximum heat insulation. For below freezing temperatures, shoot for at least two or three inches of insulation between you and the ground when sleeping.

Make Yourself a “Crotch Bottle”

Think back to a cold, dreadful night in your tent. Do you remember where your hands were for the majority of the night? Probably in between your thighs, right? There are important arteries in your inner thighs that are essential to regulating body temperature; so don’t put away the kettle or jet-boil just yet. Use this to fill that extra water bottle you packed with hot water and get cozy with it in your sleeping bag, placed perfectly between your thighs to keep your body temperature up.

Big Spoon or Little Spoon?

Don’t know your tent mate? Suck it up, buttercup. Get your pillow talk ready. It’s common knowledge that sharing body heat keeps you warm, why not do it?

Don’t Get Trashed

Even though chugging olive oil isn’t as appealing as the whiskey you packed, a liquor blanket can only get you so far into the night. I’m sure half the reason you’re going camping is to sit around the fire with a beer or bottle, but drinking alcohol makes you dehydrated, and dehydration makes you cold. That warm, fuzzy feeling inside is a trap. You are colder than you think; limit your drinks and make sure those friends of yours who maybe aren’t as careful don’t pass out in unsafe conditions.

Drink Lots and Lots of Water

If you’re like me, being out in the cold doesn’t particularly make me thirsty. The truth is though, the cold, dry winter air actually dehydrates you faster than warmer air. Obviously, water keeps you alive and well but sometimes it’s an easy need to ignore. As your body is working harder to generate heat under all your layers, water is vital. To keep your water from freezing, use a wool sock, invest in an insulated bottle, or use a DIY foam sleeve.

Splurge on Nice Gear

If you do enough cold weather camping, it may be time to invest in some high-quality gear. This isn’t really a tip but you’ll definitely feel a difference between that $30 sleeping bag compared to a $300 one. I’m not telling you to go buy the latest and greatest equipment, but it may be time to do a little research and invest.



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Trodding Across the Trans Zion Trail

After a full summer of living 30 minutes from Zion in the often overlooked and mispronounced town of Hurricane, Utah, my girlfriend Libby and I found ourselves avoiding the park. We had explored all of the big hikes in the main canyon, squeezed our way through some slots off the side of the main roads, and camped on top of the main rims. Just as I felt our recreational opportunities in Utah’s flagship park were expiring, I looked at the map. There, right smack in the middle, was an empty field. The only mark cutting through it was a series of dashed lines forming a winding path: the Trans Zion Trail. This past fall break, we finally worked out a window large enough between her work schedule and my classes to give it a shot.

Zion National Park. Photo credit @surfnsnowboard.

The Trans Zion is a beautifully classic, almost 50-mile backpacking trip that links paths starting from Lee Pass Trailhead in Kolob Canyon to the east entrance of the park. It is one of the most easily accessible and spectacular multi-day trips in any park in Utah, and it offers solitude that cannot be found near any of the more popular parts of Zion. Because of time restraints, Libby and I decided to start at the traditional beginning (Lee Pass), but end at The Grotto, cutting out the East Rim, ending in the main canyon instead of the east entrance.

Our itinerary was moderate, averaging 10 miles a day. Some people run the whole trail in a day, others take nearly a week to complete it. Since permits are needed for every camp, you will have in the backcountry, day mileage as well as trip length is heavily determined by the availability of those permits. We lucked out and ended up with the following itinerary.

Day 1: Lee Pass TH to Hop Valley A (about 9 miles)

All Trans Zion trips start at Lee Pass, which means you’ll need two cars or a shuttle. Libby lives in Hurricane still, so her friend dropped us off, but Zion Adventure Company also provides this service for those without such connections. From here, we followed the La Verkin Creek Trail for 6.9 miles until it met up with the Hop Valley Trail. Near the very end of La Verkin Creek is Kolob Arch. It’s only a quick 1.2 mile detour, and it is absolutely worth the 30 minutes it takes to see it. Campsite 10 is just past this junction, and Beatty Spring is usually flowing there. It’d be a good idea to fill your bottles here, or in the creek itself, before heading up the steep switchbacks to the Hop Valley Trail. There was not water above the switchbacks for us. We camped in Hop Valley A, a picturesque camp hidden in a grove of Ponderosas beside a sandy wash, but any of the later spots along the La Verkin Creek Trail (ideally camps 7-10) would provide a similar mileage day. Hop Valley B is another good option.

Zion National Park. Photo credit @surfnsnowboard.

Day 2: Hop Valley A to Wildcat Canyon Dispersed (about 13 miles)

Rise early to get out of Hop Valley before the sun is too high. The trail is beautiful, yet sandy; I would not want to slog through there at noon with a heavy pack. After about 5.5 miles, we reached the Hop Valley Trailhead. Unfortunately for us, it was here that we discovered Libby had fractured her knee and had to quit the trail. Had we continued, however, we would have followed the Connector Trail 4 miles, passing the beautiful Pine Valley Peak on our right, and joined the Wildcat Canyon Trail. From there, we would’ve continued about 3.5 miles until reaching the beginning of the dispersed camping zone, where our permit would have allowed us to camp anywhere out of sight of the trail. The backcountry office told us that Wildcat Canyon Spring was flowing, so we would’ve had water nearby our camp.

Day 3: Wildcat Canyon Dispersed to West Rim 5 (about 8.5 miles)

We would’ve spent the day more or less on the West Rim Trail. Depending on where we camped in the Wildcat Dispersed zone, we may have had about a mile before joining the West Rim. Once there, we would encounter some steep sections, but the views, I’ve heard, are unmatched. Again, the backcountry office told us that West Cabin, Potato Hollow, and Sawmill Springs all had at least a small water flow. Any site towards the bottom of the West Rim would be ideal (meaning sites 1 through 5). The even numbered ones are put online for reservations, so they’re likely taken already, but the others are kept for walk-ins. We had to get to the visitor center early the day before our trip so we could be first in line to grab a spot when the doors opened at 8 a.m.

Day 4: West Rim 5 to The Grotto (about 6.5 miles)

Angel’s Landing at Zion National Park. Photo credit @surfnsnowboard.

This final day should’ve be the easiest. It’s pretty much all downhill (so anyone with bad knees will rue this day) as we would’ve hiked from our site to Scout Lookout, where we should’ve been able to add a quick 0.8 mile detour hike to the top of Angel’s Landing, and eventually end at The Grotto. From there, we planned to take the park shuttle back to the visitor center where our car would be waiting.

Needless to say, Libby and I were disappointed we couldn’t finish the trail. The one night we did get to spend in Kolob enchanted us with a sky heavy with stars and orange cliffs that glowed during sunset. Ain’t no valley high enough and ain’t no canyon low enough to keep us from getting to Lee Pass again soon.




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Stop and Smell the Flowers

Wildflowers in Albion Basin. Photo taken by Kiffer Creveling.

Typically when you think of Alta, you are likely to think of skiing or hiking. What most people don’t think about are the natural wildflowers that grow all over the area. High-altitude wildflowers are some of the most rugged plants because of the environment they live in, residing in elevations near 8,500 feet or even higher. The blooming time of these flowers does not usually occur in the spring, but is instead delayed to the end of July, or even early August.

The Albion Basin wildflowers are something that everyone should have the opportunity to visit because of the uniqueness of those flowers. When you head up Little Cottonwood Canyon, you’ll begin to see the sea of flowers that flows around every canyon. Pay close attention to all of this, as the colors will change the higher up the canyon you get, as flowers of different elevations bloom at different times.

Wide shot of wildflowers in Albion Basin. Photo by Kiffer Creveling.

When you reach the top, where the Alta parking lot is, you can take the free shuttle that will drop you off on the Cecret Lake trailhead. It takes approximately 15-20 minutes between shuttles. The other option you have is to walk up to the trailhead through the Albion Basin meadow. If you are an ambitious hiker, then this is the option for you. You can walk next to the stream to see the flowers that need more water, which look completely different than the flowers in the meadows. Look carefully for the ground squirrels that have made their residence in the hills. Sometimes they’ll even peek out of their holes to ensure dominance over any approaching competition. Their presence makes the flowers even more fun to see.

Bluebell wildflowers in Albion Basin. Photo by Kiffer Creveling.

The bluebells and Indian paintbrush make up most of the blue and red flowers that you’ll see in the basin. The yellow flowers across the basin on the west side of the canyon make up the second largest meadow basin at Alta. The hike up to this meadow takes quite some time, but allows you to gain a new perspective of the Albion Basin flowers.

Two of my favorite flowers to look out for are fireweed and elephant’s head. Fireweed is the faint purple flower that grows on tall green stocks that taper to the leaves. At the beginning of the summer at these high elevations, the flowers are near the bottom of the plant; as summer progresses, the flower blossoms move towards the top. Once the blossoms have reached the top, you know that summer has finished and that fall is near. Elephant’s head, on the other hand, looks just like what you’d think: a small pink flower that resembles the head of an elephant. It grows on a shorter plant that is typically located near water or a marsh.

Fireweed wildflowers in Albion Basin. Photo by Kiffer Creveling.

Remember as you go that the flowers are there to stay and for others to enjoy. Too many times you may see other visitors picking the flowers to make a bouquet. If you see this happening, kindly remind them not to do so.

Forest rangers have put up informational cards on a few of the trees on the hike up to Cecret Lake, allowing young kids and the inquisitive hikers to learn about local nature in the area. On these cards you’ll read about the moose and the natural habitat, including the flowers surrounding you. If you are lucky enough on your walk to see the flowers, you may also be lucky enough to see a moose on the loose. Be sure to stay away and let them be — don’t disturb them. Make sure you take your camera with you to share the beauty of these wildflowers with others, without taking them away and harming the environment.




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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.





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Reaching Heights in the Uintas

The high alpine is an environment so sodden with life and beauty that it has drawn words of praise from everyone, including the likes of John Muir and beyond. Truly, “the mountains are [always] calling,” but with classes and busy schedules, it is sometimes harder than that famous line makes it seem. Nevertheless, a bit of tedious time management can free up a weekend to head out and connect with the most spiritual and uplifting of natural places. In Utah, this means a trip to our tallest range, the Uintas. Here are a few of the best mountains to stand atop, triumphant and graceful, in our state’s most dominating range.

King’s Peak

King’s undoubtedly lands at the top of anyone’s list. If the stunning 6,000+ feet of prominence (how high the actual peak separates from the ground) doesn’t take your breath away, and if the beautifully exposed final ridge walk can’t do so either, then at least you can say you’ve stood on the tallest point in Utah. The most popular route to sack this peak is Henry’s Fork. From there, the trip is a little over 12 miles one way, and it gains about 5,200 feet of elevation, making it possible to ascend in one day. It’s more typical to take two days or a long weekend and split up the mileage a bit. Other approaches include one from Yellowstone Creek Trail (17 miles one way) or Uinta River Trail (50 miles round trip). All routes will eventually end at Anderson’s Pass which is just an hour ridge walk away from the summit of King’s Peak.

Mount Emmons

Although three peaks in Utah tower just a little higher than Emmons, this mountain is massive and visible from far away. It practically draws you to its peak. There are two approaches to get to the top. The Uinta River Route covers 27 miles round trip and 5,600 feet of elevation, while the Swift Creek Route notches just below it at 25 miles and 5,400 feet of elevation. Emmons itself rises to a sturdy 13,440 feet, but it only flashes 930 feet of prominence. Regardless, the route is far less trafficked than King’s, and it can offer an incredible rewarding outing if enough effort is put forth.

Mount Powell

Acclaimed as the most beautiful of Utah’s 13ers — or 13,000 foot mountains — Powell can offer one of the most pleasant winter ascents anywhere in Utah. It sits nearby maintained and plowed facilities, meaning the roads should be passable year round. Almost every face of the mountain can be ascended without much difficulty, and the mellow slopes mean prime backcountry skiing is plentiful. If you do try to attempt a winter ascent, be well prepared and up to date on avalanche dangers and safety. In the summer, however, no special skills are required — just determination to battle through the mosquitoes and a good judgment when it comes to thunderstorms.

Tokewanna Peak

If solitude and remoteness are what you’re searching for, Tokewanna is where you’ll find it. The trails are poorly marked, especially towards the summit, and although it is the closest Utah 13er to a road, it is still a 15 mile roundtrip journey. If you’re good with a map and compass, and a little bit lucky, you’re almost certain to be one of the few to experience standing on the peak of a 13,000 foot mountain with no one else in sight. Middle Fork Blacks Fork is the most used trail to ascend the peak, meaning it should be the easiest to follow. Still, there are no promises of an easy route find to the top. This adventure is one you have to work for yourself.



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A Gem in the Pacific Northwest

In southwestern Oregon, amid rolling hills of vineyards and proud forests of ponderosa pine trees, is Crater Lake National Park, the remnants of the former Mount Mazama Volcano that erupted over 7,700 years ago.

Crater Lake NP is Oregon’s singular National Park and with every passing year its popularity increases. Just last year, a recordbreaking 756,344 people visitors to the park had a chance to take in its gorgeous vistas.

Crater Lake owns the accolade of being the deepest lake in the U.S., and that’s not the only thing that makes it unique. If not for precipitation, the lake would be a giant hole in the earth, devoid of any moisture, as there are no inlets or outlets to the lake. This is also the reason for the lake’s existence, as that lack and its location in the rainy Pacific Northwest ensures that the water remains. For an average of eight months out of the year the park is covered in snow; during the other four months rainy days are frequent. When I visited at the end of July, there was still snow covering mountain tops as well as trails that led to higher elevations.

Don’t let this deter you, the rain and snowfall only serve to enhance the park’s beauty. When the sun shines across the lake, the translucent blue water practically sparkles as it contrasts with the lush green and brown forests that surround it. In the middle of the lake sits Wizard Island, the volcanic cinder cone standing as a reminder of how this piece of earth looked so many thousands of years ago.

What to do

There are many wonderful ways to take in the views around this lake, including a boat tour out to Wizard Island and summiting its mountain peak, a spectacular way to see the lake and watch the water as it surrounds you. These tours are $41 for adults, and $27 for children.

If a relaxing scenic drive is more your thing, though, you’re in luck: The park offers a trolley that provides a 2-hour tour and travels the entirety of the rim trail. The ride comes complete with a park ranger to answer all your questions and educate you on the history of Crater Lake. The trolley is also much more affordable than the boat tour, starting at $17 for children and ending at $27 for adults.

Last but not least, for those that like to go it alone there are a plethora or hiking and biking trails to choose from. Occasionally parts of the rim trail are closed to motor vehicles to allow bikers more space for themselves. This year those days will be Saturday, September 9th, and Saturday, September 16th. There are 16 different hiking trails with an almost equal selection of easy, moderate and difficult trails.

Fishing and swimming is allowed on certain parts of the lake, and from Monday-Saturday there are ranger talks, hikes and other activities to participate in.

How to prepare

If you plan on visiting Crater Lake soon, it’s best to make reservations ahead of time. As the popularity of the park increases it’s becoming ever more difficult to find lodging. There are 111 rooms total to be found at the two hotels inside the park, Crater Lake Lodge and The Cabins at Mazama Village, and campers have 230 sites to choose from at either Mazama or Lost Creek campgrounds. Backcountry camping permits can also be obtained in person, on the intended day of camping and free of charge, for backpackers that want to get away from the crowds.

As the number of visitors to Crater Lake National Park steadily climbs each year, this caldera lake becomes increasingly recognizable as a gem in the Pacific Northwest, and an icon of the always amazing creations of Mother Earth.





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