The Cottonwoods

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.

 

k.creveling@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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Keeping Little Cottonwood Clean for Future Generations

Rock climbing is one of those sports where you often get a lot of ridicule and backlash from surrounding communities and local politicians. Rock climbers are often seen as those who have no concern for the surrounding environment as we scale walls. The truth is quite opposite, however. With my many years of rock climbing experience under my belt, I have seen nothing but people who are the most conscious about the preservation of the environment, and more specifically, rock climbing itself. In Salt Lake City, you are bound to find these types of people everywhere you go. It is a blessing when the city of Salt Lake and its inhabitants find a way to give back to the rock climbing community. Recently, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has formalized a relationship with the climbing community to secure almost 600 climbing routes and almost 150 boulder problems in Little Cottonwood Canyon, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

Previously, the area now secured for rock climbers was privately owned by the Church with no access to climbing for almost 60 years when routes were first ascended. The area that has been recently opened is in the Gate Buttress, one of the most popular climbing areas in the canyon, and one of the most popular climbing areas in the state.

Personally, Gate Buttress is one of my favorite crags to climb due to its plethora of crack climbing routes with a wide range of route difficulty. Climbing routes range from anywhere between a rating of 5.7 all the way up to the 5.12 range. There are enough routes to cater to all climbing abilities, from the climber having their first outside experience to the seasoned veteran who knows all the climbs better than the back of their hand.

The best part about this relationship is the security of the area is open to the public for years to come. Future generations will be able to climb these walls just as those did before them for over a half century earlier.

In my years of going to Little Cottonwood, I have seen nothing but respect for the canyon by my fellow climbers. For example, I have seen several groups who have finished a long day of climbing hiking back down with backpacks full of trash to help clean up the area. I know of groups forming together online to meet up on weekends to perform trail maintenance. Keep in mind that this is all purely volunteer work and out of the kindness of their hearts to help see the preservation of the area and the sport. This being said, now that we as a climbing community have been granted the security of this world class climbing from those higher up, it is now our duty to help grant that security for the future.

In my honest opinion, I am not concerned. The climbing community has shown their support for the area, not only in Little Cottonwood Canyon, but also in all areas throughout the state for many decades. I am confident that this support will continue on the road ahead.

p.creveling@wasatchmag.com

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Climbing Close to Home

As Utah finally decides to change its mind, and the weather begins to warm up, there begins a whole new season of rock climbing. This is the climbing Utah is known for: multiple pitch routes with unforgettable vantage points, boulder problems that will haunt you and also reward you, or class sport routes with a crux that include just about everything you can think of. Want to know the best part? The majority of these locations are within a half-hour driving distance. You can commonly find a group of climbers leaving after work at 5 p.m. who are still getting some laps in before sundown.

Little Cottonwood Canyon

One commonly sought out place to climb is up Little Cottonwood Canyon. The majority of these climbs are trad, or traditional, routes. If you are up for some world class crack climbing, this is the place for you. The difficulty of the routes will cater to the first timer, and it can also cater to the most advanced veteran dirt bagger. There are hundreds of routes to choose from up and down the canyon that will help fulfill your heart’s desire. The rock type is almost all white granite with a couple of areas that are limestone. My personal favorite area to climb is up Gate Buttress, which is about one mile and a half up the canyon. These climbs go from 5.6c at Schoolroom to 5.12c of Bloodline for the more classic routes in the area.

Getting there: Get off I-215 at 6200 South. Then, follow signs for the ski resorts. After that, follow Wasatch Boulevard for a few miles, and the road will directly lead up the canyon.

Climb difficulty: 5.6c to 5.12c

Big Cottonwood Canyon

Big Cottonwood Canyon contains another popular upward climb. Similar to its neighbor, Big Cottonwood also has hundreds of routes up and down the canyon catering to every skill level. This is the first place I ever went rock climbing outdoors. Ever since that first time, I’ve known there was no leaving this sport. The rock type is quartzite, which makes the rock more slippery and more difficult to climb, therefore it is mostly used for sport climbing. There are also a wide variety of trad routes as well. But don’t be fooled, this rock has many holes and holds in a wide variety of shapes and sizes which make this canyon an epic location to climb. My favorite locations are up near the slips or along Challenge Buttress. These areas are home to several multi-pitch trad routes or various sport climbs.

Getting there: Take I-215 to the 6200 South exit, then follow the ski resort signs for Big Cottonwood Canyon. You will reach the base of the canyon within a few minutes from exiting the freeway.

Climb difficulty: Varying

American Fork Canyon

The other main canyon to climb in northern Utah is through American Fork Canyon. American Fork is better known for its intermediate to advanced sport climbing. It is also home to some of the most difficult routes in the state with ratings of 5.14c. There are many 5.9c routes for those who are looking to explore the canyon for the first time. This canyon is also a great location during the hot summer months as most of the crags are shaded with plenty of trees, or they are hidden deep within the canyon. This will keep your belayer nice and cool while you conquer the crux of the project you have been working on for weeks. Keep this one on your list of classic climbs to scale this upcoming summer.

Getting there: I-15 to the Pleasant Grove exit. Then, follow along Highway 92 straight into the canyon.

Climb difficulty: 5.9c-5.14c

These are a few of the most popular areas to climb during the summer months in northern Utah. There are many other places to consider, too; but these three canyons should definitely be on your list. After all, there are enough routes within them all to keep you busy for a lifetime.

p.creveling@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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Adventures to Get Over Your Post-Ski Blues

Even though this year record-breaking storms have been pummeling California endlessly, ski season here in the Wasatch is coming to an end. It’s always hard to say goodbye to the best snow on earth, but the ‘Satch still provides plenty of opportunities for adventure if you get out and look for it. Here are just a few.

Boulder Little Cottonwood

Switch from stuffing your feet in ski boots, to climbing shoes. Both Cottonwoods boast no shortage of trad, sport, and even top rope routes to work on. However, Little Cottonwood holds the crown when it comes to bouldering. Follow the road up the canyon for about 1.3 miles before reaching a parking turnout on your left to reach Gates Bouldering. Most of the routes are just a short walk from the car. If you’re not a serious climber, then bouldering is a great place to start. Check out Mountain Project to find a few problems for your skill level. Plus, Outdoor Adventures rents crash pads for $6 a day.

Longboard Provo Canyon

Provo Canyon is the Goldilocks of roads to longboard. It’s mellow enough to keep control the whole way down, but steep enough to keep you going. The best way to do it is to set up a car shuttle. Park one down canyon at Nuns Park and pile into the other to shuttle up to Vivian Park. Hop out and enjoy the 25-minute coast back down to the bottom car. Repeat if desired. Beware that there is a 15 mph speed limit for all riders. Local authorities have considered banning boarding altogether here from the number of people breaking this, so please keep it in control.

Shoot the Tube

Nearly every Salt Laker drove over this adventure all winter long during their hurried dashes to catch some pow at the resorts. Located literally underneath I-215, Shoot the Tube offers an adult version of those classic, inflatable water slides. Finding it is not hard, just head down Foothill until you can see Suicide Rock (the one off to the left covered in graffiti). The tube starts in the bottom of that little canyon. Grab some inflatable tubes, a GoPro, and a couple friends to welcome in the hot desert summer. Be careful to pay attention to water levels.

Climb the Pfeifferhorn

In winter, the Pfeifferhorn (known as The Little Matterhorn), offers one of the best technical mountaineering experiences in the Wasatch. Most of us do not have the skills, gear, or know-how to not end up swept away in an avalanche. That’s why summer is the perfect time to tackle this most iconic peak. Drive your car up to White Pine Trailhead in Little Cottonwood Canyon and enjoy the climb. Plenty of people tackle the peak in a single day, an out and back trip of about nine miles, but you can also camp at Red Pine Lake for a more mellow day. Either way, the view from the ridge is amazing.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

Photo courtesy of Hannah McGuire

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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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Conquering Peaks: Becoming a Mountaineer

Ever heard of Sir Edmund Hillary, Tenzing Norgay, Reinhold Messner, or Jon Krakauer? These are the men who helped define mountaineering, the sport of climbing tall mountains. Each stepped foot on the tallest mountain in the world — Everest. They were united by the desire to summit mountain peaks, a feeling that drives all mountaineers.

To launch my own mountaineering career, I decided to start locally.  With a climbing colleague, we set out to tackle Broad’s Fork Twin Peaks last June. Although the elevation of 11,329 feet is nowhere near that of the breathtaking elevation of Everest (29,035 feet), we were faced with challenges.

After reading previous mountaineers’ advice on which route to take on Mountain Project, we decided to start at the S-curve in Big Cottonwood Canyon. We discussed the equipment needed to go on this expedition — sunglasses, sunscreen, hiking poles, crampons, a mountaineering axe, a probe, a beacon, and a shovel. We were forced to bail on our first attempt due to a snow storm, so the next time we began before the sun came up on a cloudless day.  The hike was straightforward on a dirt trail for about 3.5 miles until we hit the snowfield. We were both instantly blinded by the ivory blanket reflecting the sun.

We pulled out our glacier glasses and continued the ascent. Shortly after we stepped onto the snow field, the steepness made it difficult to keep our balance. We switched from hiking poles to the mountaineering axe and strapped on crampons. When mountaineering, there is often no trail to follow. Instead, you must assess the terrain and find the safest way up.  We saw previous slide paths from avalanches and made our best path zig-zagging through them.  The soft snow made it so we were postholing, meaning each step brought us waist-deep in the snow.

We made it to the ridge, cautious with each step between the 2,500-foot drop-offs on either side. Then, we began the final ascent, approximately 500 feet to the summit.  The closer we got to the peak, our hearts were pounding knowing we were almost there. At last, we summited East Twin Peak and gaped at the impeccable view. While catching our breath, we took our crampons off to walk around on the peak. Once we saw the other peak tantalizing us 528 feet away, we decided to finish the job.

We walked slowly on the thin knife blade of a ridge and enjoyed a break on the other peak. While taking photos, we heard a roaring sound echo around us, which sounded like a locomotive steaming by. It was an avalanche that broke loose on O’Sullivan peak a half-mile behind us and crashed down in the valley below.  That was our cue to exit and make our way back down the long and tedious descent.

Once we reached the open snow field, we could glissade down using our axe to self-arrest as we sped down. We removed our snow gear and stepped back onto the dirt trail, a few miles from our cars. At the journey’s end, we got in the car and looked back up toward the peak, neither of us believing the amazing climb we just endured. After mountaineering to the top of my first peak, I understand the desires each of those wild peak baggers have. Mountaineering is an addictive sport.

k.creveling@wasatchmag.com 

Photo by Kiffer Creveling

Corrected from “These are the men who helped define alpinism, the sport of climbing tall mountains.” on 4/12/17.

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Take Your Running to the Hills

Concrete grids and treadmills may rule the winter months, but it’s spring and it’s time to hit the trails. Fresh air in your lungs, ups and downs, winding paths, and scenic views atop mountains — these are the moments runners live for. Convenience and flat terrain attract runners to the roads, but nothing compares to an escape to fields of pine boughs and wildflowers in Salt Lake’s foothills.

Joey Campanelli, a local trail runner, lives for those sights. The first time I saw him, I was skiing down a run at Alta. I saw a flash of florescent pink and turned to identify the shorts over leopard leggings running up the ski slope. Soon, I saw his big, goofy grin. Campenelli wasn’t going to let snow deny him his passion for trail running. He used it as a tool to train harder. In his books, trail running is the only way to run. The freedom, the peace and quiet, and the beauty are hard to beat.

“The trails take you to the most amazing places,” he said. “You also meet a lot of cool people if you do it enough.”

It’s easy to lose touch with the natural beauty of the world when you’re accustomed to staring at a sunrise in Yosemite National Park on a computer monitor. Escape the chaos of city life and burn off the stress and strains of the day by running in the hills.

Trail running offers a mix of challenges: one moment you’re running uphill with your heart pounding and the next you have time to relax after you crest the peak and jog along a stream. But this isn’t a bad thing. In fact, variation means a wide range of muscles get exercise. You can also be distracted by the beautiful scenery and stimulated by what’s around the next bend.

Strap on some running shoes and hit the trail. The Bonneville Shoreline Trail along the Salt Lake foothills and Pipeline Trail in Millcreek Canyon are great for beginners. *Warning* Trail running can be highly addictive and make you want to sign up for a race — so here’s a list for you:

 

April 29, Amasa Trail Runs, 15.5M, 9.5M, 6.5M, Moab, Utah

June 3, Vigor Solitude Trail Series Races, 13.1M, 8M, 5M, 3M, Cottonwood Heights, Utah

June 10, Park City Trail series 5K, Park City, Utah

June 17, Wasatch Steeplechase 17M, Salt Lake City, Utah

s.guirguis@wasatchmag.com

Photo by Carolyn Webber

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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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