School has just begun, and maybe my memory is going bad, but I don’t remember my life ever being this busy.
I’m scrambling to get things done, and all my friends have disappeared (as well as all the required class supplies I needed two days ago). I’ve been stuck inside, and stress has been clinging to me like the smoke from a late-night summer campfire.
But right now, I step outside of myself and realize that I’ve been smiling uncontrollably for the last hour or so. My stress is disappearing as I stand next to Lake Blanche up Big Cottonwood Canyon. In the distance, Sundial Peak towers over 10,320 ft. My beating heart is slowing. I can hear nothing but the gently blowing wind, the distant trickle of water, and Ian noisily rummaging through his pack. Everything is right. It’s a condition I don’t seem to experience a whole lot lately: contentedness. It’s all beautiful, and it’s all perfect.
Earlier in the week, I enticed my good friends Ian and Cameron to join me for a hike up to Lake Blanche. We had all done the hike multiple times over the last few years, but it gave us the chance to get out into our beautiful Wasatch together. The endless onslaught of syllabi and much-too-soon homework was making me stir-crazy. I had to get out. I picked them up at 6 a.m., and we drove four-and-a-half miles up Big Cottonwood Canyon to the Mill B South Fork. We were on the trail at 6:30 a.m.
From trailhead to destination, the whole experience is lovely. Generally agreed upon as a strenuous hike, there is a 2,680 ft. gain in elevation over just 3.8 miles; it’s not the most casual walk, but approachable by all skill levels, provided enough time and water is allotted. The whole trail meanders through aspen groves and stays along a river for much of the time. Eventually, quartzite, rubbed smooth by glaciers, comes into view. It really is a fantastic experience for those looking to get a taste of the flora, fauna, and geology of Big Cottonwood.
However, despite its beauty, the entire, difficult approach is forgotten once you reach Lake Blanche. At around 9,000 ft. in elevation, Blanche is an alpine lake. It’s placid and beautiful, and Sundial Peak rising up in the distance makes for a beautiful panorama. It’s such an iconic scene that the Wasatch Mountain Club has chosen Sundial as its symbol. Two other lakes, Lake Lillian and Lake Florence, border Blanche to the Southwest, and each of them offers even more serenity, as Blanche is more popular among hikers.
Spend some time up here. There are a few good spots for hammocks, and the fishing isn’t too bad either. Bring food and have a relaxing picnic. If you’re lucky, you might be able to catch a glimpse of the moose that roam the area. When you’re done, head back down the way you came.
At the end of the day, getting out is awesome. Whether you’re a slow hiker or a conditioned trail runner, we all need a little Mother Nature in our lives. Cameron, Ian and I returned to the car at 9:30 a.m. a little happier, a little less stressed, and a little more prepared for another day of classes.
Depending upon your skill level, I’d set aside three to six hours for the hike itself. The whole area is beautiful any time of day, but at sunset Mill B South Fork ignites, painting Sundial with fantastic hues of reds and oranges. Just be sure to bring a headlamp for the descent.
On top of all it has to offer, Lake Blanche is a fantastic overnight backpacking destination. Sleep near (but not too near) Lake Lillian or Lake Florence to get a bit more peace and quiet. But if you are in search of something more technical, try Eleventh Hour, a 530 ft. and 5.8-mile climb that ascends the beautiful north face of Sundial Peak.
Directions: Drive up Big Cottonwood Canyon 4.4 miles, park at Mill B picnic area
Time: three to six hours
Gain/Distance: 2,680 ft. / 3.8 miles