Thursday, October 25, 2018

Lowest to Highest: Planning Notes and Unsubstantiated Opinions

Welcome! If you're planning a Lowest to Highest (L2H) hike and made it this far down the Google search results, I'm going to assume you've already read the far more comprehensive Simblissity site, along with planning summaries from Swami, Buck-30, and others. What follows here is a potpourri of random topics, to address topics not already covered, or where I have a diverging opinion.

Season: The general recommendation is late September and early October. Nemo and I hiked it in mid-October, definitely on the later end of the standard window. We were extremely pleased with our decision. We experienced relatively cool, pleasant weather almost the entire time. Granted, much of the West was locked in an unseasonably cool period while we were hiking, but even still, we definitely realized the benefits of hiking in mid-late October when things weren't nearly as hot.

We didn't experience the 100+ heat that many others have while crossing Death Valley's playas. We didn't need to carry nearly as much water as we thought we would. Yes, we hit a little snow on Whitney, but it's a well-traveled trail, and microspikes were perfectly adequate to deal with the slippery spots. Remember, the route is 135 miles, and only 10 of those are in the alpine zone. Best to maximize comfort on the majority of the route and deal with a little ice and snow if needed. 

Resupply: Nearly everyone will resupply in Lone Pine (Mile 110), as you walk right by a little market. In addition, though, I'd recommend stashing a bucket in the desert a half mile or so from Panamint Springs Resort (Mile 50). Smaller food carries are sure nice when you're constantly carrying a lot of water, and it's not a big deal to cache just a little away from the road. Carry the bucket the short distance to Panamint and trash it there.

Some people have had success asking Panamint to hold on to their resupply, but don't count on it. We got a very blank look from the lady working at the restuarant when we asked about the possibility, and she obviously wanted no part of whatever we were doing. Sounds like many others have had the same experience. Just stash it in the desert and disguise it well. It's not that big of a deal. Just don't put anything melty in your resupply!

Water: Water reports abound on the L2H Facebook group. These are a useful supplement to the excellent water information that Blisterfree already provides. Earlier in 2018, a hiker was rescued via helicopter after he ran out of water and found Tuber Spring dry. Despite the cool temperatures, I still drank plenty of water. The air in Death Valley is so arid that you can just about feel the moisture leaving your body as you hike. Don't mess around. Just carry enough.

West Side Road: closed; we did not cache here. It's unnecessary anyways, because Hanaupah Spring is reliable.

Hanaupah Spring: reliable and delicious. The NPS warns of potential contamination; apparently a pot-growing operation was recently busted here, and they have not tested for pesticide contamination. We drank it, as did all other L2H hikers this year. Nobody's reported ill effects yet, so ignore the bureaucrats and drink up!

Tuber Spring: There are three different water sources here, none of which are particularly reliable. Do not count on this source unless you have reliable and recent reports of water. We found a couple of dirty puddles, but nothing flowing. 

Panamint Springs Resort: Reliable, and open from 7:00AM to 9:00PM. 

Darwin Spring: Don't contaminate this source, as it's the water source for the resort! In addition to the reliable water at Darwin Spring itself, we found water leaking out of the pipe where the main route and the Darwin Canyon Alt diverge.

Saline Valley Road: Yes, you can cache right at Hwy 190. But you can also drive up Saline Valley Road for 10+ miles in a passenger car. I'd suggest caching both at the highway, and near where the Cerro Gordo Alt diverges from the main route. Enjoy not having to lug a whole bunch of water around!

Cerro Gordo: This place is awesome and has new ownership. Please be very respectful and get permission if you want to cache here. A great resource for hikers, and best not to screw things up for everyone else!

Long John Canyon: we found this to be dry.

Navigation: This is one of those routes where a GPS is occasionally quite helpful. Most of the navigation is quite straightforward, but it definitely helped to have a GPS track on the descent into Long John Canyon. It would have sucked infinitely more had we not been able to locate the decent use trail. Other than that spot, it's rather easy. The route is designed well and follows the land in a fairly logical way most of the time. 

Parking: We got permission to park at both Badwater and Whitney Portal, with notes on the vehicles. Contact the Furnace Creek R.S and the Eastern Sierra Interagency, respectively, to secure permission. 

Cell reception: Nemo had AT&T and I had Verizon. We both had cell service atop Telescope, and then again once we hit the crest of the Inyos. She also had AT&T from the top of Darwin Plateau onwards. Normally Verizon has the edge in the backcountry, but score one for AT&T in this case.

Pace: The first 2 days will be slow, as it's almost entirely off-trail and you're gaining/losing 10,000 vertical feet all at once. Take it slow and don't rush things. You'll have a great opportunity to "make up time" later in the hike. After you hit the Wildrose Road, things get dramatically easier. There's one short stretch of tedium going over Darwin Plateau, but other than that, it's smooth sailing for the most part. We averaged high teens for the first two days, and 22-25 mpd after that. 

If you have trail legs: the above pace won't be a problem. It's October and the days are shorter, but the mileage is still pretty reasonable. I had some pretty bad ankle pain after re-aggravating a bad ankle but was able to hike through it. Were it not for that, I think it would have been pretty straightforward

If you don't have trail legs: the above pace is doable, but you're going to be hurting quite a bit. It's only a week, or a little more, so you may be able to push through it, but there's always that risk of injury if you push beyond what your body is used to. In general, for experienced thru-hiker types, 6-9 days is reasonable. Those with trail legs will probably do it in 7; those without trail legs will probably take 8. 

Note: Caching (especially the drives out to Cerro Gordo and Wildrose Rd) will take you the better part of a day, most likely. Make sure to plan for this when scheduling your vacation!

LNT: We were rather dismayed at the amount of trash we found. Some of it, like a ballpoint pen, could have been from anyone. But we also found at least one water cache that looked abandoned, that no one had cleaned up after their hike. Because of the excellent information out there, it's easy to see the L2H as just another long-distance trail. But it really is unique and relatively untouched. Help keep it that way. 

Regarding water jugs, we found it easy enough to flatten them or strap them to the top of our packs like hobos. And we didn't have to carry them far for the most part; a couple of cars stopped while we were on the roadwalk sections, asking what we were doing. After giving us the "I think you're crazy" speech, they asked if there was anything they could do for us. Being opportunists, we asked them if they'd kindly take the bulky jugs off our hands and throw them away. It was nice, but not necessary. If push came to shove it wouldn't have been a problem to carry them all the way to town.

The climbs: They're really, really long. You're gonna hurt. 

And that's it! If you're interested in doing the L2H, feel free to drop me a line with any questions.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

On "Working Out"

PC: ej Horrocks

Paul is an upper-level executive at a prominent Fortune 500 company. He leads a busy and stressful lifestyle. He's got two kids, works 85 hours a week (not counting time on his Blackberry on nights and weekends), sits on the board of a local non-profit, and still manages to make it to parent-teacher conferences every semester. But he cares about his health. So each morning, he wakes up at 3:30AM and does 100 pushups, 100 sit-ups, and runs 2 miles before hopping in the shower and heading in to work.

Tina is quite spry for 85 years old. She lives in a retirement community, but she's pretty independent still. She shares her secret - every Tuesday and Thursday, she goes to aerobics class. She doesn't particularly like it, but at least it's kept her driving and she can still work in the garden occasionally.

Both Paul and Tina are pure figments of my imagination - sort of. We all know people who fit these molds. And, in our vain attempts to become the "perfect people" we see idealized around us, we often try to emulate them. Who among us hasn't, at one point, pulled a Paul and decided that we'll start getting up early to work out? Or joined a class - Tina's, perhaps, thinking that this will finally put us over the edge? And six months later, we've hit the snooze button, we've quit the class, and we're back to square one. All we've done is given ourselves a little more evidence that we're simply not as good, as dedicated, as self-disciplined as the people around us.

I don't work out. I have no plans to start.

I have two sisters. Both of them are committed, enthusiastic runners - a commendable exercise, in the eyes of others. They caught the bug from our grandfather, a lifelong runner and all-around hero of mine, who at age 70-something, ran his first marathon. It's easy to look at them and start comparing. They're more dedicated than I am. They have more self-discipline. In a sense, they're not only physically superior, but morally superior as well.


See, the thing is, they really do enjoy it. Sure, nobody relishes the thought of getting up and going out into the cold when they're sitting on the couch under a nice warm blanket. But there's a certain sense, during and especially after the run, that it was worth it. 

Similarly, I love hiking. I love the smell of wet earth after a rainstorm. I love getting into "that zone" where I'm working hard and gaining elevation quickly, but still maintaining a sustainable pace. I love the crunch of an inch or two of early-season snow. I love pausing, ostensibly to take a picture, but really for a five-second breather. And along the way, I become healthier, stronger, and more confident in my skills.

Does my enjoyment of hiking detract from its value as an "exercise" regimen? Does "working out" have to be drudgery in order to be laudable in the eyes of others? Why is running an acceptable workout, while Ultimate Frisbee is regarded as a mere game?

I believe it comes down to a misguided, pseudo-stoic view of self-discipline. To me, self-discipline isn't bred from an abstract realization of what the good is, and "what I really ought to do". On the contrary, self-discipline is cultivated in an arena where I have not merely a higher good in mind, but a higher love

What do I mean by that? Whether in religion (we obey God as a joyful response to the love that he has shown us), relationships (we resist the temptation to cheat on our spouses because of the loving relationship we share), or public life (we vote because we thing that those current goober politicians are screwing things up), I contend that we are most effective when our self-discipline and our passions work together rather than opposing each other.

Sometimes you even get an utterly impractical snack at the top! (PC: Clara Gelderloos)
So what does that mean for health and physical activity? Listen, Tina and Paul are admirable folk, sure, but there are eight billion of us, most of whom won't have the iron will of the archetypal hard-nosed stoics described above. Instead, for the rest of us, for us ordinary folk, we need a sea-change in how we think about physical activity. So forget the gym. Forget pumping iron, or getting up to run on snowy roads (unless, of course, you enjoy these things). Maybe it's time to join that Ultimate Frisbee league, or just toss around a football for a while. Go surfing, ride your bike down a country road, or hit the climbing wall for a few hours. 

Don't let popular conceptions dictate which activities are "worthy" or "acceptable". Even if the activity that you choose is not the most rigorous, doing the right thing is far, far less important than doing something. Don't work out. A "workout" implies work, and who wants to do more work at the end of a long day? Rather, just have some fun. Play!

And who knows? On one of those easy, not-very-long hikes that don't really burn that many calories, you just may see a moose.

Monday, October 22, 2018

A Week on the Lowest to Highest Route

We marched - no, straggled - up the last few feet to the summit, our lungs straining to take in as much of the thin air as we could. The hut burst into view suddenly, a rush of elation for our weary selves. Suddenly, those plans to stop and stage interesting "approaching the summit" photographs went out the window, and we rushed headlong toward that final summit block. One quick scramble move. The end. The summit. The big finish.

In October of 2018, I hiked the Lowest to Highest Route with a friend, Nemo. The Lowest to Highest (L2H) begins at the lowest point in North America (Badwater Basin in Death Valley, 282' below sea level) and ends at the highest point in the Lower 48 (Mt Whitney in the Sierra Nevada, 14,505'). Between the two endpoints is 135 miles' worth of endorheic basins and austere desert mountain ranges. It doesn't rain too often in this country. Water sources are limited. Vegetation is sparse. Wildlife encounters are almost non-existent. 

But the L2H is amazing. It's scenic at times, in a moonscape sort of way. It's extremely challenging. It's chock-full of historic ghost towns, salt trams, and mining ops. It's life on the edge, backpacking-wise.

Day 1

It gets hot in a hurry around here. In order to beat the heat, we woke up entirely too early and started hiking across Badwater Basin at first light. Badwater's floor consists mostly of salt flats. Water drains into the basin and evaporates in the hot desert sun, leaving behind salt deposits that coat the valley floor with a smooth(ish) coat of white.

Perspective is an impossibility on the salt flats. The other side of the valley looked so close that it felt like we could reach out and touch it. But we would walk across the salt for miles, and for hours, before reaching the west end of the valley. Occasional patches of salt and mud, still wet from recent heavy rainfall, slowed us down, but we persisted and reached the other side of the valley by mid morning. 

The Lowest to Highest isn't a trail, really. It's a combination of roads, trails, burro paths, gravelly washes, and cross-country travel. We left the salt flats behind and headed up Hanaupah Canyon (don't ask me how to pronounce that) cross-country, eventually joining up with a jeep road. After a few miles, we reached Hanaupah Spring. Since we still didn't know how to pronounce it, we dubbed it "Weed Spring", an illusion to a recently-busted pot-growing operation there. The NPS recommended that we didn't drink the water, as the pot farmers had potentially contaminated the spring with some insidious pesticide. But it was our only water option, so we drank it, and have suffered no ill effects thus far.

We'd gained about 4,000 feet already, but still had 6,000 to go before we hit the Telescope Peak ridgeline. I really can't describe just how monstrous a 10,000' climb is. Prior to the L2H, the longest sustained vertical climb I'd ever done was about 6,000', on a climb out of the Grand Canyon. The biggest climb on the AT is about 5,000'. On the CDT, it's about 3,000'. Ten. Thousand. Vertical. Feet. Yikes.

We left the jeep road behind and started climbing, straight up the ridge. It was a steep climb, but the footing was good and we had identified a little flat spot about 1,500' up where we could camp. The task was made considerably harder by the five liters of water we were each carrying. We found a nice little campsite with views of Badwater Basin and hit the hay.

Day 2

It's never particularly pleasant to tackle a long climb first thing in the morning, particularly when it's steep. We gained about 5,000' in three miles, entirely off-trail. While no scrambling was required, we were careful to avoid kicking down loose rocks onto each other. The climb was slow and long, but the temperatures stayed relatively pleasant. 

We finally, mercifully, gained the ridge around noon. After a long break and a bit of lunch, we headed down a lovely maintained trail for a mile or two before we veered off-trail once more, down a steep, loose slope into Tuber Canyon. We would follow Tuber all the way down, back to the desert floor. Ten thousand feet up and nearly as much down. The L2H was not exactly providing a gentle introduction.

I was expecting Tuber Canyon to be absolute misery. After all, I've walked my fair share of off-trail desert canyons before, and they inevitably turn into brushy, scratched-up slogs. But Tuber was different. This place is so arid that almost nothing grows. The walking was slowed, however, by a lot of unstable rock that really tore up my bad ankle. I'd feel the effects of Tuber Canyon for a couple days every time I took a step.

We camped on a flat bench about 10 feet above the bottom of the canyon. We found a few particularly murky mud puddles to get a little water from. I ran it through a coffee filter, Nemo's squeeze filter, and finally an AquaMira treatment. It wasn't great, but I thought it tasted acceptable. It's far from the worst water I've ever consumed. 

Day 3

We had hoped to get a few miles farther on Day 2, but the hijinks up and down Telescope Peak had slowed us down somewhat. Time was of the essence, as we wanted to cross the dreaded Panamint Valley before things got too hot. Panamint Valley is similar in nature to Badwater, but instead of salt, the floor of the valley was covered in sand.

We were up and hiking before first light and made a beeline to our water cache past some old mining ruins. Water caching worked well, for us, but I looked like a bit of a hobo with a smashed water jug strapped to the top of my pack. We headed down a series of monotonous dirt roads, nearly level, along the edge of the Panamint Valley.

The wind, our constant-companion-to-be, picked up as the day grew hotter. It was annoying, dusty, loud, and at times hard into walk into, but at least it kept us somewhat cool. Not wasting any time, we cut directly across the sand playa, off-trail, in the direction of Panamint Valley Resort. 

The hot sun, the fierce wind, and the long walk took something out of us. By time we reached the Panamint Springs Resort, we were both pretty beat down. Fortunately, we were able to get a burger and field awkward inquiries from busloads of clean and fresh tourists about what the heck we were doing. I guess it's hard to disguise the hiker trashiness. We resupplied out a bucket that we had stashed in the nearby desert. Everything chocolate had turned to liquid and my cheese had become a little, um, extra-flavorful, but my standards aren't high. 

A couple of tough and sore miles later, we made camp and were both sound asleep by time the sun set.

Day 4

I woke up to an inflamed Achilles tendon. I'd been limping since the heinous rocks of Tuber Canyon, and my altered gait probably caused it to seize up. We mulled our options and elected to press forward, albeit at a reduced pace for me. We climbed out of a canyon and traversed the top of Darwin Plateau, completely off-trail, to our next crossing of the main highway through the park. As we neared 5,000' of elevation, we met a little Joshua tree, the first of many we'd see over the next few days.

The off-trail traverse did no favors for my ankle, as black, volcanic boulders made for fairly slow and painful terrain underfoot. But after crossing the main park road, we followed a road - a mixture of pavement and dirt, something that obviously hasn't seen a lick of maintenance in decades. I was able to keep up better on the easier terrain, particularly after lunch and a break at our next water cache, under a delightful Joshua tree. The road was straight, flat, and boring, but we didn't mind the reprieve from the brutality of the first three days. Yesterday's wind continued to blow straight out of the north, though it had a distinct cold edge to it today. I wore my wind shirt all day long.

Day 5

The long, boring roadwalk continued as we gradually climbed into the Inyo Range. At the top of the road lay an old ghost town, Cerro Gordo. It's an old mining town that thrived for a few years during the 1870's and 1880's, but now is completely deserted except for the caretaker who lives there. The dry desert air has preserved the town well, and it was great fun to poke around the site. We grabbed our third water cache and had an early lunch.

After Cerro Gordo, we followed a series of roads and trails, each clinging perilously to the side of the mountain, to the crest of the Inyos. We stumbled upon a few old mining cabins and an elaborate tram works that was originally used to transport salt across the mountains to the town of Lone Pine. Across the valley, the imposing eastern escarpment of the Sierra beckoned.

I've never felt a wind that cold. Whenever we were in the lee of a mountain, the sun blazed hot, and I sweated buckets. But as soon as we were in the line of fire again, that wind would immediately sap every bit of warmth from my body. Cold, harsh, constant. It taxed us mentally. We pushed deep into the evening hours, trying to get to a sheltered spot off the ridge so we didn't have to camp in that frigid wind. We found a small saddle just as the sun was setting.

Day 6

Town days are great motivation. We woke up only about 10 miles from Lone Pine, and made quick work of the miles. The descent from the Inyos down Long John Canyon was our last off-trail segment of the trip. With a little creativity we found a nice route around some cliff bands and to the bottom of the barren canyon, whereupon we followed a road down to the valley floor.

We made it to the little cafe just in time for a big, delicious breakfast. I made quick work of an omelet and french toast. But we didn't dally too long. We stashed most of our stuff at the hostel in town, and hiked twelve miles out of town to Whitney Portal trailhead, where Nemo's car was parked. Above us, Whitney and its sisters towered in truly impressive fashion. For the first time all trip, we had entered a subalpine environment, with large trees, abundant water, and greenery all around.

We picked up Nemo's car and drove back to Lone Pine, where we picked up a permit to hike Whitney the next day and spent the night at the hostel.

Day 7

After another terrific breakfast at the cafe, we drove back up to Whitney Portal and began our 21 mile, 7000' ascent of Whitney. The trail was well graded; 99 switchbacks built into the mountainside. We ascended through multiple ecosystems, past multiple lakes, and emerged from treeline where we encountered a bit of snow on shady aspects. A few ambitious day-hikers were making the trek, but most people we saw were spending the night in the backcountry. We made good progress and summited in a little less than six hours. I could not imagine a better day. The sky shone clear blue, the air was crisp, perfect for climbing without sweating. I'm not normally a fast hiker, but with 3,500 miles on my legs so far this year, I flew past all comers on the ascent. 

On top, we had a snack and looked back over our route. From our lofty perch, we glimpsed the Inyos and, in the distance, Telescope Peak. That ten-thousand foot climb of doom. It wasn't easy, but it was so worth it. Lowest to highest. In a week. What a terrific adventure.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Ditching the Stove: Five Reasons to Leave it Behind

Before starting the Appalachian Trail in 2013, I built myself a little backpacking stove. It was made out of a couple Heineken cans, and I took the time to do it right. That little stove lasted all the way up the AT, and I was justifiably proud of it. I cooked dinner every night - generally Knorr Pasta Sides, instant mashed potatoes, or something of that ilk.

However, when I got to the White Mountains of New Hampshire, I changed strategies a bit. I knew I'd have a few opportunities to eat dinner at a series of huts, operated by the Appalachian Mountain Club. However, I didn't know how often I'd get to eat there, and consequently, how many dinners I'd have to cook for myself.

Not pictured: hot food. Gummy bears, even melted ones, are better anyway.

My solution, of course, was to not bring any dinners at all, and if I wasn't at a hut around dinnertime, I'd just eat for dinner the same kind of food that I ate for breakfast and lunch. This decision turned out to be more consequential than I realized. The first night out, an intense thunderstorm hit right as I was setting up camp. I threw everything in my tent, crawled inside, and began chowing down. I didn't need to worry about using any of my limited water to cook, and didn't have to worry about cooking inside my tent (a big no-no). I could simply burrito myself in my sleeping bag and begin eating. And I didn't have to get up after dinner to clean my cookpot.

Since that evening, I've probably spent about 350 nights in the backcountry. I think I've used a stove on maybe five of those nights. The rest of the time, I've left the stove at home. Here are my reasons:

1) It's one less thing to put in my pack. A stove, fuel, pot, and windscreen are space intensive, generally taking up at least a liter of space, even if they're all neatly nested. More to the point, the more objects I have in my backpack, the more annoying it is to pack and unpack everything, and the easier it is to lose things.

2) It doesn't make that annoying metallic rattling all day long. This may seem trivial, but while hiking, I've never been able to completely stifle the annoying jangling coming from my pack.

3) It simplifies prep. In a lot of small towns, especially those that aren't on a popular trail, stove fuel may not be available. For weekend trips, I never have to make a last-minute run to the outfitter to buy a fuel canister. And if my timeline changes, I'm not stuck with too many or too few dinners. All my food in my food bag is available to eat at any time. I like that flexibility.

4) It reduces fire hazard. Many land management agencies in the arid West routinely ban the lightweight, alcohol-powered stoves that lightweight backpackers prefer, as they're too dangerous to operate when one spark can set ten acres on fire. Even heavier canister-type stoves can easily set a dry patch of grass on fire if they're knocked over. In dry environments, the safest stove is no stove at all.

5) It saves time. It takes a few minutes to bring even a small amount of water to a boil, and once dinner's done, a few more minutes to clean the cookpot. Those are additional minutes I could have spent actually eating more food. I'm a slow enough eater as it is; I don't need to make dinner take longer than it has to.

None of this is to say that everyone ought to go stoveless. Some people just can't bear to give up a hot meal at night. Others enjoy the morning coffee ritual. I personally find that I crave town food, whether or not I have a stove or not. And the preceeding five reasons give me pretty good grounds to leave it behind. Try it; you just might like it!

Monday, October 1, 2018

Salt Lake County: From Lowest to Highest

I find it fascinating to observe the differences between native Utahns and émigrés. I often find that those who have always lived here are the most complacent and not particularly well-travelled in their home state. "Oh, Zion? Yeah, I've been there once." Familiarity may not breed contempt, but it probably does breed apathy.

I've lived in Salt Lake for half a decade now, at the foot of the Wasatch mountains. And each year, I've seen my adventures get farther afield. More remote. Rather than going on a dayhike in Little Cottonwood Canyon, I'll go up to the Uintas, or the Winds, or the Sawtooths. That is, I too have begun to neglect my own backyard. Most of my Wasatch exploration, I'm ashamed to admit, happened in the first couple years I lived in Utah. Since then, I've occasionally revisited a few old favorites, but mostly, I've just burned a lot of gas driving to other destinations.

I needed to change all that. So, in late September, with plenty of time and no excuse not to do it, I finally did an extended trek in my own backyard.

The concept of Lowest to Highest is an interesting one. A brilliant guy by the name of Brett Tucker mapped a 130-mile route a few years ago that originates in the lowest point in the Lower 48 (Death Valley, 282' below see level) and terminates at the highest point (14,505'). I've had my eye on his route for years, and decided to apply the same concept to my home county - Salt Lake County. Because everything needs a name and an acronym, I dubbed it the Lowest to Highest of Salt Lake County - the SLCL2H.

My route began at the lowest point of the county - the Jordan River, near where it flows into the Great Salt Lake (4,200'). The terminus, the American Fork Twin Peaks, towered over Snowbird ski area (11,500'). Between the two endpoints, the route climbed out of the Salt Lake Valley and traversed the main Wasatch crest. I calculated it to be 60 miles of pure autumn splendor. 

Day 1: I began my hike at a sewage canal that runs alongside the Jordan River. I started a few miles from the lake itself, but it was as close as I could get without trespassing on private land. In addition, the "lowest point" of the county is quite undefined, as mud flats are sometimes dry, sometimes wet, and it's hard to say where exactly the lowest point on "land" is. But in any event, I crossed the Jordan (neglecting to build an altar out of 12 stones), and walked east, first through an industrial park, then through a business district, then through a richy-rich neighborhood in the foothills. After approximately forever on pavement, I finally hit a dirt road that led up North Canyon, above the town of Bountiful. Dirt road soon turned to trail, trail turned into vague overgrown path, and vague overgrown path turned to a bushwhack. All the while, I gained elevation - a 5,200' continuous climb, a full vertical mile. 

Progress was slow along the ridge that formed the north wall of City Creek Canyon, but the day was beautiful and the scenery likewise. I headed east along the ridge toward Grandview Peak, the highest thing in this corner of the Wasatch. As I neared Grandview, I encountered some moderately rough terrain which slowed me further. I summited just before sunset, and had just enough time to make a cowboy camp at a tiny, cozy flat spot in the lee of the peak itself. 

Day 2: Not long after hitting the trail, I met a bevy of hunters. I had seen several herds of deer the previous day, so I understood why hunters were in the area. I was, however, very grateful for my orange regalia. Shots periodically rang out through the mountains, and I saw 3 or 4 hunters hauling out bucks. I joined the Great Western Trail after a mile or two, marking a dramatic improvement in the quality of the trail tread. I would follow the GWT for most of the next two days. 

I crossed a paved road, Big Mountain Pass, around noontime, and continued on the crest toward Parleys Summit, where Interstate 80 crosses the Wasatch. The views remained huge and the fall colors remained spectacular. I had a little trouble crossing the freeway, as the wildlife bridge (am I considered 'wildlife'?) at the summit is still under construction. I ended up walking the shoulder of the freeway for a few hundred yards before I reached an underpass where I could cross. I watered up at the crappy gas station (my first water source in a day and a half) and climbed through another ritzy neighborhood, sleeping in a backcountry ski smoke shack on top of the ridge overlooking Park City. 

Day 3: Well, the morning stunk. I got up, hiked a half mile to the top of Summit Park Peak, and then spent the next 3 hours in a truly horrendous bushwhack. I stayed on main Wasatch crest, but there was no trail to be found, and scrubby oak grabbed at me, tearing up my pants. Progress was slow and frustrating until I topped out at Murdock Peak.

Murdock offered tremendous views, and kicked off the real scenic highlight of the SLCL2H. I followed the Wasatch Crest Trail, staying on the spine of the range as it rose higher and higher, finally reaching 10,000' for the first time on the hike. I detoured off the ridge briefly to water up at Desolation Lake, and then continued on to Guardsman Pass, just north of Brighton ski area. From Guardsman, I climbed a pair of peaks, mostly off-trail, before camping, once again on the ridge, above Brighton. As I drifted off into the Land of Nod, I saw two rutting moose tussling, bellowing and chasing each other down the mountainside. Not an experience I will soon forget.

Day 4: I continued my off-trail traverse along the top of Brighton, summiting 3 named peaks, and earning dramatic views of the entire Wasatch Range. My objective was now clearly in sight. I drifted down into Albion Basin in Little Cottonwood. From here it was a quick hike up past Cecret Lake and into Snowbird, where the American Fork Twins awaited. 

But it was not to be. The trail to Cecret Lake was closed off, with a Forest Service closure order stipulating that the area was closed due to emergency dam repairs. My only option for detour would be to drop all the way down to the floor of Little Cottonwood and climb all the way up and around, which would cost me several miles and several thousand feet of elevation gain. More importantly, the detour would destroy the aesthetic beauty of the line I had followed thus far, staying on the ridge, following the most scenic and elegant line.

So I bailed. I was only a few miles short of the finish, I'd been there before, and I had no desire to take a decidedly anticlimactic detour simply for bragging rites. After all, I was the one who had mapped this in the first place.

But, despite the premature end, the journey was in no way a letdown. The route was stunning from start to finish. The fall colors were gorgeous. I spent 4 days revisiting old places, seeing them in a new light, and even visiting some new places. I finally returned to my roots in the Wasatch - and I was not disappointed.