Provo Canyon to Little Cottonwood Canyon, Great Western Trail

40 miles in 3 days. Epic views along a beautiful route. Freezing in my tent. Hiking with an injury isn’t fun. It’s hunting season, eek! This tri-canyon traverse was incredible.

Day 1- Dry Canyon to Mt Timpanogos Campground via the Great Western Trail

15 miles

4 days after the first 3 canyon traverse I was back for more Wasatch adventuring. I started out in Orem by hiking up Dry Canyon between Big Baldy and Little Baldy. After a few miles of steep uphill the trail intersects the Great Western Trail (GWT) and I was on my way. The GWT is a route that runs from Mexico to Canada but isn’t really maintained and in many places conflicts with private property, making it a trail that would be very difficult to navigate which is probably why I can’t find much information on it, or on anyone having hiked it. The Wasatch section of the GWT is actually in pretty good shape and I was planning to hike along it the next 35 miles.

The trail followed along the base of Timpanogos Mountains high up on a bench above Utah County. There were some great views of Utah Lake. It was very nice hiking, and there was even a water source about 5 miles in.

In the late afternoon, the trail took a turn above American Fork Canyon (AFC) and descended down to the Timpanogos Campground. My knee had been doing well  so far today, and since the last hike I’d been icing it and stretching a lot, but during the descent into AFC the knee pain returned. Nooo!

I made it to the campground on dusk and hustled to set up camp, cook dinner and curl up in my sleeping bag. It got very cold, quickly. Winter was knocking at the door. I had a pretty long and cold night, it got dark at 5pm and didn’t get light again until 8am. I woke about every hour to see if it was nearly time for the sun to warm me, but the night was relentless. Why did I sleep down in this valley? Cold air sinks and I was surrounded by high peaks, and it was November.

Day 2: Mt Timpanogos CG to a ridge on the GWT between Mary Ellen Gulch and Heber City.

15 miles

Day light finally arrived. I didn’t want to get out of my bag because I was so cold, but I knew the only way to warm up was to get moving and warm my blood up. Packing up was tough because even with my gloves my hands were cold, so I had to alternate between packing up and jumping up and down with my hands under my armpits. Even getting water from the little stream took longer than normal because it had frozen over during the night and I had to break through an ice layer to scoop up some water.

It took me at least an hour to warm up, and I was hiking with my down jacket on even. I lost the trail a couple of times, 2 bonus miles. The GWT isn’t always marked and my GPS and map showed different routes to get from the Timpanogos CG to the Ridge Trail. It was really pretty walking though, so I didn’t mind. Crisp air through fall colors on trails that I’m not familiar with made for a really enjoyable morning.

By mid-morning the trail connected with the Ridge Trail and forest made way to ridge line walking and one stunning vista after the other. I haven’t done much in AFC and so I was loving the new sights! The only downside was that it was hunting season and I think I was the only hiker in a sea of motorbike or ATV propelled hunters. I love seeing deer in the forest, so coming across hunters carving up dead ones right on the trail wasn’t overly enjoyable for me. It also made me worry a little about getting shot if a hunter mistook me for an animal. Probably explains why I was the only hiker I saw in 3 days on the GWT. My knee was acting up again and with every step I was aware that something was wrong, geez body, come on! The views balanced out those things for me though, every corner I rounded made way for new vistas: Timpanogos, Heber Valley, Mary Ellen Gulch and the backside of all the mountains I know so well in Little Cottonwood. By 4pm I happened upon a piped spring on the Ridge Trail, I was thrilled to find it because I hadn’t seen any water since I left camp and the only water source in the next 2 days was off-trail by a mile down a steep trail.

I found a fantastic spot to set up camp on a ridge overlooking Mary Ellen Gulch on one side and Heber Valley on the other. Sunset was awesome. I love backpacking.

Day 3: Ridge Trail opposite Mary Ellen Gulch to Snowbird via Catherine’s Pass.

10 miles

I woke to a beautiful sunrise. Let me re-state that, I woke up warm in my sleeping back after a good night’s sleep, to a beautiful sunrise. Camping on a ridge and not in a valley was a much smarter idea, at least 15 degrees warmer than last night. Peering into Mary Ellen Gulch was very interesting to me as we’ve got plans to expand the Snowbird ski area boundary back into our private property there and put in some new chairlifts. I’ve skied the upper drainage and so I enjoyed seeing it from this new vantage point. I hope we get our development approval as it would be so cool to get more people access to this beautiful terrain, from my observation it’s mostly motorbikers and 4 wheelers using the land back here in the summer, and snowmobilers in the winter… What about us quiet recreators?

The trail made its way along the ridge and afforded views of Miller Hill, Mineral Basin and Heber Valley. I ate breakfast on Ant Knolls peak overlooking Mineral Basin. The trail from Ant Knolls down into Dry Fork was really bad, I don’t think it gets used very much. Lots of erosion and rutted out rocky steep sections of trail. Awesome for a sore knee. Walking up Dry Fork at the head of AFC was pretty, but a little unnerving. There was a pack of hunters and I felt like I was walking through a shooting range. I’m sure they’re accustomed to look out for other hunters, but I don’t think many hikers make it back to these parts and so I just felt a little uneasy. Especially as I scrambled up a steep loose trail and pulled myself up over a downed log and was greeted with 4 hunters, with guns propped up on the log. They were all very nice and we had a friendly chat, just made me a little nervous is all.

The trail climbed up and made it to the Sunset Peak/Catherine’s Pass area. It was fun standing there seeing AFC, BCC and LCC canyons falling away on each side of me. Timpanogos now looked very small in the distance to the south and all of the familiar peaks of upper LCC were all now within my reach. I walked down from Catherine’s Pass into Alta and down the road, home to Snowbird. Another great adventure, but unfortunately with an injury that I need to get fixed.

Thanks for reading.


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