Great Western Trail, Zion National Park and 2016 Plans

It’s January 17th and I’ve decided it’s time I get with the rest of the world and welcome in 2016! I like to start out the new year with plans and resolutions firmly in place, so when I realized on Dec 31 that I’d been too busy to do that yet, I decided to stay in 2015 for a little while longer. But, before I get into 2016 plans, I have a few fun trips to catch you up on from the late fall and early winter: 3 canyon traverse from lower Millcreek to Little Cottonwood; the other 3 canyon traverse from Provo Canyon to Little Cottonwood along the Great Western Trail; and the East Rim of Zion National Park.

Don’t forget to open the albums and view them in full screen format! I carry an extra 10 ounces to get quality pics for you!

 3 Canyon Traverse: 30 miles across Millcreek Canyon, Big Cottonwood Canyon and Little Cottonwood Canyon

Day 1- Desolation Trail

18 Miles

What a cool hike! The trail starts in the lower part of Millcreek Canyon, climbs up to the Salt Lake Overlook in the first couple of miles and then continues for 18 miles flipping between Millcreek and Big Cottonwood Canyon (BCC). The highlights for me: a detour up Thaynes Peak with great views of Salt Lake City and the Great Salt Lake, traversing around under Mt Raymond high above BCC and the beautiful fall colors. I finished up the day at the day’s first water source, Dog Lake. I used to take Guinness here a lot in his younger years. It felt a little odd being there without him actually.

Day 2- Mill D to Little Cottonwood Canyon via Cardiff Fork

9 miles

The day started out with a beautiful sunrise over Dog Lake. Even though it was late October, it wasn’t too cold yet. The trail drops steeply down Mill D to BCC road. It’s a trail I mtn biked a couple of weeks earlier with Em and Keith when we rode the Crest. Wierdly my right knee had started feeling very tight only 8 miles into yesterday’s hike. Which seemed so odd to me after hiking over 90 miles pain free recently on short sections of the PCT and CDT. Unfortunately it didn’t let up today either, I challenge you to walk down Mill D trying not to bend one knee. Wasn’t an overly pleasant or fast couple of miles. Argh, what now, body? I stopped at a scenic overlook where I ate breakfast and took 2 ibuprofen pain/ anti inflam tablets.

The first couple miles up Cardiff Fork it wasn’t feeling much better, but eventually the tablets or stretching started to alleviate the pain and I was walking pretty much pain free. Cardiff Fork is a very odd drainage, it’s incredibly scenic yet as I discovered, is mostly private property. The Wasatch Trails map shows a trail, but I couldn’t find anything resembling a trail until the last 50 steps of this massive drainage. The first couple of miles were easy enough, following along a dirt road, but all of a sudden I’m faced with a series of manacing “Private Property, no Trespassing” signs. Sure, no problem I think as I study the map and see another faint road on the map to detour around the private land. And hence began a very frustrating couple of miles, the road went from faint to non-existent and I was left bush whacking through dense shrubbery and downed trees across pretty uneven terrain. I even got into some steep rock scrambling at one point. All the while I was wondering where the bloody trail was and why the map showed a route despite the private property preventing proper access. Luckily my knee wasn’t hurting anymore.

I finally made it to Cardiff ridge and was greeted with the familiar and always majestic views into upper Little Cottonwood Canyon (LCC), today with very menacing storm clouds rapidly approaching. It’s a steep descent down to LCC road and my knee was hurting again with every swing of my leg. Argh. I made it down to the road just as the storm hit and walked the last couple of miles down to Snowbird in the rain, it was a nice finale. I like walking in the rain.

 The Other 3 Canyon Traverse: Provo Canyon to LCC via American Fork Canyon

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.


East Rim, Zion National Park

20 miles in 2 Days

A quick trip over the Thanksgiving weekend. Aside from some trips to Moab, I haven’t done much adventuring in Southern Utah. Zion blew me away! How have I never been down here? It was about a 5 hour drive from SLC to Springdale, so it was pushing it for a weekend trip, but totally worth it. I parked at the trailhead near the park’s east entrance and got on a trail that climbed gradually up onto the mesa. While up there I took in the majestic views of Zion Canyon from high up on Cable and Deer Trap Mountains. I learned my lesson a few weeks earlier about how cold it is camping in November and decided to switch out my usual 10 degree Zpacks bag with the -40 degree TNF bag that I’d used when I was climbing Ama Dablam in Nepal a few years ago. It did the trick too, even though it dropped to single digits and I was in my single wall tarp tent, I stayed warm, just. It was a very cold trip. It was also a very dry trip, no water on the mesa and so I carried all of my water for the 2 days, which was fine because it was pretty easy walking.

I’d seen my physical therapist since the last backpacking trip to figure out my knee pain, her theory was that it was caused by my left ankle acting up again. She mobilized the talus bone and thought that would do the trick, so told me to get out and get after it again. With a couple of ibuprofen in me, well 4 per day to be precise, my knee didn’t hurt the whole trip. Thanks vitamin I!

I’ll be back Southern Utah.


2016 Plans

I have lots of goals for 2016, but I’ll save you from falling asleep and just tell you about the top two as they affect my adventure plans and therefore your reading material!

Goal 1- To stop getting injured!

I’ve had a string of injuries that started June of 2014 when I rolled my ankle on a trail run. The stress fracture on my failed attempt at the CDT early last summer in hindsight was doomed before it got started. The knee pain that started recently on my Wasatch Traverse adventures returned again after my Zion trip and so I decided to start seeing Canyon Sports Therapy as my other physio was leaving for maternity leave. Canyon Sports Therapy so far has been really awesome. They use a lot of objective data collection methods to really get to the bottom of what’s causing issues. They stick sensors all over me and have me do things, like walk on a treadmill. We’ve measured how I walk with and without my hiking shoes on, with and without my backpack on, and now that we have a rehab plan we’re measuring the degree to which some muscle groups are working when I walk.

Check out the image below of the front view of me walking with a backpack. You should be seeing right angles everywhere! How bad is my right side! Yikes!

A core part of my problem at the moment is that my glute muscles aren’t doing what they should do and my gait is all screwed up because of it, including that my knee swings out up to 8 percent when I swing it forward and in up to 8 percent when I step through onto it. That motion is causing a ‘pepper grinder’ motion on my knee and is what caused my knee to get inflamed. We’re pretty confident it’s just soft tissue damage, and I’ve seen a specialist who agrees, but the bummer about that is that it can take a couple of months to repair itself. Tissue heals really slowly. I’m more than a month into no skiing, hiking, or doing anything in my fun bucket, so I’m hopeful that one day soon i’ll wake up and it’ll feel better again. The plan then is to keep going with PT until I correct all of my alignment and movement issues.

Goal 2- To hike the Continental Divide!

Yes, as crazy as it sounds, I really want to hike that trail again this summer! I plan to go southbound though this time, starting at the Canadian border in Glacier National Park in Montana and finishing at the Mexican border in New Mexico.

To set myself up to achieve this I have a number of sub-goals:

  • To have the best alignment and movement pattern possible, by going to PT
  • To be strong, by lifting weights and doing Pilates
  • To be flexible, by stretching often and doing yoga
  • To be hiking fit, by hiking to the peak often
  • To be trail ready, by doing as many weekend backpacking trips in Southern Utah as I can this spring
  • To lose 8 pounds, by exercising a lot and eating better

I’m focusing this year on physical preparation. I was really happy with my gear last year and so, aside from a few tweaks, I plan to hike with the same base pack weight of about 12 pounds. I also don’t need to redo some of the logistical plans, although I need to re-think my resupply packages as with a southbound hike I’ll be walking less miles in MT and WY and more in CO and NM. There are also some new routes and trail improvements in MT and NM that I want to get maps for and take advantage of. So, I do still have some work cut-out for me with route planning and my resupply packages… but I’m just not going to worry about it too much this time around. I’d rather put my efforts into my physical preparation.

So, there you have it. You’re in the loop. I wish you a happy New Year; I hope it’s filled with lots of fun and adventures also. Until next time…


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