Ice Blue Aspen

Solo snowshoe on Porter Fork trail for 4.5 hours from 5:40-9:45am, covering about 6.75 miles, from the 6,000 trailhead to about 8,700′, a gain of 2,700′.  This is becoming an annual event for the middle of January, formerly done solo or with Gary Myers on 15 January 2011 and 21 January 2012 from Millcreek Canyon’s Terraces picnic grounds to Bowman Fork to White Fir Pass to Pole Canyon.

This was my busiest week this season.  I worked 59 hours this week, 20 hours straight on Thursday, so I went to bed early on Friday at 9:00pm.  I’ve been waking up at 4:00am to start my day, and Saturday morning was no exception.  I debated what to do with my day off, whether to take a hike or work on other projects.  But on top of all the work, with Susie’s wedding and Mom’s visit this week, I know I won’t have another opportunity to get some solitude, so I decided to go trekking.  In retrospect, I’m so glad I did myself the favor.

Rewarding Dawn

Rewarding Dawn

Snow shoeing in the dark with my headlamp on, there were clear skies with none of the customary city light reflecting off the low clouds. Gleaming stars pierced the night through the dense forest to lend perspective to the solitary mood.

Bowman Creek Splendor

Bowman Creek Splendor

I reached the end of Bowman Creek in 35 minutes, and the first switchback  in 45, and White Fir Pass just after 60 (2 miles).  The last time I hiked this trail in light snow and rain in slippery conditions, it took a full 2 hours to reach the pass.  But today, the conditions were dry, and with no wind obscure my vision and cool me down, I was able to double my pace, and continue beyond my prior limits.  The entire trail, from the road head and the access road to Terraces picnic area was dense with snow, an easy hike on snow shoes.  The Porter Fork Trail was mostly packed except for some slumps along the upper switchbacks, but beyond White Fir Pass, I was breaking an easy trail since the last storm’s accumulation.  But beyond the crossing of Yellow Jacket, the elevation and powder depth sank me 6-12″ with each step, and I could thrust my trekking poles at least 3′ into the off-trail powder.

Winter Palette

Winter Palette

A lone hiker, Barry, caught up to me at the crossing of Yellow Jacket.  He broke trail for a while, then I took over past the Alexander Basin cutoff and onwards beyond the crossing of Pole Canyon.  Getting too deep for him, he was post holing up to his knees even through my steps, so he turned back around 7:30am while I pressed on, as the pink sunrise showered us with the grace of grandeur.  I was climbing steadily through an open forest of Aspens when the trail, previously a trench visible through the snow, petered out on the mountainside, and I only got another 100 yards in deep powder, knee-deep with each short step, before I too turned around at 8:20am and reached the pass at 9:00am.  Where I turned around, I was probably only 200 yards from the flat where Baker Spring flows, about 1/4 mile above the Alexander cutoff, having covered about 3.35 miles from the trailhead in 2:40.  I estimate that I reached 8,700′, a gain of 2,700′.

I’m going to have to look into snow shoe extensions or cross country skis in order to traverse this higher and deeper snow.  I passed several cross country skiers during the 40 minute jog back to the pass.  They were angling along the hillside above the trail on a traverse that would lead them to Alexander Basin.  Their smooth tracks packed the trail and increased my speed, such that even with multiple photo op stops, I covered the last 2 miles down in 45 minutes, totaling 6.75 miles in 4.5 hours, a respectable average of 1.5mph.

Winter sketches

Winter sketches

The fairyland of snowy woods, the solitude and dawning light, birdsong and flicker chatter, blue skies and majestic alpine vistas, all combined into a most rewarding adventure.  Near the trailhead 25-30 snow shoers, presumably Wasatch Mountain Club, stood aside as I jogged on past.  Other snow shoers and cross country skiers dotted the trail, making for many greetings.  “Leaving so soon?” one asked.  “It’s been a long night,” I inferred.

Back at home, I had fun editing in Picasa, making the most of the pictures to bring out the contrasts.

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