High on a Mountain Top
Solo snow shoe on Saturday 25 January 2014 on Silver Fork trail for 4.75 hours from 6:10-10:50am, covering about 5 miles, from the 7,800 road head at the Silver Fork Lodge on Big Cottonwood Canyon Road to the Cottonwood Ridge Crest at 10,000′ between Davenport Hill and Honeycomb Cliffs, a gain of 2,200′.
After a surgical biopsy on Monday (results benign) and a full week of consulting concluded at Friday night at 8:00pm, I wasn’t sure whether I just wanted to rest on Saturday, or go for another adventure. But celebration was indispensable.
Although the official trailhead is ¼ mile further up canyon at Solitude Mountain Resort, I wanted to find the trail through the Silver Fork neighborhood of cabins. Cruising narrow plowed streets in the dark with berms 3’ high, there was nowhere to park not on private property, so after returning to the highway, I ended up parking in the Silver Fork Lodge parking lot (which explains why I returned the favor by staying for a crab and avocado omelet afterwards and resting a while). The ¼ mile hike through the neighborhood of cabins alerted no dogs, and I found a snow shoe track above the cabins leading up along the creek and followed that to the signed trailhead. Although the guides indicate that the trail is 3 miles long, I estimated that about 2¼ miles of trail remained to the terminus in the West Bowl of North Davenport.
The trail in the dark was wide and easy to navigate as this is a popular spot for back country skiers to reach the Meadow Chutes, Flannigan’s, and Davenport. There was a bright crescent moon directly south and it guided me all the way in, hovering over Davenport Hill to the very end.
How do you accent a sliver of moon on a snowy slope in the dark? See my heat signature image of “hot moon night beacon”.
I stayed in the north fork and climbed up the East Bowl to the crest in 3 hours, and came down in less than half. The trail stays to the east of the creek, and I climbed the north side of the well-skied bowl and traversed to the crest with considerable difficulty on steep deep powder, trying to follow frozen ski tracks where the powder was packed. Gazing down Grizzly Gulch towards Alta, there was no one in sight when I fired up the cell phone and called Susan at 9:00am, sunny, but not warm yet, and I forced myself to eat an old peanut butter Cliff Bar to re-energize.
The vistas from 10,000′ were incredible – endless mountain tops of the 11,000’ Bullion Divide from Mt Baldy and Twin Peaks to Pfeifferhorn and Thunder Ridge blocking the horizon across Little Cottonwood Canyon. The long vertical cliffs of Devil’s Castle and Sugarloaf dominated the skyline directly south above Albion Basin. Sighting west over DAvenport Hill down the Cottonwood Crest beyond Flagstaff Mountain were the twin peaks of Mt Superior and Monte Cristo, golden candles burning in the morning glow.
The gleaming peaks of Mt. Wolverine and Mt. Millicent parted the path of the sun to the east. Looking northwest to the Millcreek divide, the bulwark of Mt. Raymond and Gobbler’s Knob filled up the foreground of peaks that sail nobly to the distant Idaho border. With clear skies and views 75 miles away over the horizon, the world from this vantage point was entirely alpine. Other than raucous jays and nutcrackers soaring overhead, I saw no wildlife in the morning stillness. Before stepping down through deep powder into the bowl, I took a few self-portraits with Bullion Divide perched over my shoulder.
Then I faced my fears and started the fast descent down the steep bowl, avoiding the more frozen face where skiers had tracked. Straying off the trail, I followed the deep and twisty channel of the scenic snow-bound creek bottom through a narrow slot bordered by rock outcroppings, thrilled at the privilege of passing through such splendor. Several groups of backcountry skiers were passed skinning their way up while I was done and almost out. I observed a sign posted near the Honeycomb Fork junction seeking assistance in locating the lost pack of Ricardo Presnell, a deceased back country skier who died in an avalanche almost exactly 4 years prior http://www.summitpost.org/phpBB3/backcountry-skier-dies-in-avalanche-in-wasatch-t51548.html. This gave me pause to ponder my avalanche risk, hiking solo and stomping on powder at the top of a bowl. It’s been a month since our last storms, and from what little I know, the snow pack should be very stable with minimal avalanche risk. This gives me pause to ponder my good fortune.
Next time, I’d like to come up after a fresh snow and ascend from Grizzly Gulch in Alta and back down Silver or Days Fork. After a nap at Corinna and Erik’s in Saratoga Springs, I spent the afternoon finishing the construction of shelves in their garage. And in the evening, I finally got to watch the Chasing Mavericks movie, and reveled in the choice to live large in the face of opposition and embrace opportunities to explore and serve. This was a most rewarding day, well spent.