The development of mountain biking trails along the Wasatch Front and Back continues at an impressive pace, allowing riders to spread out, link trail systems and enjoy a longer riding season by starting out low, and then heading for the higher elevations as things melt out in spring and summer. Until all of the snow is gone however, the trails can be rather crowded, especially on weekends- and the racing season waits for no rider. With a little thought, and a little travel from the Wasatch, miles of empty and smooth singletrack await. Ever tried any of the trails in the Logan area mountains?
Castleton Tower, Castle Valley
I know it’s so cliché to mention this over-climbed desert tower, mostly inundated with Rad-Bro’s from the front range. But it is one of the Fifty Classic Climbs of North America, it’s in Utah, the views of Castle Valley and the Colorado River (specifically Rocky Rapid) aren’t bad, and who doesn’t love to bag a tower? It is however important to remember that these are geologic times that we are living in; all of these rocks are falling down, it is just a matter of when. Beware of rock fall (or flying cams) coming from the two parties ahead of you.
I love to watch the sunset through the window of a speeding car. Anticipation builds as gear is packed and repacked, but only when the tires touch pavement does an adventure begin to actualize in my mind. In the moment after hours of scheming when I turn the wheel north, south, east or west that my focus moves instantly to the mission at hand. Road trips give time to organize thoughts, establish goals, and belt it to the radio and the best part is waking up in a tent in a place that you’ve never been before.
Red / White Baldy to Tram
Mid-summer / early fall is the time to sprint up Red Pine Gulch and dance across 11,000-foot Wasatch Peaks. Pure white granite forms jagged gendarmes, that pierce the sky above Dry Creek and make White Baldy’s long summit ridges a blast. Red slate / shale caps Red Baldy and creates an entirely different look and feel, but the scrambling remains class 3, exposed and super fun. The contact zone of rock types makes mining efficient, and earns this ridge run its name, Bullion Traverse. Easy ground leads to Snowbird Twins Peaks, and a sweet ride down the Tram.
Favorite Yurt Location: Snorkeling Elk Yurt
The Castle Peak Yurt in the High Uintas may be my favorite, but the Snorkeling Elk Yurt in the Tushar Mountains undoubtedly is the best located yurt in Utah. No other backcountry shelter that I know of has as much high-alpine terrain and big peaks to ski in close proximity. Many of these summits top out around 12,000 feet, such as Shelly Baldy (11,321), Mount Holly (11,985), and the highest mountain, Delano Peak (12,169). Ski terrain varies from mellow tree skiing, to steep wind-blasted faces, and approaches are quick and easy from the yurt. While the Snorkeling Elk is a bit run-down, you won’t care as you dream of the powder shots you’ll get in the face come morning.
Spring is the season of rebirth and renewal in the desert. The moisture delivered over the winter is sucked up and stored for the long and hot summer by the hardy cacti and other plants to ensure their survival through the long summer months. April and May are the prime blooming season for the Prickly Pear, Claret Cup, Beaver Tail, Desert Valley Fishhook (only in Utah!), Bakersfield (endangered) and many other species that provide an array of colorful blooms along your favorite trail. How many can you spot?
What do skiing Lone Peak, hiking Grand Gulch, and the best sunset ever from a campsite in Swell have in common? They all depend on our ability to access Federal land. With 13 national parks, thousands of miles of trails and obscure dirt roads, campgrounds and dispersed camping, slot canyons, slickrock, Wilderness within sight of home, powder easily accessed by lift, foot, and snowmobile, river trips, jobs – it’s safe to say that most of us live here at least partly because of this spectacular playground. It’s important to never take that for granted, lest our outdoor adventures turn into taking the kids on a drilling rig tour or peering through the fence at private resorts in the redrock. Keep Utah open and wild!
Get On a Boat
Houseboats generally get a reputation for being a little stale (as floating party barges, they have a tendency to smell like beer). For those who want to do Lake Powell in slightly higher style, take a ride on the Axiom Star Yacht. This 65-foot beauty is available from Wahweap Marina, right outside of Page, Arizona. Once stepping foot on board, you and your friends won’t lift a finger—aside from the sundowners you will be enjoying from the top-deck hot tub, and to take a break to go down the water slide. Not into the luxurious vibe? Lake Powell Resorts and Marinas have a boatload of other options to choose from, including ones you can drive yourself.
Ahh the ski boot. Rigid plastic, metal buckles, and razor-thin tolerances seem to be more akin to medieval torture devices than performance footwear. We spend whole paychecks just trying to make the damn things fit well, never mind the initial investment. Then it’s off to the hills only to try and last one run with them latched down. So is it any wonder that we have a special moment to ourselves at the end of each day when we take them off? The boot-gasm, as I like to refer to it, is symbolic and relieving. It symbolizes a day well spent making turns and doing something we love so much that we are willing to go through agony to achieve it. It is relieving to the senses; due in part to the fact that you took them off, which means the nurses didn’t have to. Now slip on the flip-flops, light up a smoke, or grab a cold one and enjoy the last rays of sun as they fade behind the ridgeline.
Fought in the courtroom and the court of public opinion, the Powdr-Talisker case languished on for nearly three years. In June 2014, Judge Ryan Harris ruled that Powdr had failed to renew its lease of PCMR’s upper ski terrain and would have to vacate, allowing just one damages-only claim to proceed. The ball still in his court, Judge Harris began to lean on the parties to settle and ultimately ordered them into mediation, because he understood the impact to Park City if PCMR were split in half. The summer wore on with no agreement and the town began to worry that PCMR might be dark come winter. After several key extensions from the Court, however, the parties reached an agreement before snow began to fall. Judge Harris had the wisdom to see that compromise is sometimes better than just being right.
-Maggie Hughey AbuHaidar
Pond Skimming/Grass Skiing
Skiing and snowboarding are committing activities but few aspects of these sports is more committing than cutting a wake across a 50-foot swath of frigid blue water. Ice chunks float along the sides and casualties are high. Try your hand against the crowd with exotic costume at a pond skim competition or just send it across those vernal pools that pock the flats at resorts when the weather turns warm. On steeper terrain seek out a nice patch of grass, get your speed up and punch a line through the green. Consequences are drier but dirtier and it is worth the satisfaction. Keep your tips up!
Favorite Trail Treat: Sprouts Gummy Bears
Forget energy gels or sport beans. When I’m in need of a sugary treat on the single or skin track, I bring a bulk bag of gummy bears. Not just any gummy bears though. The tastiest Ursus candy comes from Sprouts – you know, the health food store. These scrumptious guys taste like the fruit that the artificial color represents, as if I’m getting my recommended fruit group of the day. Here’s a tip: the grapefruit flavor is the bomb. Seriously. I’ve enlightened all my friends about these bears and now we all carry them in our packs.
Hanging onto Winter
It’s June 17, a time we don our bike shoes, climbing racks and golf clubs. But when winter returns and ravages the Wasatch Mountains, you dust of your boards and make a 3-hour skin for it! Main Chute, Alta has been delivering for ages as it faces the northern compass and remains somewhat filled in well into the summer months. The route is straightforward and aesthetic. The mountains this time of year, are typically quiet. Winter, back for a brief moment, is energizing. Just remember your beacon, probe and shovel as avalanches continue to rip, even in the middle of summer.
Mill B South
The side canyons and drainages of Big Cottonwood Canyon are massive and depending on ski touring conditions, often uncrowded. While most folks will make the climb up to Cardiff Pass from Alta and enjoy the fruits of Upper Cardiff and Cardiac Bowl and Ridge, a few venture over into Mineral Fork, fewer through Cardiac Pass into Mill B. The terrain is vast and ranges from undulating slopes to steep couloirs such as the Heart of Darkness. The north facing slopes preserve soft snow in their spacious bowls, often untracked. The infamous Sundial stands sentinel in Mill B looming high above Lake Blanche, causing you to consider a climb in summer.
Favorite Mountain Bike Ride
The Bobsled is a timeless downhill classic. My friend broke his neck there. I have had moments of overwhelming fear as I barely avoided laying my bike down at high speed. But the curves and the banks keep me coming back despite the occasional deep ruts, washboards and loose gravel. The trail has more than doubled in length in the last 25 years and gained numerous variations including gap jumps and tabletops – some over junked vehicles. It’s 1,000 feet of descent from the Bonneville Shoreline Trail to Chandler Drive in the Avenues. Disc brakes and 29” wheels have improved the experience greatly.
In the early days, snowriders across the world understood the merits of good technique and proper form. Without it, deep powder riding was an exercise in frustration. Fortunately for everyone, jump turns, slow-dog noodles, and stem Christies are a thing of the past. The birth of reverse camber profiles was born out of the desire to float through deep snow like a surfer, yet still have control. Early experimentation revealed great potential, and freeriders like Shane McConkey had the guts to bring it to the masses. In the early 2000’s he mounted alpine bindings on water skis and proceeded to rail-slide massive fluted mountain sides in Alaska. The word was out and the first reverse-camber ski, The Volant Spatula, was introduced. Since then, the proliferation of technology has spread across the industry and allowed riders unparallel performance in powder. Additional technological advancement has made the designs even more versatile and suitable for daily driving. To quote a legend, “If you don’t try it this year, you’ll be one year older when you do.”
Whitewater Stand Up Paddle: Split Mountain
The canyon arcs in, creating the first series of rapids known as Moonshine. With the Green River running at 12,000+cfs, my partner and I look at each other, our eyes grow large and our minds wonder what we’re in store for. Class III+ rapids through this 8-mile section of desert gorge make our nerves crawl, push adrenaline through our veins, and make us clinch our sphincters. Wave after overhead wave rock our SUP’s, spin us around and dump us in. One-hour and 45 minutes later, we’re standing ashore wringing our wetsuits of chocolate milk-like water, wondering when we can return to Dinosaur National Monument for another chance at stomping that SOB Rapid.
Kolob Arch, Zion National Park
Kolob Canyon is the under-rated and often skipped area of Zion. It’s surprising because Kolob Arch, and all of the backcountry campsites along the LeVerkin Creek Trail, are beautiful and provide a sense of remoteness in a National Park that tends to provide that visit to Disneyland kind of experience. Backcountry permits are required for access to these trails and are limited to groups smaller than twelve which has helped to preserve the natural beauty and wilderness experience. I went backpacking alone here several years ago and saw no one for days, probably because it was the heat of summer and most visitors fear leaving their air-conditioned cars.
Best Watering Hole in Zion
The Bit & Spur Restaurant and Saloon in Springdale, right outside of Zion, is the favorite watering hole of choice after a day in the sun. First instated in 1981 and loved by locals and tourists alike, it’s just the right amount of Zion quirk with Mexican flavor (think larger than life gecko art, delicious guacamole, etc). The restaurant boasts the largest selection of microbrews in Southern Utah, but if you want to stick to the hard stuff, order the Bit & Spur margarita. You might just find yourself asking for a second pitcher instead of dessert. Cheers!
Lone Peak South Face
Widely-acclaimed as the ultimate Wasatch corn run, Lone Peak’s South Face drops for 3,000 beautiful feet of uninterrupted, moderate carving to the Hamangog, i.e. religious meadow. The only catch is you then have to walk down another 2,000’ to the trailhead in Alpine. In April and May, disciples I know cache their skis and boots near the hamangog, and jog up and down in running shoes and shorts for their daily dose of spectacular spring corn. This is one form of a spring biathlon in the Wasatch!
Get Out…and Play!
In 2009, the Park City-based Youth Sports Alliance started Get Out and Play, a program designed to get elementary school kids up and moving by introducing them to the winter sports in their own backyards. This year, almost 800 students tried skiing, snowboarding, cross country skiing, ski jumping, freestyle, free riding, figure skating, speed skating, and/or ice hockey. About 175 of those kids did so on full scholarship, which makes an especially big impact on the town’s Title I schools. GO&P is made possible by innumerable parent volunteers and community partners, including resorts, rental vendors, and elite team coaches. Some kids are even lucky enough to be coached by Olympic medalists. Imagine showing up for your ice skating lesson and Derek Parra is your instructor…you’d get out and play, too.
-Maggie Hughey AbuHaidar
The Gate Buttress
Flaring cracks and slabs so high-stepping and technical that my hands sweat just thinking about it. The Gate Buttress up Little Cottonwood Canyon is a gear-plugger’s dream, as long as the crowd stays well below your last belay. It can get crowded at the Gate but in those off-hours when only a single rope and a group of two leaves shadows, the granite is supreme. Climb high onto the Thumb, Little’s prominent spire, or catch some laps low down on scores of classic single pitch routes. In true Salt Lake fashion the drive is short, the approach is shorter, and the climbing is epic.
Favorite New Hobby: Complaining About the Weather
“Winter never came.” “These record-breaking warm temperatures are insane.” “I can’t believe it hasn’t snowed in three weeks.” “Damn, the skiing is terrible.” While we suffer our third (or is it fourth) underperforming winter season in a row, I’ve found a new hobby to participate in when I’m not skiing on rocks: complaining about the weather. You may think it’s a poor use of time, but I really have nothing better to do while I longingly watch out the window for a snowflake to fall on the flower bulbs that are already coming up mid-winter. “Wait. What the hell?!? Flowers are blooming in mid-winter!”
The Norway Flats Yurt, Mirror Lake Highway
With the unusually low amount of snowfall this year it has been hard for me to get excited about winter sports, but it would be unfair for me to exclude my annual yurt retreat from this list of my favorite places in Utah. The relatively easy approach (3 miles with an approximate elevation gain of 900 feet) leads to a posh yurt and obviously it’s beautiful, it’s tucked away in the Uintas. So what makes this Yurt so special? The easily accessible spring, decent touring, stacked kitchen supplies, the views, and the disco ball. You can book a night at utahnordic.com.
Camp in the Creek in Moab
I’m not entirely sure how hidden this campground actually is, but that’s just how hidden gems work, isn’t it? When I drove up Onion Creek Road last spring looking for a campsite on Memorial Day weekend, there were only a few other brave souls in the flood-zone that is the camping area. Flash flood fears aside, this BLM camping area is exactly like it should be. Dispersed, spacious, and without a $20 overnight fee. A creek playfully crosses back and forth across the road, making a 4WD vehicle mandatory, and walls of red rock stretch up on either side for a truly “Moab” experience. The full 24-mile road leads to Fisher Towers, but some of the best camping spots are in close.
Like skis and snowboards, mountain bikes have undergone a progressive transformation in the last decade. Slacker geometries and better shocks have opened up what is possible for even novice riders. But perhaps the greatest thing to come along since tubeless tires is the advent of the dropper seatpost. These pneumatic marvels allow riders to drop or raise the seat post at the flick of a switch. This results in much less time and energy wasted on the trail fiddling with tools. Climbing with added efficiency in the up position, and descending with greater confidence in the dropped position have made riding a breeze. Some may complain about weight, or that it is a crutch of the inept, but I’d imagine those people still ride with bar ends and listen to LP’s. Just give it a go and see the difference for yourself.
Tingey’s Terror / Torture
When you get a hankering to rock climb, but temps are still cool, and the rock may be wet, the classic moderate offering at the Gate Buttress is Tingeys. Named for a Wasatch and Alaskan climbing legend, Ralph Tingey, this 10-pitch, 5-rappel, uber-classic is my favorite. Keep your head cool as you run out the long friction pitches on exfoliating granite, and don’t forget to check your systems before the overhanging rappels. But don’t fret if your not fit, the approach from Little Cottonwood Road is only 15 minutes!
Late Spring Ski Tours
There’s nothing quite like getting up in the darkness of the early morning, like 3 am darkness, and driving to a trailhead where you’ll shiver in the predawn darkness for bushwhack or slog over dirt just to reach the snow. The early hour dictates that you must attain your descent location before the sun has warmed the snow too much, as it is late spring and the day heats up quickly. The reward is an early finish, with the scent of summer in the air, and the valleys and trailheads turning green well below the snowline. Short sleeves are mandatory clothing, and you’re sliding down the snow and done before noon. Favorites include ski descents on big objectives like Timpanogos, Mt. Nebo, and the highest reaches of the Central Wasatch. The sweet corn snow and warm sun is incomparable.
Need a breathtaking place to picnic? Head to Angel Point. Perched above the wily canyons carved by the Dirty Devil River, the steep drop-off provides an unparalleled view. Gaze at eroded sandstone domes, dotted with sage, in the foreground and the majestic Henry, La Sal and Abajo Mountains in the back. Peer down into Robber’s Roost or, if you’re feeling outlawish, follow the primitive Angel Trail down to the river and explore the maze of canyons used by Butch Cassidy and his gang. Just south of Hanksville, Angel Trail is accessible via dirt roads from the west or east. Or have OK3AIR fly you there and you can taxi right up to the edge of No Man’s Canyon. Be sure to tuck a good bottle in your basket, because the views will make any occasion toast-worthy.
–Maggie Hughey AbuHaidar
Antelope Island, Great Salt Lake
I was lucky to have a friend who was a Naturalist/Ranger Aid on the island last year, which meant that I got to join in on one of the rare sunset kayak tours. An Antelope Island Sunset is something that every Utah Native should experience at least once. The mountain biking trails are pretty good too but watch out for those buffalos which surprisingly allow cyclists to come frighteningly close. It is also advised to save a trip to the island for the late summer or the fall because the bugs are horrendous in the spring and early summer.
Just outside of Park City this hike is a quick escape into dense vegetation and fauna galore. The steep trail is often lined with wild flowers, waiting to kiss your arms as you walk by. Mill Creek Ridge offers panoramic view of Salt Lake City and an excellent flat spot to practice yoga. On a summer night you can leave work and reach Mill Creek Ridge for the sunset. For the ultimate date pack a picnic and some wine, then let the sky entertain you. Don’t forget your headlamp and keep an eye out for bear tracks!
There is a particular look in the eye of one who lives for the desert. It is one trained to seek out shade and water and wears its wildness in plain sight. These are the ones who find solace in the dusty nooks on exposed desert towers or belly-down in narrow slot canyons. Their existence is dedicated to the windswept and desolate. They seek meaning in the driest of solitude, where the body and soul grow parched in the desert sun, where few are willing to risk it. Take the chance to talk to one of these desert locals. Keep an open mind to their rambling wisdom; they live closer to the edge than many of us and their insight may delve deeper than you’d think.