In the ongoing guise of a portly gray dude with a bum knee and a problematic shoulder, I lumber up the ridgeline, stopping every so often to gulp air and take in the bluebird day playing out across the Heber Valley. Life is good! I can’t wipe the smile off my face. Movement alone heals both body and soul.
As usual (I’ve been performing this stunt for many years now), I marvel at how the goal, a rock outcropping of some as-yet-undetermined geological strata, never seems to get any closer, until, looking up, I find that, once again, I have, literally, stumbled upon it. I meander, therefore I am.
One explanation for this is that there is no actual trail. Once the snow leaves the hillside’s west-southwest exposure, it becomes, as with life in general, all about "route finding." Another reason is that, during much of the trek, I stare, transfixed, at the ground beneath my feet.
There are psychological implications at play here, no doubt, that would probably help explain why I often walk and hike with my head down but, on this day, much of it has to do with carefully monitoring each step so as to both keep mud from caking up on the soles of my hiking boots and, at the same time, preventing any undue degradation to the still-quite-moist yet snow-free groundcover.
Having learned over the years to eliminate the more-challenging pitches from this particular hike, I find, like an axiom from solid geometry, that the shortest distance between two points is seldom a straight line. And this forces me, every so often, to actually look up and reconfigure my ascent.
It’s going on 16 years now since, in a typical greenhorn’s attempt to bond with his new neighborhood, I first came into close contact with this protrusion of bedrock that, from directly below, appears to dominate the entire northeast quadrant of the valley.
At that time I projected the altitudinal differential between the new digs and the protruding rock face to be probably about 1,000 feet vertical. To arrive at this figure, I may well have employed some obscure old Pythagorean theorem that involved libation in lieu of hypotenuse.
Although I’ve never researched it further, my topographical map of the area having suffered one too many late-night indignities, each succeeding year the elevation change feels smaller.
The idea for the current trek arrived earlier on the wings of a quite distinctive songbird that had decided to hang out near the woodpile and fire pit behind the house. As I followed its somewhat erratic line of flight once it decided to relocate, it appeared to be heading directly toward the outcrop.
I responded loudly with one of the more memorable "Porky" Joe Onn quotes: "Not without me, you don’t!" Porky came up with it after first passing out, then regaining consciousness and carefully removing his forehead from the bar, and, finally, reading a bumper sticker, newly-arrived from Park City, that proclaimed "O.D. McGee For Mayor." This was in San Diego. He was on the next flight out. I didn’t explain any of this to the bird.
I have a favorite sitting spot on the outcrop that allows my legs to dangle comfortably over the side while also affording a spectacular view across Heber Valley to the Wasatch Mountain State Park Golf Course and, beyond, up into the Snake Creek drainage where the deep snow is only now considering seeking its own level.
Overlooking it all, of course, is the fully snowbound Sunset Peak, a steep trudge by any stretch from this side but only a short romp in the woods from Alta’s Albion Basin. Over the years, I’ve found that this view goes down extremely well when paired with fanny-pack-borne, Ziplock-chilled Negra Modelo beer and a moderately large batch of salsa-enriched guacamole with blue-corn tortilla chips.
Each year the natural forces of wind and rain and snow massage the outcrop and, through subtle erosion, smooth away any sharp edges remaining within the cocoon of rock that is my chair. A few times, the overall contentment level reached a point where I actually dozed off.
Up there, being on the "cusp," as it were, between the Uinta and Wasatch ranges and overlooking the Provo River-dominated alluvial plain that is the Heber Valley, I find myself truly in my element. The sense is of a peaceful eon when our kind has drifted off to find digs elsewhere and only mountains, deserts, rivers, and outcrops remain.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for the past 40 years.
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