June 19, 2012
Our mission to hike Catherine’s Pass to Sunset Peak unfolded haltingly, at best.
When you are used to driving from Alta on up through the Albion Basin to a trailhead that reduces the trek to a stroll in the woods and you are faced with a locked gate across the access road at the bottom of that hill, visions of grandeur have been known to quickly dissolve. Such was the case last weekend.
No doubt, real hikers would have seen the prospect of adding several more miles each way to their jaunt as nothing more than a speed bump along their wilderness journey. We, however, immediately threw in the towel, redefined our goals, lowered our expectations, as it were, and drove back the way we came toward Snowbird.
"We’ll take the tram to Hidden Peak and hike down into Mineral Basin," we babbled. "We don’t need no stinking badges! The fates can’t force us out of our wheelhouse and into actual physical exertion. And anyway, we’re way too focused to allow such humble intervening variables to intrude, time-wise, upon our afternoon appointment with the Beer Fest."
Oh, did I fail to mention that our hiking schemes just happened to coincide with Snowbird’s annual gathering of the breweries. Not that such responsibilities as sampling suds while partaking of live rock music under bluebird skies in an outdoor alpine setting would ever get in the way of my spending hours-on-end trudging over hill and dale at 11,000 feet.
So, with apparitions of Mineral Basin glissading through our dreamscape and the base terminal of the tram in our collective crosshairs, we slalomed our way through the beer-fest setup and, much to our chagrin, confronted the next stumbling block to our best laid plans. The handwritten sign on the ticket office window said it all: "Tram Closed!"
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Not being in the proper philosophical frame of reference to accept yet another setback without pursuing alternatives to actual extended aerobic exercise, we soon discovered that the Peruvian Express Chairlift would open in another hour. Obviously being more of a fresh-air experience than the tram and much less sweat-infused than the drawn-out uphill-hiking option, we bit the bullet and bought the ticket.
Providing access to Mineral Basin via a walk-through tunnel at its top the construction of which, if memory serves, I opposed in print in this very space back in the day the ride up Peruvian Gulch with its slight breeze and lush landscape bordered on the ecstatic. Have you ever noticed, at least in the short term, how well God looks after the lazy?
Emerging from the tunnel to the grand vistas of Mineral Basin had us, for the time being anyway, replacing environmental considerations with the more selfish hormonally-driven raptures of "eco-blissing." Brilliant blue skies and blinding-white snowfields, when coupled with the staggering geology of the inner Wasatch Range, can be stunning indeed. Even for the slothful.
Eschewing Frost’s road less traveled, in this case the more difficult Mt. Baldy Trail, we opted, of course, to drop down into Mineral Basin proper and then, via trails we could see in the distance, back on up to Sugarloaf Pass and Snowbird’s backdoor into Alta. The signage, "Avalanche control area Enter thru gates only," gave our somewhat-maligned courage index a much-needed boost.
The sporadic snowfields crossing the mostly exposed roads and trails also added to the imagined difficulty of our trek. Mountaineering legends in our own mind, we were. You’d have thought we were free-climbing the "second step" on the Northeast Ridge of Mt. Everest.
When you’re alone on the trail, pacing is seldom an issue. You hike until your pulse rate and internal temperature borders on the uncomfortable and then you stop and gulp air and water until the desire to move on returns.
On this day, it was the always-dangling carrot of the Beer Fest awaiting at the end of the trail serving to motivate the hiking boots back up and through the tunnel for the return trip down the chairlift. You didn’t think we’d actually walk down, did you?
There were other arduous trails to conquer on this gorgeous and lazy Little Cottonwood Canyon day obscure pathways that led to one rewarding vista after another. With names like Wasatch and Squatters and Ruby River and Hoppers and Red Rock and Roosters and Epic and Desert Edge and Park City and Bohemian and Moab, the bang for the trekker’s buck proved utterly quenching. Admittedly, hiking can be quite tedious.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and a free-lance writer with a background in commercial and community radio, among other pursuits. He has been a columnist and feature writer for various Park City publications going back to 1973.