July 19, 2012
The portly gray dude is whining again. He’s not getting out walking and hiking anywhere nearly as much as he would like. It’s too hot, he complains. He also sees himself as a prime candidate for dehydration-induced heat exhaustion. Drinking more water and heading out in the cool of the morning or evening, however, never crosses his mind.
So when the opportunity arose this past week for a morning trek into the upper reaches of Little Cottonwood Canyon, he began tossing back water with fierce gusto the night before. There were, however, middle-of-the-night repercussions to this preventive hydration measure.
Slipping off to Albion Basin seemed like a cool way to beat this latest midsummer heat wave with even a threat of thunderstorm activity factoring in as a positive. Plus there were the questions surrounding this year’s wildflowers and whether they would be anywhere near as bountiful as last year’s and what effect the heat might have on the depth of their color and whether they had "peaked" yet or not.
The scorching summer temperatures, the wildflower investigation, and the fact that if I may now shed my third-person persona this particular outing had been one of several annual hikes my trail-mate and I had partaken of for well over a decade, were not, however, the sole incentives to get out of Dodge.
The prime motivation for this specific outing dealt with the fact that my sidekick had taken it upon herself to add a third party to our excursions, making it a ménage à trois of sorts. The interloper, a Nikon D3100 digital SLR, is smugness personified, and she has difficulty taking her hands off it even for a moment. So, almost as an afterthought, I was asked to join them on their walk in the woods if I wished.
It would be 103 degrees in Salt Lake City, they told us, but the forecast for Alta, they added, would reach only into the very low 80s. Possessing that particular piece of insight going in, we were still somewhat surprised to encounter, fashion-wise, fleece and windbreakers as the most popular flavors-of-the day as we pulled into the Catherine Pass trailhead at the top of Alta’s Sunnyside lift.
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Blistering it was not! Chilly enough to follow suit layer-wise, however, it was. Whoda thunkit? Visions of my "hoodie" danced in my head. But, of course, I’d left it at home. Drat! Actually, with cloud cover and a moderate breeze having reduced the temperatures to just south of the comfort zone, it was a change most welcome.
Plus, it wasn’t too long before my slicker came off anyway during the initial huff and puff of the trail’s modest incline only to be put back on once the bounteous shafts of virga decided to make landfall. It’s a heavenly trail under any circumstances, but standing under a spruce in a soft summer rain gazing over a spectrum-wide field of wildflowers at the geological wonders of Mt. Superior can be flat-out rapturous.
My friend and her new Nikon found similar ecstatic moments capturing data from sources as widely varied as the green gentian (Frasera speciosa), the American bistort (Polygonium bistortoides), whom she has always affectionately referred to as "beezorts," and Colorado columbines (Aquilegia coerulea).
Morphing quickly into a mosey, the jaunt proceeded above 10,000 feet towards Catherine Pass, stopping often as the many examples of northern Utah alpine wildflowers posed suggestively for the Nikon.
Utilizing a couple of zoom lenses and recently garnered knowledge on shutter speed, aperture openings and light-sensitivity settings, the roaming landscape photographer continually channeled her inner shutterbug as she worked her way up through meadows and hillsides of naturally occurring Wasatch Range flora.
The usual suspects, such as mountain bluebell, Indian paintbrush, plus unidentified varieties of primrose and poppy, also continually called attention to themselves as the slow uphill plod evolved. Admittedly, it was a pace to which I could become accustomed. Not so much, however, that visions of the cooler at the end of the trail ever became blurred.
Soon Catherine Pass itself came into view among the boulders and conifers, signifying the break-over vista with its necklace of lakes flowing down to Brighton and the jutting presence of Sunset Peak against the skyline. I enjoy this neighborhood where Big and Little Cottonwood canyons chose to meet up. Pristine, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder.
For once, our hike didn’t continue on up to the top of Sunset Peak with its stunning panoramic views. This day was about the introduction of digital single-lens-reflex technology to the wildflowers of Albion Basin. And, of course, beating the heat with a heavy dose of natural beauty.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.