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Ridgelines: The perfect tree

Tom Kelly, Ridgelines

Light snow was starting to fall as we scaled the snow-covered hillside. Low hanging clouds were covering the ridgelines of the Wasatch Range in the distance. The solitude in the national forest was broken only by the squeak, squeak, squeak of our heavy boots stepping on the frozen snow caked onto the forest floor.

Today was a good day to take a break from skiing, packing the silver Jeep Rubicon with all of the essentials for a trip up to the Uintas.

Let’s see. Parka, check. Checkerboard Stormy Kromer hat matching my woolen flannel shirt, check. Chainsaw, check. Tow straps for rescue, check. Forest service permit, check. Cell phone so we can call for help, even though we know there will be no coverage, check. Let our granddaughter know where we’re going in case we don’t come back (they hate that), check. 



That’s right, we’re going Christmas Tree hunting!

A drive up the Mirror Lake Highway in winter is not something to take lightly. My wife Carole and I hooked the Jeep Rubicon up to our neighbor’s trailer, pulled out of the driveway in Park City and pointed our reliable ride towards Kamas. It was a busy day for Christmas tree hunters — we counted over 100 trees!



Like many Parkites, we used to spend romantic evenings under the lights sorting through the wonderful selection of trees at Park City Nursery. It was a social outing, seeking to find that perfect Charlie Brown evergreen to welcome into our home. But there’s a special allure to cutting down your own.

There was plenty of snow this year as we headed up State Route 150, steadily climbing in elevation as we turned off onto Upper Setting Road – a treacherous, switchbacking climb up into the mountains. An Escalade was stopped ahead as a family hurriedly tied their tree to the top. 

We waited.

An oversized Ford pickup came up the hill looking to creep through the tiny opening of roadway alongside the Escalade before it suddenly dropped its left front tire off over a 10-foot ravine. Soon we had 25 friendly Utahns summoning our collective Matt’s Off Road Recovery knowledge from YouTube to patch together tow straps, winch cable, ratchet straps and good old fashioned human energy to pull the family to safety.

Friendships were made, adventure stories were created and young boys proudly gained their first sense of mountain rescue.

After that 90-minute distraction, the light was getting lower. Snow was glazing on the roadway as temperatures dropped. Carole had scaled the hillside to find that perfect tree. Chainsaw in hand, we got to work.

Despite my native lumberjack skills, trees I cut rarely fall where planned. I carefully plotted the location of my V-cut, then masterfully sliced behind it. Well, our tree had grown into the limbs of another and was attached at the top. A solid push sent it tumbling downhill — missing the GoPro camera by inches, exactly as planned!

One of the reasons I never took to deer hunting was simply not understanding how you got the deer out of the woods. Christmas trees are like that. You don’t think of the weight when you’re looking up at the gorgeous tree.

Wrapping a tow strap around the trunk, I pulled it inch-by-inch down the hillside. 

The next stage is lifting the hundred-pound tree into the trailer. As an FJ with a gigantic bushy tree on top came down the hill, we quickly posed a struggle in hopes they would stop to help. “Hey, TK, is that you,” yelled the driver. Yes, of course, it was our friends Laura and Tom, who gladly lent a hand as we shared stories of our afternoon in the Uintas. 

The drive down Upper Setting Road was terrifying as the sun set over the Wasatch. We crept slowly, finally hitting the dry pavement of the Mirror Lake Highway. It was fully dark with just a tiny sliver of a crescent moon as the Rubicon pulled into The Notch. 

Grabbing a table by the log cabin fireplace, we settled down over a beer. It was just five minutes from the call-the-cavalry deadline we had given our granddaughter Hannah. So we texted her photos and told her all was well.

Warming up by the crackling fire, Carole and I regaled each other with lifelong stories of adventures that somehow we had survived.

Christmas tree hunting is about friends, being outdoors, camaraderie and adventure. It breeds stories we can share with others. But, most of all, it’s summoning up that Wisconsin lumberjack in all of us as we yell TIMBERRRRR!

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