Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

June 24, 2013

Backpacking: Corner Canyon to Bell Canyon, Utah

I like to explore my backyard, wherever I find myself.  City dwellers (of which I am one now) might call this their neighborhood.   When the snow was still falling, my travels were limited to the lower canyons and streets around me, but now warmer weather has arrived in Utah, thank goodness!   And the snow line in the mountains keeps creeping upward.   So my backyard now includes a really big mountain range.  Luckily, after my EMT course, I found myself with a couple of free days, and decided to take a backpacking trip up into the mountains.

Lone Peak, at just over 11,000 feet, was practically begging me to visit it.  Unfortunately the actual peak is somewhat technical, so I left that for a later visit, and went for easier walking trails instead.   Or so I thought.

After packing my gear, I walked out my front door (that's right, no driving needed) and headed southeast to find the Bonneville Shoreline Trail.   This foothill trail follows the edge of the mountains, along what used to be the shoreline of a huge lake which covered the entire valley.  The current great salt lake is now just a remnant of what it used to be.   The Bonneville trail led me a few miles south to Corner Canyon, where I met up with a jeep trail and finally started climbing in ernest.   Since the house is at 5,000 feet in elevation, I was already out of breath, and wondering how I would get up to 10,000!

Jacob's Ladder Trail started when the jeep trail ended, and then began a lot hot afternoon climb up the south side of Lone Peak.   It starts pretty gently, but it was so hot that I soon found a shaded rock to hide under, and took a short nap.   I continue hiking in the late afternoon, turning off Jacob's Ladder and continuing to work my way around the canyons to the East, looking over the town of Alpine.

The trail then degraded to the point that it was barely an animal trail.   Spring growth had overgrown the path in many spots, and my legs were constantly pushing through branches.  It continued this way for quite a few miles, and it was slow going as I had trouble even following the trail.  It was still a trail, but barely.

There weren't many flat spots, either.  With a short time to go until sunset, I was happy to find a small meadow with a few old fire rings.   It was just flat enough and I was happy to lay out my tarp and sleeping bag there for the night.   It was my first experiment of not carrying a tent, and luckily even the few bugs left me alone for a good night's sleep.

The poor trail continued the next day.  I was still hoping for some nice alpine scenery, but what I got was more struggling through scrub oak and other bushes covering the trail.   Finally I worked my way up and over to the Lake Hardy trail.    This trail was steeper, but well-used, and my scratched legs got a break as my lungs burned climbing up to the lake.    The views got better, too, as I was finally out of the trees and into the alpine rocks.   The final climb up to Lake Hardy was over boulders, but it was worth it for the views.

At the lake, I settled in for a rest and knew I had a choice to make.  Descend back down to return the way I came, or set off cross country and try to find an alternate route back to my house.   Cringing at the thought of pushing back through the nasty trail I had come on (that's right, I neglected to bring any long pants), I decided to try a new trail.  How much worse could it be?

From Lake Hardy, I climbed higher, above 10,000 feet, and reached a saddle of boulders.  From here I could finally see down into the northern valley where I was headed.  Bell Canyon reservoirs were far below me.   I also had a great view of the backside of Lone Peak, which looked impossibly steep.  There's a reason the only approach is from the west!

Snow lay heavy on the valley in front of me, so the fastest way down was to skate my shoes through the slushy white stuff.  It proved a quick way to go, and pretty soon I was looking back up at the pass realizing it was far above me.  The snow was pretty sturdy even for late afternoon, although I did have a few moments of falling into holes up to my knees.   My bare legs got a bit cold and found a few more scrapes.

A mountain stream was running steadily from the snowmelt, and it was a beautiful afternoon of hiking. I passed up a few nice places to camp, hoping to get to lower elevations where I might be warmer through a night with no tent.

The terrain defied me, however, and kept getting steeper.   Upper Bell Canyon reservoir, and the trail below it, proved very hard to find.  I kept checking and rechecking the map, and finally realized that I had come down the other side of the canyon, which was wider than I had realized at first.    This might have been a blessing in disguise, as my side of the canyon was marginally less steep.   Although that was hard to see at the time as I picked my way through house-sized boulders wishing the snowfields hadn't run out.

I never did get to see the upper reservoir, although I finally did find the trail below it, which was a sight for sore legs.  It was still steep but at least there was a trail to follow.   At a river junction in the late evening, I even found a flat place to camp, and was able to brew up some supper on my alcohol stove.

The descent on my last morning was steep, but relatively easy.  After the bushwacking of the last couple days, it was a walk in the park.   The path led along a crashing river for a while, with some nice waterfalls, and then finally I was down to the lower reservoir, which I had visited before.   At that point I felt like I was home already.   Another short descent to the main road, and a couple of miles later I was turning in my driveway for a cold drink, a shower, and a shady escape from the hot sunshine.

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