Category Archives: BCC

A Taste of Utah Powder

Over my spring break, I headed to Salt Lake City for five days of resort skiing. My brother and I hit Alta, Snowbird, Brighton, and Park City. We had minor powder days on 3 of our 5 days, and the terrain was really outstanding.

Day 1 – Alta/Snowbird

Hello Utah!

We got half-price tickets to Alta and Snowbird for the day since it was within 24 hours of our arrival. Sweet! We started the day at Alta since fresh snow had fallen on Saturday, but for the most part everything was already tracked out by the time we got there. Not to worry, there was good bump skiing and groomer cruising to be had.

Devil’s Castle, Sugar Loaf, and Baldy from near Catherine’s

Mineral Basin is beautiful… but with all that southern exposure, it was totally cooked. Apparently locals call it Miserable Basin. Also, the GoPro failed to charge the night before, so no clips in the video are from today. Bummer!

Mineral Basin from the Alta/Snowbird interconnect

Day 2: Alta

From Day 2 to Day 4 we skied on the “Salt Lake Super Pass” which gives a little discount on the daily rate but includes the UTA Ski Bus fare up and down the canyon. It ends up being a good deal.

Supreme Lift

Snow started falling at around 9am and continued throughout the day, covering the groomers with a few inches and making the skiing off the Supreme Chair pretty nice. We stayed on this fixed-grip triple chair for most of the day because of the great terrain!

Among my favorites were the tree runs and little chutelets skier’s right of the Challenger run, and the open bowl pretty far along the Catherine’s traverse (accessible with a small hike). We also tried skiing off Sugar Loaf and Collins but visibility was poor.

Day 3 and 4: Brighton

Day 3 was the family-friendly day. Dad skied with us for the first time in a while and had a good time once we got him warmed up on the Majestic green runs and up to the Snake Creek Express with some nice blue cruisers. Meanwhile, I was enjoying some unexpectedly good powder stashes in the trees off the beginner/intermediate Majestic Chair (actually the finest powder turns I got at any of the Cottonwoods resorts we visited!)

Looking South towards Little Cottonwood off the Great Western summit. Brings back fun memories of summer hikes on all these peaks

I enjoyed taking the double black runs skiers left of the Snake Creek lift (Snake Bowl and Sawbuck), as well as some tougher lines on Mt. Millicent. Lone Pine is probably the steepest line I’ve skied yet.

Milly face runs (challenging terrain in the middle chutes)

On Wednesday night, it snowed again, leaving us with some nice new powder on Thursday to check out. My favorite runs that day were the mellow tree runs following the Great Western lift line. There were great glades of pines and aspen all along that ridge which could be skied all day long.

Mellow trees off of Great Western
Snowy view of Timpanogos

Day 5: Park City

Park City was an unexpected hit after it snowed heavily Thursday night, leaving 5 inches in the Cottonwoods and 3-4 inches in most of PCMR. My brother and I headed straight for the expert terrain off of the Jupiter lift, but couldn’t resist lapping a couple of the Thaynes runs in untouched powder. It’s all about the journey, not the destination, right?

Jupiter Bowl

Turns out there was plenty left when we got there. I skied Jupiter Bowl/Fortune Teller right under the lift line for my first run, then made the hike to Scott’s Bowl four or five more times before it started getting a little more tracked out.

Scott’s Bowl
Fun mini-cornice drop in to Scott’s Bowl

It was funny to think I had ridden my bike to within a few hundred feet of this point from Salt Lake City (over Guardsman Pass) not too many months ago.

There really is no easy way down from the Jupiter lift, so make sure you have the skills to ski it safely if you go. There are some runs that are easier for double blacks, but steeps and unmarked obstacles could be found pretty much everywhere.

Looking at Pinecone Ridge

The rest of the day consisted largely of nice high-altitude groomers. We avoided the lower runs because it got very soupy as the day warmed up.

Oh yeah, Park City has groomers

And all too soon it was time to head home again! It was an awesome trip. I wouldn’t hesitate to come back to Utah to ski. We got a great deal on accommodations in the valley, and I think you’d be hard pressed to find a better “dollars to quality skiing ratio” anywhere around.

Nice parting shot of Canyonlands as we flew home

Brighton Ridge Traverse

Brighton Ridge (Clayton Peak to Sunset Peak)
8.5 miles RT
3200′ gain
3:46 for the loop
Route map

After Lone Peak the previous day, I took out my map of the Wasatch to find something not too remote that I could hike safely on my own, without too much elevation gain. Brighton Ridge fit the bill nicely.

Rolling up to Brighton at 7am, I was surprised by a bull moose in the parking lot!

Bull moose at the lodge

I started up the mountain on the main trail until reaching the turnoff right around Dog Lake – I took the trail toward Clayton Peak instead of continuing on to the lakes. I saw two more moose in the woods here – a calf and a cow. They ran off down the hill silently. For as awkward as moose are they are graceful and fast when in motion.

Barely visible cow and calf

After not too much longer I gained the saddle and saw a great view down the Wasatch Back over to the Park City side.

From the saddle below Clayton Peak

From here I followed the obvious cat track along the base of Clayton Peak until I found a climber’s trail marked by a cairn (a very nice trail at that). From there it was a breeze to my first peak of the day.

Lake on the backside of Clayton Peak
Looking over the pass to Little Cottonwood
Heber Valley

From here I continued back down the ridge until reaching the saddle and continuing very close to the ridge line the other direction toward Preston Peak. Sometimes there is a use trail, sometimes it is not obvious. Just keep following the ridge. Soon you’ll come to the very indistinct peak that is Preston Peak, although there is a plaque on top for some reason. I didn’t stay long and continued down the ridge.

Coming off Preston Peak

From here, the rest of the route is very scenic but not very challenging.

Moderate south slopes of Brighton Ridge

You’ll reach a saddle with another ski lift, then follow a use trail down the other side to Pioneer Ridge highpoint. Continue down one more saddle to reach the foot of Pioneer Peak. I ascended steeply following a climber’s trail to the top of Pioneer. To the north, Catherine Lake is clearly visible and you can hear the hikers below.

Lake Catherine, Lake Martha, Lake Mary, Dog Lake
Sunset (I think) from Pioneer

From there I just followed the west side of Pioneer down to Sunset Peak and scrambled up crappy, sandy rock to the top where I was surprised to see no one. Usually this peak is packed. This was my third visit to Sunset Peak and I enjoy the view for how little it is. I didn’t like the look of clouds forming to the West so I headed down without delay. I would have liked to have hit Tuscarora, Wolverine, and Millicent and then head back down that way, but I had already climbed Tuscarora and Wolverine and since the weather looked like it could turn it didn’t seem like a good idea today.

The lakes from Sunset Peak
Pioneer Peak above (I think) Lake Catherine

I dropped down the normal trail to Catherine Pass and headed down to the car at a quick pace. I saw my next moose of the day in the meadow below Lake Catherine – a big bull moose!

Bull moose below Lake Catherine

He wouldn’t leave the trail so I walked far around him and continued on my way. The rest of the trail down to the car was actually really nice. Lake Mary is scenic with Mount Millicent behind.

Lake Mary with Mount Millicent
Lake Mary
Wildflowers on the way down

The lower trail was quite crowded. Overall it was a nice quick, moderate hike. I didn’t see a soul from the turnoff near Dog Lake all the way until Catherine Pass, so expect to get away from the crowds on this route, particularly from the Clayton saddle to the summer of Pioneer Peak.

Lake Blanche / Sundial Peak

Sundial Peak


4300′ gain

10.5 miles round trip (my circuitous route)

Class 3


I was looking for another hike to do to kill time today, so I pulled out the trusty Tri-Canyon topo map and zeroed in on Big Cottonwood Canyon. Lake Blanche looked nice and had a peak nearby (Sundial Peak) so that’s what I chose to do.

I got a later-than-usual start on the trail, starting at around 8:20. The Lake Blanche trail is rocky but fairly well graded for a Wasatch trail – I saw lots of people and families enjoying themselves on the moderate trail.

Wildcat Ridge in the morning
Climbing up to the lake

Morning is a really good time to do this trail. It does get hot in the afternoon, even in the shade, but in the morning the canyon wall darkens the trail the entire length up to the lake. Soon enough I came up on a waterfall.

Waterfall: big by Wasatch standards

Finally, Sundial Peak comes into view, indicating that the lake is close.

First glimpse of Sundial Peak

The lake was beautiful as expected. I reached the lake in 1:15 then headed West towards the other two smaller lakes to try to find my way to Sundial.

Lake Blanche from the northeast corner

On the east end of the lake, there are great beds of wildflowers. I love this time of year in Utah!

Sundial with wildflowers below
Lake Blanche from the southeast corner

The correct way to get to Sundial Peak is to follow the trail to the man-made wall on the west end of Lake Blanche, then walk across via a trail just on the west side of the dam which crosses the outlet of the lake. Then bushwhack south, heading for the right (west) side of the base of Sundial. There is slabby rock with some cairns, then a set of cliff bands which gets you to a hanging canyon with scree on the left and more slabs and a meadow on the right. Do not cross to the left too early! The routes are cliffy and dangerous. Instead, continue south along the canyon bottom until you reach a low point in the ridge which is easily (ish) negotiated.

Reaching the base of sundial just before the cliff bands
Climbing up to the ridge (in the wrong spot!)

Once on the ridge, there is exposure left (and especially right) but the routefinding is fairly obvious, even if an occasional move is a bit “exciting.” After 300 yards or so you are standing on top!

Knife edge ridge
East Panorama (click to expand)
Northwest panorama (click to expand)
South and West Panorama with Sunrise and Dromedary peaks on the right
The hanging meadow and scree slope I came up
Dromedary and Sunrise Peaks
Monte Cristo Peak

I ate lunch then headed back down the ridge which was a blast. I took pics this time to give an idea of the scrambling. Not hard, but exposed.

Looking northeast off the ridge
The knife-edge
Coming off the ridge at the saddle

Coming off the ridge in the correct spot was much easier than gaining the ridge in a random gully. I headed to the meadow and found a shady spot to read a magazine. I was in no hurry to go back down where it would be a 100+ degree day in the valley.

From my shady hide out
Coming down the cliff bands looking at the three lakes

I was in the wrong spot coming down the cliff bands so that was sketchier than anticipated. I found the cairns again and made my way down to the south side of Lake Blanche, where I found a shaded rock and read for another couple of hours. It was breezy and I actually felt a little chill there for a bit which was great.

View from my perch

I headed down across the dam at the outlet to the lake and hike out quickly back to the trailhead.

Crossing the outlet of Lake Blanche
Sundial from the West end of Lake Blanche
Sundial reflected in Lake Blanche

Can’t really top that photo. The hike down was quick and uneventful (and hot) but I was glad to have escaped the heat for a little while.

Guardsman Pass Cycling

4750′ vertical
17.5 miles one way

Guardsman Pass is the biggest, baddest road cycling climb in the Wasatch and the most brutal single ride I’ve ever done on the bike. I stupidly didn’t eat well before (salad at lunch, nothing else) and bonked about halfway through and somehow managed to drag my broken body up the rest of the way to the top. I hope to do it again and see if better nutrition makes a difference. The crux of the hill climb is the 15% grade for a few hundred yards right below the summit.

The descent is a blast although the best parts of the downhill are not on the Guardsman road itself, but on the main Big Cottonwood road below Brighton. I hit 42mph without trying too hard since my legs were about to fall off.

The view is the reward for the pain
East from the crest of the Wasatch
Descending the Guardsman Pass road above Brighton

Rock Climbing: Penitentiary Wall

Today started off promising – I had to go into work extremely early so I got out by noon and had lunch. After that, I figured I’d hike Olympus again. Unfortunately, some clouds and rain rolled in and I turned around about halfway to the top. I cut my time to the top by about a third since Sunday though, so progress is being made fitness-wise.

The upside of getting rained out on Olympus is that I got home in time to change and head out to the Wasatch Mountain Club’s weekly Thursday night climb at Penitentiary Wall, in Big Cottonwood Canyon. This is the second time I’d climbed on real rock, so it was exciting to do some quality crack climbing.

Penitentiary Wall

From left to right, I climbed three routes: Climb and Punishment (5.9-), Tax Evasion (5.7) and Speed is of the Essence (5.7). Climb and Punishment in particular was great – my first exposure to crack climbing. The rock was grippy, everyone was very friendly and the environment was novice-friendly. I’m hoping to go back weekly to keep getting better at rock climbing.

View from Penitentiary Wall down the canyon at dusk

Tomorrow, a buddy and I are headed down to Zion National Park. We are planning to hike Angel’s Landing on Saturday, do a quick backpack Saturday night to Sunday afternoon with a couple of quick mountain hikes, and returning Sunday night. Should be a blast! Look for a long post then.