In Utah, where 99.9% of all trails head directly UP, and switchbacks are scarce, getting into trail running can be, well, exhausting. If you’re hard-pressed to find a moderate trail to begin on, is it even worth “running” at all if you spend the majority of the time speed-hiking?
When I talk to people about venturing into the world of dirt and scraped knees, the most common, and almost immediate, response is this:
I don’t think I can run the whole thing.
My dear, sweet friends, I have good news for you!
The majority of trail runners walk the uphills.
You read that right! When I first started trail running I had no idea that even the elitest of the elites will hike the uphills and run the downhills (granted their uphills are literal mountains, but still).
So when we’re talking about how fast or slow you should be trail running, the best answer I can find is to do what feels right for YOU and YOUR BODY. It’s easy to get so caught up in what we think we should or shouldn’t be doing, that we make it impossible for ourselves to even start. That’s a nasty trap to get caught in.
In Salt Lake, there are some great, moderate trails for beginners. The Pipeline Trail in Millcreek Canyon, and the Bonneville Shoreline Trail near the Avenues and the University, are both great options. And as you move on from there, give yourself grace, and a high-five for getting out in the first place.
The outdoors can be intimidating, I know from experience. It’s even more intimidating when you live in a place that professional athletes use as their training ground. However, I suggest we use that as motivation to get out and get after it.
Who knows? After a few years of training you could be running laps around the Wasatch.
I recently attended the No Man’s Land Film Festival put on my Wylder Goods. It was an EPIC night filled with inspiration, activism, and badass lady crushers. This round-up features non-profits and films from the event.
HEAL Utah is an active non-profit in the Salt Lake City area that’s fighting for clean air. The most negative side effect to being a Salt Lake resident is the inversion we face every winter. Unfortunately, this once wintertime problem is slowly leaking into a year-round problem as we damage the ozone above our beautiful city and mountains. They work tirelessly especially during the legislative session to promote the passage of Clean Air and Clean Energy laws.
Shannon Galpin is a doer. In 2009 she left everything behind to start a non-profit in Afghanistan to empower women through cycling. For five years Shannon had no success, and was unable to find even one female who rode in Afghanistan. After years of learning to understand the culture and the deep-seeded taboos behind women riding bicycles, Shannon was able to establish her non-profit, Mountain2Mountain, to get women riding. Since then, Afghanistan has developed a national women’s cycling team, which has found the support and gained generous donations from Liv cycles.
Save Our Canyons began in 1972 as Salt Lake residents saw the threat of urbanization on the Wasatch Front. They have worked endlessly to protect our wilderness and canyons from development and industry. Through the organization, Lone Peak, Mt. Olympus, and Twin Peaks, have been saved as designated wilderness. As the non-profit grows, they continue to take on new tasks like protecting the watershed, and, currently, raising funds to save Bonanza Flats.
Last note of inspiration: The Edges Film spotlights a wonderful passionate woman, Yvonne Dowlen. Yvonne started ice skating as a young girl, and turned her passion into her career. Even after a car accident and a stroke, both in her 80s, she continued to skate five days a week. I was so inspired by this film, and the fact that at NINETY YEARS OLD she was still ice skating. Age is just a number, people.
I am a die-hard lover of the paper version. I’ll take a book over a kindle, a newspaper over an online edition, and a map over an app. Generally. However, the Wasatch Backcountry Skiing App is a game changer.
The Wasatch Backcountry Skiing App takes it’s parent paper version and turns it into an interactive technological map that can be zoomed in/out, turned, and oriented either in the direction of travel or north.
One of the best features of the app is it’s GPS component. As long as your cell phone has battery life, you can track your progress through a blue dot on the app. With the GPS, you can also find your elevation, longitude/latitude, and compass degree. This has helped me figure out where the skin track is supposed to be, and has allowed me to get a better idea of where I am in the backcountry.
Because of the improved GPS accuracy, you can search for a location in the Cottonwoods and choose it as a destination. The compass then incorporates a blue arrow that points you in the direction you wish to go.
The App also features an “Email Current Location” option so you can track your own progress, or alert friends/family members of your most recent location.
Some other great features are the shading of slopes steeper than 30 degrees, and route finding capabilities.
The only downfall to the app is the inability to get your bearings once you’ve zoomed out. However, the app is best used as a companion to the Wasatch Backcountry Skiing Map.
I highly recommend this app for its ease of use, slope shading, and GPS features.
You can purchase for either iPhone or Android through the App store for $12.99.
For further information, check out the developer’s webpage here.
Whenever I introduce a friend to backcountry touring their first question usually is, what do I bring? Packing a bag for a half or full day tour can be easy once you know what to anticipate.
I always suggest checking the forecast in the morning. Will it get warmer throughout the day? Is a storm expected? This will give you some insight to what layers to wear, what layers to pack, and what layers to leave at home.
If the weather is supposed to be 40 and above in the Wasatch I leave my puffy at home. Generally, it’s good advice to always have a puffy with you, but the majority of tours I take in the Wasatch are low angle and close to emergency services. I know the chances of being out overnight are slim. But please, always do what feels comfortable for you and your situation. You know your environment better than I do.
In terms of food, I prefer to snack throughout the day (unless I have some leftover pizza!) I pack dried fruit, cliff bars, nuts, and lots of water. I always fill up my 3L CamelBak regardless of tour length.
Always, always, always take your beacon, shovel, and probe. Even if you aren’t traveling through avalanche terrain, there are groups in the backcountry who are, and it may be up to you to rescue them. Always be prepared for anything that can happen.
In my pack:
Batteries (for headlamp and beacon)
Extra gloves (lighter or heavier depending on the weather)
Wilderness First Aid Field Book
First Aid Kit
Bag for my Skins
Wasatch Backcountry Map
If you’re just starting out it’s safer to overpack. With more tours you’ll get a better feel for what’s important to bring into the backcountry, and with the exception of beacon, shovel, and probe, it’s different for everyone. A good general rule is to pack for the worst and hope for the best. The last thing you want in the backcountry is to be wishing you’d brought something you’d opted out on because of the extra weight.
Anything I missed? Let me know what’s in your pack in the comments!
If you’ve read any of the avalanche advisories you may be weary to break out the skins on a high avy danger day, and for good reason. When avy danger is high it is so important to stay well away from avalanche terrain. Having a way to measure slope angle, read a map, and determine terrain traps are some of the best tools you can take into the backcountry. And always follow the seven P’s!
In the Wasatch, there are a number of tours you can take even if the avalanche danger is high. These are some of my favorite tours regardless of avalanche danger.
Big Cottonwood Canyon
Located in Big Cottonwood Canyon across from Solitude resort, USA Bowl offers a wide-open low-angle bowl where you can make figure eight turns to your hearts content. The tour is mellow up until the last push to the ridge. Start out on the summer road across the street from Solitude’s upper parking lot and head west on the skin track. At about 8500’ you’ll come upon a large cabin to the east where the skin track heads north. The track meanders through aspen glades until it meets the bowl. If you decide to put in a switchback, don’t cut too heavily into the untracked powder. In USA Bowl, rumor has it that east of the Mississippi slides, so to play it safe, stay west, and enjoy!
Mill D offers a wide variety of tour options. With the exception of the east face of Reynold’s peak and the north face of West Desolation Ridge, the terrain in Mill D is low-angle and low avalanche danger. From the Spruces trailhead, skin north on the summer road to the community of cabins, once past the gate you can access:
Short Swing: Known as the Dawn Patrol route, Short Swing is best if you have time constraints. The track is the first one that heads east, a little more than half mile up the trail, and ends at point 9,269. Be cautious of the cornice that forms to the north of 9,269’s ridge. Aspen glades and good powder can be found west on the descent.
Powder Park 3: About a mile up the skin track, head east along the northern side of a gully. The track eventually leads to a meadow—this means you’re close! Across the meadow and to the south is the skin track leading to the cone at about 9200’. You can choose to descend from the top of the cone, or keep skinning to the south side of West Desolation Ridge, which offers extensive tree skiing. (This can also be accessed if you head north at the meadow, and gain the ridge).
Tom’s Hill: Tom’s hill can be accessed by taking the Mill D trailhead and heading west up the skin track, or by following Spruces trailhead until it splits at the furthest part of the drainage and heads west. The two most popular descents are to the north, Tom’s Hill, or to the west, Weathering Heights.
Park about 13 miles up the canyon alongside the road. To the north you can see a sign on a tree that reads “Beartrap Fork.” Follow the skin track north through the aspen glades. The trail is about 2 miles to the top of the drainage where you can access the Beartrap Glades and connect to peak 9,990 in Canyons Resort.
Beartrap is one of the best places to go for beginning backcountry skiing. The aspen glades to the east about half mile up the trail offer excellent, well-spaced, low-angle tree skiing. From the meadow, about a ¾ mile up the trail, you can also head west to The Cone (connecting you to Powder Park 3 in Mill D), or point 9,269, and ski the east facing aspects. The east side of The Cone offers open skiing, while the east face of point 9,269 has a mixture of open skiing and well-spaced aspen.
Little Cottonwood Canyon:
Grizzly Gulch is the beginner’s tour in LCC. The summer road is groomed by Alta to support their Cat Skiing operation, which makes it one of the easiest skins in either of the Cottonwoods. I can’t speak much to the beginner terrain in the area, but have included a link to some information through the Utah Avalanche Center.
A couple weeks ago, after the devastating news of what our new president has planned for our environment, I decided to take action. The SLCA (Salt Lake Climber’s Alliance), along with the Access Fund and the Forest Service, are developing the largest trail network on Forest Service land. Pretty cool, right? It’s called The Grit Mill Project and you can check it out here.
Except, at first, I didn’t think it was cool. My knee-jerk reaction to trail work was negative because I viewed it as:
A disturbance to the natural environment
A money-suck, especially in labor
Making approaches unnecessarily long
Making access easier (and could bring in graffiti artists *anger, anger, anger*)
And, of course, it pissed off die hard climbers who want to go back to the 1960’s when LITERALLY NOBODY ELSE was out climbing. (I feel you.)
But, I wanted to volunteer with an open mind, so I strapped on my work boots and hit the trail.
I hadn’t known much about the Access Fund. I’d heard their slogan to “Protect America’s Climbing,” but I didn’t know how they achieved that. What does sustainable trail work look like and how are they advocates?
They are advocates by supporting local initiatives through grants and loans. They use their platform to rally signatures for petitions. They organize adopt-a-crag events and help other passionate, local climbers do the same. They spend their workdays literally protecting America’s climbing from getting snagged up in public and private land swaps and sales. On top of all that, they also create sustainable ways to access the crags we love so dearly.
I’m going to take it back to high school and throw down the actual definition of sustainable:
Sustainable: (adjective) capable of being supported or upheld, as by having its weight borne from below.
Trail work employs natural elements to create a trail that can withstand the weight we stress on it every day. Through trail building, volunteers help make crush that fills in gaps between rocks to form stairs and solid retaining walls. They widen already existing trails or clear the way for new ones. They remove root systems that would eventually impact the trail. It’s a process of reinforcement that maintains the trails for years.
The trails that snake their way up Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons (as well as hundreds of other climbing areas) don’t have the capacity to support themselves with the amount of force we put on them. Think about it! A rope alone weighs about 10 pounds, add to that draws, food, water, and god-forbid a trad rack, PLUS your body weight—we’re easily packing up hundreds of thousands of pounds on these little deer trails. No wonder the Access Fund and other sustainability groups are worried about erosion. With the amount of weight we’re pushing down on the soil I’m surprised we haven’t destroyed the trails and mountainsides sooner.
I learned that I am undereducated about sustainability and the environment. I am, however, excited to learn more and become a better advocate.
As a concessionary note—trail work shouldn’t (and I don’t think it will) become necessary in more remote, alpine environments. We all want those places to remain wild. But, if I’m going to my local crag, and I know there are going to be a bunch of people with their dogs and their beer and their boomboxes, then I want to know, that as the sport grows, we’re doing our best to protect the places we love.
Salt Lake City is a hidden gem for the outdoor enthusiast and it blows my mind I didn’t find it sooner. Because of the stigma surrounding Utah, many people (previously myself included) grow weary the second the Beehive state is mentioned. While this is unfortunate for those tee-tottering over the idea of moving out West, the growing number of us who have found this mecca of outdoor sport are reveling in our adventure filled backyard.
Thirty minutes south of downtown, American Fork Canyon snakes it’s way up the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. It brings in tourists wanting to explore the Timpanogos cave, enjoy a picnic at one of the many picnic areas, or camp at the various campgrounds. For me and my friends, it’s a limestone playground.
According to Mountain Project, American Fork boasts 475 routes, the majority being sport, which makes sense as American Fork was the birthplace of steep-overhanging sport routes back in the 1980’s.
While I’m not typically one for steep-overhanging sport routes, I’m slowly beginning the enjoy getting physical with routes like Helix (5.12b at Black Magic Cave), and Naked Nebula (5.12a at White Wave Wall).
The area is great to explore in the summer months since the elevation keeps temps at a comfortable level. However, be prepared to keep some hand warmers in your chalk bag if you decide to head to any crag on the south side of the canyon in mid-late October.
What’s even better? For those of us looking to not bust our lungs on a long approach, the majority of crags are only a few paces off the road. Though, don’t let that fool you, as nearly every trail in Utah heads straight up.
Guidebook: Climber’s Guide to American Fork Canyon—In Salt Lake, pick it up at IME or the Gear Room. From the South, check out Mountainworks in Provo for a wealth of information. If you’re looking to add to your Dividend, REI keeps the guidebook in stock. Also check it out on Mountain Project for more up-to-date information about the newer, shiny-bolted routes.
Camping: Six campgrounds, all running at a rate of $21/night for 8 people. I’d suggest bringing seven lucky friends to cut down the cost.
Getting there: From Salt Lake: 1-15 down to exit 284, then take a left on Highway 92 which takes you straight into the canyon. From Provo: 1-15 N to exit 276, left on State Street, then right on Highway 146 which takes you straight into the canyon after joining with 92.
**If driving into American Fork just to climb, you can circumnavigate the fee by parking in the gravel pullout areas. Otherwise it’s $3 a day to access the canyon.
Other things to keep in mind: Utah is very protective of their watershed and asks all visitors and mother-nature-enjoyers to keep their business at least 200ft away from any body of water. Unlike the Cottonwood’s, your pups are allowed to enjoy American Fork Canyon. And, as always, Leave No Trace, people. If you packed it in, please pack it out.
Have you visited American Fork? Let me know your favorite route so I can check it out!