Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Brighton Ridge + Great Western Trail + Ridge Trail 157

Back Spine Ridge
Central Wasatch, Utah
Hiking/Scrambling/Trail Running

Link: Video Report

I am currently training for a 93 mile trail run/hike around Mt. Rainier on the well-known Wonderland Trail.  My friend Michael and I will be attempting to complete the loop in under 48 hours on August 24th and 25th.  Obviously, this sort of goal requires excellent fitness and training.  Unfortunately, I have not been training as hard as I should.  Mostly I want my body to get used to doing long, long days.

On Monday, July 30, 2012 I decided to make myself do a long day, alone.  I dropped a car off at Mill Canyon Spring (along the Alpine loop in American Fork Canyon) at 7 am and my dad drove me over to Guardsman Pass (divide between Brighton, Park City and the Heber Valley).  I planned to follow the Brighton Ridge south and southwest towards Catherine Pass and then follow the Great Western Trail until it intersects with Ridge Trail 157 and follow it until I reached my car at Mill Canyon Spring.  According to the route I made on my GPS, I estimated it would be about 17 miles with about 6,000 ft elevation gain.  

*I have named the north-south ridgeline above the Heber Valley "Back Spine Ridge." As far as I know, no one has connected this entire ridge line into a single day.   The ridge is essentially the back spine of the wasatch and it extends from the Park City Ridge in the north near Guardsman Pass all the way to the Alpine Loop near Mt. Timpanogos.  All other ridges in the central Wasatch connect with "Back Spine Ridge," hence the name.  

                                                      Back Spine Ridge

I started moving at 8:30 am at Guardsman Pass as my dad drove back to Midway to begin his workday.  I quickly made my way up the ridge and summited the small peak directly south of Guardsman Pass (North Clayton Peak?) and then the larger Clayton Peak or Mount Majestic.  There is a decent "trail" to follow along the entire ridge.  

                                          Looking east from Clayton Peak

List of peaks on Brighton Ridge from North to South:
North Clayton Peak (>10,300 ft)
Clayton Peak (10,584 ft)
Preston Peak (10,315 ft)
Pioneer Ridge (>10,000 ft)
Pioneer Peak (10,354 ft)
Sunset Peak (10,522 ft)

*Elevation calculated by GPS

                                                  Brighton Ridge
                                            
I had awesome views of the Heber Valley to my left and top of Big Cottonwood Canyon and its lakes to my right.  I felt like I could see all of the central Wasatch mountains.  In comparison to the larger ridges in the Wasatch (Cottonwood, Beatout, Wildcat, etc)*, the Brighton Ridge has little exposure and is very easy going.  I reached Catherine Pass in less than 2 hours (3.75 miles).  

*See trip reports of Cottonwood Ridge, Beatout, and Alpine Ridge in Summer of 2011 on the right
     Looking south towards Mt. Timpanogos, my car is over there somewhere!

From Catherine Pass I took the Great Western Trail southeast into American Fork Canyon territory. I followed the trail down, down, down until it intersected with Trail 157 (marked on the left) about 1.5 miles from the pass.  This took me about 15 minutes.    

Ridge Trail 157 climbs up and regains Back Spine Ridge.  It follows a great single-track dirt trail through beautiful aspen groves and high mountain meadows up to Ant Knolls (9,859 ft).  I had great views of Timpanogos, Mineral Basin (backside of Snowbird), Mt. Baldy, Hidden Peak, AF twin peaks, Red Baldy, White Baldy, Box Elder, and the entire Heber Valley to the east.  The trail meanders down the south side of Ant Knolls to a dirt road crossing.  The dirt road comes from Snake Creek Canyon from Midway, UT up and over Pole Line Pass into American Fork Canyon.  In fact, this is where I saw the only people I saw the entire day; 4 Heber City folk, no doubt, 4-wheeling around on the dirt road.  I jogged right on by.  

                        Looking towards Mineral Basin from Ant Knolls area

Ridge Trail 157 contours along the western side of Mill Canyon Peak for a couple miles until it reaches a high meadow pass near Rock Spring.  I was starting to run out of juice at this point.  I had gone 13 miles at this point in about 4 hours.  I tried to eat some granola bars but it wasn't going down very easy.  It was getting hot, I was running low on water, I didn't have an appetite and little known to me, I still had 5 miles or more to go plus significant elevation gain.

At the saddle near the top of Mill Canyon Peak, I took a wrong turn, a major wrong turn.  There were several trails to choose from and the trails on my GPS and my phone GPS and the real trails did not correlate.  Disaster.  According to Mill Canyon Peak trip reports, its only 2 miles from Mill Canyon Peak to the spring where my car was parked.  No big deal, I'll find it.

I eventually did find it.  But I added at least 5 miles to my already long, fast day.  The good news is that I saw a herd of 30+ elk on my detour....As I entered an aspen grove, I looked around and spotted a large, dark-colored animal 50 yards away.  At first it spooked me, thinking it was a black bear.  Then I realized it was an elk!  It looked right at me and then 2 more appeared and looked at me.  I started to pull out my camera and then, I saw about 30 or more stand up from the tall grass and bolt off.  What a sight.  I heard bugling for an hour following my encounter.  Maybe my 2 hours and 5 miles extra of torture was worth it.   

Total time: 7 hours
Total moving time: 6 hours
Total distance: 20.1 miles