What could be better than snowshoeing up a mountain with a magnificent view for your birthday? For me, not much. I jumped at the chance to head out to Salt Lake City, UT before the Outdoor Retailer Show to spend time in the Wasatch Mountains for my birthday. I got a Wasatch National Forest map for Christmas and I asked the locals I know for suggestions. After much thought I decided on Grandeur Peak in Mill Creek Canyon.
The area was receiving a lot of snow which isn’t always a good thing. This means there are more chances for avalanches, not something we have to think much of back here in New England unless you are on Mount Washington. It seemed that almost everyone I talked to said the safest place to go was Mill Creek Canyon. In the winter the best way to go is via the Church Fork Picnic Area. The picnic area itself is closed off so everyone parks on the road. And by everyone, I mean a lot of people. This is a very popular trail. I have never seen so many people running a mountain, let alone in the winter. We chose to hike Grandeur Peak with our snowshoes on. So up we slowly went.
Covered in snow the trail seemed a lot like back in New Hampshire at first. We were in the trees, there was a nice stream along the side, and we were heading up. The biggest difference at the beginning though was how much slower we were going. We are sea level dwellers. This trail started at 5200 feet. That meant the elevation was kicking our butts. We prepared for this as best we could but it still slowed us down. Truthfully it made me feel out of shape seeing all these runners while I was huffing and puffing to hike. But hey, they live at elevation and are use to it.
We happily stepped aside for the other hikers and runners heading down the trail. Everyone was so nice thanking us and wishing us a good hike. Little did they know I wanted any excuse for a break. Then finally we reached an opening in the trees. There was no denying we were in a whole new place hiking. We were in a canyon, surrounded by towering peaks, all covered in snow. This was Jayne’s first time above treeline in the winter and she was blown away. I had hiked Mt. Superior, a few canyons to the south, in the summer, but once you add a few feet of snow it’s like a whole new world.
Just hiking in the canyon would have been enough for us to talk for days about the natural beauty. The thing with canyons though, if you get to a saddle, or a summit, there is an even better view. The trail levels out at one such saddle with sweeping views of Parleys Canyon and the Salt Lake Valley. In the distance you could even make out Salt Lake City. From here we only had a half mile to go to reach the summit.
Up until this point I would have been fine just hiking with MICROspikes, but now I was happy to have my snowshoes. My snowshoes are designed for hiking up mountains so they have a heel lift in the back. You lift the bar up so that as you climb your foot doesn’t have to go all the way back down. This takes the pressure off of your Achilles and makes ascending easier. Both of us really enjoyed the “easier” as we were approaching 8000 feet on some steep terrain.
There appeared to be two ways up the summit cone, directly up an even steeper slope or around the cone and then a slightly more gradual up.
We went the long way around. This was also around the time that Jayne was most likely cursing me in her head. We weren’t quite to the summit yet and there was one last steep section. We were over 8000 feet, had covered almost 3 miles, and gained around 3000 feet. It wasn’t exactly an easy hike. Jayne stopped for some water, and I promised her that she would enjoy going down the other side so much that the pain now would be worth it.
The summit view on Grandeur Peak was stunning. Even on an overcast day we had a 360 degree view of the Salt Lake Valley and Wasatch Range. This view is unlike any others we have had. The pancake flat valley, met abruptly by the mountains with even more mountains in the distance. It was nature’s perfect birthday present to me.
So, do you want to know what is better than a snowshoe hike on my birthday? Getting to glissade down part of the mountain. A glissade is a controlled butt slide down steep icy or snowy terrain. You go down quicker than hiking, it takes the stress off your joints, and is an absolute blast. Jayne went first and had never done it before so I was a bit hesitant. Once I could hear her laughter I knew that all was forgiven.
We stopped again on our way down at the saddle to get more pictures and take a break. The nice thing about hiking at altitude is the way back down seems so much easier. Now we could see why so many people were running down the trail. It was sad though getting back into the trees, but with all good trails they come to an end.
Grandeur Peak can be hiked (or ran) year round. It took us 20 minutes to get to the trailhead from our hotel in downtown Salt Lake City. You will be rewarded with magnificent views, just be prepared to see other people.