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American Fork Canyon to Snowbird

For me (Carl), this was my first hike in many years…especially at this level of grueling pace and difficulty. It was also my first introduction to Brad Clements. While I had known David Hansen for a year or so (his wife and my wife worked together), it was also my first real exposure to David in the backcounty….not a pretty site!

I flew out to SLC with David back in the day when $199 would get you a round trip flight on an 80% empty plane. David munched on a rotten banana in the seat next to me on the ride out.

When we got to SLC, we met up with Brad. I think I stayed at Brad’s house. David might have stayed with his mom or inlaws…I can’t recall.

The next day we drove in Brad’s new Jeep up American Fork Canyon to a parking lot by Silver Lake Reservoir. We left the Jeep for Brad’s wife, Gerry, to pick-up later that day with her friend. Our hike started up a beatiful trail gently sloping up through some nice aspen forests. We quickly broke out of the aspen into open alpine meadows. Still on trail, I was doing OK, but the incline was definitely letting me know we were at altitude and I had not been hiking in a while!

David and Brad hiked ahead and we eventually broke from the established trail to hike over land to our lunch destination, Silver Creek Lake. The lake was small, buggy and beatiful. We had nice views of Mt. Timpanogos in the distance to the south along with a number of fairly threatening storm clouds accompanied by rumbles. Oh well.

After a quick lunch, we hiked beyond the Silver Creek Lake. No trail. The ground was loose rock and sand/mud. It was very difficult to walk on and we all slipped down with every step up. I tried walking side to side in a switch back like fashion, but it was not much help. As we climbed well above 10,000 feet, I slowed a lot. Eventually I could see that Brad and David had made it to the ridgeline around 11,200 feet. I was at least 30 minutes away. They decided to come back down and take my pack up for which I was very grateful. Even after they took my pack, I was slow to get to the top.

We hiked on the ridge which was a sheer drop of 500 to 1000 or more feet on either side. Footing was very poor – just loose shale. As the storms loomed all around us, we climbed the last 130 feet up to the summit of White Baldy. Where else would you want to be in a thunderstorm?

Sure enough around 2pm or 3pm, the first storm hit while we were on the summit. It was loud. Cloud to ground lightning is very loud when the clouds are around 12,000 feet and you are at 11,300 feet! We were all pretty scared and sheltered under a rock just down from the summit. There was no where else to go.

After the storm passed, we tried continuing on the ridge but the rocks were now wet and very slippery. The ridge also took a 15 foot drop just ahead and it was not possible to navigate by foot. Luckily, David brought 45 pounds of climbing rope! I was now starting to understand why his pack weighed well over 75 lbs. David thought we could all climb down the 15 foot drop if we just did not have packs on our backs. So the plan was to lower the packs down with the rope and then climb down and continue on.

Thankfully I was able to talk Brad’s last neuron of sensibility into not continuing with that plan. Instead, we decided that somehow it might be a bad idea to lower our packs down a steep cliff with a rops….our packs which contained our food, warm clothing, sleeping bags and other random things that could sustain life. Instead we hiked backed down the ridgeline a bit and found a very very small patch of grass at 11,000 feet, which we called camp for the night.

The storms subsided and we ended up sleeping 1, 2, 3 on that patch of lawn, covered in a plastic sheet…turns out we did not actually bring a tent as it never rains in Utah in the summer! Well almost never. Luckily the rain did stay away for the night and we even saw a very nice sunset before trying to get some sleep. Other than the wind rattling the plastic around, we all got some sleep that night.

Next morning after breakfast we headed down a very steep and unstable rocky/muddy slope. It was more like skiing than hiking at times including a large glacade down a snow field at the bottom. The fun part about the glacade is that as I remember, David decided to ride down using a plastic tarp or rain coat as his sled…but it was hard to stop at the bottom before the snow ended and the rocks began. I think we all got a little scraped up with this bit of poor thinking, but hey, we were still alive.

We went boldering across some 10 foot diameter rocks from there on our way to a nicer alpine meadow slope which took us up to the next ridge line. We had made contact with Kim Aschroft by that time. Kim was late to the party and trying to meet us half way on our route. He had taken the snowbird tram up and was walking the ridgeline towards us. When we finally got up to the ridge we could see a form off in the distance on the next saddle. It sure looked like Kim, but we would need to get closer to see.

It was Kim! We had a quick reununion and discussed our adventures. As we continued onwards along the ridge to Snowbird Kim told us that the route from Snowbird to Alta and Devils Castle along the ridge appeared unpassable. He ended up being right…combined with out rather exciting thunderstorm experience, we decided to cut the hike short one night and head down the Snowbird tram for pizza. Certainly a delicious move!

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