Saturday, August 27, 2011

Little Cottonwood Canyon: Secret Lake and Sugarloaf Road

Distance: About 5 miles in total (a guess)
Elevation Gain: About 1200 ft
Highest Point:  9220 feet at Secret Lake, and about 10200 feet up Sugarloaf Road
Time: About five hours including a lot of stopping, hanging out, and lunch-eating, as well as a walk all the way down the road from the trailhead to the parking lot at Alta.
General Impression:  The scenery is beautiful (lots of wildflowers!) but the crowds were noisy and thick and a bit annoying.  There were LOTS of children.  Note to self: Do not decide to walk back to the car.  It takes way too long and your feet will be tired and you'll regret it!

The day before setting off on this hike, we went to REI and spent 4 hours and lots of dollars on everything we expected we would need for camping.  We made a reservation for Labour Day weekend for our first trip, so we needed to get set up!  That shopping trip included new hiking boots for both Steve and I!  I definitely did not want to continue hiking in my Nike running shoes, and his basque hiking shoes were worn right now.  We both found ourselves some good quality, none-too-cheap Asolos, and for this hike we planned to break them in.  We also brought along our brand new water filter, just to make sure we knew how to use it.

We drove up to Alta ski resort and read a sign that said the parking lot at the Albion Basin was full so we should take the free shuttle.  Not wanting to be left without a parking spot, we parked the car and waited a few minutes for a little white shuttle bus to appear.  Us and a million other people packed onto the bus.  It was so squishy that Steve had to sit on the floor!  There were two ladies having a loud conversation and we were a bit annoyed to have to listen to them for the full ten minute ride up the rest of the way to the trailhead.

The area was truly beautiful.  Amazing wildflowers abounded, we crossed a few little streams, and the views of the valley were striking.  We were stuck just ahead of those annoyingly loud ladies, so we headed off to a viewpoint to let them pass.  While we were admiring the view, we heard the young family next to us speaking in Hebrew, so we started chatting with them and talking about the Jewish community in Salt Lake.  There is one, in case you wanted to know, and it's small but present.

After a good twenty minute chat with this family, we kept on going up to Secret Lake.  It was awesome!  The lake reflected the tall mountain peaks above it.  We climbed up onto a tall rock formation and admired the lake and mountains for a while.  Since it had been an easy ascent to the lake, we decided to keep on walking up what I think is called Sugarloaf Road, a wide road underneath an Alta ski lift that lead us up higher into the mountain.  A few mountain bikers sped past us, heading down the road.  There was some kind of re-seeding project going on that we didn't know about or what it was, and some hiker's told us we shouldn't be walking on it.  Good to know!

After less than an hour more of hiking, we stopped for lunch.  I had brought a little picnic of tomato, cheese, avocado, bread, some tangerines, and trail mix.  It was a delicious lunch, if a bit difficult to cut and prepare without a plate or chopping board.  Next time we'll remember that.

It was getting chilly at the top, so we decided to make our way down.  Once back at Secret Lake we took out our new water filter and gave it a try.  We pumped our Nalgene full of lake water and had a taste.  I guess it tasted pretty good, but I still feel weird drinking lake water.  Our stomachs were fine, I'm happy to report.

We walked all the way down to the trailhead and then Steve said, "hey, why don't we walk back to the car?  It's probably only, like, fifteen more minutes."  I was a bit skeptical about his time estimate, since the bus took a good ten or so minutes to drive that distance, but I agreed.  An hour later, after much complaining and sulking and tired feet and absolutely breathtaking views, we finally arrived at the car.

I fell asleep on the drive home, and we took a soothing hot tub on the rooftop when we got home.  We were both very happy to find our feet blister-free and tired but not sore; it was a great first run of our new boots!

This was definitely a beautiful hike and beautiful area, but I might try another route in the Albion Basin that escapes some of the crowds.  Either that or I would leave earlier in the day for that same reason.

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