One of the problems of living in Salt Lake City this time of year is the advent of the "late winter grays."
The sky is gray and dismal, the ice crusted on the driveway is gray and dismal, and the snow along the roads is gray and dismal (or black and dismal for those traveling Highland Drive).But those seeking an escape from the haze, muck and ice of the city can find solace in dozens of back country trips which are literally minutes away from most Wasatch Front communities.
As one back-country enthusiast, Jim Thompson, says, "Where else can you leave your doorstep and within an hour be in the middle of a pristine wilderness area?"
Traversing Wasatch mountain trails can be more difficult in winter than in summer, but clean air, scenic vistas, and quiet enjoyment await those who make the extra effort to see the canyons in winter.
There are several ways to explore the Wasatch's snowy back country, including cross country skis, snowshoes and hiking. Each has advantages and disadvantages. Your mode of transportation will determine the location and duration of your trip.
Cross country skis offer speed, mobility and access to areas other hikers can only dream about. But skis also take some time to master, especially in steep terrain.
If you can walk you can snowshoe. The webbed shoes enable hikers to traverse broad expanses of deep snow without packed trails. Snowshoers can climb steep grades with mimimum effort. However, like cross country skis, snowshoes can be difficult to control coming down steep slopes.
Hiking on foot with just boots and gaiters is an inexpensive and unencumbered way to get away from it all. But hikes are limited to areas with little snowfall or trails packed down by others.
If you're looking for a place to start, here are two trails that are accessible, can be hiked in a morning or afternoon, and are not overly steep.
Dog Lake (Mill D) - This is a long hike but its gentle slope and well-packed trail make it a good choice for beginners.
Park at the Spruces Campground located 10 miles up Big Cottonwood Canyon. The trail actually begins back down the road at Reynold's Flat but in winter most hikers simply cross the road at the Spruces and head on up.
This is a great cross country ski trail, although if several days have passed since the last snow storm, you can probably walk it in hiking boots and gaiters.
The trail steepens just before Dog Lake, but the sharper grade lasts only a few hundred yards. Hike a bit further toward Big Water for a breathtaking view of Reynold's Peak, Gobblers Knob, and Mt. Raymond among others.
It takes about one to three hours to reach Dog Lake in winter, depending on your ability and whether you are on skis or on foot. It takes about half as much time to go back down.
Bowman Fork Trail (Millcreek Canyon) - Don't try this hike without snowshoes or skis.
The trail begins practically at roadside just 4.7 miles up Millcreek Canyon.
The ascent is gradual and hikers can continue on to White Fir Pass for a view of Thaynes Peak, Mt. Raymond and other peaks. Because of avalanche danger, avoid crossing the stream at Yellow Jacket Gulch and heading down into the gulch. One of the best rewards of this hike is the almost instant solitude and varied terrain.
It takes one to two hours to reach White Fir Pass and an hour to return.
There are hundreds of other hikes along the Wasatch Front, including some short scenic hikes in the foothills. Their variety, beauty, and accessibility make them the perfect cure for the "grays."
For more information on hiking the back country, consult these two reference books:
Wasatch Tours, by Alexis Kelner and David Hanscom, and Hiking the Wasatch, by John Veranth.