Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Down from Hidden Peak

The start of the hike down from Hidden Peak.

On the final day of The American Birding Association convention at the Snowbird Resort in Utah, Julie and I joined a trip going up on the tram to Hidden Peak. What I did not tell her was that there was a plan to hike the mountains from 11,000 feet back to the resort at 8,000 feet. Only some of the field trip participants were interested in doing this. I jumped at the chance for such an adventure, especially because it was being led by consummate birder/naturalist/photographer Bill Schmoker of Boulder, Colorado.
Bill Schmoker hugging a snow monster.

Bill is just enough of a mountain man to enjoy a rugged hike such as this one, but he's also incredibly knowledgeable and one heckuva nice bloke. Joining us for the hike were a temporarily reluctant Zick, Barbara from Borderland Tours, convention attendees Michael and Darlene, and Callan Cohen of South Africa with whom I had birded in The Karoo area of the African cape in 2002.
Julie Z at the edge of the snow field.

Our kids were worn out from the week of early risings, so they stayed at the resort in our room just chillin' out. Before you call Children's Services on us you should know that we were in constant phone contact with them, and we had friends checking on their well-being.

Before the start of the hike we relieved ourselves of all excess gear. Tami Bulow of the ABA kindly agreed to take it back down on the tram for us. This was key because little did we know but we'd be hiking (or resting) for the next five hours.
Ski runs halfway down.

The top of Hidden Peak was free of snow due to the effects of snow and wind. A few steps over the edge and we were in snow so deep it was still skiable. On went the sunscreen and sunglasses. According to The Schmokster the reflecting power of the snow gives you 85% of the UV rays that straight-on sun does. It was like being in a giant white tanning booth.
SnowCats had prepared the trail for us. I was looking for Scatman Crothers from The Shining.

As we started down the recently snow-catted trail, I made a short video asking all in our party for their parting wishes and statements, in case, like The Donner Party, we got lost in the snow.

A quarter-mile or down the switchback trail, El Schmokatollah, dropped onto his behind and butt-surfed downhill to the trail below. This, he revealed to us, was called glissading. We all did it. I had to put the legs back on my pants first. Out party reconvened at the bottom of the hill, frosty buns burning only slightly form the cold. I have to say this was mighty fun.

The rest of the hike was a naturalist's treat: wildflowers, butterflies, geology, and spectacular scenery. We found items dropped by skiers, including three skis and two ski poles. The birds were good, too. We had close looks at lazuli bunting, white-crowned sparrow, Clark's nutcracker, gray-headed (dark-eyed) junco, and others. The nutcrackers we saw and heard really got Callan going—it had been his most-wanted bird for this trip.
Mountain bluebird male.

In the heard-only category went the black rosy-finches. Try as we might we could not set eyes on them.

While Darlene and Barbara pressed on down the trial ahead of us, Julie and Callan dawdled behind looking at butterflies and trying to take photos of them. Everything at this altitude comes out in early June and goes crazy trying to grow/reproduce/spread during the few weeks of warm weather. Wildflowers come up flower first, leaves later. Birds come up high to breed as soon as the insects come out.
Below the snow.

We all fell down at least once. I drew blood on my left elbow when I slipped on loose rocks when we were nearly all the way down. My instinct was to roll sideways to save my camera from hitting first. It worked, though the elbow is still sore.
Dead spruce on Hidden Peak.

By mid afternoon the buildings of Snowbird were in sight. It was a tthis time thnat Phoebe called to say she could see us up on the mountain path. "You look like ants, Daddy. But I could tell you from the way you walk." Smart girl, already knows her old man's field marks.
Snowbird, viewed from above.

Tired and a little footsore we strode creakily into the parking lot. Congrats and hugs all 'round. Half an hour alter we were toasting with pale ales in the hot tub by the outdoor pool.

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