Monday, June 4, 2012

It's hiking season again!

One of the lesser-known aspects of living in the Salt Lake City area is that we are next door to large areas of relative wilderness - that is, I can get in my car and in well under an hour, be hiking in a location that is about a mile higher in elevation and 10-20 degrees F cooler.

I don't get as much time to hike as I used to, but during the summer months I do make it a special point to go on a "Wednesday Night Hike" after work, a welcome diversion in the middle of the week that puts one closer to the sky and farther away from the rest of the world for a few hours.
Figure 1:
Twin Peaks Cirque from June 10, 2009
Click on the image for a larger version.

I don't know how long, exactly, these have been going on, but it's certainly been since the late 80's at least and I've been going on them for at least 20 years now and in that time, I've probably hiked around 1200 miles on just those hikes and have worn out at least dozen soles on my hiking boots!

The ages of those in our group vary, but it's not too uncommon to have those in the 20's hiking along with those in their late 60's or early 70's.  As you might guess, the hiking abilities and speeds within in the group tend to vary so we usually break up in two or more groups, rejoining occasionally when we stop at a particularly picturesque or notable landmark and, most certainly, when we get to that hike's destination!

The group that I hike with isn't exclusive, although it does consist largely of friends of mine that are also amateur radio ("ham") operators and, as you might expect, we tend to bring along with us 2-meter handie-talkies so that we can keep in touch with each other - a particularly useful feature considering our tendency to split into groups!  While we could, in theory, keep in touch with each other via more "modern" means such as texting or cell/mobile phones, you really can't safely text while walking and in many places, cell coverage is spotty-to-nonexistent anyway - even though we are less than 10 miles away from the Salt Lake Valley! Plus there's the simple fact that with "old-school" radios, everyone on the frequency can hear what is being said:  That's a lot harder to do on a phone even if you do happen to have good coverage!  In the event that someone got hurt or lost, the radios have proven to invaluable as they would be a reliable link to someone who did have good phone coverage should the need arise to summon the emergency services.

Being that most of us are ham operators, we also tend to be a bit nerdy, bringing along with us little bits of high-tech civilization in addition to our handie-talkies such as digital cameras and GPS receivers.  I'm fully aware that for many people, hiking in the mountains is an escape from the "real world" (a relative term, if you think about it!) and bringing such stuff along would be considered counter to the intent!

Since I've been doing these hikes for 20+ years and some of our group for longer, we often do the same trails year after year, but this isn't surprising since we have two important limitations:
  • Since we don't meet to start hiking until after 6 PM, we have to choose something that is relatively close-by.
  • Whatever we pick, we should be able to return to the vehicles by 11 pm at the latest since many of us have to be back at work the next morning.
Figure 2:
The pika - a member of the rabbit family:  Often heard, but rarely seen!
Click on the image for a larger version.
While there are a great many possibilities near the Salt Lake area, we tend to stay largely in the "Tri-Canyon" area, that is the Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons and Mill Creek canyon with occasional forays into the minor canyons nearby.  Even though we do many of the same hikes year after year, it's always interesting to see what has changed, what plants and flowers are doing at that time as well as catching frequent glimpses of wild animals from the common deer to the rarer animals such as salamander, pika, bighorn sheep and the (very) occasional mountain lion or bear!

Our hikes are generally bracketed by the period during which there is both little snow in the mountains at the beginning and ended when we no longer have a reasonable amount of sunlight and this means that we generally start at the end of May or early June.  Ironically, what this also means is that many of our longer (and often more strenuous) hikes are early in the season, often before many of us have hiked much during the year and we are more likely to be out-of-shape - and then by the time that we are in reasonable shape, the hikes are often easier and shorter!

As it turns out, I've been chronicling our weekly hikes in detail since 2004, keeping general track of where we went - often using GPS information - taking pictures and then writing a short account of what happened (which may be found here.)  Over the years it has been interesting to see how the landscape has changed, when we've been doing various hikes, and how we have changed as well!

Over the summer, I'll likely make a few more mentions of these hikes and what we've done/seen...

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