About a week ago I had the distinct privilege of following some champion runner-types around their home turf in Alta, Utah. Chris Cawley, ultrarunner, skinny dude, and winner of both the 2011 and 2013 Zookers Invitational pushed me to run a nearly 10-mile loop in Alta, Utah. Heather Kluk, a fierce trail runner and all-around finely tuned athlete joined was on the trail as well.
Starting in the heart of Alta, we meandered down past the main base area and through the woods then past the condos that connect Alta with Snowbird. Very soon after that we found the relentless uphill pounding that defines the geography of these mountains. The uphill climb doesn’t really cease until you’re at the peak, that’s just the fact of the matter, one that’s usually best stored back in the far reaches of the mind. Don’t think about it, in other words.
I find that on these vertical-infused Wasatch trails that embracing the run/walk concept is critical to going the distance, as there are only varying pitches of incline, some quite severe, with a minuscule length of flatness. Slogging to keep a running cadence on a 15% grade, I venture to say, is not efficient. When you’re heels never get anywhere near the ground, stumbling over loose rocks and jagged trails, putting it in hike mode can be a better fit for the long haul.
Once we made it to Snowbird, we began on the Peruvian Gulch Trail. This trail is the main summer access road and is nice and wide and smooth enough, as far as ski resort 4 x 4 roads go.
This trail intersects with the Ridge Trail about 2.5 miles from the start, and is clearly marked. The Ridge Trail is a tight singletrack with a brief bit of shade relief through the trees, but sweet shade nonetheless. The trail climbs up the lower cirque area of Snowbird as you cross underneath the tram cables and make it onto the thin long ridgeline that is the Cirque Traverse. From here the path is a straight, albeit rocky, line up the mountain to the summit, with exploding colors of wildflowers on either sides of the trail.
From Hidden Peak at the top of the tram, we continued east to the summit of Mount Baldy, for some of the best views in the Wasatch. The blooming red, purple, and yellow wildflowers scatter the rounded peak and no matter which compass point you direct your eyes, you’ll take in layers of stacked mountain scenery. The fading sun added that soft, color-enriching screen. Through winter, access to this point is rarely open from Alta and even less common from Snowbird, making summer the time for easy access. If not wanting to climb the 3,000-foot vertical to Baldy, a ride on the tram will get you 90% of the way, with a 20-25-minute walk from the Tram to the peak.
From Baldy we transitioned into Alta for the descent. Negotiating the eastern side of Baldy requires a few tricky, slightly awkward moves down a steep pitch with loose footing. Once in Alta we cruised over Germ Pass and down the backside of the resort. The wide dirt road eased downslope at a gentle-on-the knees gradient as the light slipped further away. At the base of Sugarloaf lift, it was halfway dark, with a bright white rising moon. Through the finale I squinted through the dusk so as not to not stub a toe on one of the eight trillion rocks and splatter over the wildflowers.
Making it to the bottom almost three hours later, we were spat out at the base facilities of Albion Basin and walked through the parking lot to Hwy 210 and to the car. Exhausted, hungry, in pitch black after 9.5 miles, I had a brimming stack of scenery in my head and a new favorite loop. While running is often something I see as a solitary venture, I was highly grateful for the company and the friends on this outing.