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Cecret Lake & Sugarloaf Peak, Alta, Utah | 52 Hike Challenge | Hike 32

Cecret Lake & Sugarloaf Peak, Alta, Utah | 52 Hike Challenge | Hike 32

The last hike of my time in Utah! 52 Hike Challenge Hike #32 was a big one – hiking in Alta first to Cecret Lake, then up towards Sugarloaf Peak. The most challenging of my entire year-long challenge and wish I could do it again!

Cecret Lake

Pronounced like “secret.” It’s not much of one. I had heard that this place was popular and even on a weekday this place was hoppin’. I still like my nature time quiet and with as few people as possible, but it is cool to see other people out enjoying the outdoors. The water looks inviting, but since it’s used for Salt Lake City drinking water supplied by snow melt, there is no swimming allowed. Bummer.

 

Sugarloaf Peak

Sugarloaf Mountain, in the Wasatch Range, tops out just over 11,000 feet and is the easiest way to bag a Utah 11’er. From Cecret Lake there are two trails up to this summit, a foot path and a service road. This mountain is the site of the Snowbird and Alta ski resorts in the winter.

 

The Cecret Lake Trail

Just getting to the trail head can be an adventure, as it requires traveling up a steep, unpaved road (that is doable in any regular vehicle). However, the trail head isn’t difficult to find. The well-marked road will lead you to a parking area for the Albion Basin campground. You pick up the Cecret Lake trail just next to this camping area.

The hike to Cecret Lake is considered easy, but steadily heading up. Flora and Fauna are everywhere along this hike. Along this section of trail I saw a few wildflowers, signs of moose (scat!) and a hoary marmot sunbathing on a giant rock. Tall, stately conifers surround the area and far off peaks provide even more scenery.

Even though I hit the trail early there were already quite a few folks at the popular lake. I found a rock to call my own and hung out for a bit, enjoying the nice weather and having a snack. After watching some salamanders swim for a bit I decided to head up toward the summit.

 

The Sugarloaf Peak Trail

While not considered especially difficult, Sugarloaf Peak did challenge me in one way. My lungs. At this point along the trail I’m huffing and puffing at around 10,000 feet and my lungs are burning. The trail becomes much steeper beyond Cecret Lake and the incline plus thinner air did a doozy on my respiratory system. However, I’ve come to enjoy the challenge of a lung-burning climb and enjoyed this one immensely.

I chose to hike up the service road since I was alone and it seemed less likely I’d get lost this way. Some sections of the gravel road were quite steep, creating a footing challenge on the sliding rock. I forgot hiking poles that day. Lesson learned.

Much of this hike travels under ski lifts. I find it oddly satisfying to walk up a mountain that many use a machine to climb. On this day, one of the lifts was running, perhaps for maintenance, and it was actually quite creepy. An empty lift with no operator in sight, varying speed out in the wilderness. It was like a lift for lazy ghosts.

I didn’t see many animals along this section of trail except a surprise encounter with another marmot and a few birds. As the trail steadily gained elevation, I could really only travel a couple dozen steps before having to take a rest. I didn’t see another hiker, just a noisy construction crew on the way up.

I reached the ski lift and took a selfie break. Unfortunately this also became my turn around point, as I realized my cell phone was rapidly losing power. Since I hadn’t seen any other hikers I didn’t want to scramble rocks at 11,000 feet with no way to call for help. So, sadly, I headed back down. Safety first, especially when hiking solo.

 

The Return

The return hike was uneventful, except for passing one other solo hiker heading up. He had the brains to bring poles and I was very jealous of his ability to keep his balance on shifting rock. I also felt better about my struggle up the peak, watching him stop about as often as I had. My phone died entirely about 5 minutes before reaching my car in the parking lot.

I would absolutely hike this trail again, hopefully hitting the summit with a fully charged phone and hiking buddy! Have you ever hiked this trail or another huge peak in Utah? Tell me about your favorite ‘high’ hike in the comments!

 

Landscape Arch Trail, Arches National Park, Utah | 52 Hike Challenge – Hike 30

Landscape Arch Trail, Arches National Park, Utah | 52 Hike Challenge – Hike 30

We did it! We hit The Mighty 5 in our time in Utah! I know this isn’t an actual accomplishment but…it felt like one to me. Although it was kind of miserable, we managed to get a hike in at Arches National Park. This was Utah park #5 and my 52 Hike Challenge Hike #30 to Landscape Arch.

Landscape Arch

This arch, a natural geologic feature created mostly by various types of water erosion, is the longest arch in North America. It is also the longest span in the park. This long, very thin arch measures around 300 ft wide and is shorter only to four arches in China. Hikers used to be able to walk under Landscape Arch, but as this thin strip of rock continues to erode, slabs are falling from the span. Now hikers can only view the arch from a short distance.

The Hike

To even view at a short distance, however, you need to use your legs. The hike is about 2 miles out and back and is considered easy, but I found this hike to be a challenge. We had already been hiking in extremely hot, cloudless, August, desert weather for most of the day so I was quite fatigued (and sunburned, despite wearing sunscreen). Add to that the challenge of hiking on sand. Not only was the sand difficult to walk on, requiring more energy, it was incredibly hot. That meant I wasn’t only feeling heat from the sun above, but also feeling heat radiate UP at me from the hot sand below. Frankly, this made for a very miserable trek to the arch and back. However, as you probably guessed, it was worth it

The arch was as incredible sight. Unfortunately our pictures just didn’t turn out. The sun was at about the worst position in the sky for photographing this rock, but it was way too hot to hang around and wait for better lighting. Eric and I both thought this park would be really cool to hike at night, so maybe we’ll head back for some night time photography someday. But on this day the arch was an impressive sight that had a humbling effect.

It’s hard to comprehend the scale of time and power required to form these arches, especially one on this scale. The force required to move, fold and crack rocks in order to allow water to freeze, thaw and erode in those cracks is massive, and the process of eroding sandstone on a scale this large takes millions of years.

The Lessons

Despite my misery, I learned a lot on this hike.

  1. Hiking on sand stinks. It just does.
  2. I wore as little as publicly acceptable for this hike due to the heat. Some short spandex bike shorts and a tank top. I think this backfired on me when I was feeling the heat from above and below. In the future I think wearing a light, reflective layer would be more effective at keeping me cool.
  3. This hike nudged me to pick up an insulated Hydroflask because drinking really hot water on a really hot hike is just awful. When doing a short hike like this where I have access to cold tap water I intend to keep it cold as long as possible from now on.
  4. Hiking is convincing me more and more that challenging yourself is a worthwhile pursuit. I was proud of myself for grumpily persevering through this hike, getting a pretty cool payoff at the arch and making it back to the car in one relatively healthy piece. More than the easy, routine, uneventful outings, I reflect on this and my other challenging hikes. This seems to be a bit of a life lesson, too.

I can’t wait to get back to Arches as soon as possible, hopefully in cooler weather. It is a weird, amazing place that seems like I could explore forever and never see the same thing twice. Have you hiked at Arches National Park? Tell me about it in the comments!

Little Cottonwood & Lisa Falls Trail, Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah | 52 Hike Challenge – Hike 31

Little Cottonwood & Lisa Falls Trail, Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah | 52 Hike Challenge – Hike 31

For Hike 31 of my 52 Hike Challenge, Eric and I decided to hike Little Cottonwood Canyon, not far from where we were living in Salt Lake City. We decided to tackle Little Cottonwood Creek Trail. When we finished we noticed another trail to a waterfall just across the street and decided to tack that on, too!

Little Cottonwood Creek

Little Cottonwood Creek Trail is an easy hike with little elevation change, but does require hopping through some rock falls. The trail gets narrow with a sharp drop off and significant slant in a few places that may make some nervous, but we were able to navigate these no problem. However, I have no idea how the mountain bikers on this trail zoomed through those areas. Impressive and too daring for me!

The entire length of trail we tackled (about two miles out and back) follows Little Cottonwood Creek, with a few log crossings that made for nice photo ops. There are also some ruins along the way which are always an entire surprise in the forest.

Even on a sunny August day this trail was cool due to the elevation and shaded trail. We did encounter quite a few (friendly) bikers on this narrow trail, even midday on a weekday, so be alert and aware of those around you while taking on this hiking.

Lisa Falls

I had read about Lisa Falls but hadn’t planned to hike it on this day. However the trailhead was just across the street from the Little Cottonwood Creek trailhead, and it’s a short hike to the falls, so we couldn’t pass it up.

This trail turned out to be a lot more exciting than Little Cottonwood Creek. There is certainly more elevation gain here, although still not much overall. You’re picking your way through rocks and tree roots most of the way up to the falls. I enjoy a technical hike as it gives me something to focus on and think about.

When we reached the falls, we climbed out onto some sunny boulders. This was the perfect place to warm up a little bit and have a snack. The trail continues up the falls, but we had used up our time and had to head down. While I wouldn’t revisit Little Cottonwood Creek, I would love to go back to Lisa Falls and continue this hike.

Have you hiked around Salt Lake City or traveled either of these trails? Tell me about it in the comments!

 

Upheaval Dome, Canyonlands National Park, Utah | 52 Hike Challenge – Hike 29

Upheaval Dome, Canyonlands National Park, Utah | 52 Hike Challenge – Hike 29

When deciding which hikes to do with our limited time at Canyonlands National Park, we couldn’t pass up a quick walk out to the rim of the Upheaval Dome. Scientists and geologists debate what actually caused this geologic anomaly in the relatively stable area and it became my Hike 29.

The Upheaval Dome

The showstopper feature that is this hike’s namesake is a 3-mile diameter dome that you can overlook from various viewpoints. This geologic feature has an interesting greenish-white tint which contrasts against the orange-red soil all around.

The Theories

There are two main theories for what caused this strange dome in the high desert. One theory is also the source of the feature’s name. This theory states that salt layers left behind by evaporating seas become fluid under immense pressure from rocks above. This liquid salt “bubbles” to the surface in an “upheaval”. The second theory that seems to have a bit more (yet still inconclusive) support is that this is actually the top of an impact crater, made visible by erosion.

The Hike

It was a very hot day and we had quite a few hikes planned (along with a side trip to Zion that same day), so we chose to do the short Upheaval Dome Trail (although we did go almost to the second, further viewpoint when we missed a sign!). The hike is well-groomed trail and marked. There is little to no shade so sunscreen is a must, as is water. This hike only has about 100 feet of elevation change, but I found that it felt like much more given the heat, sand, sun, etc. However, if you prepare appropriately this hike is a can’t miss simply because of the awe-inspiring and, frankly, weird scenery.

Have you hiked to the Upheaval Dome? What do you think caused this geologic feature? Tell me in the comments!

Grand View Point, Canyonlands National Park, Utah | 52 Hike Challenge – Hike 28

Grand View Point, Canyonlands National Park, Utah | 52 Hike Challenge – Hike 28

If the Grand View Point Trail doesn’t knock your socks off, I believe you’re bound to be bored with everything else on earth. This was Hike 27 of my 52 Hike Challenge, and what a great way to kick off the second half of this project. The day started with an incredible sunrise that I enjoyed from my comfy tent.

Sunrise from inside my tent at Horsethief Campground
Sunrise from inside my tent at Horsethief Campground

Canyonlands National Park – Island in the Sky District

The previous day we had hiked a bit in Canyonlands, but far away in the Needles District. Due to the Green River flowing through the park, there’s no quick way to drive from one district to the other. After a very long night of driving we set up camp at Horsethief Campground, then headed into Island in the Sky for more hiking. Upon our arrival at the Grand View Point trailhead it was clear how this area got its name. The hike follows a mesa that sits high above the carved out canyons, just like an island in the sky, providing jaw dropping views of the landscape.

Grand View Point Trail

The trail is quick and easy and impossible to lose. You just follow the thin strip of land out to a viewpoint and back. I wouldn’t call this hike particularly exposed, but you can walk right up to (or off of) the edge of the steep, sheer drop off edges of the mesa. Don’t expect a rail to protect you – there isn’t one. Upon reaching the view point there are some rocks to scramble if you like which also provide some nice shady spots to sit and take a break. Since we hiked in August it was quite hot on a cloudless day, so finding a shady spot to drink some water and rest was pretty exciting. Don’t forget to always carry water when you hike, but especially in an environment like Canyonlands where water is not available.

Overall I’d recommend this easy hike to anyone. It’s pretty flat and impossible to lose the trail. Just remember sunscreen and water and you’re set! Have you hiked the Island in the Sky? Tell me about it in the comments!

Roadside Ruin & Cave Spring Trails, Canyonlands National Park, Utah | 52 Hike Challenge – Hike 27

Roadside Ruin & Cave Spring Trails, Canyonlands National Park, Utah | 52 Hike Challenge – Hike 27

These Canyonlands hikes were both pretty short, so I’m combining them into Hike 26 of my 52 Hike Challenge – the halfway point!!

Roadside Ruin

We arrived in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park and since the Visitor’s Center was closed and the closest town was an hour away, we hit the trails right away! First, we did the short Roadside Ruin Trail. This simple, flat path leads to an ancient granary, where grains and other foods were stored by Native Americans who lived here hundreds of years ago. This granary was built sometime in the late 1200s. Incredible that it has lasted so long for us to view and study.

This hike really hammered home that we were in the desolate Canyonlands. There is truly nothing around for miles but chaparral and an occasional lizard.

Cave Spring

Next up was the Cave Spring Trail. For such a short trail, this really has a wide variety of interesting things to offer. The first part of the loop (heading clockwise) passes by an abandoned cowboy camp. Because of the presence of year-round water (this trail’s namesake) in such a remote spot, cowboys set up camp here while tending to their grazing livestock. The abandoned camp has been preserved for passersby to get a glimpse of the hard, rugged living conditions of the late 1800s-early 1900s ranchers.

A little further along the trail you reach the spring and the location of various ancient pictographs.

After passing through the spring, it’s like you’re on a completely new trail. Two wooden ladders take you to the top of the rock formation where the trail continues via cairns. From the top of the rock formation you can see practically forever, and the late afternoon light made the mountains and desert glow beautifully. The surface of the top of the rock was full of eroded depressions that made me think of craters on the moon.

Although the super remote Needles District of Canyonlands National Park might be off the beaten path and difficult to reach, it is so, so worth it. We only spent one day here but saw so many interesting things. After our hikes in this district we headed to the Island in the Sky District for even more jaw-dropping scenery.

Lake Mary Trail, Utah | 52 Hike Challenge – Hike 26

Lake Mary Trail, Utah | 52 Hike Challenge – Hike 26

Oh, Lake Mary. I suppose it’s only fair that right around the halfway point of the 52 Hike Challenge (Hike 26) I get slapped with a big dose of hiking reality. Consider this my midway contemplative hike of the Adventure Series, because boy did it make me think.

So here’s the deal. I used to pick hikes that had a big pay off at the turn-around or midway. Apparently I felt the need to reward myself. This hike changed all of that.

The Trail

I was looking for something in Big Cottonwood Canyon that was short but had some elevation. Since I was going to hike alone I also wanted something fairly heavily trafficked. I settled on the Lake Mary Trail, with the expectation of spending a bit of time at the reportedly spectacular lake before returning down the mountain. Easy enough, right?

The Hike

Pretty straightforward. Follow the trail. It goes up. Despite having spent a couple weeks in Utah I still wasn’t acclimated to hiking at this kind of elevation so I did need a couple breaks just to keep my lungs from exploding. A little scrambly at the end, otherwise this really was a very nicely maintained trail and easy to follow. I lugged my poor little lungs up the side of this mountain, telling myself all the way that I had to keep going in order to see the magnificent Lake Mary, despite the feeling that I might actually be dying.

The “Lake”

So here’s where things get interesting. There is no lake. I didn’t know until I arrived back at our Airbnb and could do some investigation that THE LAKE HAD BEEN DRAINED. This lake that I had read so much about and had pushed myself through a kind of miserable hike to reach was simply not there. Ok, there was a puddle and some rocks, but certainly NOT what I had been promised. So, like, now what?

The A-Ha Moment

I was frustrated and wheezy and sweaty, making my glasses fall off of my face and my temperament generally homicidal. For a minute I let my brain rage about what a colossal waste of time and effort this was. Luckily for me and my brain, something else took over, and I started to question why I was so angry. Why was I out here, anyway? Only to see the payoff at the top? Why wasn’t the hike itself enough of a reward? Why wasn’t the ability to get outside and use my own two feet to propel me up into the sky via a massive rock not enough?

Calming My Brain and My Attitude

As I hiked down (quickly, as I saw the extremely fresh scat of what appeared to be the world’s largest moose on the edge of the trail), I realized that being on the trail really is enough. I had sort of missed the point of hiking in that it’s nothing more than a way to connect with nature, quiet, yourself, friends and possibly a killer moose. All you have to do is go outside and put one foot in front of the other. If a massive payoff is necessary, you’re going to grow tired of hiking pretty quickly.

The Takeaway

This hike totally transformed how I think about and plan my hiking adventures now. Sure, I want to see cool stuff when I hit the trail, but that’s not the singular focus anymore. Nature is unpredictable and part of the fun of going outside is learning the flexibility and adaptability required to spend time in nature. So, I challenge you on your next hike to forget about the big payoff or destination and try and enjoy the little things on the trail along the way. If you have a cool experience doing this, let me know.

Happy Trails!

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