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Winter Trek to Gobbler's Knob
By Michael Hannan
| What is it that motivates individuals to leave the comfort of a warm bed and venture out to a trailhead where the temperature is struggling to reach 18 degrees? What drives individuals to purposely load several jackets, micro spikes, trekking poles, gloves, hats, snowshoes, sunglasses, location finder devices and often a host of other paraphernalia into a pack and begin hiking a snowy slippery uphill trail which may endure for five hours or more? What is it that keeps them going through sleet, snow and sometimes driving unrelenting winds? Could it be the unvarnished beauty of Mother Nature as she slowly unfolds the silent mysteries of an early calm morning? Might it be the delicate balancing act of thousands of lace-like snow crystals balanced on the naked limbs of scrub oak? Might it be the pine boughs groaning under the load of mounds of snow buildup, the aftermath of several recent storms? Could it be the mesmerizing tune of the ice cold creek flowing under three-foot drifts, peeking out only infrequently to prove its visual existence? Might it be cold silent stands of soldier-straight aspens proudly confronting the stark reality of winter while wind-blown sheets of smooth snow lie beneath them like taught flannel? Or yard-long cornices frowning and yawning over steep slopes of glistening milky-white silk? Or is it the blend of camaraderie and friendship coalescing over slow miles of otherwise monotonous plodding, the casual conversation swinging from one topic or another like a pendulum in slow motion? Perhaps it's the occasional stop to simply gaze out and up at the visual feast Mother Nature has prepared for those who have the patience to accept her gracious invitation? And all the while a blissful heaven arches in endless blue and white, clouds like ancient skiffs drifting and floating in the vast celestial doldrums?
The club hike to Gobblers Knob unlocked the answers to many of the above questions. The simple answer is: all of the above. The full answer can only be divined by direct participation in such an event. We crossed the Millcreek Canyon road at 7:35 finding plenty of snow to allow either micro spikes or snowshoes, hiker's choice. The watchword up to White Fir Pass was this: watch out for leafless branches whose sole reason for existence in the deep snow conditions was to either poke out the eye or scratch the cheeks of any and all hikers unwilling to pay attention.
Everyone in snowshoes our group slapped and scooted twenty-five minutes to the intersection where the winter route veers left and up a minor ridge instead of making a sharp ascending right switchback. Heel lifters on your snowshoes? Use em! The fun began with steep uphill, our course serpentining through first early growth then mature aspens. Snowshoeing at its finest. Taking five-minute turns we alternated leading and following, conserving energy we would draw upon later. Moderate pacing allowed abundant conversation about the splendor of our surroundings, the silence of the hollows and gullies, the stillness unbroken by any sounds of cacophonous civilization.
Stopping briefly at the base of a broad meadow looking like five square acres of molded Styrofoam we attacked the 300 vertical feet of steep slope leading through another stand of aspens. Dozens stood blade straight, their naked branches paying homage to the azure expanse stretching from the pine trees on our east to the evergreen-studded ridge to our right. Deep snow held as we attained the base of a main east/west ridge which would lead us from 8,900' to the north ridge at 9,500'. Clumsy muffin-like cornices graced the north edge of the west ridge, an occasional evergreen broke the sameness of the gently rounded route. Wind and sun combined to create unpredictable snow conditions, soft deep powder for ten steps, ice-hard crust for five. Still we marveled at the bountiful beauty surrounding us.
Forty-four minutes of methodical zigzagging brought us to the intersection with the sprawling north ridge. Gazing toward the summit area we were all struck nearly speechless with the pillowy cornices balanced on the left side and counterbalanced to the right with small stands of weather-toughened pine trees. For just over a half mile we would take a meandering course toward first a false summit and then the true summit, all the while giving the bus-sized cornices wide berth. A gentle breeze kicked up from time to time reminding us how thankful we were for one of those rare no-wind-up-high days.
One hour later Carol asked, "So is this the actual summit?" Several back-country skiers were smiling and socializing at that spot, and they simultaneously answered, "We think it is!" And how glorious it was there, the sun smiling down, endless vistas reaching to Mt. Raymond, Kessler Peak, the Cottonwood Ridge, ski resorts and snow-covered mountains in all directions as far as the eye could see. Taking advantage of the pleasant conditions we lollygagged over 40 minutes on the summit, unsure we wanted to return to the dreary life awaiting us below.
But leave we must, we decided, and the return trip was fabulous. Cutting our ascent time literally in half we reveled in all making our own "new" tracks down the broad west ridge, smiles on our faces you could see a mile. The delightful "freestyle" snowshoeing down to the aforementioned meadow begged for video and for 10 minutes of time we became amateur videographers. Ideal snow, inviting temperatures and a freedom of movement made for a quick hour and ten minute return to the mundane and well-tracked "normal trail." Twenty-Five minutes to White Fir Pass (removed the snowshoes) and a quick fifty minutes to the car and our adventure was at an end. But the enhanced friendships and memories of Wasatch winter grandeur are here to stay.
Thanks to Lana for organizing the trip and thanks to the WMC for its undying support of the out-of-doors.
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