Sunday, December 25, 2016

Actually home for Christmas

Dad, Raj and Beat at our turn-around point before "Avalanche Alley."
For the first time in six years, and only the second time in twelve years, I didn't spend the holidays in the far north. Beat didn't have the time off work for a trip to Alaska this year, and it's becoming harder to justify the time and expense for "gear testing." I was more disappointed than I expected, but it did open up an opportunity to travel back to my actual hometown — Salt Lake City — to spend Christmas with my family. 

 Of course, no trip home is complete without a few hardy hikes with my dad. On Friday we trudged four miles up to what is possibly the prettiest place in the Wasatch Mountains — Broads Fork basin.

 Temps were on the warm side — mid-30s — and the wind was fierce. We climbed more than 3,000 feet before turning around.

 Much fun was had while we ran in slow motion down the steep slope. To me this feels like pedaling a bicycle, pumping my snowshoes into knee-deep powder. These days I feel only fleeting nostalgia for snowboarding, as aging and experience make me more leery of gravity sports. I'm really quite thrilled with the controlled, rhythmic motion of "slow-shoeing."

 On Christmas Eve, temperatures climbed into the high 40s and it rained, a lot. Beat and I drove to the closest trailhead and sat in the car for a few minutes, debating whether we were really going through with this hike.

Ultimately we were glad we got out, but it wasn't an easy stroll. At lower elevations, the trail was covered in ankle-deep slush. Snow became deeper and more saturated as we climbed. We ventured up a trail that no human feet had touched since the last storm, and watched a drama play out through tracks in the snow. Large cat tracks that were almost certainly a mountain lion padded up the trail, sometimes wandering into the brush before returning to the trail. Claws appeared and slush smears indicated a leap, followed by large disruptions that told of a struggle. It looked as though something large slid down the slope, but we couldn't see what happened after that. There was no blood in the snow, and no carcass, so we could only surmise that the hunt was unsuccessful.

Late Christmas Eve brought plummeting temperatures, and rain switched to snow. By morning there was nearly a foot of "White Christmas" on my parents' driveway. Dad, Beat and I carved a few hours out of the afternoon to venture up Bells Canyon, breaking trail through two feet of powder.

 It was a winter wonderland, complete with random Christmas trees.

 This one, near Lower Bells Canyon Falls, was almost entirely buried.

 There's a waterfall under there somewhere as well.

 A ghostly veneer on the cliffs.

Hints of sun appeared toward the end, just in time to head up to Grandma's house — over the river and through the woods (or icy streets. One of those.)

It has been interesting to spend the holiday at home after more than a decade of being mostly away. I still hold these memories of childhood traditions, and it's a little jarring when I realize what's changed. I suppose I should come home more often, but I suspect that "other home" will keep drawing us north. Still, it was a fun and beautiful weekend in Utah. 


  1. it sounds like you had a wonderful weekend at home. But it makes me sad in a way when you say it has only been two times in the last 12 years that you have spend Christmas with your family for a holiday which is so family oriented. Alaska will always be there. Your family will not.

    1. I haven't been home to visit my family for Christmas since 1987. I see them at other times of the year. Christmas/New Years has typically been a time for adventures down south. So I understand Jill's point of view.

    2. Because being in proximity to people to whom you are related on one arbitrary day is so much more important than on any other day. Sure.

      This type of sanctimonious BS is just another reason to hate the holidays. Good grief.

  2. I really like snowshoeing too, which my friends also call slow shoeing. I think people who diss it may think of the other kind of snowshoeing, which I see at resorts...people trudging along snowmobile tracks where you really don't need snowshoes at all. It's amazing the places you can get to.

  3. Such beautiful photos! Love reading about your life of adventure.

  4. Special days with special people, in a winter wonderland.


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