A yearning to travel seems to be embedded in my DNA. Or at least imprinted on my psyche in a way that feels completely organic. Something about the ways different languages sound, the ways aromas and cuisines differ, the kaleidoscope of changing landscapes, the expanded sense of humanity that comes from meeting, interacting with people unlike yourself, are all parts of an elixir to which I am happily, hopelessly addicted.
But all travel need not involve distances of dozens, hundreds, or thousands of miles. One’s own backyard, so to speak, can offer thoroughly enticing (if more abbreviated) adventures that, in relation to travel more broadly, function much the way appetizers do with one’s culinary appetites.
Luckily, where we live there is a staggering wealth of what I call “urban hiking opportunities” (a more workmanlike than beautiful name, granted). Our east/west topography slopes gently toward the east, while the area’s north/south slopes climb sharply northward, probably 8% to more than 10% pitches. Some of these can be accomplished without leaving pavement and range from around 3 to 7 miles (longer is certainly possible, but these would be my typical distances). Adding to these walks’ appeal, they traverse quiet, tree lined neighborhoods. As well, numerous unpaved trails, several of them less than a year old, depart from the pavement, offering abundant additional hiking opportunities.
One hike I took some time ago began with the objective in mind to begin at the mouth of City Creek Canyon, then traverse the new trail leading to the State Capitol and down into Memory Grove. Topping the first leg of that hike, I found myself with an option I hadn’t considered: instead of taking the trail south, I could take an older, north bound route into City Creek and, according to signage there at the crossroads, peel off and head to Ensign Peak. The distance and apparent vertical feet to be navigated appealed to me, so I changed plans and headed north.
Ensign Peak isn’t visible from the trail head. I knew it was north, but also a fair distance west. The portion of trail I could see followed the dominant northward City Creek Canyon contours, so I was curious about how the trail network would take me westward. Would the trail meander into lazy switchbacks taking me up the east facing slope? Would I find a more precipitously vertical spur, taking me west without the easing mechanics of gentle switch-backing? A mile or so into City Creek I found the answer. A new, “more precipitously vertical spur” beckoned. Well, I did sign up for the vertical feet challenge…
This new spur didn’t entirely eschew moderating elements, but the measures evident were unlikely to satisfy a hiker’s desire to find much respite from the climb. The trail itself is quite narrow and passes through lush tree and shrub coverage; coverage dense enough that the trail’s forthcoming sections were often completely obscured. As it approached the top, the trail and surroundings became muddy slogs. I tried abandoning the trail for its borders, but there was no escaping the mud.
A detail I failed to mention earlier: one motivation for this hike was to try out my brand new La Sportiva Bushido II trail shoes, which an outdoors magazine I admire rated “best for uneven terrain.” The shoe’s lugs are indeed impressive, but it turns out they could also contend for “best at collecting and retaining trail mud.” Before long I felt certain I’d picked up several pounds of goo on each shoe and was looking forward to returning to the lower, dry trail sections.
Upon reaching the summit, I found myself parallel with arrays of electronic communication relay equipment. To my surprise, I was also quite a bit higher than Ensign Peak, which was south and west of where I was. The view of Salt Lake Valley from my vantage point was the kind of spectacular that defies truly accurate description. The partly cloudy sky was that heavenly mix of fluffy white clouds serving as atmospheric tapestry to accentuate the brilliant blue behind them. Ensign Peak stood like an exclamation point or lonely sentinel overlooking the city beyond. A nicely maintained trail led a mile or so from my perch to the Peak itself.
Tired of the mud, my desire for aesthetic gratification sated, I elected not to take it. Instead, I turned around and began my descent. A short distance farther I encountered another hiker, the only one I’d met since beginning my trek, making his way toward me.
“Does this mud just keep on going?” he asked.
“It does as far as I went. I’m on my way to scrape some off my shoes on the downhill stretch.”
“Enjoy. No slipping and falling!”
A robust conversation it was not, but a pleasant, if brief, sharing of everyday hiking trail vagaries it certainly was.
Not long afterward I was back on terra seca. When I reached the inflection point where my trail left the City Creek trail, I took advantage of an early jog to City Creek pavement, there to stomp heavily with every step. In short order my shoes were unencumbered enough that I felt comfortable taking them home without risking my sweet wife’s reproval for soiling the house.
Great hike. Great shoes. Great time