All I wanted was a good gulp of clean air. Just one — OK, maybe two — without any gray in it, the likes of which we’ve seen a lot this week in Tooele Valley.
According to the state’s Air Quality Index on Wednesday, I wasn’t loony about wanting some fresh air. The AQI meter for PM 2.5 air pollution had hit orange on the warning scale, which means “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.” According to the state, older adults, children and people with heart or lung disease are advised to “reduce prolonged or heavy exertion.”
Or in other words, “Don’t breath deep.”
Also on Wednesday, the state issued a mandatory no burn order for Tooele Valley, the first in Tooele County this winter (see related front-page story). A temperature inversion was in full force, and I glowered at the gray fog outside the Transcript Bulletin’s newsroom windows.
The dirty air was one thing, but the fog, which clung to everything and cloaked the sky with a shroud the color of concrete, was claustrophobic. Not only did I want to breathe some clean air, I yearned to see blue sky and the sun, too.
And it couldn’t wait for the weekend.
So for a few hours Wednesday afternoon, I went AWOL and headed to Settlement Canyon with my alpine touring skis. In less than 10 minutes from the office, I had parked at the toll-booth gate and was underway. My destination: Bear Trap Pass at the top of Left Hand Fork. There, I hoped, I would get that good gulp and see sunshine.
The fog had partially cleared when I left the parking lot; by the time I got to Camp Wapiti, I had to put sunglasses on. The sun was out and the air was clearer, but behind me the fog still obscured the floor of Settlement Canyon.
It wasn’t hard to find and stay on the Bottom Trail of Left Hand Fork that climbs to 7,018 foot-high Bear Trap Pass. Snowmobilers frequent the trail. The climbing skins on my skis whirred against the textured surface left by the snowmobiles’ track.
For an hour, I gradually climbed the trail, winding through aspen and fir draped in snow. I stopped often to take in the light and shadows — and the silence. The biggest sounds were my heavy breathing and my heart whacking in my ears. Although Tooele City was less than five miles away, it felt — and looked — more like a hundred.
If it hadn’t been for the trail and snowmobile track, this could have been mountain wilderness somewhere long and far away. Which got me thinking: Could a hungry mountain lion be stalking me right now?
A slight chill of fear began to creep inside of me. Each time I stopped, I strained my ears to hear footfalls in the snow, or maybe even a growl. But except for frequent animal tracks across the snow, the only wildlife I saw was — a bug.
While stopped, I happened to look down at my ski boots and there it was in the track. At first, I thought it was dead. But then its legs slowly began to move. I thought, “What the heck is it doing up here in winter?”
I reached Bear Trap Pass and ahead sunlight and shadow revealed big snowdrifts on the Oquirrh Mountains’ Right Hand and Left Hand Kelsey. To the south, Rocky Basin stood majestically, frozen in deep snow. So far, the winter of 2015-16 has been generous. I guessed the snow to be about four-feet deep at the pass.
I peeled the climbing skins off of my skis, and set the heel binding for downhill mode. I lingered for a moment, savored one more breath, one more look at blue sky, sun and mountains, and pushed off to descend Left Hand Fork.
The fog was there to greet me when I got back to my car. It was so thick, you could almost taste it. But it didn’t bother me so much. For I know that a little ski tour to Bear Trap Pass will again provide relief from the gray.
And a breath of sweet, fresh air. There’s plenty up there.