As the summer sun takes over from the drizzle of spring rains, there is a window of opportunity for us hikers. The sun, high up, strikes even the most northern facing slopes and the snow clears except in a few shady crevices.
This stirs hikers up into the high places where the harshness of winter excludes those without specialized equipment and young athletic legs. Our local mountains have in abundance impressive high ridges that provide great views, stunning wildflowers, and peaks over 9,000 feet high.
These ridges are governed by the direction they face and the contrasts between their sides is compelling. South facing ridges, despite being so high up, are typically dry with low lying plants. Some of these provide the best spots for wildflowers. The north facing ridges are dominated by Douglas fir and white fir, which shade out many of the more colorful flowers. Even so, keep an eye out for bluebells, white columbines, and coyote mints in the shadows.
Ridges, next to road cuts, are the favorites of geologists. Erosion begins up high and the sediment load flows downhill. As a result, rocks are well exposed along ridges. Within these rocks are often fossils from the ancient sea where these rocks formed millions of years ago. I sometimes gather fossils. I have learned the hard way to gather them on the way down, not up.
The views provided by ridges can be extraordinary. They change throughout the season, as snow melts, as vegetation matures and dies back, and as the angle of the sun shifts throughout the days and months. Climbing the peaks provides a sense of accomplishment. I like to say I “bagged” this peak or that, but in hiking the journey is more important than the destination. Often, your best views aren’t from the peaks, but of the peaks and how they fit along the ridge.
This time of year is why you stay active during the winter and spring. To be able to scale up high and see our amazing alpine peaks and ridges is a privilege I hope I never lose nor take for granted. The season is short up high, and life there adapts to that reality. It flourishes quickly and dies back with equal speed. Water flows downhill, so the water that is up there in the spring is there for a short time before it seeps into crevices and reappears as springs farther down.
The winds can be fierce up high and trees and bushes often conform to the prevailing winds, making for some fascinating forms. Storms can create immediate danger if you aren’t careful. Deer flies and mosquitoes can be handled with Deet-based repellent, but there is no repellant for lightning.
As the summer is replaced by fall, color will be added to these views. Maples are typically the first to turn, and their bright orange colors will be replaced later by the bronze of oaks and the yellows of aspen. When the cool autumn winds blow the last quaking leaves off the aspen, their leaves may fall onto the first light snows of the coming winter.
Like in life itself, the season to get to those ridges is short. The perspectives you gain on them are too valuable for words to capture. When you engage all your senses up high, you’ll take back down into the valley an understanding of the grandeur of the world we live in.
From a young age David Swan’s natural curiosity led him to explore and study the outdoor wonders of the place where he was born and raised. He currently lives on the southeast side of Tooele City with a view of the Oquirrh Mountains from his backyard.