“The whole world has been on fire from the word go. I come down to the water to cool my eyes. But everywhere I look I see fire; that which isn’t flint is tinder, and the whole world sparks and flames.” -Annie Dillard
Country music blaring, hanging out the car window with hats backwards, we pulled into the White Pine Trailhead about 5.5 miles up Little Cottonwood Canyon. I hang up the phone saying, “alright, Dad, heading out on a hike, talk soon!” My comrade, Matt, and I toss a couple beers in our backpacks, reload our headlamp batteries, and begin to hike southwest into White Pine Canyon on the four-wheel-drive track.
This type of mountain outing is the very reason I moved to Cottonwood Heights from the stoplight ridden Sugar House community of Salt Lake City. With the proximity, there’s time after work to dip into the mountains for an alpine escape with fresh air and quiet views.
It’s roughly 7:00 p.m. as we begin the mere 6.5 mile out-and-back trek to Lower Red Pine Lake. The popular hiking destination garners a high quantity of visitors because of the stunning mountain vista views. If you’re looking for a booty burning and wind sucking good time, hit this trail because the steep incline and rapid 1,965 ft. elevation gain will get ya huffin’ and puffin’. The trail crosses several bridges, sweeping scree fields, and follows the rushing creek below. Daydreaming of the lines we’ve skied and want to ski next season filled conversation until we reached the lake.
Lower Red Pine Lake is nestled in a high alpine cirque surrounded by forest trees, color infused wildflowers and rugged peaks. The far south side of the lake has a large boulder to rest on where we downed a couple beers, water and trail mix while gazing across the calm lake. Twin, O’Sullivan, and Dromedary Peaks stare back across the canyon as a stunning silhouette backdrop. While we didn’t continue to Upper Red Pine Lake, it’s a secluded lake surrounded by scree fields and many summit Pfeifferhorn from here. Because the sun had dropped below the horizon at this point, the air had a cold bite, so we cued up the headlamps and began the jog down.
It’s a steep descent, so night jogging is a bit tedious. About a quarter mile down the trail, a tear of rain hit my arm as a rude reminder of the weather report I read earlier that day: rain storms starting at 10:00 p.m. in the mountains. Sure enough, by 10:20 p.m. we were soaked to the bone with several miles left to descend in the pitch dark.
There’s something invigorating about storms. Today reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from author Annie Dillard, “After the one extravagant gesture of creation in the first place, the universe has continued to deal exclusively in extravagances, flinging intricacies and colossi down aeons of emptiness, heaping profusions on profligacies with ever-fresh vigor. The whole world has been on fire from the word go. I come down to the water to cool my eyes. But everywhere I look I see fire; that which isn’t flint is tinder, and the whole world sparks and flames.”
Coming around the corner on the trail we could see the city lights pulse with life in a triangle of orange at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon. Matt mentioned all of his friends being down there loving the coverage of their house, and here we are running down a steep grade in the dark with bare arms drenched by the rain. At this point, the night sky is electrified by lightning repeatedly, followed by erupting thunder claps, the tree line is illuminated with a red glow, and we’re standing in the heart of the storm in awwe. Phone photos were hopeless, but memory will do.
After enjoying the show, the rain’s pace of falling picked up and the thunderclaps were close enough to shake our calm. The water depth on the trail continued to rise and my mind flashed between the three girls lost during flash floods camping in Jackson Hole and back to focusing on not rolling an ankle. With a pounding heart, I couldn’t help but crack a smile. I have a thing for storms.
Rain. It seems to find me in the mountains lately. On Cinco de Mayo, my friend Julian Carr and I, summitted Rick’s Peak to watch the sunset over Salt Lake’s city lights while downing margaritas. Sure enough, his dog Lexie (@LexieDog) began to furrow her eyebrows at the first thought of rain. In the dark rain storm, we ran / mud skied down the trail to his car.
Next, was mountain biking in Park City where we hopped on the last bus lap to the top of Deer Valley Resort. After a sunny day, the weather turned to torrential downpour as we rolled downhill through the forest lined switchbacks. Halfway down the trail, thunder clapped and the rain drops morphed into gumball sized hail stones. In the pelting pain with mud splatter in our eyes, we all met at the base of the resort. (I’m relatively new to mountain biking, so this took channeling all focus to not eat $h!t) I loved it.
The most recent mountain rain encounter was in my home state, Wyoming. My lifelong friend, Conor Raney, and I embarked on a day hike to the Cirque of the Towers in the Wind River Mountains. Ten miles into the trail is the magical and ominous cirque of enormous granite spires. Light rain sputtered from the encroaching clouds which soon engulfed us. The scramble back down Jackass Pass was slick and refreshing. (Trip report in the works).
Rain is a refreshing element of Mother Nature. We can’t stop it, we must embrace it.