Sunday, February 8, 2015

Farmington Canyon, February 6, 2015

View of Rice Bowl from the Sheriff's cabin on the Farmington Canyon road, elevation 6,825 feet.  
We were spoiled in past years with the Farmington Canyon road being plowed by the U.S. Forest Service. About four years ago the road sloughed off just above the first switchback making the road impassable for 4-wheeled vehicles, but still good for bikes and feet. The result was the closure of the canyon (gated) until repairs could be made (which turned out to be two years), which made access to upper Farmington Canyon longer and more complicated. Even with the slough, a narrow trail was navigable across the steep hillside where the road-cut once ran. Now, four years later, the road is repaired but the Forest Service does not plow due to an accounting decision to helicopter the FAA employees to the Francis Peak domes. Is flying to Francis Peak several times a week really cheaper than plowing a dirt road to over 9k feet, in the dead of winter? The short of it is there is no reason to plow the road, especially not for stinky snowmobilers or elitist back country skiers.

The road cut can be seen from the valley while driving I-15, and, with the warm weather and thin snow-pack this winter, the road in the lower canyon appeared to be free of snow. In past years after the closure I have ridden my mountain bike up the road in late winter, with skis strapped to the bike, but that ride is a tough grind. Yeah, it's only five or six miles, with only a 2,500 foot gain, which is not huge by cycling standards, but it's not so easy while wearing a pack loaded with ski boots and gear, and with skis strapped to the bike frame. I'm getting old and lazy, so this year I gave in and bought a motorcycle.

I strapped my skis to the frame of my new Yamaha and rode it 15 miles from my house, through suburbia, to the gate of Farmington Canyon. Along the way I got plenty of weird stares. When coming to a stop at one intersection, a pod of spandex-ed joggers waiting to cross the road looked me up and down, and started giggling hysterically. Mind you, they were total gym rats, completely made up and looking like the 'Stale Housewives of SLC,' and they thought I looked odd? Yeah, skis strapped to a motorcycle is not something seen everyday, but at least I wasn't wearing skin-tight spandex head to toe.

Riding the pavement was not a big deal, but once past the gate and on dirt, I felt shaky. I'm not use to riding a motorcycle on the road and certainly not on the dirt, The road was mostly snow-free up to the Sunset Campground, with a few small drifts that I walked my bike through (no confidence in the snow), and at the campground I locked my bike to a tree, paranoid perhaps, but thinking if a truck came up (cabin owners have keys to the gate), two people (man or spandex-clad women) could easily lift it into the bed and drive away, leaving me with just skis and five miles of dirt road.  

Yeah, looks weird, but it rides quite well. Couldn't even tell they were there. The tips nest very well against the curve of the bike frame. My big concern was the engine heat could damage to skis. I wrapped the skis with 'Shamwows,' to shield the heat and protected the bike from sharp ski edges, but it turned out the heat was minimal.      
The temps were hot, 50's with a nasty south wind, which made it tee-shirt weather while skinning, but that made for wet sloppy snow, at least down low. When about half way up the Mud/Rice divide a small storm-front blew through and it looked like it would rain. I had no desire to ride that motorcycle down a muddy road in the rain, so I decided to abort and head down before the rain. I got one skin off and reached for the other when my conscience got the best of me: I just couldn't give up now, especially after getting laughed at by a pod of killer-whales.

I re-skinned and started back up the ridge and I was soon rewarded. Strangely, in the space of just a few hundred vertical feet, the snow quickly changed from wet slop to creamy, dry-ish powder. I topped out in a gusty, hard-driving wind, but once off the ridge the wind was now hardly noticeable. It never rained, and the skiing? It was awesome! At least in the upper half of the bowl. So good I made multiple runs in the upper half, and wishing for more time. Sadly, I had to get down before dark (I have a learners permit for the bike) and, to be honest, I was nervous about riding that new bike down the dirt road. My confidence was lagging on the dirt. That said, on the way down I had an epiphany of sorts; the thought came to just ride it like my mountain bike (pedals not petrol), which I have done a lot in recent years. So I relaxed and it felt natural, even hitting the gas on the straights. I made it home without any problems; and no heckling from the spandex-ed crowd laughing at my weirdness.      

I tied myself in a know climbing over the gate (to the cabin) with skis on. 

Should I cross? 

The bridge held.

Midway up the Rice/Mud divide and the snow is thin in spots, grass showing.  

Unitah Mountains from the upper Rice/Mud divide. 

Mud Bowl is still brushy In a normal most of those Aspen saplings are covered by February 6th . . . 

 . . .and the south aspect (north side) of Farmington Canyon below Francis Peak is getting bare, about a month ahead of  a normal winter. 

36 inches in upper Rice Bowl (about 8,300 feet). Good thing I bought the longest probe (320cm)  made by black diamond. Wishful thinking on my part.  

Skin track emerging from the Mud/Rice divide into upper Rice Bowl.

Mud Peak (l), Rice Bowl (r).

Skin track view.

Wind sculpting at the ridge-top of Rice Bowl, roughly 8,715 feet and 1,900 vertical feet above the Sheriff's Cabin. 

In a good year there's a 15-foot cornice guarding Rice Bowl.

Small (very small) cornice drop, with Antelope Island, Farmington and Kaysville below.

Bountiful Peak from the top of Rice Bowl.

First run turns in upper Rice Bowl. Sun coming in and out of the clouds, but mostly in.

Almost back to my skin track, heading up for run #2.

First run ski tracks from the top of Rice Bowl. The Sheriff's cabin is on the road 1500 feet below  (center).

Upper Rice Bowl.
Beaver pond on lower Rice Creek, just above the Sheriff's cabin.

Zoomed view of my turns from the Sheriff's cabin.

The infamous Sheriff's cabin, just off the Farmington Canyon Road. There are No-trespassing/Keep Out signs everywhere. The cabin is old and beat up. It looks like an old Boy Scout Lodge, reason enough to keep my distance.

Coyote food storage? I think I scared it off when I skied down the lower drainage of Rice Bowl, the tracks looked fresh. At first I was worried I'd stumbled upon a Mountain Lion den (the hole bottomed into darkness) and I'd get charged by a  cat feeling cornered. But the tracks were definitely canine, not feline. And, not sure, but I don't think Mountain Lions live in the ground.  

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