As has been my habit lately, I planned on ascending
Continuing up canyon, the rich aroma of sizzling sausage and pancakes originating from one of several campgrounds filled the canyon bottom, making it even harder to choke down the last bite of my on-the-go Pop-Tarts breakfast.
Less than a half mile past the guard station near the Medina Flat trailhead, I was surprised to find that the Forest Service had gated and closed the upper half of the canyon (as of 7/9/2009). A press release attached to the gate states that until repairs can be made to the flood-damaged road, the area behind the gate will be off-limits to any motorized vehicles. Walking my bike around the gate, I continued up canyon.
The last two miles of the canyon road take you through two sets of short limestone narrows that are just wide enough for the road and the cold, bubbling South Willow Creek, which up to this point goes largely unnoticed. After a set of switchbacks, the grade steepens as you enter the aspen-enshrouded Loop Campground, and finally to the top of the loop where two newer outhouses and ample parking mark the trailhead for
Navigation on the trail is a cinch - every trail junction is well signed. The trail splits just after crossing a perennial creek less than 1 mile into the hike. I chose to go left up Mill Fork which is the quickest and most straightforward route to the top. If you do the suggested loop hike, this is where you will close the loop on the descent.
As you gain altitude in Mill Fork, sweeping views of the Stansbury's central massif become frequent. Looking back down Mill Fork, the conspicuously wide "U"-shaped form of the valley is proof that huge earth-gouging glaciers once flowed here during the last Ice Age more than 12,ooo years ago.
The quickest way back to the trailhead is to retrace your steps, but I highly recommend tacking on an extra half mile and continue following the summit trail to the north as I did. After passing around the west side of a couple of small peaks, the trail drops down into yet another previously glaciated valley: Pockets Fork. After a half-mile hike down Pockets Fork, turn right at another trail junction and head south toward Dry Lake Fork where the best views yet of the impressively steep and rugged east face of
Despite being a holiday, the only other people I saw on the trail were a couple dragging some rather stubborn pack goats (that appeared to be causing more trouble than help) up the trail.
After recovering my stashed bike, I finished off the last of my water, strapped on biking shoes and coasted down the bumpy road. Just as I was approaching warp speed down a straight-away section of the road, I spotted a stick across the road that could be easily cleared with a little bunny hop. But just as I got close enough to initiate my launch, the stick moved! The realization that this was a rattlesnake created an instant surge of adrenaline, and let me tell you, I think I could have cleared a three-foot-high log!
Final Adventure Stats:
Miles Traveled: 22.25 total (14.5 bike/8.75 hike)
Elevation Gained (feet): 6350 total (2300 bike/4050 hike)
Time (hours): 7 total (2.5 bike/4.5 hike)
If You Go:
From Main Street in Grantsville, turn south onto