Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Three Beauties of Mill B South Fork: A Wasatch Classic

Jagged Sundial Peak Towering Over Lake Blanche
I was back in the motherland for a couple of days of R&R and the heat in the Salt Lake Valley was stultifying. It was time for a run into the Wasatch to cool the body and cleanse the soul. Or maybe that was just an excuse to get up the canyons and into the mountains where I spent a fair amount of time during my misspent youth. I don't know, I don't care, and it doesn't matter anyway because the end result was the same: cool gurgly streams, craggy peaks, exploding wildflowers, aspen tree jungles, and icy lakes.

But where to go? If you know Salt Lake, you know the possibilities are almost limitless. Choosing one trail from the gigantic list of really top-drawer options is a bit like buying beer these days. The choices are so numerous, and the quality so high, that the process can be paralyzing. So we opted for a Wasatch classic, the hiking equivalent of a Polygamy Porter, and headed for the Lake Blanche trailhead up Big Cottonwood Canyon.

As we drove up the canyon, the heat continued to hound us. Escape didn't really materialize, at least not as we envisioned. But the gushing voices of Big Cottonwood Creek and Mill B South Fork Creek sufficiently distracted us as we made the stiff ascent toward the high-alpine cirque which cradles the three beautiful ladies we had come to see: Lake Blanche, Lake Florence, and Lake Lillian.
Twin Peaks Wilderness Boundary Sign

Amazing Aspen Grove

Big Cottonwood Canyon Flora

View Down Mill B South Fork Canyon to Mt. Olympus

Outlet to Lake Lillian Spilling Into Mill B South Fork Canyon
When you live in the barren wasteland that Southern California has become as a result of the continuing drought, it's easy to forget rushing water and the color green. The Wasatch compels you to remember. Lake Lillian was spilling snow-melt into the creek bed which was furiously flowing. The canyon was an orgy of wildflowers, aspen groves, and luxuriant greenery. The scene was so compelling we had to stop several times to simply take it all in.

Lake Blanche with Sundial Peak as a Backdrop

Dromedary Peak from Lake Blanche

Sundial Peak

Lakes Florence and Lillian with Dromedary in the Background
Ultimately, we crested the rocky lip of the basin behind which hides stunningly delightful Lake Blanche. Standing sentinel above the lake is appropriately-named Sundial Peak. It's a scene of magnificent sublimity.

We plopped down in some like-side shade, had a snack, and immersed ourselves in the moment. When we couldn't take any more of Blanche's beauty, we wandered over to Lake Florence to see her and her sister Lillian. On the way, we stopped to admire the outflow from Lake Blanche which despite its somewhat low level was still coursing quite nicely.

My Better Half Admiring the Outlet from Lake Blanche

View Down Mill B South Fork Canyon

Beautiful Bloom Deep in Mill B South Fork Canyon

Getting Intoxicated on Aspen

Mill B South Fork Creek
I recall as a young lad that this and the other trails in the Wasatch were always uncrowded when I went out. Not so this trip. The parking lot at the trailhead was completely full when we arrived and we met lots of happy mountain peeps along the trail. Of all those hikers, the one that really stayed with me, the one I continue to think about, is an elderly lady that we saw up top and met on the descent. I'm guessing she was in her mid-70s. She was solo. She was struggling to walk, using here hiking sticks almost like crutches. But she was slowly, methodically, and doggedly making her way back down the canyon. I imagine her asking her similarly-aged friends if any of them wanted to go climb 3,000 feet to feel the sun, to hear the wind, to smell mountains, and to gaze upon Lake Blanche. When they all unsurprisingly declined her invitation, she said "fuck it, I'm going." And she did. God I want to be like her.

Afterwards, we stopped by the irreplaceable Cotton Bottom to get garlic burgers for perhaps the last time. Unless things have changed since I last heard, this wonderful refuge that breaks up the monotony of sedate Holladay, is slated to disappear only to be reincarnated as a fire station or park or some damn thing. That, coupled with the previous loss of Gepetto's, is an absolute travesty.

The Legendary Cotton Bottom

Cotton Bottom Bar Stools

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