July 18, 2013

Utah visit, July 2013, #3: Albion Basin

Indian Paintbrush in Albion Basin: Alta, Utah
On Sunday afternoon, the first full day of my Utah visit, I headed up Little Cottonwood Canyon to do some sketching...you know...filling in my new sketch book and all! At the end of the road is the little ski-town of Alta, and the gateway to the Albion Basin in the Wasatch-Cache National Forest. The basin is famous for its rolling meadows of wildflowers ringed on all sides by mountain peaks. Several moderate hikes begin in the vicinity as well, with my favorite being to Catherine Pass: a little more than a mile of uphill strolling leads to an overlook of Lakes Catherine and Mary, and the Brighton ski area, as well as views south into American Fork Canyon, and far west to the Uinta range.

A secondary motivation for the drive was to see how the altitude would affect me. I'd planned a hike to White Pine Lake with my dad the next day, and as I've lived at or near sea level for three years, I was concerned that the thin air might prove a shock to my system.

I parked my car and headed to the shuttle-van stop just as a bank of clouds was skirting the highest peaks. My hand-written journal begins here...

I get out of the car and am greeted by the shock of unexpectedly cool air. "Ugh..." I roll my eyes, "one of the classic blunders...ALWAYS bring a jacket when heading into the mountains." I've become an outsider already. That and I can already feel the effects of thin air on my breathing. In Ohio every breath feels like a drink of warm water. Up here, the thin dry gas inflates my lungs with barely a trace of its having passed over my lips. Even my voice sounds different. Oddly crisp, sharp, un-muffled...crackling in the ear on the tips of consonants. I wonder if it's an illusion. 
I also know I haven't brought enough water, especially for the altitude...blunder number 2. 
I walk to the end of the lot and catch the free shuttle up to Albion Basin. Glad to be spared the trek while driving Mom's car: too wide for me to safely judge clearances yet. 
"Anyone hiking the Catherine Pass trail?" asks the driver. 
"I am." I raise my hand reflexively.
The upper lot is packed. It begins to rain. The air is cold. I hope to find a spot on a granite outcropping in order to sketch the peaks on the basin's southern edge. Maybe the short uphill walk will warm me up. Will it stop raining in time? I imagine getting caught in a downpour and trudging along the trail with my t-shirt clinging to shivering skin. 
"She must not be from around here," people would think as I passed. "Starry eyed, but unprepared." 
My heart pumps fast. Rain stops. I reach my rock and find a good spot among the boulders, ants, bees, flies, flowers. People pass behind me on the trail. I wonder if any will ask to see what I'm working on. None do. 
An hour. 
The sun is out now, searing my skin under a thin atmosphere. Lack of sunscreen...my third oversight. I pick up and continue up the trail. Maybe I should go ahead and try for the pass. No. Not enough water, remember. 
I find some shade and refine the sketch from memory. Behind me a group of young adults is scattered over the hillside gathering specimens of some kind. I want to ask them what they're collecting...I imagine myself as one of them. 
But shyness wins. 
My memory runs out before I finish the trees and talus slopes and I decide to go back to the granite slab to add final touches. Clouds are rolling in again. I contemplate adding them to my scene...wonder how I can capture their deep periwinkle billows with just a simple black ballpoint pen. I decide to leave the sky blank. 
There is a family eating lunch near my post. I sit down and resume sketching. The little girl is terrorized by the ants. The "big red-bodied ants." She doesn't want to kill them though...just brushes them away. Her parents are dismissive of her fear.
The ants crawl over my pants, feet, purse...one tries to pry open my now-empty water bottle. I blow him away with a puff of air. Darkening clouds block the sun and eliminate the shadows I had been using to add dimension in my sketch. I head down the trail hoping I won't have to wait long for the shuttle. 
Thunder. Raindrops. The chilly air again. 
Just in time. 

I drove back down the canyon in a cloudburst. Sheets of water cascaded down over the asphalt. The day before, rockslides had closed the road in American Fork Canyon. I hoped the slopes above me would remain sturdy. Just in time indeed!

1 comment:

  1. What an adventure! Next visit I know you'll be more prepared : )