La Sal’s South Mountain paired with Moab Brewery Rocket Bike Lager

South Mountain, located on the southern edge of Moab’s La Sal Mountains, is a remote (in the winter) destination. Therefore, if one wants to make turns from her summit, they best be prepared for a 13-mile round trip tour. Skiers will also need to pack along a tons of calories, so it’s a good thing I had a can of Rocket Bike Lager from the Moab Brewery in my pack.

Rocket Bike 1

The idea for this trip began in December of 2013, which will go down as a bleak month for backcountry skiing in Utah. After a few good storms, the powder faucet shut off, leaving high pressure and rotting, wind-blasted snow in the Wasatch. Southern Utah, however, had been buried in white. Utah was a state divided, and skiers starved for powder had to choose sides. Seeking soft snow, Adam Symonds and I drove to Moab to find that elusive Utah powder.

South MountainAt 11,817 feet, South Mountain is among the smallest peaks in the range, but it stands out like a lonely mountain, separate from her sisters like Mount Peale and Tuk to the north. While the bigger mountains get all the love from skiers, due to size and accessibility from Gold Basin, South Mountain is harder to appreciate. The approach is extremely long for day tours, and the summit is a full 1,000 feet shorter and barely goes above tree line.

With the mobile yurt parked at the La Sal Creek winter trailhead, Adam and I skinned up the closed, snow-covered road. We stayed on the La Sal Loop Road all the way to an open meadow where snowmobiles had a heyday. Finding a creek crossing, we skinned up a side-gully between the South Mountain Glades and South Mountain. Though the obvious route was to the saddle between the two mountains, we stayed looker’s right and ended up on the east ridge, where a gnarly, wind-scoured shoulder got us to the summit after 6 hours of skinning. Beyond tired, we were rewarded by the unparalleled views of Utah’s red rock desert all around us, followed by the best run of the season.

South Mountain 2

The glades and meadows on South Mountain’s southeast face are sublime. While open snow was crusted by late-afternoon, the sheltered pine forests offered perfect, settled powder through perfectly-spaced trees for thousands of feet. Adam and I whooped, hollered and laughed at our burning thighs as the vertical and never-ending fall line seemed like a dream.

Moab Brewery Rocket Bike Lager

Moab Rocket Bike 2

To celebrate our accomplishment at finding the only soft snow in the state, we cracked open some cans of Rocket Bike Lager from the Moab Brewery. This american-style steamer lager is smooth and creamy, and has a tons more flavor than the name “lager” would signify. The taste is very malt-forward, with even some slight spiciness to it. This lager is rich and full-bodied, yet refreshing at the same time.

South Mountain SkiWhile I think it’s excellent right out of the can, when poured into a glass it has a amber/orange glow. A nice topping of foamy head leads to good lacing in the glass, but somehow drinking it outside the can makes the mouthfeel a bit thin. Perhaps the fact that it’s a low-alcohol beer betrays it, and the can hides that fact when you quaff it from the pull-tab hole.

Overall, even though I’m more of a hoppy, IPA type of guy, the Rocket Bike Lager is one of my favorite beers from the Moab Brewery. It’s tasty, and it comes in a can, so it’s also very Summit Brew friendly. You can find it at the Moab Brewery in town, and pretty much every grocery store/gas station in Utah.

South Mountain is a feisty girl. She plays hard to get, but if you work hard and earn your turns, she’ll give up the goods. So powder-starved, soulful skiers, head south to the mountain of the same name. And bring some local micro-brews like the Moab Rocket Bike Lager with you… you’ll need the calories.

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Zion N.P. Observation Pt./ Duvel Golden Ale

"Look at the ants down on Angel's Landing!"  Observation Point in Zion N.P. takes you much higher than this landmark in the foreground.

“Look at the ants down on Angel’s Landing!” Observation Point in Zion N.P. takes you much higher than this landmark in the foreground.

Zion National Park really never really slows down.  Some credit for the continual traffic goes to the entrance town of Springdale itself, which seems to find great ways to to attract tourists outside to the convenient travel brackets of Memorial Day and Labor Day.  However, much of Zion’s “off-season” pull is aided by the much more tolerant temperatures that exist in this desert temple during the fall and winter.  My first visit to Utah’s most famous national park was in the nadir of Zion’s slack season, December, right after a light snowstorm sprinkled the red rock with a delicate blanket of white.  That journey during a period when Springdale, relatively speaking, is a ghost town, spoiled me, and I’ve been trying to find opportunities to enjoy this popular national park in unpopular times ever since.  Mid-November was our most recent weekend trip to the canyon and my wife and I decided to revisit one of my favorite hikes, the same hike we did on our first trip there in late 2010– Observation Point via Echo Canyon.

I can’t really speak to the popularity of this trail in terms of numbers, but I can guarantee you this, step for step, view for view, it’s just as rewarding a hike as the incredibly popular Angel’s Landing trail.  Located on the east side of the canyon, just opposite the famous aforementioned landmark and starting from the Weeping Rock area, the Observation Point trail switchbacks up 800′ of Zion’s sheer canyon wall before entering a slot canyon that marks the entrance to Echo Canyon.

Echo Canyon's narrow characeristics.

The trail passes along Echo Canyon’s narrow chasms.

Within a few steps, we went from having the North Fork’s footprint spread out below our feet to entering a mesmerizing chasm where slits in the sandstone seem to be bottomless.  Shelves, overhangs and outcrops block any view of the bottom.  Swirled and flowing textures speak to the evolution of this landscape over millions of years while the impressive stature and majesty of the rock reminded me of our insignificance as an element of this worlds neverending story.  While zigzagging into the narows, creases and openings above our head changed the perspective constantly, forcing us to piece together the surroundings like a puzzle.  At one moment, we see a checkerboard sandstone wall, another moment, a vegetated tower that curls out of the rock, close enough to climb, and very enticing except for the 1000′ chasm separating us from this turret juting out of the cliff face.  But my favorite monument to stare at during this hike is the precipice of Cable Mountain which pokes out and looms just southwest of the Weeping Rock alcove.

Cable Mountain.

Cable Mountain with Deer Trap Mountain just visible to the right.

The 6,500′ Cable Mountain actually stands more as a prominence of the eastern rim than a mountain.  Jutting out from the mesa’s edge, it draws my attention with its chiseled flat face.  Looking closely, I point out to my wife a replica of the timber scaffolding that at one time lowered logs harvested from the forests on the Markagunt Plateau. Cable Mountain’s unique position and unimpeded vertical drop to the canyon floor made it a logical, but frightening choice for the risky transport of lumber.  The procedure still seems unimaginable to me.

After emerging from the slots into the widening chamber of Echo Canyon, the trail forks.  One branch, the continuation of the the Observation Point trail, begins ascending to the north, up the sandstone walls of Echo Canyon.  The other branch, the East Rim Trail (not to be confused with the East Mesa trail) continues further east into Echo Canyon before meandering south and eventually ascending to the rim opposite Observation Point.

Via the East Rim Trail, hikers can access both Cable Mountain and Deer Trap Mountains’ by looping back around the southern boundary of Echo Canyon.  Each of these are worthwhile hikes, but the distance could be a lot for a day hike– 7 miles one way from the Weeping Rock trailhead to Cable Mountain.  My suggestion for reaching these points would be to either plan a hike to these destinations as an overnight or long through-hike with a shuttle at the East Park Entrance.  However, a third (and the most user friendly) option for approaching either peak would be from an obscure trailhead 3 to 4 miles north (line of sight) from the East Entrance.  This trail gets you to Cable Mountain in just over 3 miles of relatively flat hiking through sparse forests and gamble oak groves.  In the warmer months, this can be a pleasant change from the sweltering heat in the depths of the canyon.   A note of caution however, this is not an easily found trailhead, it is accessed from outside the park boundaries via a dirt road than can be impassible winter/wet conditions, so check with a ranger for more details and have a map.  A GPS and a high-clearance 4WD vehicle wouldn’t hurt either.

The trail begins ascending out of Echo Canyon and more of the west rim of the canyon can be seen.

The trail begins ascending out of Echo Canyon and more of the west rim of the canyon can be seen.

But back to the SummitBrew hike.  The Observation Point Trail is basically at it’s halfway point at this junction… in many ways other than distance and altitude.  In the first two miles, the trail meandered up in the shadows of Zion’s great walls.  With the low winter sun, we found ourselves in a slight chill for most of the morning.  On our original hike of this trail, remnants of a snowstorm buried much of the trail in crusty white mounds which needed a few more days of sunrays to melt off the trail.  Traction was at a premium on that first hike in December.  Uneven patches of snow made my newly purchased MicroSpikes a “hike-saver” for my wife, who actually lead most of the way while I struggled to plant my Asolo’s on level footing.  But at the two mile mark, where the trails split, we found ourselves in the glow of a unimpeded southern exposure.  Snow disappeared from the trail and it was time to lose layers.  This is what I mean when I say the halfway point of this hike symbolizes more than completion of 50%, it symbolizes emergence into the light.

As we climbed up the actual Observation Point pedestal, the rock becomes brighter, almost golden, and the foreboding canyon walls with monolithic presence change to crumbling, cartoonish figurines of eroded sandstone.  Gnarled and twisted trees sprout out of the rock, hoodoos captured my imagination and the distant highlands of the west rim could be seen across the North Fork’s gash.  The green tops on the opposite side of the canyon seem other worldly compared to the chasm that splits open the earth, reveals the sandstone oasis of Zion Canyon.

As the trail levels with the top of the East Mesa, it straightens to a northwesterly course and we can clearly see the congregation of hikers taking in the vista.  20 to 30 minutes of hiking after spotting the trails end at Observation Point, we reach the terminus.  From the perch, I remind myself why I consider this hike one of the best in Zion.  The view up and down the canyon is just as stunning as Angel’s Landing, and from this point, I’m towering over Angels Landing with a much better view of the surrounding highlands.  Yes, Angel’s Landing is the signature Zion hike, but while most adventurers on the west rim landmark hike are clinging to the safety chains with white knuckles and focusing on their feet, we were enjoying our ascent , taking in the scenery, and climbing at least ’500 feet higher.

DuvelAfter my wife and I picked out a spot to sit, I took out my refreshment for the hike, a Duvel Belgian Golden Ale.  The word “Belgian” in a beer usually creates a distinct premonition of taste for any beer drinker. but in the last month or so, I’ve discovered the other side of Belgian beers.  Beers with less of that characteristically “yeast and banana” taste and more hop and dryness.  Leffe Golden Ale has been one of my favorite “lighter” Belgian beers… when I can find it (usually in Utah County, go figure), but for this hike, I thought it was time to try something new.  Duvel has a somewhat foggy, yellow color with a creamy and hoppy head.  This pale is 8.5% and has a delightfully light bitterness that many hop lovers are probably yearning for in a Belgian beer.  It has some citrus notes without overpowering the palate, going down very easy with an afternote of light yeast (there’s that Belgian).  I would suggest this beer for anyone looking for a combination of Belgian-style body with a discrete hop note.  In a time when beers are trying to out-hop eachother, I find this beer to stay somewhat true to the personality of a Pale Ale.

me&develMy wife and eye soak in the fading run of Zion Canyons southern end while munching on almonds and granola bars.  Sun and haze dilute the Watchman and Eagle Crags into watercolors, but we’re just happy to be basking in the sun and scenery.  Chipmunks get way too friendly as they search for any crumb that my fall their direction while I turn north and try to pick out Brian Head Peak.  The ascent to Observation Point isn’t an easy one, but the textures and alcoves of Echo Canyon combined with the less anal-puckering climb make this my choice over Angels Landing.

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Turtlehead Peak with Tenaya Creek Hop Ride

Turthlehead is one of the more accessible summits in the Las Vegas area.

Turthlehead is one of the more accessible summits in the Las Vegas area.

Moments after I stepped out of the Las Vegas airport, I remembered why I liked Reno and, until now, had never stepped foot in Clark County.  Reno appealed to me for the easy access to the Sierra Nevada and its rough-hewn personality.  Its southern Nevada counterpart had a greater degree of two of my nemeses: brash, commercial excess and lines.  To me, Vegas was no different than Disney World and I disliked the touristy facade.  However, I kept a positive attitude knowing that beer would be much more plentiful here than in Utah and that I was staying at the Red Rock Resort; a less thematically poisoned casino well off the strip where my wife was attending a conference.  Part of our reason for choosing to stay at the resort was it’s proximity the Red Rock Canyon Rec area where I headed Saturday morning for a hike.

Surprisingly, a subset of gamblers do find some appreciation in nature because the one way road that loops through this canyon west of Vegas was loaded with traffic and I barely found a parking space at the trailhead.  Red Rock Canyon holds some geological features that many of us in Utah take for granted and might also feel pale in comparison to the Navajo sandstone treasures  within our borders, but the broad, layered spires and sprawling, rounded mounds of rock are well worth the visit for any Beehive state desert rat.

This was the view from my hotel window.  Nice to see your quarry from the comforts of your room.

This was the view from my hotel window. Nice to see your quarry from the comforts of your room.

I chose to hike up to Turtlehead Mountain, a ramped, turret like mountain that juts up prominently in the foreground of the massive plateau that shapes the canyons northern and western borders.  The trail is well marked in the early, flat stages as you walk on gravely washes and pass through sandstone corridors, but eventually, you come to a steep draw that climbs lookers-left of the peak.  Being that I was alone and most of the hikers found themselves distracted playing on and gawking at the slickrock, I found myself passing numerous groups.  I wasn’t even sure which peak was Turtlehead, but I had a hunch it was the grey inclined mass that looked like a tortoise poking its head above water, and I was determined to get to the top of it and enjoy the beer I had wrapped up in my pack.

Once you reach the draw that runs lookers left along the peak, the trail gets significantly more challenging.

Once you reach the draw that runs lookers left along the peak, the trail gets significantly more challenging.

As I worked my way up the draw, struggling to keep focus on the trail, I could tell Turtlehead was in fact the peak I hoped it was.  This made me pretty happy because there is nothing worse than reading a park guide trail description and realizing the “mountain” you are climbing is really just an overlook.  The 2000′ climb was not technical by any stretch, but the elevation gain, faint trail and steepness made for a worthy summitbrew post.  The approximately 2.5 mile trail can be a challenge in certain spots, especially if you lose the trail, which I did numerous times.  It seems like heavy use trails near large metro areas have an excess of side trails that can confuse you.  Most hikers would be able to find a route regardless, but I was able to refind the trail when coming across down hikers.

After meandering and getting stabbed by a few sharp plants, the trail eventually reaches a spot where you can access the ridge leading to the summit.  Most of the southern face of the peak is a sheer cliff probably between 100 and 250 feet, but northwest of the cliffs is a passage at the end of the draw.  From there, the trail heads back south as you gradually ascend to the high point.

Glad to see some people aren't glued to a slot machine on this beautiful day.

Glad to see some people aren’t glued to a slot machine on this beautiful day.

Crowds are everywhere in Vegas, and a beautiful day in nature brought just as many people as a hot hand at the craps table.  In a way, it made me happy that so many were enjoying something besides gambling in Vegas.  No less than 15 people by my count were at the summit, but of course none of them were carrying the freight I had in my pack, a Tenaya Creek Hop Ride.  I found a spot to sit and popped the top.  The smooth, floral IPA was really refreshing after a strenuous hour and 20 minute climb.  Of course a few people noticed my choice of libation and made a few joking comments.  I’m never sure what to say when people see me enjoying a beer in nature.  In most cases, I’m alone, but I’m not going to let an audience affect my imbibing.  If anything, you would think in a city like Vegas, enjoying a beer in public wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow.

Reward for choosing to hike rather than blow money at the blackjack table.

Reward for choosing to hike rather than blow money at the blackjack table.

Tenaya Creek’s Hop Ride uses Magnum and Summit hops for the bitterness with Cascade hops to provide the floral notes.  Before I knew it, I had half of this 22 ounce bottle of American IPA gone and realized that even though I was well south of ski territory, maybe I ought to make an offering to Ullr, especially with the ski season approaching.

'Bout time I got a good summit hike in.

‘Bout time I got a good summit hike in.

From this point at 6,324′, one gets an eyeful of Las Vegas’ monuments of excess in the east.  However, from this vantage point, they seem pathetic in comparison to natures monuments that populate this canyon.  To the north of the peak runs the even higher walls that create this canyon, and beyond them, the imagination can only speculate to the wilderness beyond.  To the west lies more multi-colored spires and deep narrow canyons and in the south are the splashes of red sandstone that reminds me how colorful nature can be when all the pieces come into place.  I can only speculate as to what other people feel when the reach the top of Turtlehead Peak, but I hope they look around and think there are some things that need to be left “as is”.

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Bountiful Peak paired with Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

IMG_3477 (427x640)When winter-closed roads melt out and open, and the snow starts to disappear under the warm May sun, there is a short window to farm corn on those mountains that can only be skied in the spring. So it was that I made the trip to Bountiful Peak with my backcountry skiing buddies and a cold can of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale in my pack.

Bountiful Peak is a 9,259-foot mountain located in the Northern Wasatch above the cities of Farmington and Bountiful. Around the peak is a skiing zone that I’ve had my eye on all year, so when Skyline Drive in Farmington Canyon finally opened up, we headed north to farm corn high above Davis County.

Farmington Canyon used to be a year-round backcountry ski destination as the road was plowed for FAA workers who needed to get to the radar tower atop Francis Peak. But a huge landslide a few years ago took out the road, shutting off the entire area to public access. Well, repairs were finished last summer, but the city decided to keep the road closed in the winter, figuring it would be less expensive to helicopter workers to the radar than it would be to plow the road. As a result, what was once a fun backcountry ski area became the exclusive domain of snowmobiles since you’d need one to travel the miles of winding road to the Wasatch Divide.

Bountiful SkinHowever, all is not lost for skiers in Farmington. In April, the gate was opened and the road was clear, paving the way to spring skiing on peaks now seldom skied.

First, Mike D and I headed right for Bountiful Peak. It was the most obvious choice when scanning the horizon for skiable zones, especially since small chutes cut between the mountain’s protected cliff top. Eager to ski, we left Skyline Drive and cut through the Bountiful Peak Campground. The snow-buried camp sites soon gave way to summer cabins as we gained elevation and the mountain’s cliffs grew larger in our vision. In a few hours we were standing at the top after traversing across the main apron to gain the ridge. A short bootpack up an icy section got us above the first chute.

Our first line was a corn-filled, dog leg chute on skier’s left. Mike dropped in first, sweeping turns on the edge before sliding into the chute’s gut. Wet sluff came spilling down like a river behind him, so he stopped and watched as it hit a rock outcropping like a wave against the shore. When the river of snow passed, Mike continued, gaining speed in the perfectly, corned-up apron.

Bountiful SkiAfter Mike flushed the chute of any wet snow, I was able to make easy turns from top to bottom. It was so fun to whip the tails of my Voile Chargers from side to side, spreading corn snow like a butter knife spreading peanut butter on soft bread. The apron was even better as I sped up and carved, making wide turns around small trees like GS gates.

Excited about this mini gnar zone, we headed back up for more. The main, central chute was obviously our next objective, despite the fact that it hadn’t seen any sun all morning. So we hiked back up, this time bagging the true summit, then down-climbed to our skis above the shaded couloir. This time I went first. A ski cut across the top didn’t move anything, so I jumped in, making short turns into the middle choke. There the shadows lay in wait. As soon as I hit the shade, my skis chattered on ice in the more narrow and steep section of the run. Carefully sidestepping, I made it through until I could make turns again, then whooped it up on the apron where soft snow awaited.

Next on the agenda was the Mud and Rice Bowls that spill from a point just north of Bountiful Peak. With Dave Thieme and Eric Ghanem, we skinned up Skyline Drive, then cut right to Farmington Lakes. A short switchback up the face to the ridge gave us easy access to Point 8735 – the top of both Mud and Rice Bowls.

Mud Bowl

The skiing was fantastic. We skied Rice Bowl first as it had more of a west-facing aspect and didn’t get as much sun. It was a wise choice as it was the best corn skiing of the year. Unfortunately it didn’t last long as the snow turned to sticky mush as soon as we entered the Rice Creek drainage. Rather than wallow in muck, we traversed south the the ridge between Rice and Mud Creeks, and skinned back up to the top.

With both summits of Bountiful Peak tagged and skied, it was time to mark the occasion. Out came my can of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale on the windy, Wasatch Divide.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

IMG_3478 (640x427)

It is the original. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is one of the first micro-brewed beers in this whole wave of craft beer that is sweeping the world. As a result, since I came to enjoy craft beer as soon as I was old enough to imbibe, Sierra Nevada was one of my go-to beers along with New Belgium’s Fat Tire and Sam Adams Boston Lager.

IMG_3482 (427x640)With so many new beers being introduced all the time, Sierra Nevada dropped off my radar for years. But ever since they started canning, a resurgence of this classic is afoot as cans are better for taking outdoors. This development has also reintroduced me to the splendors of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and has proven to me that it still remains among the best.

The key aspect of what makes Sierra Nevada Pale Ale so damn good is its balance. The level of malty backbone to hops ratio is perfect. Not too sweet, not too bitter, this is among the most approachable pale ales out there and is an ideal into to hoppy beers.

The taste has the typical citrus aromas and flavors you’d expect from an American-style pale, which comes from the Cascade hops used. That said, it’s not too hoppy and leaves a slight bitterness that lingers. On the malt side, there’s a slight grain and caramel flavor underneath, but it’s not too heavy. Overall, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is a good session beer for hop-heads and even tastes great right out of the can.

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Mount Mellenthin paired with Uinta Wyld

WyldMount Mellenthin is the second highest peak in Utah’s second highest range – the La Sal Mountains. It was also the second peak we intended to climb on our second trip to the La Sals that season, so it made sense that I brought along my second-favorite beer from Uinta Brewing, Wyld Extra Pale Ale.

We had reached the summit of Mount Tukuhnikivatz the day before, but despite our exhaustion, got up for more the next morning to ski Mellenthin. Despite it being a Monday, the parking lot was surprisingly full of skiers with the same ideas in mind – that the La Sals are the place to be for spring skiing. It was telling that most of the skiers we talked to were from Colorado, and most were drinking cheap macrobrews. Such a shame. After exchanging beta with other touring parties, we skinned up Geyser Pass Road past the popular entrance to Gold Basin and were soon by ourselves in a pine forest. Continuing down the road, we soon entered a wide swatch in the trees that revealed Mellenthin’s massive north face. Angling south, we headed toward the peak as if it were a magnet.

Mount Mellenthin

At 11,000 feet, the forest cleared at timberline and nothing but a moonscape of talus and snow was left. One thing that stood in the way of our ski objective was the north ascent ridge. It looked steep, rocky, and windy. But seeing no other option, we strapped skis to our packs and started booting up the loose scree and styrofoam snow. The winds threatened to tear us off though, as our skis became sails, pulling us to the side with every gust. I had to plunge my whippet into the snow a few times to stop from losing my footing above a rock-strewn slide-for-life when the wind yanked at my overloaded back.

Mellenthin JustinAbove the first steep pitch, the ridge leveled out for easy walking until the final steep push on a scree field to the top. All three of us made it by early afternoon and relaxed by watching skiers descend Tukuhnikivatz across the range south of our perch. Getting to the top of Mellenthin was much harder and longer than Tuk, so we hoped the skiing would be worth the effort. One thing was indeed made the endeavor was the chance to savor a bottle of Wyld Pale Ale with that intense view dominating my field of vision.

Jared Mellenthin

Unfortunately, nobody brought a bottle opener! Such a travesty is a disaster with summit brews as there is usually no recourse. It takes creative ways to get the cap off, and in our case, we had an ice ax on hand. It took some muscling, but the ax worked ideally as a McGuyver to avert certain doom that would have sent our summit brew into darkness, leaving your reward in the bottle.

Uinta Wyld Extra Pale Ale

Drink WyldUinta Wyld Pale Ale is a part of the brewery’s Organic Line. It also happens to be one of favorite low-point beers in the world. It’s a highly drinkable EPA that is very hoppy yet refreshing at the same time. The taste from a bottle atop a mountain is crisp and just slightly bitter.

In the glass, Wyld pours a cloudy, golden yellow/orange color with a fine head. Aromas abound in the foam, largely in part because Uinta says they aggressively dry hop the beer. Mouthfeel is a bit thin, which is to be expected with a 3.2 beer, and there is little taste in the malts. Just a slight hint of grains come through underneath all the hop flavor. About that… the hop flavor is huge and delicious with the typical citrus and pine tastes.

Wyld

This hophead is so wild about Wyld that I think it’s far superior to Uinta’s other, more popular Cutthroat Pale Ale. I’m also thrilled that it is not available in cans for even easier packing in my backcountry ski pack.

After drinking it up at the summit of Mellenthin, we were ready to ski down, but about 40 feet of rock hampered access to the main chute off the summit. We had to downclimb to that point before clicking into our bindings. Taking turns, we carefully edged out onto the face, then actively made sweeping turns through the choke onto a gigantic apron.

Justin Ski Mellenthin

Once again we skied above the picture-perfect desert in the distance, but only on snow that was wind affected. The turns lacked any softness as those high winds kept the snow cool. But the slabby crust was breakable enough that edges would bite. It was a long run on the second-highest mountain in the La Sals, which is the second-highest range in Utah. If we ran out of reason to make the trek, we could fall back on the memory of summit beers on a high desert peak with friends.

For more about Uinta Brewing, visit then at www.uintabrewing.com

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Great White Whale paired with New Belgium Ranger IPA

Ranger IPALong live IPA in cans. The style is easily my favorite to consume, and by having it available in cans, it’s all the more easy to transport in a pack when climbing to the top of lofty mountain summits. The beer gods must have smiled upon me when I joined my friends on a backcountry skiing yurt trip in the Tushar Mountains, and found that my Uncle Tim brought along a few cases of New Belgium Ranger IPA. With a can of this hoppy goodness firmly tucked away in my pack, Adam and I set out to climb and ski the Great White Whale.

The Great White Whale is actually an unnamed peak found on Topo maps as Point 11526. But local skiers dubbed it the Great White Whale, perhaps due to its broad summit that resembles the humped back of a giant whale. Rather than be obsessed by our personal Moby Dick, we decided to bag ‘er first before moving on to more prominent mountains like Delano and Shelly Baldy.

We started our tour from the Snorkeling Elk Yurt after a full morning of skinning to it under heavy packs. The Snorkeling Elk Yurt is one of two yurts run by Alec Hornstein of Tushar Mountain Tours, who met the six of us at the trail head on Big John Flat Road with his snowmobile (which we reserved exclusively to haul up cases of New Belgium and Sierra Nevada beer.) Loaded down with heavy packs, we slowly made our way up the low-angle road to the yurt. In just over two hours, we arrived and settled in.

Snorkeling Elk Yurt

Our group of 7 soon dwindled to 2, however, as Adam and I were the only ones willing to explore the Tushars after such a long slog to the snow shelter. Leaving the others behind (and hoping there would be any beer left when we returned) we set out, skinning up through a forest of old pines to a ridge that afforded us a sweeping view of Mount Holly, Delano Peak, and the Great White Whale sitting in the foreground between them. A short ski into the next valley over put us at the foot of the mountain where we headed up into a canyon between the south face of Delano and the north side of GWW. It was an efficient route that rose to the high alpine, affording us fantastic, above treeline views of the range. From the upper canyon, a short climb up to a saddle, then a bootpack south over grassy meadows put us on the top.

White Whale 1

The vistas just about made taking photos mandatory, and awe filled our minds as we made imaginary turns on skiable lines spread out around us. We had three more days to explore it all, and got down to it by skiing the Great White Whale. But first we had to Summit Brew this white beast with that cold can of New Belgium’s Ranger IPA.

White Whale 2

New Belgium Ranger IPA

Ranger IPA is probably the very first India Pale Ale I ever drank straight from a can. As a self-professed beer snob, I was skeptical at first, being sure that it would taste like crap if the brew couldn’t breathe. If there was no foam, how on earth could all those hoppy aromas tickle my nostrils? The very thought seemed wrong. But then I tried it… and was pleasantly surprised. All the hoppy goodness was in tact, and drinking from a can meant I could take an IPA wherever I went.

Great White Ranger

New Belgium’s version of an IPA is also ideal for that aluminum container because it seems lighter than most. Rather than a strong, malty backbone melded perfectly with a deep hop profile, I think Ranger is more thin with nothing but hops right off the bat. The effect makes this beer more easily drinkable and refreshing while not skimping on full flavors – just what this hop-head looks for in a warm-weather beer in a can.

Adam RangerThe flavor is about what you would expect from an IPA – lots of citrus and pine tastes. It also tastes a bit sweeter than normal, as if they put honey or a bit of sucrose in it. It was hugely enjoyable atop the Great White Whale on a warmish day in the Tushar Mountains! Put me in such a good mood that I even let Adam take a few pulls from the can.

As for the ski down-post brew, Adam chose a steep line on a ribbon of snow while I set up across a small sub-peak to get a good photo. Dropping in, Adam made a series of short turns on hard-yet-edgeable spring corn, framed by a massive view of the Tushars behind. I soon followed, catching up with Adam at the bottom where we made fast turns back to our pine ridge and the yurt waiting below.

White Whale 3

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Mount Tukuhnikivatz paired with Wasatch Ghost Rider White IPA

Ghost Rider White IPAWhen one travels to Moab, especially if that someone is a skier, the La Sal Mountains dominate as they float above the red rock desert. Among those lofty peaks, Mount Tukuhnikivatz (or Mount Tuk for short) is the most visible – she’s a triangular mountain on the south side of the range, with a vertical relief that will make any skier salivate. I’ve been eyeing Mount Tuk for years, and finally reached the summit and skied down on spring corn snow. Of course at the top, I had a beer in hand for a Summit Brew with Ghost Rider White IPA from the Wasatch Brewery.

According to Summitpost.com, the word “Tukuhnikivatz” is a combination of Native American words meaning “where the sun sets last.” A co-worker says Tukuhnikivatz is a Dine’ word, the ancient language spoken by the Navajo. Along with the mysterious name, “Tuk” is a worthy objective in either winter and summer because it’s a 12,482-foot mountain (the 3rd highest in the range.) No mountain in the Wasatch comes close to that height, so for Utah summits, she’s a must climb.

On our successful summit bid, Adam, Justin and I drove overnight in the Yurt-on-Wheels to Moab, then up the Geyser Pass road to a parking lot where the plowing ends. We rolled in at 5:30 in pitch darkness – a shame since we couldn’t see Mount Tukuhnikivatz as we drove ever higher into the alpine. Exhausted from the drive and lack of sleep, we got into our sleeping bags and caught a few hours of sleep before the rising sun and the sound of skiers gearing up outside woke us.

Hike to Tuk

We were not alone. Upon looking out the windows of the camper, we could see several cars had pulled in and backcountry skiers spilled out like a clown car. It seemed we weren’t the only ones with the idea to ski Tuk this day, as everyone else we spoke to had the same destination in mind. So we too put skins on skis and buckled our boots for the long ascent.

Tuk RidgeThe weather was perfect for a spring climb, and the skin into Gold Basin was fast. Before we knew it, we soon began skinning up Mount Tuk’s main face. There was some debate about using the north ridge as an ascent route, but previous parties already put in a nice track and boot pack up the face to the summit ridge, so we figured it would be a shame to put it to waste. As we climbed, the views of Tuk, Tuk No, and the Talking Mountain Cirque enveloped us. One by one, skiers that summited before us skied down, whooping in delight on creamy corn snow. A couple from Montana made a second lap from the ridge, showing us our future selves as they flowed down the mountainside.

With renewed motivation, we quickly booted to the ridge then up to the peaked summit. Adam donned his coon hat as an homage to our great western adventure. At the summit of Mount Tukuhnikivatz, we whooped in joy and high-fived each other and we claimed our reward of a spinning view of Utah’s red rock desert, Colorado’s mountains to the east, and nothing but deep schmoo below our skis. Despite the warming temperatures and snow that was getting wetter by the minute, we soaked in the fantastic view, and then I pulled out a bottle of Wasatch Ghost Rider White IPA.

Adam on Tuk

Wasatch Ghost Rider White IPA

Ghost Rider is a new release from the Wasatch Brewery. The label depicts a mysterious cowboy riding a pale horse. His rifle is drawn, his face is obscured, and a desolate desert surrounds him. The label evokes the old west and desert shootouts, so it was the perfect beer to pair with a desert peak high above the red rock spires around Moab.

Ghost Rider on Tuk

The style is a White IPA, a type of beer that I’ve been seeing a lot of lately, and it’s one my wife has been enjoying quite a bit. It pairs the fruity flavor of Belgian yeast with the citrus tang of a hopped-up beer for a combination of flavors that is refreshing, light and oh-so-citrusy.

Ghost Rider GlassGhost Rider is no different. The flavor is just such – citrus and fruity tastes from the hops and yeast, with a spicy element that I think might be coriander. But although the label says IPA, the taste is much more like a hoppy Belgian Wit.

In the glass, the beer pours a crisp, clean color that is only slightly cloudy, with a good head that is full of bubbles and leaves a fair amount of sticky lacing. The aroma is all hops baby, and the mouthfeel is excellent, even fun. The carbonation is light and bubbly with only a slight heaviness.

Overall, Ghost Rider White IPA is a a very tasty, highly drinkable beer that will be perfect for the warmer months. The taste is refreshing and hoppy, though not so hopped up that I would call it an “IPA.” But if you’re a fan of Belgian beers with a kick, you’ll want to saddle up with this Ghost Rider.

As for the ski down post-brew, well, let’s just say skiing Tukuhnikivatz was the most fun I’d ever had in Moab. That says a lot considering I’ve climbed Castleton Tower, mountain biked the Whole Enchilada and the White Rim Trail. But something about the timing, the bluebird skies, the aerobic hike up, the vibe from fellow skiers, the tasty Ghost Rider, and the incomparable views followed by a sweet ski descent of a long sought-after peak made this single adventure percolate to the top of my bro brain as the highlight of my Moab adventure life.

Justin Ski Tuk

For more information about Ghost Rider and other Wasatch beers, visit them at www.utahbeers.com

For full reports of this and other outdoor adventures in Utah, visit our sister site at www.utahoutside.com

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Shelly Baldy Peak paired with New Belgium Shift

Shift on Shelly BaldyDrinking beer atop mountains is easy in the winter. You can put climbing skins on skis and simply walk to the top. The bonus is that you get to ski down when you’re done. The minus, is that mountaintops are freaking windy and cold, which makes enjoying a tasty brew from a can a challenging endeavor in itself. Such was the case when myself, Adam Symonds and Eric Ghanem went on a backcountry ski trip to the Snorkeling Elk Yurt in the Tushar Mountains and completed a Summit Brew on Shelly Baldy Peak with a can of New Belgium Shift.

Shelly Baldy Peak is a 11,319 foot mountain that is basically ignored by everyone and their grandma. Visitors to the Tushars focus on Delano Peak, Belknap and Baldy. But I was immediately struck by Shelly Baldy’s wide powder bowls that looked so tasty from Big John Flat that I knew I had to summit her, drink from her top, then ski her perfect flanks.

The night before our summit day, I awoke to that sweet sound of snow sliding off the yurt’s roof, signaling a powder day. It was our final day of a trip that saw us summit and ski the Great White Whale and Delano Peak which I “Summit Brewed” last summer with a Uinta Skipping Stone. Our final objective was Shelly Baldy Peak. When we first got to the yurt, her proud, rocky face drew our eyes and our skis to her snowy base, but it wasn’t easy to get there. A series of ridges and drainages stood between the yurt and the mountain, which slowed travel time considerably (but provided opportunity to ski down each of the aforementioned ridges.)

Adam Shelly Baldy

It took four hours and just as many miles to traverse to Shelly Baldy’s foot. Once there, we had to make a decision – hike up a central, rocky ridge covered in wind-scoured rocks to the summit, or contour around on the summit ridge, which was surely being blasted by high winds that were visible from powder clouds being whipped up on the horizon. We chose the former option and took off our skis, strapped them to packs, and started hiking. Even there, the ever present, massive Tushar winds greeted us. But it didn’t take long to boot up the ridge and top out on a summit marked by three large cairns.

Shelly Baldy PeakA fantastic view cut through the chill as Mount Baldy and Mount Belknap stunned us, towering to the west. To escape the arctic breeze, we hunkered down behind the rock piles and busted out the can of New Belgium Shift Lager. But it was so cold, we had to drink it fast as it turned into a beer Slurpee as soon as it left the safe aluminum confines. Luckily there were three of us to share the Shift, which was well earned as we put in a full-day’s work just getting to the mountain.

New Belgium Shift Pale Lager

Shift on Shelly Baldy

New Belgium’s Shift Pale Lager is a fairly new brew from Colorado’s New Belgium, and is so named because brewery workers would have a beer after their work shift. It comes in a tallboy can and has a cool label of gears and chains that make me think more of bicycle shifting than wheels and cogs in a factory. The taste is a typical lager that is anything but typical as it’s loaded with hoppy goodness that’s just enough to give it some snap without being too bitter. In fact, they use Nelson Sauvin hops which give it a unique profile.

Shift DrinkThe nose is of malts that remind of dry grass and spices. Upon drinking, I noticed a jumpy, bubbly mouthfeel where the spicy taste hits first followed by the hops as it goes down. It has a crisp finish that is refreshing and satisfying. I rank it into the category of a good post-biking, lawn mowing beer. It wasn’t bad on a wind-blasted frozen peak either.

After enjoying our hoppy lager, the real fun began. The ski down was… interesting as Eric and I found wind-affected powder but Adam made close-and-personal contact with a buried rock that destroyed the edges of both skis. After much cursing and ski-throwing, we traversed the four miles back to the yurt, diverging here and there for powder turns in open meadows and even an aesthetic chute between a pair of red-rock towers that rose from the final ridge like rabbit ears. The snow was punchy and challenging, but that descent was the most thrilling of the trip.

Shelly Baldy Approach

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Sharp Mountain paired with Wasatch Alta 75th Anniversary Ale

Alta 75thOur search for new and/or random peaks to summit and consume hops and grain in liquid form recently brought us to the “other” mountain range of the Salt Lake Valley – the Oquirrh Mountains. After years of looking at these peaks every day and wondering what it would be like to ski them, Adam and I decided to stop the wondering and bring along a bottle of Alta 75th Anniversary Ale.

We started our ski tour from the tiny town of Ophir, a former mining community that is now a sleepy burg surrounded by cliffs and the white-capped peaks of the southern Oquirrhs. We drove through the main street, amused by signs admonishing us that quiet time starts at 10pm, along with seemingly thousands of no-trespassing signs nailed to every wall, tree and fence post in sight.

The road ended on the other side of town where it became unplowed. A few miles of 4×4 driving in deep snow brought us near the mouth of Serviceberry Canyon, a small drainage that allows access to Bald Mountain East, also known locally as Sharp Mountain. It is among the easier mountains to climb in the area, and we heard that the skiing is good here in early winter.

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The route began at a green metal gate with a posted sign that said, “No Motorized Vehicles.” Beyond the gate, an ancient tractor lay rotting in the bushes and snow. We skinned up a summer road that switchbacked from sagebrush flats to oak groves, to aspen and pine trees and eventually the high alpine. Once the trail broke the treeline, Sharp Mountain came into view.

Adam SharpThe road grade ended at Chandler Pass, where we decided to climb the east ridge of Bald Mountain. The wind was howling, dropping the already bitter 9 degrees to an unthinkable wind-chill affected number. With hoods on and frozen fingers, we slowly skinned up the ridge and topped out in thick fog that shrouded the peak in milky white.

It was unfortunate that fog dominated, because the view would have been awesome behind the sparkling bottle of Alta 75th Anniversary Ale that I pulled from my pack. Even though it was but-ass cold, we drank up in celebration of another summit… summited.

Wasatch Alta 75th Anniversary Ale

Alta Beer 2

This beer is pretty much your typical American-style pale ale – which I think is the ideal beer for post-skiing or mountain climbing shenanigans. This special version released especially for Alta’s 75th anniversary tastes a bit more hoppy than most, with a thin mouthfeel and malt base which makes the brew dangerously sessionable.

Alta 75th DrinkIt’s an easy-drinking ale that’s balanced and hits all the right citrus hop notes. The only unfortunate thing is that it’s a special edition and won’t be around long after Alta’s 75th anniversary season is over. Hopefully the brewers will re-release it under a new name in the future.

After the Summit Brew was completed atop Sharp Mountain, we followed the mountain’s south ridge until an excellent fall-line with no rocks or brush appeared below us. Just before dropping in, the fog lifted and sunlight illuminated our descent. Adam went first, carving tracks 1,500 vertical feet all the way back to canyon bottom near Chandler Pass. I followed, whooping in surprise when every turn in creamy powder made me realize how long the run was. It just kept going and going and going….

For more from the Wasatch/Squatters Breweries, visit www.utahbeers.com

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Wolf Creek Peak paired with Wasatch Kolob Kolsch

Kolob KolschBackcountry skiing is one of the best ways to bag a peak and drink a beer while hanging out on top – it’s fast, efficient, and when you’re done, you get to ski down! A recent trip to search out some snow in the Uinta Mountains led us to Wolf Creek Peak, a smallish mountain on Wolf Creek Pass that promised some decent turns in the trees, as well as a nice spot with a view to enjoy a Wasatch Kolob Kolsch.

The start of the month welcomed a much needed snowstorm in Utah’s mountains, with high winds and 8 inches of snow falling on the western Uintas. Our first exploratory mission happened the day before our summit bid. It was a warm day but the winds were blowing fierce as we parked at the pass summit and skinned alongside snowmobiles that buzzed around like insects on the snow.An obvious ridge rose straight from the road with a nice head wall where old ski tracks proved we came to the right place. We skinned up the shoulder and switched to ski mode behind a stand of pines to block the incessant howling air. The north face was crusted and rocky at the top, but a few turns later all things became soft and fast. But it was all too short as only 400 feet of vertical put us into the flats and the end of the run.

Adam Wolf Creek Peak

Skinning back up, we traversed west along the ridge to another bowl that feeds into Neeley Basin. It was clearly wind loaded so we stayed along the trees where more wind crust scattered our ski tips until more protected snow could be found. Going back up, we discovered a protected area where recrystalized powder sat undisturbed by ski or air, so we made another lap through the best snow of the day yet. Another run on the first headwall returned us to the highway where a short skin back up to the road put us at the car where cold beer awaited.

Wolf Creek Peak TracksThe next day we returned, convinced that there was more to explore. Topo maps showed immense cirques radiating out from Wolf Creek Peak that invited us to see if anything was skiable. We followed our skin track from the day before, but split off a hundred yards in toward the mountain. A summer road buried in snow showed us the way, but such low-angle skinning made us impatient, so we instead broke trail through deep powder straight up to the ridge.

An old barbed-wire fence, half-buried under wind-blown powder, continued up the ridge to the top of Wolf Creek Peak. It only took about 20 minutes to summit, where expansive views of the western Uintas surrounded us. But the wind kept blowing, and temperatures were well below freezing – not ideal SummitBrew weather. But the priority of beer drinking trumped any worries of frostbitten fingers, so I popped the cap off a bottle of Wasatch Kolob Kolsch, and drank it despite the beer-flavored snow cone that had formed in the neck of the bottle.

Wasatch Kolob Kolsch

Wasatch Kolob Kolsch
Wasatch Brewery’s version of a kolsch has long been labled as “Summer Twilight,” but recent rebranding changed the name to Kolob Kolsch. Those in the know (Mormons) will recognize the name as the mythological planet that God lives on… or something like that. In either case, it’s a light-hearted jab at the dominant faith here in Utah.

Drinking KolobLight-hearted indeed, as this is a seriously light beer that would be far more appropriate quaffing lakeside on a hot summer day, instead of a frozen mountain. It most reminded me of a fresh Fosters Lager, with a light, pale aroma with a touch of hoppy citrus. Not much to say about it as this is a simple, highly drinkable brew that can be sessioned over and over again, preferably when tuning a mountain bike in the garage or mowing the lawn, which we were a long way from doing while skiing the Uintas.

Wolf Creek Peak Ski

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