Mount Aire towers over I-80, looming above cars that speed up and down Parley’s Canyon between Park City and Salt Lake City. Mount Aire is visually the most prominent peak within view when driving down the west side of Parley’s summit, which means it’s also a prominent mountain to climb as her pine and scrub covered flanks seduce as you stare through the windshield. Of course Mount Aire is also a SummitBrew friendly peak, where a beer like the Big Sky Brewing IPA goes down smooth.
Although Parley’s Canyon offers the best view of Mount Aire, Mill Creek Canyon is the preferred route to reach the summit. Less mileage, a higher elevation starting point, and tons of shade equal a more pleasant hike on the Mill Creek side, not to mention the lack of an interstate highway roar that is ever present in Parleys.
On this day, my dog, Lucy and I parked at the Elbow Fork trailhead, 6.4 miles up Mill Creek Canyon. The path begins at a U.S. Forest Service bathroom on the north side of the road, which is also the starting point for the Pipeline Trail. Wood signs lead the way to Mount Aire, and show it to be only 2 miles away. Easy you may think – I can bang this hike out in no time. Not so. Though the lack of miles may impart images of a cake walk, this trail is actually steep. Very steep. Steep as in no switchbacks, straight-up-the-mountain, old-school-hobnail-boots-needed-for-traction steep. Set out to hike Mount Aire, and prepare to get on the Stair Master, because your quads will be screaming after mile one.
The upside is that you’ll ascend fast (assuming you’re in shape) and get sweeping views of the surrounding canyons in short order. Lucy and I enjoyed the beginning of the hike most though, as we meandered through the pine forests and mountain meadows. A small stream winds through the canyon bottom, and Lucy had a ball splashing and running through the water as I watched from a wooden bridge. Pre-October fall colors were nearing their peak already, so I stopped frequently to gaze upon the surrounding hillsides covered in gold, amber and rust orange.
But then the steep section began, and staring at my feet became the only view possible as I trudged up the loose, sometimes muddy incline. Before long though, the trail flattens out at the shoulder between Mill Creek and Parley’s Canyon. It’s a great spot for a breather and an opportunity to take in the view. Looking north, the south side of Mount Aire rises sharply above to the right, and a trail goes right up through stands of scrub brush and ground cover. Again the trail gets steep, but at least switchbacks here make the going less rough and ease the piston pain of overworked muscles.
As Lucy and I neared the top, a man and woman were descending quickly. The man was carrying a large branch over his head like antlers. “There’s a large moose on the trail up ahead” he said, trying to explain the stick growing out of his cranium. I assume he was hoping the moose would run away if the man appeared to be bigger. “We got off the trail and hiked straight up to the summit to avoid it” he continued. I asked if it was still there on the way down, but it appeared to have gone away. Nevertheless, my senses were on high alert for the rest of the climb as a moose attacked a guy earlier in the week nearby, and I didn’t want to be the animal’s next stomping practice.
Soon after though, Lucy and I made it to the summit without any sign of the Mr. Moose. We stood at the top at an elevation of 8,621 feet after 1,991 vertical feet of climbing in two miles (did I mention it was steep?) I-80 snaked below to the north, and an explosion of autumn leaves painted the scene to the south. With good slabs of rock to sit on, and a bottle opener on Lucy’s collar, it was time to break out the beer.
Big Sky IPA
Ah yea, another Summit Brew India Pale Ale. I can’t help it – I’m a major hop head, and IPAs are my favorite style of microbrew. So what if an IPA isn’t as refreshing on a hot summer day in the mountains than say, a lager. I need flavor, and hops taste so damn good. So it was with great pleasure that I pulled a Big Sky IPA out of my pack.
Big Sky IPA is a typical American style India Pale Ale, and mostly tastes like it should. But it differs from the rest of the pack with the hoppy punch that stings your face upon the first swill. This beer is downright sticky with hops. In fact, when poured into a glass, I could smell the hop aroma coming off the head even though I was sitting three feet away. Although it is hoppy, that isn’t to say it’s not balanced.
The brewers at Big Sky did a phenomenal job with this beer. It has a good balance between hops and malt, with the profile leaning more on the hops side of the spectrum (which is a good thing in my opinion.) It has a typical golden color for an American IPA, with maybe a little less clarity than other IPAs in the market.
But damn those hops. If this beer were illustrated in a comic book panel, you’d see smell lines coming out of the pint glass. To me, the hops taste more on the grassy flavors side of things, evoking a picture of Eastern Montana plains grass swaying on an endless wind. There’s also a hint of citrus that leaves a sweet aftertaste along with a counter-balanced bitterness that goes down smooth. All in all, the Big Sky IPA is a spectacular beer.
Big Sky IPA has 65 IBU’s and is 6.2% alcohol by volume.
For more, visit the brewery at www.bigskybrew.com