Adventures in the Fishlake Mountains
For our next outing Abby and I headed north and drove over the pass on Route 20 en route to the eastern side of the Tushar Mountains. I didn’t have a goal when we started off so we moseyed in that direction, pulling over at the summit on 20 so that Abby could play in the fresh powder and I could take come pictures. Much to our mutual delight there were fresh elk tracks which led to Abby disappearing about a quarter mile into our walk while I continued to follow some sort of off-road vehicle track through the snow as it began to dip into Bear Valley. After I was ready to turn around I called for Abbs and had been waiting for a full 5 minutes when I saw a cow (lady elk) wander through the sage, freezing when she spotted me and then running off. It was pretty great even though she hadn’t been that close to me.
After Abby rejoined me we got back in the car and turned north on Route 89 looking for an interesting place to wander. Less than 10 miles from the junction I spotted a dirt forest road and turned off, driving west towards the Tushar Mountains of Fishlake National Forest and a dispersed camping area named Birch Creek. I went about 5 miles before running into some snowy switchbacks which was my cue to park my non-4 wheel drive vehicle. As often happens, the road after the switchback was totally fine to drive but it was a secluded area in which we could walk in view of the mountains so I had no regrets about parking where I did.
We walked on – or parallel to – the road for about 2 miles, passing lovely sage meadows and different forks of Birch Creek while slowly gaining elevation until I spotted a lovely-looking canyon that beautifully framed the mountains. As luck would have it, the canyon happened to have a spur forest road entering the mouth and so Abby and I headed that way after we checked out the ice on the creek. Soon after we began trekking up canyon the road became a non-motorized trail – and the snow drifts began merging into a more contiguous snowfield. I was unable to follow the actual trail at this point but since we were in a canyon there was little opportunity to turn off in the wrong direction so we continued for perhaps another 2 miles.
The snow was fairly packed down which made for relatively easy going and Abby and I were happily walking along the creek when I spotted bear tracks crossing the path. I turned around to look for Abby and saw her standing at alert behind me, nose in the air. I called her over to sniff the tracks themselves at which point she began frantically looking down canyon and then back at me. Time to go. We scrambled up about 500 vertical feet to the ridgeline which was steep indeed though the views were fantastic after we broke out of the aspen and fir tree cover. We walked a little ways further west along the ridge towards the beautiful snowy mountains but after awhile turned to make our way back to the car.
From here I basically followed the ridgeline as it followed the canyon until I reached a saddle at which point I turned north. Surprisingly we encountered a footpath here which we walked on for a quarter mile until it turned away and I decided to cut diagonally down to an adjacent canyon and what I was hoping was the road beyond. This short section of the walk was exceptionally scenic, providing fantastic views of Circleville Mountain and the surrounding white peaks but too soon I had to descend through juniper and pinyon to the thick tree cover of the canyon. Once back on the road however the tree cover broke and we were treated to lovely views as we headed downhill back to the car.