Three different times during last week I ascended a mountain on a tram, hopping on at 8,000 feet above sea level and hopping off at 11,000 feet ASL. In this post I will share some experiences and images from two of those ascents. The third one I'll save for a future post.
I spent last week with Julie, Phoebe, Liam and about 250 other birders at The American Birding Association annual convention held this year at the Snowbird Resort in Utah, about 45 minutes outside of Salt Lake City. Snowbird sits at about 8,000 feet—much higher than SLC. Our ears popped several times during the shuttle drive up to Snowbird.
We arrived Monday night, too late for the banquet dinner and program. But we still managed a few hellos before heading off to find some late-night grub and our swanky room. Julie and I were attending the convention to help lead some field trips for the attendees and Julie was giving a presentation on Friday night, plus we had many old buddies with whom we wanted to catch up—so we had a busy week ahead of us.
We had nothing on tap for Tuesday morning so, after $68 of breakfast and a bit of birding around the Snowbird grounds, we four took the ski tram up and over the mountains to Hidden Peak. Phoebe and Julie took turns being moderately freaked out by the height and swaying of the tram. The tram could serve as the stunt double of the one featured in the James Bond film Moonraker in which Richard Kiel bites the cable to get to James Bond.
We got to the top and, literally, stepped into thin air. Taking a few rapid steps at 11,000 feet of altitude caused me to breathe deeply. An altitude headache ensued, followed closely by two ibuprofen pills chased by an entire bottle of water.
The sun was milky white in the clear blue sky. Most of the mountainsides around us were covered in deep snow. We all squinted through our sunglasses as we slathered on the sunscreen. The air was so thin it made Twiggy look like a sumo wrestler.
Uinta chipmunks asked us about the contents of our lunch bags. A golden eagle slipped past followed by three common ravens. Violet-green swallows twittered and swooped around an unused chair lift building, exploring the many possible nesting cavities.
On this second trip we hoped to locate some reliable black rosy finches, a target bird for many of the convention attendees. We had no such luck. But we did see pikas (a gerbil-like rabbit relative), several dark-eyed (gray-headed) juncos, and many white-crowned sparrows. We also hiked down off the top and along a ridge line. Hiking down was a cakewalk. Hiking back up required three separate stages marked by intervals of gasping for air. I know I'm not Lance Armstrong, but this up-slope walk made me feel more like Stretch Armstrong after I ran him through my sister's Easy-Bake Oven.
My lord, the view from up there! If you've got to be gasping for air, trying your best to avoid your first major heart attack, Hidden Peak is a nice place to do it.
Soon we headed back down to the land of normal atmosphere and cash bars and bird checklists and evening programs and all the people who live their safe little lives in the lowlands. We, on the other hand, had walked among the giants, high atop Hidden Peak, where the livin' is easy, but the breathin' ain't. And we'd lived to tell about it.