Sundial Peak and Mount Olympus - Salt Lake City, Utah
The area around Big Cottonwood Canyon in Salt Lake City, Utah is well known for its skiing, but it is also home to some great hiking trails. Two of my favorites, especially since you can get them in before or after work when in the area, are the Lake Blanche Trail to Sundial Peak and the trail to Mount Olympus. Both runs are just minutes from the intersection of Wasatch Boulevard and Big Cottonwood Canyon Road where I was staying when doing business in the area. The Lake Blanche Trail is the much better marked of the two, so I had no issues starting that one in the dark with just a flashlight. The run up to Mount Olympus is not so well marked, by design to keep the area as natural as possible. I’d recommend only doing the Mount Olympus run with plenty of sunlight, and always having a flashlight just in case, because the terrain can get disorienting. There are a good deal of news articles reporting of hikers who got cliffed out coming down the wrong way through the saddle area.
I got to run the Lake Blanche trail while I was visiting a client. I woke up early to run up the trail to see the sunrise over the mountains. The trail is runnable single track most of the way with a couple small rock scrambles. When I got to the top, I met a couple guys who, even though they lived in Utah, had never run the trail before. In the crisp morning, rising sun, and crystal clear sky we all got kind of giddy and couldn‘t stop screaming about how awesome the moment was. The area at the top is beautifully framed with the sundial peak to one side and more of the Wasatch Mountain range to the opposite side. After seeing the sunrise, we all had to get off the mountain and back to work so we jammed down the trail.
I was trying to keep up with these guys but they were more skilled in the technical terrain. It wasn’t long before I couldn‘t see them anymore, but I kept pushing the pace, anyway. With a couple miles to go to the bottom of the trail, I made a long jump over a rock, and landed awkwardly on my left foot. I knew instantly it wasn’t good, and just fell face down to take the weight off it. I lay there for a few minutes to see what happened, then realized that if I didn’t get moving, and my ankle swelled up it’d be hard to get off the mountain. I got up, and could hobble down in OK speed, made it to work, then dealt with an agonizing commute back home through the Chicago airport to my home in Columbus, Ohio.
The next day I woke up to a swollen foot dark with blood pooled along the sole. A Dr’s visit confirmed that I‘d severely stretched the ligaments to the point of pulling bone off my ankle. For the next two months I just swam, slowly added in some cross training on the bike then started to run again. It took over a year to run without pain, and even today I still feel the effects, but it showed me how important it is to have confidence in our body's ability to heal, and to give it a chance to heal. For the mental side, it was also super important to find other ways to stay active, and I was happy I had done Ironman’s since I could fall back on swimming and biking while my ankle healed.
Fortunately, on my runs up to Mount Olympus I had no mis-haps. I made runs to the top in the morning and in the evening after work in the mid-summer when there was plenty of light. It is possible to scramble all the way to the top, but one time I stopped because the biting flies became too intense for me to want to keep going. I’d also highly recommend to only run this trail with your GPS Map unless you are very familiar with the area since there are a few false peaks and as I noted above, it's not uncommon for people to get disoriented.
Utah is home too many ultrarunning destinations, including many close to Salt Lake City.. These runs have great elevation change in a short distance, beautiful terrain, runnable single track, and are convenient to the city. If you are in Salt Lake City for work or vacation, I encourage you to carve out a few hours to experience these excellent trails.
Distance : 7.43 miles / 12k
Elevation Gain : 2,836 feet / 864m
Distance : 7.04 miles / 11.3k
Elevation Gain : 3,885 feet / 1175m