Just north of Salt Lake City, Utah lies Antelope Island (in orange in the inset Great Salt Lake map). Having been through Salt Lake City maybe ten times, Hannah and I have missed this hiking jewel time and again. With water five times as salty as the ocean, the Great Salt Lake is nearly 60 miles long and 30 miles wide. Traveling a seven mile causeway from the mainland, we pay a mere $9 for this easy-access adventure.
Taking the meandering park road to the top of a small rise in the desert landscape to the visitor center, we find a spry elderly volunteer who suggests Mt. Frary if we want a challenging hike. It is the macho hike of the island and it has Dan and Hannah written all over it.
The road along the west side of the island winds along the salty shoreline to a paved access road to the Mt. Frary trailhead. Though there is a 2100 foot elevation gain on this climb, it’s only three miles to the top or so we are told. Promises of big horn sheep and buffalo lure day hikers to 6,600 foot Mt. Frary.
Immediately we are breathing heavily, thinking, Whoa! This is no walk in the park. Strewn with sharp rocks, the trail has us stepping carefully.
Busting our butts, we take the first half mile in 13 minutes as the trail now becomes mostly dirt through fields of grasses. Dressed in tee shirts and shorts we have packed long sleeve tee shirts for the possibly windy, chilly summit. Far in the distance we see a buffalo or technically bison. Bison, despite weighing over 2,000 pounds, are able to jump over a six foot fence from a stand-still! Plus, they can run as fast as 40 mph. No lie.
The trail winds through fields and is challenging but not exhausting. We soon see the radio tower at the promised three mile turn around point. But alas dear reader, we have been deceived. I know that is an inflammatory verb, but what we have is a faux peak. It’s not the top. The actually mountain top is in the distance, maybe a half mile away.
From here, the trail descends quickly along the mountainside, and then climbs precipitously. We soon spot two twenty-something’s 25 feet above us with expressions on their faces of how the hell are we are going to do to get down this steep slope. I crack, You must be the mountain goats we were promised. They smile and then start inching their way down feet first on what seems to be a 70% incline.
I reach for the girl’s hand and she extends hers to mine. She’s made it. Then I reach for her boyfriend’s hand to get him to level ground. The human touch! What a connection can be made by skin on skin, even when so brief. Without words, it says, We’re not alone. Someone is there for us. Our climb up is just as perilous up, as we grab rocks and dirt and skirt the edge of the cliff (knowing all the time we have to go back this way).
Atop, we have the classic 360 degree view of the Great Salt Lake. With surprisingly little wind and pleasantly warm, it is only the no-see ‘ems that are a problem. Knowing the inevitable hike down awaits, we begin our descent after ten minutes with Hannah in the lead. Part billy she-goat, Hannah soon is sliding on her butt to negotiate the steep slope. Inspired, I do the same. And then she turns to go backwards on the 80 degree pitch. I sidesaddle it and at times go backwards myself to descend this treacherous cliff mountainside.
Just having been unceremoniously dumped from our group health insurance when I retired from the University of New England, I again wonder why there is no national health insurance and what is in the fine print of our private pay health insurance that we just signed up for days ago. A $10,000 deductible for each of us is not comforting. I hope we never break a leg.
We survive to hike on. Once back at the radio tower of the faux peak, we descend as if strolling in the park. On the way down we see two hikers in the distance covered with what it turns out to be are motel towels. Once we meet them, we learn that this father and son had no idea how little shade they would encounter on this basically treeless mountain. Unprepared, they willingly accept our trail mix and water.
At the trailhead again and not wanting to leave the island before we dip our feet in the Great Salt Lake itself, we drive to the lake shoreline. The parking area is just 400 yards from the water’s edge.
Wading in water that never rises above our knees, we walk carefully on the pebbly lake floor as sand fleas swarm at our feet. Sampling the water, I find it triple the strength of salt water I would drink for a really bad sore throat.
The hike to Mt. Frary is challenging, even perilous near the top, but most satisfying. More than 20 people were on the trail this Saturday in June. As always when hiking, know thyself, thy limits, and the conditions. Be prepared.