One advantage to living in Price, Utah is the ability to find snow—somewhere—all winter long. No snow in town? Hop in the car and drive to the top of the nearest mountain.
Last week Tim, Annie and I snowshoed Gray Head Peak Trail at Indian Canyon Summit in the Ashley National Forest, half an hour from our house. To reach the summit—at 9100 feet elevation—a long, winding, and sometimes treacherous drive is required. But it’s all worth it to arrive at this winter wonderland destination.
Trail magic is the name for those unexpected delights you discover while walking in the wilds. In the Ashley National Forest on Indian Canyon Summit trail magic is supplied by a couple of old-time "Mountain Men" named Steve Fischer and John McCurdy.
Steve and John have been hiking and cross-country skiing the mountain top for decades and long ago they decided the trails could use rest stops along the way—sheltered places to set up camp, or simply to build an afternoon campfire, rest on a large log, and revel in quiet and solitude.
While hiking Gray Head Peak trail last summer I discovered one of these hiker's havens set off the trail in a small group of trees.
"Who built this?" I asked my hiking companions.
"That would be McCurdy," they replied. "He's old-school, a real mountain man, skis on wooden skis, carries a bota bag of wine, builds campfires in the woods."
Last week, as Tim and I prepared to snowshoe Gray Head trail a beat-up pickup truck pulled in to the trailhead and a lean, white-haired gentleman emerged. He retrieved a pair of old wooden skis from the bed of his truck.
Seeing the wooden skis (but no leather bag of wine) I had to ask: "Are you John McCurdy? I heard you built the fire pit up on the mountain."
"No, I'm Steve Fischer," was the reply. "John and I are friends and he's the more flamboyant of us, the one people remember. But yeah, I'm the one who mostly built that fire pit, and several others in the mountains around here. John and I have skied almost every square foot of these mountains and we never tire of the fresh air and the views."
"So then you're the original mountain man," I said.
"Well, I don't know about that, but I sure would have loved to have been alive in 1850 and explored this area back then."
"Did you cut the logs for benches?" I said.
"Yep, and every year—after the hunters have gone—I haul a load of firewood up here for the pits."
"Thanks for taking care of these mountains."
"Oh, sure," said Steve. "Hey, you should come up here sometime to snowshoe or ski when the moon is full. It's magical. Well, have a good time out there today."