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Walkin' on Water
Trip Report

Walkin' on Water

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Walkin\' on Water

Page Type: Trip Report

Location: Utah, United States, North America

Lat/Lon: 41.17410°N / 112.344°W

Object Title: Walkin' on Water

Date Climbed/Hiked: Dec 12, 2013

Activities: Hiking

Season: Fall

 

Page By: ZeeJay

Created/Edited: Dec 21, 2013 / Dec 21, 2013

Object ID: 880358

Hits: 2047 

Page Score: 94.63%  - 48 Votes 

Vote: Log in to vote

 

As a kid, growing up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I learned about the Great Salt Lake in school.  I never dreamed that one day I'd call Salt Lake City home, but that is where my husband, Joe, landed a job, and so we moved here in 1987.  Shortly after arriving we headed to the south shore of the lake prepared to swim, expecting to find a nice white sand beach, showers, and concession stands.  The beach was icky brown and dirty, the showers were nozzles attached to the outside of a tanker truck, and neither of us remembers there being any food.  It stunk horribly, 100 times worse than the ocean.  We never even made it to the water.  We were devoured by sand fleas which were everywhere.  We only stayed long enough for me to yell "I can't stand it, I can't stand it", and so we left, dashed.  It was 14 years before we ventured back the second time for a visit, this time to Antelope Island and then another 12 years (this fall) for a second visit to the island.  Those visits went much better as there weren't any bugs in the spring or fall and we weren't expecting resort conditions.

In the meantime, I had become fixated on Fremont Island, which lies about 6.5 miles north of the causeway that runs between the town of Syracuse and Antelope Island.  There were three named summits on the island, the highpoint called Castle Rock, and two lesser summits, David E Miller Hill and Beacon Hill.  Oh how I would love to stand on the tops of them, but it didn't seem possible as I didn't have any way to get there.  Being salty, the lake doesn't freeze, so I couldn't just ski or walk across in winter.  However, some googling revealed this very nice blog in which the author tells of an intermittent land bridge/sand bar that appears in times of low water, running between the causeway and the island.  According to the blog, the sand bar has been water free only 14 times in the last 167 years.  In normal years it is under 6 feet of water and in record wet years under as much as a whopping 17 feet.  The author of the blog walked the sandbar in 2008, telling of his experience as well as some interesting history.

I was fascinated.  I wanted to do this too if the chance ever came in my lifetime, but with 2010 and 2011 being particularly wet, I thought it would be many years away.  I was stunned, when in October of 2013, on our visit to Antelope Island, it appeared that the land bridge had resurfaced.  On our way back over the causeway, I marked on my GPS what I thought was a good spot to start.

The land bridge
The land bridge seen from Antelope Island

Unfortunately, I couldn't just say "hey, let's go", because Fremont Island is privately owned and I had to get permission first.  Not knowing who to ask was a problem.  After an unsuccessful attempt at googling for it, I called the folks on Antelope Island and was told that a ranger would contact me with the info.  After not hearing back, I called again and was told that the ranger was really busy, but would surely give me a call as soon as he had a chance.  After not hearing back again, I called and was told that the ranger had just retired.  I thought I had missed my chance since a view of the land bridge from the mountains to the east appeared to have a gap in it.  And so, I gave up, but a month or so later I heard that some trail runners had successfully made it across twice.  The weather was still good as we had a beautiful dry fall with warm temperatures, but it wouldn't last forever as it was now late November.  I asked my husband, Joe, the google champion of the world, to help me find the owner.  He figured it out in about 5 minutes and put a call in, and unlike the state employees that run Antelope Island, this guy actually called us back and in addition gave us permission.  Unfortunately, by this time, the weather had turned.  It had snowed twice, and was bitter cold.  It was now the beginning of December, but there was no waiting until next year, because for all we knew, there wouldn't be another chance in our lifetime.

Nevertheless, at this point, cold might be a good thing as the mud would be frozen.  The modeled snow amount for the island was only a trace to 4" as opposed to 30" for the nearby mountains.  For the land bridge as for the rest of the lake, there was no modeled snow, presumably since it's not typically land, but salt water which never froze.

We thought maybe it was still possible, but weren't sure.  Would we find water, snow, sand, or mud?  The land bridge was about 6.5 miles each way and there was another 8 miles on the island for a total of 21 miles round trip.  That seemed like a long way to slog through snow and mud.  I started checking the water level compulsively, fearing that with the recent precipitation, that it would go up, but it was even lower than it had been in October.

We made plans to go for it on Tuesday December 10.  But a forecast for calm wind and reasonable temperatures deteriorated to a low of 5, a high in the teens, and a 14mph wind.  The killer for us was the wind as it would be completely flat, without even be a blade of grass to hide behind.  So we delayed it two days and left with a forecast for hazy skies, temps between 10 and 20, and most importantly, calm wind.

One complication was that the causeway gate was only open between 6am and 6pm.  What if we didn't get out in time?  But, we were assured that if the gate was approached slowly from the inside, it would open.  Another complication was that you aren't allowed to park on the causeway.  We decided that Joe would dump me out with our gear and he would park on the far side which was closer and then bicycle the 1.7 miles back.

We got to the spot I had marked with my GPS at 6:45 am in the pitch black and spent some time going back and forth looking for a suitable place to start walking and a suitable pole to lock the bike to.  It looked kind of grim, but grim is not impossible which it would have been if I hadn't marked the spot.  Instead of the trace of snow we expected, it was about 6" deep, enough to make the going very slow for a 21 mile trip.  In addition to white, we also saw large dark areas.  What were they?  Water?  We couldn't tell in the dark and we could not make out a clear path of white to follow.  I had thought we would be met with an unbroken sea of white, but that was far from the case.  I was so thankful that we hadn't gotten there at 6am which was our original plan.  It would be light soon.  The temperature was -2F.  We were hoping that the large expanse of water would moderate temperatures making the low warmer than expected, not colder.

The Great Salt Lake
Starting out

By the time Joe dropped the car off, bicycled back, locked up the bike, and we were ready to go, it was 7:22, before sunrise, but light enough to see.  However, there was a light fog so we couldn't see very far.  We walked west on the road a bit to just past a dark spot, headed down the short, rocky slope from the causeway, and onto the flat surface of the land bridge.  We took a round about route at first trying to stay away from the dark areas.  The snow on the land bridge, initially wasn't deep at all and was easier to walk on than the shore.  We kept up a good pace until the snow ran out and we had to either walk on one of the dark patches or turn around.  It turned out to be about an inch or so of frozen slush over the dark sandy lake bottom and was fairly easy to walk on although slippery.  Even though it was below zero, it was not frozen solid, presumably because it was salty.  It was fine now, but what would it be like when it melted on our way back?  I tried to put the thought of being swallowed up by mud out of my mind and focus on the task at hand, but it was tough.

Slush
Some slush

Looking north, south, or west, there was absolutely nothing to see, just a flat featureless expanse.  Had it not been foggy, perhaps we could have seen something.  To the east we could see the mountains of the northern Wasatch.

Northern Wasatch Mountains
Looking east at the Wasatch

The first mile and a half or so was mainly easy to walk on snow with a few patches of frozen slush thrown in.  Then came a frozen slush patch that was so large we couldn't see the end of it.  At the 2 mile mark we were at the end of the slush and the snow was now a mix of easy to walk on and 4" of slippy slidey stuff that didn't compact when you walked on it, merely squishing around underfoot.  It was foggy and still darkish so we couldn't see much.

The Great Salt Lake
Transitioning from slush to snow

Slush
Looking back  through some slush

 The sun finally rose over the mountains of the northern Wasatch and we began to make out the dim shape of Fremont Island far in the distance through the light fog. At 2.3 miles we encountered some ATV tracks that had filled with snow.  I wondered how long they had been there. 

The Great Salt Lake
Old ATV tracks

 At 3.3 miles we encountered some clearly open water to our left.  By now, the snow was slowing us down as it transitioned from mostly easy to walk on to mostly not.  Rough looking snow was fine, smooth looking snow was not.

Fremont Island
 Open water at left

At first it had been bitter cold, but seemed to warm up as we got away from the causeway, but right in the middle of the land bridge it got cold again even with the sun shining.  I couldn't take any pictures until I warmed up my camera inside my coat.  I had started out wearing three layers on my legs and four on my top.  I used toe and hand warmers, and had my face covered up.  I had recently broken a finger on my right hand and was wearing a metal splint which did not allow me to bend it.  That made it extra hard to manipulate items in the cold as well as making my hand extra cold.

Fremont IslandLooking forward

The Great Salt Lake
Looking back


Fremont Island
Getting close

We walked and walked and walked, but the island still seemed far away. We spied some rocks in the distance and knew we were getting close.  Until now, there had been nothing to break up the flat plain of the land bridge, no rocks, no little bumps, nothing, it had been completely featureless.  The last bit seemed to take forever, but finally we stood on Fremont Island.  It had taken us 2 hours and 28 minutes to cover the 6.7 miles from our car.  I thought this was great time given the conditions.

The island had been in the local news recently.  It seems that some wild exotic boars were introduced on the island for the purpose of hunting and with the low water levels, there was thought that they would make their way to Antelope Island and wreak havoc with the ecological balance over there.  Hunters were hired to eradicate them, but I can say with 100% certainty, that one got away.  OMG, there's goes a pig!!!  Joe wondered if they were dangerous.  I didn't think it was going to bother us because it was running away from us as fast as it could.

There is a spot on the map marked "graves" where lie the bodies of Kate and Uriah Wenner who lived on the island in the late 1800's.  Uriah died in 1891 at the age of 42.  Poor Kate was only 34 at the time.  She lived until 1942 and her ashes were returned to the island to be buried with her husband.  The site was easy to find as it is near a prominent rock outcropping near where we came ashore and is pretty accurately marked on the map.

Lonely grave site
Grave site

After paying our respects we started our trek across the island.  First up was David E Miller Hill.  David E. Miller was a noted University of Utah historian who was an authority on the Great Salt Lake.  He died in 1978.  In the distance we could see our 3rd peak of the day, Beacon Hill.

David E Miller Hill
David E Miller Hill

Beacon Hill
Beacon Hill

On the way, we passed a shack and a pickup truck.  How did the truck get there?  How long had it been there?  We hadn't see its tire tracks on the land bridge and there were no obvious roads underneath the snow.

Fremont Island
Shack and pickup truck

From a distance, the island was whiter than expected.  I thought that the south slopes would be melted out, but they weren't.  The snow was more powdery than on the land bridge and so was easier to walk through.  On the land bridge, Joe was faster and had done virtually all of the trail breaking while I lagged behind, but on the island I was faster than him and did virtually all the trail breaking there.  We started up the slopes and a small plane appeared.  The pilot flew over us twice and the second time buzzed us, coming irresponsibly close, within 20'.  It was pretty annoying.  I wasn't sure if he was trying to be friendly or trying to scare us.  On the phone, the owner had explicitly complained about unauthorized planes landing on his beach.

Fremont Island
Plane

The grades on the island were gentle and we quickly hiked the 1.7 miles to the top of David E Miller Hill and had nice views of the northern part of the island.  We didn't see a single tree on the whole thing.  The vegetation mainly consisted of grasses, rabbit brush, and sunflowers.  It was an easy matter to get to our next summit, the highpoint of the island, Castle Rock, 1.6 miles away.  The final little bit was steep, but not quite castlelike.  On the north side of the summit is an interesting rock formation with a big hole in it.  Kit Carson carved a cross on the rock many years ago, but unfortunately, we couldn't locate the cross and didn't want to spend too much time looking for it as we had a long way to go.  From there it was a mere 1.2 miles to our last summit, Beacon Hill.

Fremont Island
View from David E Miller Hill


Kit Carson's rock
Kit Carson's rock

Beacon Hill
Beacon Hill

Fremont Island
Looking back at Castle Rock

From Beacon Hill, we could look south down the whole length of the island to the point where we had come ashore.  It was 3.8 miles to get back to the land bridge.  On the way there, we followed a well established animal trail for a while, wondering if it was made by pigs.

Fremont Island
Looking down the length of the island

The pig trail
The pig trail

Close down to the shore we spotted what seemed to be a road or a wide path and headed for it, thinking it would be easier walking than through a sea of snow covered rocks and sage brush.  We were mistaken as the sandy ground on the road was quite soft and we sunk into the dirt an annoying amount, even when stepping on snow.  Later, we found another small road covered with gravel and I thought this one would surely be firm, but again, we sunk into the rocks/dirt and thought it was much harder than walking through the snowy rocks and sagebrush.  My thinking was if the dirt is this soft here, then what is it going to be like on the causeway?

Fremont Island
Soft sand road

It had been fun exploring the island.  I wished we had more time and that it was warmer.  It was 2:46pm when we started our trek back across the land bridge.  We were tired by this time and it took more time going back than coming over.  We couldn't actually see the causeway, but we did see a car driving on it, appearing to be floating on air.  At first it was nice and sunny, but our shadows got longer and longer and it got colder and colder.

The Great Salt Lake
Heading back



Long shadows
Long shadows

The sun had set by the time we got to the big dark slush spot, but it was still lightish.  This is what I had been dreading all day.  It had been very reassuring to follow our footprints back, but now they disappeared.  I was hoping that the slush would refreeze by the time we got there, but that was not the case.  We were going to have to walk through standing water on top of who knows what.  By some miracle, whatever was on the bottom, was reasonably firm, unlike on the island.  It was extremely disconcerting though, because we didn't know how deep it was going to get, and light was fading fast.  Every once in a while I would step on a small ice patch and all the water would squish out around the sides.  In the end, the water never got over an inch deep, and this stretch was actually easier to walk on than the snow had been.  Nevertheless, I thought it nerve wracking in the dark, and my adrenaline really got going.  Before, I couldn't keep up with Joe, but now he couldn't keep up with me.

I never saw the causeway side of the land bridge in the daylight, but if the map is correct, it is pretty narrow there and without a GPS track to follow, it could have been hard to get back in the dark.  Both of our headlamp batteries gave out but there was an almost full moon and once we made it past the standing water section we were able to follow our footprints again.  We made it back to the bike just before 6pm and had to put in fresh batteries to see well enough to get it unlocked and then Joe took off for the car.  He came back with the heater blasting and said his hands were too cold to turn the bike light off.  We drove to the causeway gate and voila! it opened just as advertised.

We were salivating at the thought of eating at the Crown Burger near our house but didn't like that it would take an hour to get there.  Just as I was about to voice "too bad there isn't a Crown Burger in Layton or wherever the hell we are", Joe exclaimed "there's a Crown Burger right over there".  He went in ahead of me and when I followed I couldn't find him.  I thought surely he wouldn't have climbed up the steps to the upper section, but that was the only place left, so I went up and found him parked at a table 2 feet from a huge fireplace.  It was absolute heaven.

Fremont  Island topo
Trip topo

Images


Comments


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Viewing: 1-20 of 33 « PREV 1 2 NEXT » 

PeteThompsonInteresting

PeteThompson

Voted 10/10

What an unusual walk.
Posted Dec 21, 2013 2:04 pm

ZeeJayRe: Interesting

ZeeJay

Hasn't voted

Yes, the novelty was appealing.
Posted Dec 21, 2013 2:24 pm

Matt LemkeVery interesting..

Matt Lemke

Voted 10/10

For some reason I thought you could drive to Antelope Island and that it was a huge island but then I looked at the map and realized I was thinking of the wrong island! Very interesting trip for sure!
Posted Dec 21, 2013 10:35 pm

ZeeJayRe: Very interesting..

ZeeJay

Hasn't voted

Thanks, as a comparison Fremont Island is about 5x1.7 miles and Antelope Island is about 15x5.5 miles.

One thing I didn't make clear is that while Antelope Island has a lot of stuff on it, Fremont Island is totally barren except for a shack.
Posted Dec 22, 2013 8:50 am

Matt LemkeRe: Very interesting..

Matt Lemke

Voted 10/10

OH You visited Fremont Island...the one without a bridge to it...just re-read the first part and found out lol
Posted Dec 22, 2013 1:35 pm

silversummitA different kind of trip! I love it!

silversummit

Voted 10/10

Also didn't know that you are originally from Pittsburgh; my relatives are all from within an hour of that city (Indiana, Kittanning etc.)

Anyway, I enjoyed reading about your quest and success!

Happy Holidays!
Kathy
Posted Dec 22, 2013 12:53 pm

ZeeJayRe: A different kind of trip! I love it!

ZeeJay

Hasn't voted

Thanks Kathy, Happy Holidays to you too!
Posted Dec 23, 2013 7:57 am

boyblueLoved It!

boyblue

Voted 10/10

What a unique trip! A really enjoyable read. The pictures reveal a hauntingly beautiful land(sea)scape.
-Gordon
Posted Dec 24, 2013 12:19 am

ZeeJayRe: Loved It!

ZeeJay

Hasn't voted

Thanks! We happened to fly over it today and it was very cool seeing it from the air, especially since it was crisp and clear. The land bridge seemed to have many gaps, but when I checked the water level, it hadn't risen.
Posted Dec 24, 2013 8:45 pm

Matthew Van Hornvisited twice

Matthew Van Horn

Hasn't voted

Hi Judy-

I was in the group of trail runners that went out to the island twice a few weeks ago. The first time was on a rainy, cold Saturday morning. We parked at the marina on the island, ran the 1.6 miles to the sand bar, and ran across over mostly dry sand. We observed the many holes dug into the island shore by pigs, but we did not see any pigs. We found the gravesite but that is as far as we explored. A storm blew in as we ran back and we got our feet wet in an inch of cold water most of the way. A few weeks later we went back out, and we followed the track of your pig! It was heading back to the island from the causeway. We found the hunters cabin and the truck. We went up to Castle Rock and found Kit Carson's Cross. It is a few feet above eye level on the East side of the rock. In your photo it would be on the right edge of the photo, but is not visible in the shot. Again, we did not see any pigs. The same day Greg J. went out later and saw a small aircraft land on the strip at the top of the island. when I heard some runners were going out, it was too weird of an adventure for me to pass up.
Posted Dec 26, 2013 3:56 pm

ZeeJayRe: visited twice

ZeeJay

Hasn't voted

It was definitely a different kind of adventure. I wish I could have skied it. Thanks for telling me where the cross was.
Posted Dec 26, 2013 8:14 pm

Fleshj27Just Plain Cool

Fleshj27

Voted 10/10

Okay...that's just plain cool. I drive past that Island everyday and have been wondering A: what is out there and B: how to get there (I was thinking small boat). Anyway, thanks for filling out the details!
Posted Dec 27, 2013 8:53 pm

ZeeJayRe: Just Plain Cool

ZeeJay

Hasn't voted

Thanks, we are hoping to go to Carrington Island next.
Posted Dec 27, 2013 11:56 pm

Sunny BunsNice Trip Report

Hasn't voted

Sounds like a nice day.

FYI there is good mountain biking out at the Golden Spike Monument - just park in the main lot and take off. At least there was back in the mid '80s.
Posted Dec 28, 2013 12:48 am

ZeeJayRe: Nice Trip Report

ZeeJay

Hasn't voted

Thanks! The Golden Spike Monument is on my mental list of things to do.
Posted Dec 28, 2013 8:32 pm

Moogie737Keep 'em coming!

Moogie737

Voted 10/10

One more fascinating trip report to add to our collection. It sounds like an adventure for at least two people, not a solo thing. Great pics, too. Looking forward to the next island narrative!
Posted Dec 28, 2013 10:34 am

ZeeJayRe: Keep 'em coming!

ZeeJay

Hasn't voted

Thanks Michael! I wish you could have come. For sure, this is one trip that I was very glad to have some one else with me.
Posted Dec 28, 2013 8:34 pm

markhallamWhat a great adventure!

markhallam

Voted 10/10

And rather different to 'usual' SP trips. Congratulations on pulling it off and for the very engaging account and photos.
Posted Dec 28, 2013 12:00 pm

ZeeJayRe: What a great adventure!

ZeeJay

Hasn't voted

Thanks, yes it was definitely unusual. I like living in Utah because there are so many different types of outdoor trips that one can do.
Posted Dec 28, 2013 8:38 pm

Deltaoperator17Very Cool

Deltaoperator17

Voted 10/10

Very cool Z!
Posted Dec 28, 2013 6:22 pm

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