A Wintery Night on Antelope Island

Split Rock Bay Backcountry Campsites

The original plan was for a group of us to ride Red’s Canyon down in the San Rafael Swell, but because of illness, travel, etc. everyone bailed. Since there are several of us who still want to ride Red’s Canyon, I decided to save that trip for another time. Instead, on Friday afternoon I drove up to Antelope Island for a short overnighter. I discovered they have a new backcountry campground at Split Rock Bay. It’s only about 5 miles in, but definitely wouldn’t have any RV’s and generators.

I like Antelope Island; there are good riding trails there and I usually ride the White Rock and Split Rock loops at least once a year. The trails drain well and can be ridden almost year round, if you can handle the cold. And it does get pretty windy out there. It was in the mid 30’s when I packed up and left the car at 3:15 pm. It didn’t take long before I was quite warm and sweating. The weather was clear and sunny and the views were nice.

The trails were in great shape, mostly dry, just a couple wet areas here and there. When I got to the top of a big climb, at the junction of the Elephant Head trail, I bundled up for the fast double track descent into Split Rock Bay.

Descending into Split Rock Bay

I had a typical bikepacking setup on my Jones SWB. At the last minute I decided to take one of my Winter sleeping bags, a Cumulus rated to 5 degrees. I bolted on my Tumbleweed rack and strapped the bag on top. On one side I had an insulted water bottle parka for a Nalgene bottle and on the other side had a Roadrunner Buoy bag with my tent in it. I also had some minimalist uninsulated pogies made by BikeIowa. They were perfect for this trip with a lightweight glove in the afternoon and a midweight fleece glove for the cold morning riding.

Roadrunner Buoy bag; sleeping bag is in a compression stuffsack.
BikeIowa pogies

The new campsite has only four sites and a composting toilet, no tables or benches or anything. They are at the bottom of the descent around the corner to the right. They are quite exposed but in a beautiful location. As soon as I got there I set up my tent, blew up my pad, and unpacked. I then went for a hike to the top of some rocks near the edge of the lake.

Composting toilet in the background
Looking back toward camp
Looking out towards White Rock Bay

The setting sun was predictably spectacular, and calming. I love a good sunset. I remember once in San Diego, sitting on the edge of some sea cliffs by myself, watching the sun sink into the Pacific Ocean. Sunsets make me melancholy; there’s something about the sun dying and sinking into the ocean or the earth and leaving behind shadows and darkness.

The lighting at sunset, at a place like Antelope Island is breathtaking. I love the deepening shadows, the flare of the dying sun on the rocks, the browns and tans of the rocks and grass. . .

Split Rock Bay

By the time I got back to camp, the sun had set and it was getting dark. I was in no hurry to cook dinner as the nights are very long in Winter. I pulled out a book of poetry by Jay Hopler and read for awhile by the light of my headlamp.

Because the Great Salt Lake water levels are so low, it’s about a mile out to where the actual water is. I didn’t bother to hike out to waters edge as it can get unpredictably soft and muddy.

When the sun goes down it gets pretty cold. I cooked up dinner and some hot chocolate, then went for another short walk. Pro tip: add some coconut milk powder to your hot chocolate. Makes it extra rich and delicious. The nights are very long on a Winter campout. It’s dark by 6 and doesn’t get light until about 7 the next morning. And it’s cold. It got down to the high teens and was pretty breezy. Once I retired to the tent I read for awhile more then about 8:30 headlamp off. Good thing I like sleeping. I slept pretty well and stayed nice and warm. I’m glad I brought my warmer sleeping bag. I kept a water bottle in the sleeping bag with me to prevent it from freezing. The other one was in an insulated bottle parka and got a bit icy but didn’t freeze solid. I also kept my fuel canister close by so it wouldn’t get too cold.

The next morning was clear and cold. I wore several layers to keep warm, including a merino wool baselayer, lightweight synthetic puffy jacket, a lightweight down parka, and a puffy down vest, along with a wool beanie and hoods from the jackets. I was plenty warm and comfortable. Sometimes I will just bring one big down jacket on a Winter trip, but somethings I like the flexibility of multiple layers. I knew I wanted the synthetic puffy to wear when riding the downhills. For breakfast I had oatmeal (with more coconut milk powder) and hot chocolate. I puttered around in no hurry to pack up. I was waiting for the sun, but knew it would be awhile getting down here because it was blocked by the mountains.

I packed up and rode back up the way I had come the day before. I was very hot and sweaty by the time I reached the junction at the top, so I took a break to cool down.

Looking down into Split Rock Bay; the campground is around the corner to the right. It’s actually at the base of Elephant Head Point.

For most of my cold weather riding I generally stay warm with a lightweight long sleeved baselayer and a windproof shell. I headed down, then turned onto the White Rock Trail Loop up to the ridgeline before climbing around to the final descent back to the car. There was a herd of 20-30 bison up top where they usually are.

It was a nice short ride and a beautiful night out. Friday night I seemed to have the whole island to myself, at least the area where I was. Saturday was a different story. I saw probably 7-8 trail runners, then ran into lots of mountain bikers. I talked to a guy who runs a group on social media for riders in the Weber/Davis areas. He said this was an annual ride for them, Bikesgiving, and there were about 40 of them out. It seemed like at least half of them were on full suspension e-bikes. It was 31 degrees when I got back to the car. It’s always nice to spend a night outside, even if it is cold. But when it’s cold out the bugs and the people are gone, just how I like it.

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