October 22, 2014 § Leave a comment
My initial focus this morning was what I could see. Facing south because I like to sleep on my right side, my view was open as that was the direction I had set my Tyvek shelter the previous night. In those first moments of consciousness I couldn’t help notice the clouds; The dark clouds; While coming into focus they appeared to be coming our way up the basin. “Rohr Oh” were the only words I could mutter and I jumped out of my sleeping bag with definite purpose. If a storm was coming, then I needed to re-orient my shelter away from the wind. I quickly stiffed my bag, and rolled up my sleeping pad. I decided to take another look. Maybe the clouds weren’t heading right for us. Maybe they were moving right to left across my field of view. Maybe I jumped to the wrong initial conclusion.
I was up, so I grabbed my camera to see what I could do before everyone else awoke. I bought my E-410 off an e-bay sale 1 week before I entered the grand canyon. Then, I only understood basic operations, though I carried the User’s Manual as a PDF on my phone. The one thing that still perplexes me is the auto-focus. At times it just cannot decide what to focus on, and to further perplex me, at times it fixes in an out-of-focus state for a long time ‘thinking’. About what I do not know, but it will not apparently start focusing again until I change its field of view. It’s like it says “I give up, try something else!”. I am very frustrated about that. I was experiencing those frustrations this morning. The clouds were dramatic, the water was still, the mountains were bold, the light was warm. Great opportunities. I must have deleted 30 failures! Larry came down to fish X-24, and that gave me some more opportunities to explore.
The original plan had been to spend two days up in Swift Creek Basin with a day hike or fishing on the table. Maybe hike over to the Timothy lakes to fish. However, with all our extra unused fuel, and a few other purchased items to return, we felt that maybe we should move our last nights camp closer to the trail head. Then we could get an easy start to our last day, be out by 11, packed by noon, grab a greasy spoon diner meal, and get back to SLC before REI closed. Most of the hike would be downhill, so what wasn’t to like in this new plan? Nothing, as it turned out.
At this point in our journey we had eaten a lot of weight, we had consumed many beer concentrates and we only went through two canisters of fuel. Our packs were getting lighter. We didn’t over carry water, as no one carried more than 1.5L, so downhill wasn’t terribly bad at any point. The only complaint is that there is so much downhill, that it does wear on you. Different muscles at work than what we had been used to. In addition there is a certain pounding that your body takes as most of your weight comes crashing down on the heel of your foot as each one is planted to receive that weight. So it does exact a toll.
Our first intermediate destination was the junction where we would turn off H-55 and onto the trailhead trail. This was just below Farmers Lake (Hmmm I wonder where that name came from), and was only about a mile, mile point five down the trail from our camp. Some of our last wide open meadow experiences would be along this short section of the trail and I captured them with some decent panorama shots.
We dropped our packs, and set off up to Farmers for a look. An eighth of a mile tops, and we were rewarded with a grand view. The largest lake we had stood on the shores of, it was tranquil, still, and completely ours at that moment. A few breeze ripples on the far side, but otherwise, a mirror of the surrounding mountains and skies. Larry grabbed his best shot on these shores, and some of my pictures aren’t too shabby either. We retrieved some fishing related detritus, snapped some more images, and returned to our packs before any opportunistic little rodents got any bad ideas.
From here the trail dropped steadily all the way to Deer Lake. Deer was my original non-original location for our last camp, but it is on the restricted list for camping, so we decided to move still closer to the trailhead. We had two crossings of Swift Creek to make, and either one would offer some potential flat ground camping opportunities. The intersection with Deer Lake occurred right at its mouth, with an easy creek crossing. It piqued our imagination a little and we staged an Abbey Road style picture though with clouds developing, there wasn’t enough time to stage a full group shot with the tripod, so I am not in that picture. Utilize your imagination and picture me there.
Aspens. It is a name, like chocolate, that can simply stand on its own. You say “Aspens” and it is always the fall color images that immediately come to your mind. They appear to be on fire they are so bright. The Swift Creek Trail runs right through them, and this was the first time on this journey that we were right in amongst them. Aspens also mean something else. Beavers. They love Aspens. Tasty nourishment, and just the right tree to build dams out of. So as we approached our first Swift Creek crossing, the Beaver dams began to pop up. Not one, or two but many. It almost resembles terrace farming you see in oriental images where farmers carved out flat terraces for their rice paddies, except it is Beavers, and each little pond harbors silt and nutrients sustaining life for the fishes. A remarkable scene.
After the first crossing Larry and I started scoping out areas to camp. We were now on the East side of Swift Creek moving along a narrow strip of land between the creek and numerous talus slopes. There were some locations that would do in a pinch, but they contained no fire ring, and the creek accessibility was limited. We found one spot that seemed like it would work, but Larry and I felt like we should keep looking. The others remained, and we went ahead with our packs. I didn’t really want to have to come back for my pack if we found a better site, and having my pack and the incentive of not carrying it back uphill, would keep me focused on finding a better spot. After we had gone a mile there was a little skepticism amongst us, but neither of us wanted to climb back up the trail, so we pushed on until we came to the second crossing. Beaver ponds galore, and with fish spotted as well. I dropped my pack, crossed to the other side, found a fire ring and 4 tent sites right along the creek. Bingo!! Job Done.
I left Larry to claim the site (No one observed his footfall into the creek), and I high tailed back up the trail (sans pack) to retrieve our compatriots. Found them right where I had left them, and I coaxed them into re-hoisting their packs for the last mile of the day.
We all made it down to the crossing, stayed on the trail, and crossed to campsite heaven. It was tight, but we all found locations, and quickly set about erecting our various structures. Larry and Greg had been sharing a tent all this time, while Andy and Walt had each hauled a personal tent. Walt’s was truly a single person tent, while Andy’s could have accommodated another. Personally I preferred being on my own under my tarp. It was proving to be a decent low cost shelter, though it was showing signs of wear. I need to reinforce the grommet holes.
Larry was fishing already as I had tasked him with catching fish when I left to get the others, however the pond fish were below the legal limit for keeping. We were all ready to join in when the rain came. It was never very bad, and it cycled on and off with periods of hail. Walt and Larry continued to fish while Andy Greg and I huddled under my tarp. Larry came back and instructed Andy to assemble his spinner and me to get my fly rod set up. We were going to catch some damn fish on this trip!
It was this instructional period that led to the pilot creation of the 10 part “With Andy” series, episode 1 being “Fishing with Andy”. Walt and Greg were Steri-penning water and had what could basically be called “front row seats” to the instructional entertainment that was Andy’s first catch native cut-throat trout. Episode screenplay coming soon.
Larry gave me a Cadis Fly (Dry), and I went down and fished the lower pond where I too landed a massive 4″ little guy. It was a fish though, and from there I caught a few larger, but still not legal to keep, throw backs. At least they were biting, so that was fun.
Our last night out in the wilderness and we all tried hard to make it last. We didn’t consume any more beer concentrate than we did on any other night, nor smoke any more hand rolled cigarettes than any other night, but we did all try to stay up until we just really had to turn in. No rain, just stars, and I think we were all a little bit uneasy about the location of our camp site. Beavers are nocturnal workers, and our camp site was right on what is called a “Beaver Chute” where the beavers like to haul the branches chewed from the trees they take down higher up on the hillside. It seemed like a real threat, but perhaps it was our smell, and/or our fire that kept the beavers focused elsewhere that night. No beaver disturbances befell us. Hell, I didn’t even have to get up to pee. Yippee.
October 20, 2014 § Leave a comment
The day would prove to be a lot more challenging than the 4-ish miles we calculated we had to travel. On paper it seemed like it might be an easy day. Eighth mile return to the H55 trail, and then 3.5 miles to and over Bluebell. We had studied the lake documentation and we decided to camp on X25, one of the unnamed lakes without camping restrictions, and we hoped some native cut-throat trout. :)
I was up first again, but really, that is such a relative statement. I was the first one to take a pee that didn’t go back to bed is a much closer to the truth statement. The light on the lake wasn’t the same beautiful light we had the previous night, but still I wanted a panorama of the lake in the morning.
Returning to camp I found others feeling as cold as I was feeling, so we rekindled the fire to get a little warmth generated. The weather front that had moved through did bring cooler morning temps, and a little fire would help with that.
We dawdled and drank our coffee drinks, ate our breakfast oats, made our cat hole runs (multiple) and chatted up the day. We were all feeling pretty decent, and satisfied with what lay ahead.
The sun arose, the temperature climbed, we dried what needed drying, extinguished the fire, packed our bags, hoisted them on our backs and we were set to leave. I was the last one out of camp and the last thing that caught my eye was the chipmunk that had been pestering us since we had arrived. It went right to the spot where we had assembled breakfast, and found every bit of granola and oatmeal that didn’t make it into our respective bowls. One very happy and contented Chipmunk.
Funny thing about wilderness trails. Though apparently it is okay to post signs at trail junctions, it is not okay to utilize artificial markers. So no blazes on any trees, however, it is okay to slash a tree. This is the practice of taking a hatchet and striking a vertical chip out of the bark. It creates a scar that serves as a marker. Another marker is the rock cairn, which of course requires rocks. Turns out there are a lot of rocks in the High Uintas. With all of this, including the fact that people bring horses and other pack animals along these trails, it is still possible to come to a point where it is not clear where the damn trail goes.
Two places where this can happen, is a marshy meadow where there are few-to-no rocks, and no trees, where the other side of the meadow doesn’t easily reveal where the trail re-enters the woods. It is possible the trail crosses, and then moves along the edge before it enters the woods. It is also possible that it does not and then we wonder “Where did the trail go?” This is what happened to us on numerous occasions this morning.
Finding the trail again isn’t impossible, but it is a pain in the ass. This is where the iPhones were the most useful, Using a navigation app with downloaded topographic maps that also show the trail, you can utilize the GPS and the compass feature to guide yourself back to the trail.
That is of course if, (and that is a big if) the trail marked on the map is actually the location of the trail. Given the +/- accuracy of the GPS, and knowing about where you are, and clearly where Bluebell Pass is located (you can see it), it doesn’t take too many “Fuck!!”s and “Shit!!”s and “Anyone spot a fucking cairn yet?”s before you are relieved to be on your way again.
Problem with losing the trail, is that when you find it again, it isn’t easy to go back and see where you fucked up so you can add a rock cairn where needed so the next poor bastard doesn’t lose it. Some how the horses stay on it. :/
Apparently the trail hugged the west side of a marshy meadow, crossed it (couple of big rock cairns in the middle of the marsh), possibly doubled back to ascend the North side of Bluebell initially before swinging across to the south side. We made it across the marsh, but figured the trail entered directly, or to the right of the crossing. The initial wooded area wasn’t difficult, only downed trees around, but no clear trail could be found. Soon though the elevation gain began, and it quickly turned to rocks and boulders. Clearly no place for a horse. Larry and I went on ahead of the others; He to the right of me, and both of us scrambling up different sections of the rock field. I took the time to lay cairns for Walt, Greg and Andy thinking “Poor Bastards this is pretty hard”, and Larry and I met eventually atop a small plateau where we found the trail again. That is where we found out that it hugged the north side of where we had been. Oh well.
From there it was Larry leading me, and the others moving at their own comfortable pace. Personally, the sooner I am on top the better. Take time for some pictures of the view that would eventually be behind us, and keep the eyes pointed at the top. At this point the trees started to thin, and the trail was easier to follow now that the horse ruts made the trail obvious. Still though it wasn’t easy. No more switchbacks, as it seemed even the trail cutters just wanted to get it done.
There was a false ridge line that appeared to be the top, and what was worse, the ridge on the opposite side of the descending bowl came into view as well, though at first it was not nearly so clear that we didn’t have to achieve that! A few breaths caught, eyes cleared and focused, and three dimensional binocular vision clearly told us that we were well placed and the top was a lot closer than we first thought.
Atop we found a wind break rock cairn where we dropped our packs, got some liquid refreshment, took some initial photos, and explored the general area while we awaited the arrival of the others. The view in both directions was remarkable, and based on what we could see in the surrounding weather, we might be spared any afternoon precipitation this fine day. It was somewhat breezy, but not uncomfortable, and I think we may have alternately pulled on another layer because of our initial sweatiness (think evaporative cooling), and removed again when we warmed up.
Larry and I were sure we could get some cuss words out of our crew if we descended back to the false ridge and awaited their initial remarks when they too realized they weren’t on top yet. Rewarded we were thanks to Andy! Happy we were though to see everyone on top at 11,400 feet. Andy did take some Oxygen hits, we hung out, took some pictures, hoisted our packs, collected our walking poles, and quickly lost the trail again. Damn it!! I don’t know how it happened. We were following rock cairns but then they stopped. I think what happened is that we followed cairns to the high point in the pass, but the trail had really gone south from the wind break.
Needless to say it was frustrating, and there was another boulder scramble. I went left; Larry and Greg went right and Andy sat tight before committing to any direction, he wanted to be sure someone was going in the right direction. Larry and Greg found the trail and I was way off when I found Andy and there wasn’t enough of him visible to be standing. Though he did fall, he fell backwards into his pack and uphill thus crushing another hiking pole and getting a minor scrape. Walt and I converged on his position and raised him back to his feet. Pride a little bruised we continued on, found the trail, and humped our way down off the pass.
The views into Swift Creek Basin were spectacular. All the lakes we could see had us all anticipating productive fishing and another protein snack again that night. X-26, X-25 and Farmers in the background. We were settled on finding something between 24&25. As usual Larry and I scouted ahead. It didn’t take long really, though we did mistakenly settle on a pond attached to X-24 and not X-24 itself. I marked the trail, and then walked back 130 strides before I came upon my friends. “Only 130 strides to camp!”. Sure they were my strides, but 130 isn’t much.
After the usual camp setup, we assembled fishing rods, I attached a dry fly and we hiked up to X-25 for a go. It wasn’t far, but there was some boulder scrambling to get to what appeared to be better locations to fish. The lake though didn’t seem very active. Larry and I both came up empty. I think I spotted something out in the middle, but there was no activity along the shore. :( Failure.
More of the same when it came to settling in for camp and the camp fire. We all pushed it a bit and hung out longer before finally turning in. This next-to-last night would reveal a strange far off late night thunder storm. I had arisen to pee, and after snuggling back into my bag, I was staring at the sky to the south, and I started to notice flashes. Sort of like camera flashes. Seemed like lightening, but there was absolutely no thunder. The storm must have been 35-50 miles north. Lasted about 30 minutes. Very strange.
October 17, 2014 § Leave a comment
Day 4 is upon us. We will be moving camp from our current elevation, back down the Yellowstone, and then up the Bluebell Pass trail to Milk Lake. The net change in elevation will be almost +300′, but we need to lose 600′, and then gain back the 900′. We will be covering some of the same ground that we did on Day 2, however, we will hang a left when we get to the first trail junction. The hike back will have us recross the Yellowstone again, and we will have also to recross Milk Creek, which was a little dodgy the first time. Once we make the left onto Bluebell though, the terrain changes from a long valley walk, to a hill climb. The map indicates switchbacks, but there isn’t anything written which says how many, and how long they last. Reading the map says, there is about 1.2 miles of initial switchbacks, and then it levels off for a bit, re-connects with Milk Creek, and then ascends a little more mildly to the trail junction with Milk Lake. There, a spur will climb the final stretch to the lake where we will commence the search for a fire ring.
Total distance was going to be about 7 miles, maybe 8, where we cover about 4-5 down hill, and then the final 3-4 uphill. Something we were all looking forward to was the possibility of fishing Milk Lake. Because of its remoteness, the fishing pressure on it is deemed light, and there were no overuse restrictions applied by the Utah DNR with respect to how closely you could camp to the lake. We had noted at the trail head that many of the named lakes in the basins we were exploring had 1/4 mile camping restrictions, meaning that overuse had caused much of the fallen wood to be burned, and that previous parties had chosen to start cutting down trees to burn. High elevation environments are very sensitive, and growth is a long and slow process. Built into that process is decay. It is the decaying organic matter that provides some of the nutrients to the new growth, so if all the dead matter gets burned, then that leaves little for preserving the local environment. Fungis require dead plant material.
So, we wouldn’t be restricted on Milk. All we had to do was get there. Today would also be the first day in which we encountered no other people. As it turned out, we didn’t see another person until we reached the trail head parking on Day 7! All that space, and all that time, and we were by ourselves. Sweet!
The concern was getting Andy to Milk Lake. The rest the previous day probably helped him. We lightened his load a little more, and Walt took over the job of setting a pace that was good for Walt, which happened to be good for Andy. Almost all of my pictures from this point forward, will show Walt, closely followed by Andy. For the morning section of hiking I took up a position at the rear and fell back often to snap pictures. That would explain why everyone was in front of me.
Nutshell summary of the creek crossings. No one fell in. The Yellowstone crossing went without incident, however I failed to notice that Walt hadn’t finished putting his boots back on, and Andy and I left without him. I noticed fairly quickly that Andy’s guide was missing, but I just thought he was ahead of us. It hadn’t occurred to me that he was still behind us, and we didn’t really confirm this until we got to Milk Creek. Walt expressed some disappointment that we would think he had off and left Andy for the Coyotes, however, hugs were exchanged, and forgiveness granted, and we moved to cross Milk Creek.
Funny thing happens when time passes, and a creek drains a limited area. As water drains out, unless there is a big storm to replenish the supply, the overall flow declines. Milk Creek was 4 inches lower on our return than it was 2 days earlier. We crossed in a breeze, and took the opportunity to hydrate, and Steripen some water. We don’t want to climb with too much water, but we do need to drink as we climb. We all worked to drink up regularly all morning raising our individual hydration levels, so we only needed about 4L of water.
The trail up Bluebell was an eye opener. To this point we hadn’t really encountered anything that steep along the Yellowstone, nor even the day hike to Kings. The steepness was there, the switchbacks were there, and the steepness and the switchbacks were married together. Usually a switchback itself is a little steep but the crossing back across the grain is somewhat mild. Not along this trail section. We gained elevation, and we gained it rather quickly and we kept gaining it.
One secret, while ascending in a forest, is to keep your eye glancing at the base of trees higher than you. If it is dark, then you still have a way to go, however, as you approach the local summit, the sky starts to peer through. That lets you know the grade will be flattening out, and gives you a little motivation to kick in that last effort to get to the flat ground. Larry and I were both looking for that, and were relieved when that blue sky started to reveal itself. We didn’t eat anything when we topped off with water, so the plan was to gain this first flat level, and then find a nice place to sit and relax. Larry and I carried on to reconnect with Milk Creek where we expected we might have a nicer view along the creek, than we currently had. The trail angled NE and it wasn’t long before we could hear the creek, which turned out to be far below us, and the hillside had the appearance of old hydrology mining techniques. We decided to keep going and were rewarded with a spot that was about 30′ above the creek, and offered some far reaching views, and plenty of large downed trees for seats.
After lunch, it was time for Larry and I to move on ahead, attain Milk Creek, find a camp site, and settle in. The appearance of potential weather added an urgency to getting camp set up. Nothing was upon us yet, but I think you can see from the pictures that follow, dark clouds were around, and yet, the surrounding ridges had bright sunshine for some magical contrast.
The trail angled back to an Easterly path, and gained elevation again, though not as steep as before. We quickly gained ground on our companions, and as we reached the next high elevation meadow, we broke out to bear witness to a massive bull Elk. We emerged from the forest down wind of this beautiful animal, so he had no warning of our approach. The first picture is our first sighting, and then we moved along the edge of the meadow to get a better viewing location. He did eventually notice our movements, and this triggered his safety response. My telephoto capability was limited, but you might be able to zoom in and get some idea of his size. Stately.
We climbed the last few sections, grabbed some pictures at another trail junction, and ascended the final meters to the Milk Lake Dam on what turned out to be the emergency overflow spillway. There were some interesting informational signs at the trailhead regarding the early settlers to the area who formed their own water management company and came up and built the first editions of these damns to capture the water. The growing season in that part of Utah was very short, and they just couldn’t tolerate the droughts, so they captured water in the high elevation reservoirs, and drew upon that water down in the valleys.
We found a nice site, sheltered in the trees, accessible to the lake and surrounded by downed wood galore. A fire ring made it perfect and we guided our crew over. By that time we could feel the impending rain, so we acted fast. I dropped by pack and quickly chose a place relatively close to the fire ring to erect my tarp. This time I went with a full lean-to style configuration with one edge as high as my poles could allow, and the opposite edge at ground level. That would offer the maximum amount of space for all of us to tuck in out from the weather when it came. Come it did. No sooner had I tightened all the guy lines, then the first rain started to fall. We all secured our pack covers on our packs, and ducked under the tarp. Larry had the cool head about him to quickly gather a lot of small and medium branches into a pile, and covered it with my sleeping ground cloth to keep it dry. Good move Larry!!
This was not simply a passing thunderhead. It was a system of thunderheads, so we had periods of heavy and light rain. When it lightened up, we could emerge from the shelter to grab extra items. We grabbed our chairs first; On later reprieves, we grabbed clothing. I for one was still in my shorts. Remember that I had elected not to bring my rain pants??? That was a bad decision. As the rain cycled on and off, it got colder, and I had to change to get warm. Soon I had my thermal cycling tights on, my SS, a LS, a cycling shirt, and my down vest on. Then I was finally comfortable!
Before the storm was over we had two sessions in which small gravel sized hail fell as well. At two miles of elevation, that is two miles less altitude for hail to fall through and thus melt before hitting the ground. We hardly ever see that stuff in Jersey.
To be completely honest here, I have to report that we attained camp at about 3:30pm giving us ample time to make camp, and plenty of time to fish. It rained about an hour, and sadly, I fell asleep in my chair. When I awoke, it was 7pm and we hadn’t a fire, and we hadn’t gotten water. What we did apparently have is 3 14″ Brook Trout courtesy of Larry and Walt. I was chilled, so I started cutting wood to warm up. While Greg got the fire started, I grabbed my Steripen and started treating water. 90 seconds per 1L at a time. Process 1L and transfer that to my 6-7L dromedary bag. We had 6-8 L bottles, and two dromedary bags. That usually gave us enough water for dinners, breakfast, evening beer concentrates, and more than enough left over for general hydration as well as enough to begin the morning hike.
Walt usually handled the dinner water, but he was out fishing, so I took over this night. I set myself beside the fire for warmth, and gathered all the food bags, the stoves, fuel canisters, and water pots, and set to work. In case I haven’t mentioned the technical details of dinner re-hydration, these packages come sealed with a drying packet contained within. Open the package, remove the agar packet, read the directions to get the number of cups to add, and the time to set. Add 1.5 to 2 cups of hot water, and then stir to get everything mixed and interacting with the water. The bags are sealable, so seal them up, and let the bags set for 10-15 minutes. Long spoons are needed to get to the bottom of the bag when it is ready, and after it is all consumed, the fire takes care of the trash, leaving just simple residue behind.
Let’s talks about the beer concentrate. What we brought with us is a product in which the manufacturer was able to ferment a concentrated malt liquid to a high degree of alcohol percentage. There were two “Styles”, an IPA style (dark), and a Pale Ale style (light). Only two components are needed to make it beer. Component 1 is simply cold water. We had plenty of that!! The second component is carbon dioxide. Each beer packet marries with an ascorbic acid/something else packet. This dry ingredient is water activated, so the mixing container allows us to store a little water in the cap, attach an inner container with the dry ingredient and then screw the cap tightly onto a larger container with the concentrate and enough water to bring the fluid volume to 16oz. There is a lever built into the cap that releases the water into the inner chamber, thus creating CO2. The process involves shaking the container up and down for 3 seconds, and then cycling the lever to release excess pressure. 1 minute later, set the container down to rest, and repeat for the other style. Personally we found that mixing one of each, and then blending the two together produced a more desirable end product than any of the two constituent parts.
After a beer or two, and dinner was all gone, it was time for the Trout. We went simple. Each whole cleaned headless trout was wrapped in heavy foil, and all three were placed on some hot coals to bake. Some hot logs were placed on top, and the 10 minute ticker was started.
Both Larry and Walt took one package and began to process the cooked remains. I have to give Larry credit as his fish seemed to separate from its bone a lot easier than Walt’s thus leaving healthy chunky sized morsels of trout flesh delectable to the human palette. Trout was shared, and when Walt gave up on his skeleton, I took over and sucked more meat from the bones. The third fish was a little more cooked, but not any less enjoyable. Devoured quickly it was, and soon we had nothing but personal recollections of our protein treat. We needed to catch more fish. Sadly those would be the only ones we would eat.
Beers, cigarettes, whiskey, talk …… Bed.
October 16, 2014 § Leave a comment
Third day out. “Them mountains are mean!!”
I don’t really recall where that statement comes from. It might be from a weekend trip a long time back in West Virginia, but there is a certain wiseness to the statement. Mountains can be mean, because weather can form quickly. The higher the mountain, the more air it traps, and forces upwards where it is cooler, and the moisture begins to precipitate out, forming clouds, and later rain and lightening.
It is with this knowledge that we got a not-as-early-as-we-wanted-to start for our only non-pack day hike to ascend Utah’s highest peak, King’s at 13,534′. The map we had shows our current trail intersecting the High Line Trail, where we hang an East, and climb to Anderson Pass, where there is a black-dashed trail leading to the summit. “Look, there is a trail marked!”. That should be easy to follow :P.
The plan was simple. Get started, and hike as quickly as possible to the base of the talus slope, and then ascend at your own pace to Anderson Pass. Re-group and finish the ascent to the summit. Take pictures, sign the register, shake hands, pat backs, and get the hell off the bloody mountain before anything brews. That was the plan, and really we didn’t do too badly executing on that plan.
I will try to keep this overall description short, so minus Andy, the rest of us set out for what for half of us, would be the highest elevation hike we had ever done. Walt hiked to Everest Base Camp two years ago, and Greg did some elevation work on Mt Rainier in Washington. For Larry and I this would be Personal Best moments, with Larry’s added first state highest point summit. My list isn’t impressive, but I have been to the highest points in New Jersey, New York and Vermont. They all pale in comparison.
The morning was such clear open sky it took your breath away simply taking it all in with your eyes. Every where you looked was spectacular! We made good time and stopped little until we got to the base of the talus slope ascending to Anderson Pass. Looking right at it you couldn’t be sure beyond where the trail entered, where trail even went! However once you entered, there was never any question of where the trail went. Horses had to be able to navigate this, so there was a fair amount of work of making this section safe and navigable.
Larry and I were the first to reach Anderson Pass. We decided it was better for Larry to lead, than for me to lead, because although I am the leader, I am a terrible trail leader. I quickly and easily fall into a natural stride, which for me is a greater stride than my compatriots. To keep together, Larry leads.
The pictures, I hope, give a sense of the vast openness that we experienced. Two dimensions is tough to work with in a three dimensional world, but I tried. Jaw dropping all the way up while a huffing and a puffing.
Atop Anderson, we first spotted 3 hikers ascending from the East, and soon there was a woman in view descending from Kings. I should note that at this point, Greg and Walt had arrived, and my three companions asked if I was going to put my pants back on before anyone else showed up. A limited explanation of this request is that I made the mistake of only bringing one pair of underwear for the hiking portion of this trip, and while we were crossing the now extremely crossable Yellowstone Creek, I decided to remove my pants, and wash my underwear. Until they dried, I saw no reason to put my pants back on, so I ascended the talus slope to Anderson Pass in my underwear.
Fully clothed I was when Larry and I embarked to the top. To say there was a trail is to outright blatantly tell a fib. There were areas of eroded rock dust interspersed between long sections of simply boulders settled upon other boulders. This was not going to be an easy ascent. On the map it seemed like you simply ascend the spine, but the reality is that you ascend on the East side where the slope is gentler (relative), where as on the West side the slope is a death slope. Larry and I made steady progress, both realizing about the same time, that when you have a boulder scramble, you really should not use your poles. We both carried both poles in one hand (left) and used our other hand to stabilize our ascent. For the descent we both collapsed our poles and attached them to our day packs.
Rest we did on the way, up, but continue also we did. Had to make the top. Eventually we turned a corner and there it was. The summit pole, and an old Ammo Case in which was contained the log book and plenty of writing utensils. Clouds had formed, but nothing seemed imminent. It appeared that Walt and Greg had turned back, so Larry and I did our pictures, signed the book and were ready to descend. I decided then to grab a panorama, and to see if I could grab a panorama with my iPhone. I powered it up, and lo and behold, I got service bars. My phone began to sing with musical notification of incoming text messages. I sent off a couple of replies as well as a howdy from the roof of Utah to my wife Susan, and it was while I was using the phone to take the panorama shot that I first posted for this trip that I heard the first clap of thunder. It was time to get off the fucking mountain!!
Getting off isn’t easy, but neither Larry nor I wanted to be caught up there, so descend we did. Each a slightly different way down, but in the end we converged on Walt and Greg who had been sunning themselves on the rocks like a couple of old rattle snakes. We didn’t hang out long, and off to camp we proceeded.
It was a long day, and we still had camp chores to do upon our arrival back at camp, but we made good on all that, ate, smoked, drank, talked, built bigger fire, talked, drank, smoked some more, and then finally retired to bed exhausted. The temperature dropped that night, but the sky was cloud free.
October 15, 2014 § Leave a comment
Second day on the trail. I didn’t start taking pictures until we were really ready to leave, so it simply appears like someone took care of all the morning chores in camp and all we had to do was lift our packs and go. Of course, that isn’t really how it works.
Waking up on a backpacking trip usually happens multiple times throughout the night. “Crap, I have to take a pee! Shit! It’s still night, I wonder what time it is. Can I hold it? No! Shit got to get up!”. This repeats many times throughout the night, so that by morning when the dim light of dawn is filtering into your sleeping area you realize that you were up what seemed like half the night, and you simply want to pull the sleeping bag up over your eyes, but then you also realize that until anyone gets up, no one gets up, so I usually try to be the first to get up and move around to make a little noise and let the others know that morning has arrived.
For most of us, as the number of days increased, our individual need to find the cat-hole trowel and scamper off to the call-of-nature converged on the moment that you decided to get out of bed. Getting out of bed really means, extracting your upper body from your warm and comfortable sleeping bag, sitting up enough to aid the process of putting some clothes back on, affixing proper camp footwear (Crocs for me!), and then emerging from your shelter. Every morning except one, we all emerged into a cloudless light blue sky, where the sun, though above the absolute horizon way in the East, was no where near our local horizon. So it was usually cold. This morning wasn’t as cold as our previous trail head morning, though we were technically higher in elevation, but it was cold enough to require putting all your layers back on.
Depending on your queue location for the toilet trowel, you usually would consider starting to pack up your big items, but that really depends on what kind of night it was. Some nights the dew point left remnants of moisture embedded in your sleeping bag, and all over your tent and rain fly, so perhaps it is prudent to wait for the sun to clear the eastern ridge and get your items to dry a little bit. Usually we can get the fire going a little bit but it isn’t enough to dry big things. It isn’t necessary to have a big fire like in the previous evening, but something to warm the hands and give your core an added warmth boost. Also it needs to be small enough that it is easy to ensure that we put it out completely. It turns out we did not rekindle the fire this morning, so we didn’t have to do anything with the fire ring when we left. If we had to put the fire out, we would have doused it heavily with water, and then once doused, we would have stuck a good sized branch, fat end down, into the middle of the fire ring. This is our insurance policy, so that if there were a fire in the area, afterwards when they search for the source and find our fire ring, they will know when they pull the stick out that our ring was not the source.
Hot water is needed for breakfast and coffee, so someone fills the two pots, and ignite the two stoves to get that process moving forward. Almost everyone is looking first for their cup of coffee. We carry freeze-dried coffee on these trips, and we have a mixture of Starbucks Via (The best in my opinion), Organic Coffee that doesn’t look too different than the old tasters choice our parents used to keep around before they figured out what real coffee was, and some shit my brother-in-law brought along that he loved to drink. Keep in mind, that not too long after the first couple of sips of coffee, you might need to re-insert yourself into the toilet trowel queue.
Breakfast has always and forever been oatmeal-based on any trip into the woods. Okay, sure Jeff (Larry’s brother in law) would bring eggs and hard boil them, but that is an exception! We used to simply bring Quaker Oats instant oatmeal packets. Apples and Cinnamon, Maple and Brown Sugar etc, but now we usually buy bulk and simply lay out ingredients. Those ingredients are:
- Quick Oats (Not regular rolled oats, we just need hot water)
- Granola to add some crunchy texture
- Craisins to add some fruity taste
- Brown Sugar for the sweet tooth
- Candied Pecans because I love candied pecans.
- Dried Milk because some people like a creamy milky taste to their oatmeal
- Any other dried fruit that gets brought along. In our case this time that was nothing else.
We don’t want anything that has to be cooked, hence the quick oats. Hot water is the only need.
Mix all that together in your cup or bowl, and add hot water to a level just below the surface and stir. If you have patience, you can let it set awhile to thicken up and allow the quick oats to get to their desired starchiness, but you do have to remember that we are camping at almost 11,000 feet where the water boils at 192F, which is 20F cooler than at sea-level, so you don’t really have too much time to wait before the product really starts to cool off, and who really likes eating cold oatmeal?
If you are lucky, your coffee hasn’t been completely consumed, and is still warm at the very least, and you can enjoy a nice meal, sitting by a small fire, with your ass comfortably ensconced in your camp chair, engaged in the typical “What will today be like?” conversation.
When that is over, clean-up is easy. A 1/4 cup of hot water added to your bowl/cup is enough to allow you to dissolve any starch clinging to the sides, and your finger always works well as a scrubbing device. Once the sides are all clear, we come to the point where a decision has to be made. Personally, I simply raise the bowl to my lips and drink. It is after all, simply hot water, and oatmeal residue, and I can always use the hydration. Also, keeping a camp clean means, leaving little for the rodents to find. If there aren’t any rodents, then there aren’t any snakes. This time of year, we might have been past the snake threat, but really it is all connected, and we need to do our part to keep the area safe for others. The other option is to simply dump the waste into the fire or walk down to the creek and rinse your bowl out there.
With breakfast consumed, the sun is likely nearing an appearance point above the eastern ridge, and activity commences to get camp completely broken down and our backpacks re-packed. If the sun is needed, we move those things into the sun to dry out, and we start to get everything else together. We could always simply pack up damp, and dry out later when we make our next camp, but that little bit of moisture can add weight to your day, so 15 minutes of dry time can make a difference.
Packing up means breaking down your camp furniture (chair) into its stuff sack; deflating your Therma-rest air pad, rolling it up and stuffing it into its stuff sack; Returning your dry sleeping back to its stuff sack; Adorning yourself in your desired attire for the day and returning all the other clothing to your clothing compressible stuff sack; Gathering your food items into their stuff sack; Returning your pack cover to its stuff sack. Pack the cook pots in their stuff sack; Pack anything else that has a stuff sack into its stuff sack.
At this point you have everything stuffed, and ready to pack into the backpack. It is always best to have the heavy stuff higher and closer to your back so that it is easier to lean forward. You don’t really want it low where it can easily cause you to lean backwards, lose your balance, and fall. So I pack my empty dromedary bag first, then a layer of my cook set, my two fuel canisters and anything else I can stuff into that layer. Atop that I lay my clothing sack lengthwise and rain shell stuff sack, and then I add food, and any stuff sacks I can fit into the bag. On the outside, I attach my rolled up tarp, and anything else in a stuff sack, as well as my Crocs, my sierra cup, my rolled up food line, and my camera case. For me personally, I attach my camera to my front right shoulder pad and affix the safety line, and assuming I took the time to put my hiking boots on (That would have allowed me to attach my Crocs to the outside of the pack), I am ready to go.
It’s the second day of our journey. It is right to say that everyone is feeling the effects of the previous day, as well as the altitude. Andy seemed to suffer more than the rest of us, so we decided to lighten his load a little by giving him the active fuel canisters, and I took all the beer concentrate he was carrying.
We hadn’t decided yet, though we were reasonably sure, that our track for the day would not be the original track first planned for day 2. The destination was Tungsten Lake, an above the tree line lake just on the west side of Tungsten Pass. There were two ways to get there: the original plan which would take us up Garfield Creek and into Garfield Basin, or we could simply continue up the Yellowstone and hang a left onto the Highline Trail and hike over Tungsten pass to the Lake. The end elevation was the same, however, the Garfield Creek ascent looked to be pretty steep. That assessment was based on how closely the grade lines appeared to be on each of the maps we looked at. Tungsten Pass was not that high above the surrounding basin on both sides.
Once you add the contingency element, it was pretty clear which way we would go. The contingency element is this: we failed to make our original destination the previous day. Since we definitely want to be in a position to hike Kings the next day, if we failed to make our destination then choosing the Yellowstone route leaves us in a place from which we could launch our day hike, and it would leave us with an easier next day that would bring us back down the Yellowstone to the Bluebell Pass junction.
We didn’t have to make a firm decision until we reached the trail junction, so we put it off until then. We didn’t really have all that much time to mull this over, as technically we were a mile or less from this decision point, and it didn’t take us all that long to get there. The anti-climatic conclusion we reached was to continue up the Yellowstone and we will see where we are when we are ready to end the day. Already thought is being placed into a new plan.
It should be noted at this point that the entire first day was traveled without contact with anyone else. No one on their way out, and no one overtaking us. We seemed to be it. It wasn’t long after passing the Garfield Creek junction before we crossed paths with Ranger John who was on his way out from an 8 day session in the back country. His work schedule is 8 days on, and 6 days off. We chatted him up, exchanged our details, heeded his advice and asked him what lay ahead. John informed us that we would probably cross paths with a horse group soon, and that we had one or two stream crossings ahead. Crossings that can be accomplished without removing boots aren’t mentioned, so this meant we had at least two crossings to do in our bare feet. News to us though upon the reflection of a closer examination of the map, we really should not have been surprised by this information ;).
We did encounter the horse folks before we made it to the next trail junction. Walt may have been in the lead and called back to us that horses were approaching, and we all made our way off the trail to give the horses the full path. Turns out it was three men on 4 horses, one being a pack horse and the other three bearing their human burdens. We chatted a bit, but we didn’t chat long. Whether they were hunters, or a guide and two people being guided, we didn’t find out. One guy did have a rifle in a saddle holster but it didn’t look like a hunting rifle. It looked like a “If we need something, we have this rifle” kind of rifle. We parted ways exchanging supportive travel wishes to each other and we continued. We didn’t see anyone else until Anderson Pass the next day.
Hydration is key to this activity, but you do need to stop for food at some point. I am not sure of the physiological requirements, but I think it is safe to say, that we would not consume enough calories to supplement the ones we were burning, yet we don’t stop often to eat or even snack. So when the emptiness in your stomach makes itself apparent, you start to fixate on finding a decent place to take off the packs and relax for 15 minutes. We achieved the next trail junction, and the map said Milk Creek would be joining the Yellowstone soon, so we marched on to this intersection to utilize the expected open space serene environment for our lunchtime nourishment.
More on lunch in another write up, however there are still two subjects to cover in this story: The stream crossings, and finding a camp.
We had dined on the south side of Milk Creek, the drainage from that portion of the basin that we would tackle in another two days, and it appeared to split into two main channels, neither of which seemed to have dry crossing options. Dry crossing options are logs across the creek, or dry rocks protruding at just the right locations across the creek. This first branch doesn’t appear to support a dry crossing, but it also doesn’t seem like we need to remove our boots. We all are wearing Goretex lined boots, so unless the water goes up and over the edge of our boots we should stay dry when we purposely place our boot into the water. In addition there are rocks that lie just beneath the surface of the water. So nearly exposed that you seem certain to gain good purchase upon it, yet, slick as grease most of them are. So, I build the suspense, but really it is simply trial and error before someone finds a clean way across and then we all file through, however it should be noted that there is a difference in the stride length of all parties involved, and an experience level as well. If you have crossed a lot of streams you become acquainted with the process of choosing a line and maintaining your balance by straddling the creek on two rocks. You don’t hold up and try to keep both feet on one rock, unless that rock is big enough and stable. Also you pay attention to where others place their feet, and if they didn’t fuck up, then put your feet there as well. The gist of this dialog will be captured in the text for a new reality TV show: “Crossing streams with Andy“.
We also had to cross Yellowstone, and that was much wider and there were no dry crossing options. The way across was to remove the backpacking boots. Most of us had camp Crocs, and they are plastic, and have holes in them, and they have a little ankle strap, and they are perfect for crossing streams. Walt had flip flops, and Larry had light weight sneakers, so bare feet was their only option. Procedure is to drop your pack, remove your boots and socks, tie the laces together, affix alternate footwear if you have it, re-hoist your pack on your back, hang your boots around your neck, grab your poles, and cross the stream. Once you have decided to wet your feet, it is not advised to walk on top of rocks until the last moment, rather, simply immerse yourself in the experience and cross. With Crocs on you need to angle your feet upstream, so as not to create a situation where the flow of water wants to rip the shoes from your feet when that foot is not resting on the creek bed. Follow these steps and a safe crossing is virtually guaranteed. There were no incidents.
As with the previous day, as the day worked its way into mid to late afternoon people started to think about the next camp site. Tungsten Lake was out, and now we were heading for a side creek crossing coming in from the W, after which the trail bears NW and moves away from the Yellowstone. The map showed flatter ground, and perhaps we could find an existing fire ring. So onwards we pushed.
The qualities of a leader. Recognize that the people looking to you can always be pushed a little further, but that there is a limit to just how far they will go. That became apparent when we started to see places along the trail as it opened up, that could be camp-able, but as a leader, we weren’t at the point where I felt we needed to be. With a look at the map, and locating myself on my iPhone map app, I can pick the point to take Larry and scout ahead. We left the others, and traveled about half a mile to the stream crossing where even Larry resisted crossing, as he felt there was a decent spot behind us. I pushed on across the creek where the terrain immediately opened up. I didn’t really want open, because really you want some place where you can get a little wind protection. That was when I spotted an area between two mounds that each supported a copse of trees. Add to that the space between the mounds converged like the interior of the letter V, and at the crux of the V were two rocks and charcoals. Bingo! Fire Ring. That was our spot for the next two days.
October 13, 2014 § Leave a comment
First day on the trail. Full packs carrying everything we think we need with calculated duplicates (cat hole shovels, TP, pumps, etc), and starting out at 8400′ elevation. Destination is the trail junction up to the Garfield Creek Basin. The trail head sign says 9 miles, and the trail follows the Yellowstone Creek the whole way. It is important to keep in mind that this is a high basin that gets a lot of snow in the wInter, so the trail cannot follow the creek at its current water line. Therefore it meanders higher above the creek at times, so there are gains and losses, but in general we gain elevation the whole hike. 9400-9600′ is the final elevation for the day.
The day began very much like the preceding day other than our anxieties about the upcoming hike and whether we had what it would take to complete the entire adventure. We began with a breakfast of ham and eggs, thanks to my BIL Walter Everetts, with a side of campfire toasted sour dough bread, and a glass of full pulp not-from-concentrate-shit orange juice from Tropicana. Once again, a fully satisfying meal. We all packed up our gear from the trail head camp site. For me, this would be the first time I had to pack up my Tyvek tarp in a way that I could carry it. Turns out that wasn’t all that bad, as all I needed to do was fold it 4 times, lay my ground cloth on it, and then roll it up with the stakes, and my sven saw. I saw the tarp as a way to safely carry my saw without damaging my pack.
With appetites satisfied, and camp broken down, and cleaned up, (we scoured the site for all evidence of our passing), we packed our packs, and made final decisions about what would go, and what would stay. I for one made the decision to not pack my rain pants (later to regret that decision), and that I would also not pack my solar charger and battery. Because of this I would not use my iPhone for anything other than navigation when we needed it, and maybe a few pictures, but I just couldn’t see taking that extra weight. The last items I left behind was a number of beer concentrates. I felt that for 5 people, that 60 was probably enough. Turns out it was more than enough, and no I didn’t carry 60, but that was apportioned out to everyone.
With the truck moved to trail head parking, we got our pictures by the trail head information sign, and we began our journey. Blue sunny skies, cool temps in the 50’s, loaded packs, water, and ambition. Destination: forward.
How much do the packs weigh? That is a damn good question that I don’t really know the answer to. You could say, that when I checked my pack at the airport in its duffel, stuffed with most of what I would take along, the scale tipped right at 50 lbs. but realistically, I had more beer concentrate in there than I would take along, and an extra saw, and perhaps some more stuff that didn’t actually go on the trip, but I would say it had to be at least 40 pounds. Maybe it was closer to 50. In any case it was a new internal frame Osprey 85 and it fit very well. I was able to tighten the hip belt around my no-fucking-hips waist, and draw in the shoulder straps, and pull in all the slack-taker-uppers and the fit felt great. Two poles, my broken in Zamberlan full cut backpacking boots and I was set to go.
The thing about a full pack is that every step feels like you might be taking a full step, but in reality the actual step is just a little bit shorter. Those shorter amounts add up into steps, and those steps add up into lots of steps, and those lots of steps add up to a bunch of lots of steps, so that about the time you are getting hungry again you feel like you might have traveled 5 miles, and your mind overrides your eyes looking at the map and convinces you that the surrounding features are the ones on the map that say you have gone 5 miles, and then Andy Shoneman‘s tracking device says you have gone 6 miles, so you stop, take a rest, have some refreshments (water), and eat the nice bagel, ham, cheese, hummus and tomato sandwich that my BIL made, resting weary legs and shoulders, only to begin hiking again and then only to come across a switchback that you weren’t expecting, which following the regrouping and the map checking for real, again trying to logically dismiss what your eyes are telling you (That’s a horse head, not a switchback), and then finally realizing that you only went 3 miles, and you still have 6 to go.
Let’s add to this mix, the observation that whenever I asked Andy how he was doing, his first sound was usually one of those coughs that come from deep in your chest, and he wheezes out an “I’m okayyyyyy” in a tone, that if you know Andy, is clearly a half octave higher than his normal monotone voice. It was at this point that I started to think how my original agenda might be modified. Larry T Butler it turns out was thinking the same thing.
Suffice it to say, that this early section of the trip was not exceedingly difficult, and there weren’t really any rules that said we had to do exactly what I planned out anyway. All I did was do some rough sketches with MapMyHike, and try to carve out something that was doable. The only real requirements that I felt we had were:
- We needed to be close enough to King’s Peak on the second night, so that we could launch a reasonable day hike attempt at its summit.
- Every place we camped had to offer a fishing option
- I wanted to get into the Swift Creek Basin
- We had to be out the following Saturday.
So, with the afternoon passing by and realization that we might not make my original destination, and keeping in mind, that there was nothing that actually said there would be any camp sites at the trail junction, Larry and I struck out ahead of the pack to scope out areas off the trail that would be suitable for camping.
What are the rules for wilderness camping?
- It is best not to start a new fire ring, so find a location where others have camped already, and utilize the existing fire ring
- Adequate flat ground for tents Access to water, that can be treated, pumped, boiled etc.
- Be at least 50′ off the main trail
- Easy access to downed wood
Suffice it to say, that Larry and I both glanced off to our left at the same time and saw a promising flat area. Keep in mind, that aside from the creek, and lower beaver ponds, most of the terrain we had been passing through was rocky and not flat, so when you see a flat space, it has to be investigated. Upon reaching this area, I noticed another larger flat area just below it and adjoining the rim of the creek canyon, aaaaaaaand, that flat area had an existing fire ring. Bingo!
I dropped my pack, returned to the trail, and placed a large stick into the middle of the trail so that my buds would see it and know the end of the day was upon them.
At that point everyone wanders into camp and there is flurry of activity. Everyone begins to unpack, and get their night’s shelter together. For me, that would be setting up my tarp; for everyone else that would be setting up their tents. Larry and Greg in one tent; Andy and Walt each in their own tents. I chose the tarp, because I wanted to sleep out, and I snore, and didn’t want to be a burden on the others. A minor issue, is I inherited my Mother’s bladder and would and did get up a lot at night.
Once tents are up, then chores have to be done: Water has to be pumped, wood has to be cut and gathered, the fire has to be started, the stoves have to attached to the gas cans, and the food area has to be selected so that the water boiler can get to each persons fine tasting freeze dried gourmet dinner. Chairs have to be assembled, whiskey has to be brought over, and on this trip, the newest luxury had to be started: beer concentrate had to be turned into just beer.
An evening progresses, and contains any of the following activities, some of which can be repeated at any time and as many times as is necessary.
- Water is heated, and measured out to re-hydrate gourmet de-hydrated meals; contents are mixed, and a timer started, so that the owner of said deliciousness has a clue when he/she (no she’s on this trip) can dig into their meal without encountering any part of it which did not get re-hydrated, or re-hydrated enough.
- Loose Bugler cigaret tobacco is rolled into cigarettes for communal smoking. (Yes, it is the only time I ever smoke)
- Whiskey is passed for communal sips
- Stories are told, and possibly re-told. There is no restriction on re-telling a story that was possibly told on many previous trips. (Note here, that Larry, Greg and I have done a lot of 3-day trips together over the years)
- We talk about the day. Both the reality of the day, and our perception of that reality. In other words we lie to each other.
- We talk about tomorrow, or at least our perception of what tomorrow will bring
- I mix up the contents of beer concentrate two at a time, since we have two containers to make the beer in.
- We fuck with the fire. (This one occurs often)
- Nature calls
And at some point, since we are all in our 50’s (except for Andy), we decide it is time to turn in, and we beat down the coals of the existing fire. Realistically we hadn’t added any new wood for awhile, so it is just coals. And then we all retire to our separate, or shared sleeping quarters as the need hits us.
That is a day on the trail.
October 13, 2014 § Leave a comment
I first heard about the High Uintas thanks to my brother-in-law Walter Everetts, who after we did the Zion Wilderness in early May 2011, gave me an issue of Backpacker magazine that to him, was done. The title article was a story about a hike along the High-line Trail along the spine of the High Uintas in NE Utah, east of Park City. The Uintas are an E-W running sub-mountain range of the Rockies, and along with The Brooks Range in Alaska, are the highest EW mountain ranges in the country. I was going to say only EW, but I am having trouble corroborating that with matching Wikipedia source material.
The High-line Trail runs approximately 70-90 miles along the main spine of the Uinta mountains, and dips into the inter-pass basins. This area is described well in John McPhee’s classic book “Basin And Range”. The story I read was one man’s solo adventure along the trail, covering 10-12 miles a day, and camping and occasionally fishing in the many high lakes and drainage stream head waters. Catching native Cut-Throat, and stocked Brook Trouts, which supplied him with a supplemental protein snack when cooked.
I have to admit, I was kind of hooked right at that moment. Upon returning home, I immediately ordered the National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map #711 titled: “High Uintas Wilderness”, and awaited its delivery.
The US Postal Service came through, as it always does, and I began to pour over the map; First examining the High-line Trail and its many source trail heads. See, you don’t have to do the whole thing, as there are many points where you can jump in. I was thinking we would spend a week and end at Mirror Lake. The problem with that is it requires a 5 hour shuttle to the starting point, and unless we could get someone to drop us off, the logistics just seemed to me unmanageable.
We would need a circuit hike where we could go in and come out at the same point. Fortunately there are more than a few trail heads that offer just that capability!
Another year passed, and I took a group of friends, some of whom were on this trip, and we did 6 days in the Grand Canyon together. Upon completion of that trip, there was active banter concerning what trip we would do next. Yosemite, Kings Canyon, Sequoia, The Grand Tetons, and The High Uintas were all mentioned. After some pros and cons, we all decided on The Uintas. So now I really had to find a route. I put some ideas out, and Larry T Butler mentioned that we should try and do a route that offered the chance to summit Utah’s highest peak: King’s Peak. I quickly found the Swift Creek access point, which had camp sites for trail head camping, and it offered the ability to visit three basins in which we could fish, and get a couple of aggressive days hikes in to summit Kings, and at the time, Mt Emmons. We all agreed; A two year time frame was established; I researched the weather; With all this input I decided on the middle of September 2014 from the 14th-21st. I looked ahead and saw that the moon would be waning, so we would start out with dark nights, and if the skies were clear, we would see stars!!! Next I found a mountain weather site for Utah mountains that listed temperatures at 8200, 11,000, and 13,500 ft. The trail head was 8400, and we would spend a majority of our time at or just below 11,000 and it said that nighttime lows in the 30’s, with some nights warmer, some nights colder. Daytime highs in the 50’s and maybe 60’s; Really, that all depending on the clouds and the beautiful sun. With temperatures like that, there would not be any mosquitoes!! Also too cold for snakes in general, and really I like the cold weather better. I sleep better in it.
We had a destination; We had a time frame; We had a lot of interest! I was looking at the eight who accompanied me into the Canyon as for-sure-dude, and then there were potentially my new friends I made backpacking with my brother-in-law. So potentially at that point I thought we could be 14 people. That is a lot of people, and after actually doing it, I see that we never could have done that. Fourteen was a hard limit, as although there was no permitting process for this area (unlike the Grand Canyon), there was a limit of 14 in one group. The only way 14 can go in, is to go in on horseback with pack animals, where you can cover 15 miles and get to the upper basin where there are large tracts of coniferous open ground to set up that many tents, and graze the horses. No, we had to be a smaller group, and as it turns out, it didn’t take much effort to achieve that. This just isn’t the kind of trip that a lot of people can commit to. 3-4 day trips work out for many, but 7 days on the trail and at least two travel days means you need 9 days. Add with the elevation challenges, perhaps you want an extra day out there, and now you need 10 days. So that brought us down fairly quickly and we were settled on eight for a long time.
As this summer approached, we made plane reservations. That act alone shows commitment, and 7 of us had our reservations ready. D1 (Ally Hallander), didn’t want to commit yet, and that was probably wise. She was already on the hook for 3 girl friend’s weddings, and she needed 6 work days for this trip. Early this year she started sending out resumes and the process of a new job began with a company in NYC. She was interested in moving back to Jersey, and ending her career at Electric Boat. All that eventually worked out and she got the job, but she still had to do the weddings, and she just didn’t mention the Uintas thing, so I started to sense that she just might not be going. When we were one month out, I had to put the question to her, and she needed to put all her focus into making her new job her priority for now. Understood.
We were now Seven. I ordered the gourmet freeze dried foods. 7 of us, 6 nights, so I ordered 6 quantity each of Black Barts Chili, Mountain Chili, Orange Hawaiian Chicken, Three Cheese Lasagna, Three Cheese Chicken Pasta, Cheese Enchilada Ranchero, and some other meal that escapes me. What didn’t escape any of us were the effects of these fine foods on our bodies. That however, I will leave for a reader exercise….
We would be Jim Kirby, Larry T Butler, Greg May, Andy Shoneman, Mike Barris, Walter Everetts, and myself. We made reservations for two cars, hotels on leading side, and on the trailing side of the trip. Walt and I made trail bars, he also, made beef (great), chicken (Good and tasty), and turkey (not so good) jerkies. We would pick up bulk supplies for breakfast, and hit Recreation Equipment Incorporated (REI) for fuel and we would be ready to roll.
The plan was for most of us to arrive September 11th, and Walt in the 12th. We would handle all our shopping on the 12th, and we would drive up the 13th to spend 1 night at the trail head, and Sunday we go in. That wasn’t the original plan. Originally I figured I would go out Thursday, and everyone else would come in Friday or even early Saturday. I would shop, and pick them up at the airport, thus saving them a day, but, as it turned out, everyone was nervous about the elevation. Altitude Mountain Sickness (AMS) was real, and if you didn’t play your cards smartly, you might experience a mild case of it, though there have been serious cases of it at the altitudes we would be facing. So most everyone came out Thursday.
That is when I started thinking “If we are all here, then maybe we should cram all the shopping into Friday morning so that by the time Walt came to town, we perhaps had only to buy campsite beer, scotch, and then why not just head up to the trail head and spend two nights there? Hell, it would be cheaper by the cost of two hotel rooms vs. the cost of the camp ground ($8), and we could acclimatize there. Also we could fish all day, and take the time to organize all of our common stores for the trip. So, that is what we did.
PS. Two days before we were to leave, Jim’s 91 year old mother was moved into Hospice care, and he rightly felt that it would not be a good time to be away, and dropped out.
PPS. 5 hours before we were to be off the grid, Mike Barris got a call from his sister in Toronto. Their 91 year-old mother was moved to the hospital and was day to day. There was only one real decision for him to make, and we dropped Mike at the airport to return home when we picked up Walt. Sadly, Mrs. Barris died this morning.