Sunday, September 2, 2012

Uinta Highline Trail 2012

July 31st - August 4th, 2012 the clan did a long walk across the Uinta Range. We did about 70 miles with the focus on hiking.  Focus on hiking means keeping the gear to a minimum and filling the days with a casual strolling pace. Our pack weights were between 28 and 14 pounds. Not ultra-light, just enjoyable-light.

Google Earth Overview - those are 13k peaks down there
Elevation Profile

Starting the trail at Chepeta Lake 

Day One

Our first day took up from Chepeta Lake over North Pole pass (4 hours to this point) and through the some beautiful woods in the basins. The starting trail head was relocated a couple years back and is very hard to follow. The key is to look for the tree scars that they use as trail markers. I think tree scars are terrible markers, but because this portion of the trail is not fully established they will be the only thing keeping you going in the right direction.

Stormy day on the Kings Peak ridge
We hiked for 11 and a half hours and ended up camping about a mile after Kidney Lake. That night it rained for four hours and my bivy tarp combo failed me. Matt kindly saved me by allowing me to crawl in with him.

Day Two

We followed the "hike a couple miles in the cool and then eat breakfast model" for the entire hike. This worked out really well and on this morning allowed us to dry out all of our wet gear while we ate.

We saw about five different groups doing the Highline during our trip, which is five more than I saw last time I did the trail. There are portions of the trail that are very clear and well traveled, but other ones require constant vigilance to keep you from ending up in a swamp. Which is exactly what happened to us on our approach to Anderson Pass. Luckily, it wasn't too bad, but I have been sucked into Uinta swamps that rivaled the Dead Marshes.

Summit of Kings Peak
Rain threatened all day with periods of blue sky followed by rain and hail. Between storms we ran up Kings Peak and had the summit to ourselves. Coming down Anderson Pass the mountain got its vengeance. "Why did the temperature suddenly drop?" I asked myself minutes before the storm hit us. Our makeshift rain coats did the job, but more rain or colder temperatures would have forced us to seek shelter.

We camped in the shadow of Kings Peak along the head waters of the Yellowstone Creek. We hiked for ten hours this day. 

The Passes

Ultra-stupid rain gear
There are six major passes on this hike: North Pole, Anderson, Porcupine, Red Knob, Dead Horse, and Rocky Sea. I have done the hike both directions and I think it might be slightly easier to go East to West, but it is highly dependent upon the mileage you do per day and where you place your camps. Going up Anderson from the West is by far the most difficult, with the West approach to Red Knob coming in second. Coming down North Pole from the East I found very enjoyable. The rest of the passes are simply fun. Someone deserves a lot of thanks for the well graded switchbacks.

Day Three

Approaching Lambert Meadows
The flat open expanse of Garfield and Oweep Basins allow you to do some significant miles. I loved powering through the wide open expanses surrounded by towering ridges and green forests in the distance. We made camp in the shadow of Red Knob with sheep bleating in the distance. This took us well over the half way marker. We did 12 and a half hours of hiking this day. Everyone was feeling good.

The Food

Dead Horse Lake
We tried to keep our food light on this trip (remember the focus on hiking). It mainly consisted of oatmeal for breakfast, candy and granola bars, bagel sandwiches for lunch (tuna, peanut butter, and salami), with burritos, turkey, or beef stroganoff for dinner. The food was more than nourishing, but I longed for tasty. I need to spend some effort on recipes that incorporate better seasoning and texture.

Day Four

The dead horse of Dead Horse Pass
 This was the day of three passes. In the morning we went over Red Knob and then Dead Horse before noon. I found the traverse to Dead Horse Lake to be especially beautiful. Wooded forests, flowing stream, and steep cliff walls. The trail up Dead Horse pass looked intimidating, but the switchback grades made it manageable. After spending an hour looking for half of our team we wandered down in the beautiful forests of Rock Creek and had a nice dinner in the shade of Rocky Sea Pass before crossing over and making camp about seven miles from our final destination.
7 of 8 passes
Rocky Sea Pass


You never really need to worry about water in the Uintas. There is a stream or pool within a mile of any place you stand. The question is how do you treat the water. They graze livestock in this national forest and so there is a lot of possible contamination, but other then that there is very little threat of water borne illness. On this trip we chose to use a chlorine dioxide mix. This was very light weight, with minimal hassle. It is probably faster to mix then pump especially in you do it in parallel and on the move. Unfortunately, I didn't quite bring enough mix for liberal usage, and so we did ration a bit and I ended up drinking a few liters of untreated water. However, my skepticism  of the whole water treatment necessity continues to grow. I think it is time for the backpacking industry to prove some significant evidence that all this treating and pumping is really beneficial.

Day Five

Minimal camping gear
This was a pleasurable romp on a flat trail that got us to Kamas for lunch before noon. We passed by Naturalist Basin and Mt. Agassiz, which I still have not visited, and considered a detour, but in the end the desire for completion won out. I think we could have easily done the trip in four days, but as it was we had a lot of fun without much aches or pain.

Success party at Hi-Mountain Drug

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