Saturday, August 17, 2013

On Top of Utah: Hiking to Kings Peak

After more than ten years of no camping, this last spring I finally got back into it with trips out to Pedernalles Falls, Lost Maples, and Lake Georgetown (car camping and backpacking).  I've been itching to get back into real mountains though.  This week I had the opportunity to fly out to Utah and go camping with Brian up in the Uintas.

I flew most of my gear out with me.  I did pick up some Mountain House meals at Emergecy Essentials and stove fuel at Sports Authority.  In Austin it was hard to fathom how cold the mountains will be so I ended up borrowing some cold weather clothes from my brother-in-law as well as a pack (mine didn't fit in my luggage) and a flashlight (either I forgot it or the TSA took it).


I dropped off my rental car and got picked up by Brian (Altitude: 4,226 feet).  The guy at the car rental place saw my camping gear and checked an obscure place for damage to the car common to driving out to national parks.  I haven't heard word yet if they will charge me for it or not.

The drive out was about three hours.  We had to drive out to Wyoming, through some road construction, and finally too many miles on dirt roads.  We arrived at Henry's Fork Trailhead a little past noon (Altitude: 9,430 feet).  There is a composting toilet and no running water.  The trailhead listed fire bans for Dollar and Henry Lake so we decided on stopping at Bear Lake and Blanchard Lake (with Island as our backup) along the way to King's Peak.

The hike out was beautiful.  We started off climbing up a ridge above a creek and passed through several meadows.  We didn't notice the turnoff to Alligator Lake.  There was no sign for it and I assumed the log was meant for trail reclamation when its really meant to reduce erosion   At Elkhorn Crossing we took the fork to Henry Lake.  Those uphills were rough.  We also had rain off and on through our hike out.  Eventually we came around to Bear Lake.

I had a headache during the hike and at camp but I was a bit dehydrated from the less humid air of Utah (never thought I'd claim Utah is dry, oh how Austin has changed me).  Also around camp Brian and I got a little lightheaded which we assumed is from adjusting to the altitude.

Our spot along the lake was gorgeous and most of the time the lake was a mirror.  I pulled out and setup my hammock and used it to hold gear like a table as I finished unloading.  I ate my Chicken Alfredo Mountain House meal in my hammock overlooking Bear Lake.  We then cleaned up camp, hung our bear/critter bag, talked over a campfire Brian made thanks to his backpacking saw, and went to bed.


Brian took my pump to get himself water for the day and it was going terribly slow.  This is only my second time using my pump and didn't pay attention to the field servicing or post-trip servicing instructions.  After some examining of the pump I hypothesized that the filter needed cleaning and luckily Brian had a scrub pad I could use.  That did the trick.  Overall we found we liked my MSR Miniworks EX Microfilter due to the side pump action (works great as a Thighmaster!), the serviceable filter, and the easy separation between contaminated and clean parts.

After breakfast and water pumping, we broke camp and headed for our next stop, either Blanchard Lake or Island Lake.  We passed through some wooded areas, some meadows, and saw ponds and lakes along the way.  Eventually we came to the no-fire map/sign for Henry Lake.  We were confused because we didn't see Grass Lake but upon looking back we could see it through the meadow.   This map showed the tree lines which made us rule out Blanchard Lake (since we were aiming to have fires) which is good because on Wednesday we saw Blanchard from the hike to Gunsight Pass and it would have been a long, rough, cross-country hike to it.

We used the sign as a guide for us to find Island Lake which turned out pretty easy.  Right before the sign was a meadow and we just followed the tree line out.  We first came to a campsite on the south-east side but wanted to be closer to water.  So we dropped packs and split up.  I went along the east bank and Brian along the south.  Brian didn't find any campsites so we settled for one I found.  It was great, right on the lake's coast, had fire rings (which we had to expand to satisfy our pyro tendencies) with lots of rocks and logs to sit on, great places for tents, rocks to take our packs off on, etc.  The main downside is that there were more mosquitoes than Bear Lake.  It is on the east shore a little north of the island in the lake next to a big rock.  We expected Island Lake and especially our campsite to be isolated but we ran into some fishermen on our first night there and some campers later.

The weather changed on us every hour.  It was a light sprinkle when we setup tents and then as I pumped water it alternated between hot, rainy, and sleeting    We then cooked our meals (Mountain House Lasagna for me) and again I ate then relaxed in the hammock.  Brian took the time to find edible or medicinal plants and came back with a natural insect replant   We intended to go to bed early so we could have an early start on Kings Peak tomorrow but Brian's "quick" fire was not so quick thanks to some really dense wood we found that burns long and hot.


We got up, ate, loaded our day packs, and left camp around 8am.  We took the trail to Gunsight Pass.  Unfortunately the map was misleading.  It showed the trail going straight to the Dollar Lake / Henry Lake trails joining up to go to Gunsight Pass.  It turns out the trail actually curves back around to Dollar Lake.  There is a turn off to head to Gunsight Pass but it starts off not being worn at all and you have to rely on walking between two cairns off to the side of the trail and heading straight between the next two cairns.  After that it is well traveled.

Gunsight pass was rough.  We were scrambling up rocks for a decent distance though we were able to use our hiking sticks for it.  The view from the pass (Altitude; 11,888 feet) was beautiful.  Painter's Basin and where we came from looked great.  We then followed the trail on the map down into the basin.  There are a lot of trails away and alternative trails which muddied things a bit but we figured it out, stay to the right until Anderson Pass was our rule.

The climb up to Anderson Pass starts off steep as you go along a stream (the left side of the stream is a lot easier) but then is a lot more gradual with some switch backs followed by some hiking through some sloped meadows.  It is telling regarding my fear of heights that once at Anderson Pass (Altitude: 12,700 feet), I saw only the top of a cliff of another mountain and my knees went weak thinking how far the cliff (I wasn't even on) drops down (which I couldn't even see).  We started off our summitting using our poles but after the first bit we had to stow them in Brian's pack as we had to scramble up on our hands and feet rocks with some being pretty loose (someone should teach those rocks some morals).

On the way up a guy coming down warned us of bad weather (which the sky still looked good so he must have gotten a report by radio).  Also as we passed people we asked if a Garmin GPS we saw in the meadows before Anderson Pass was theirs and it was surprising how many people lost their GPS but at other spots.  We did find the owner and it was gone on our way back so we assume he got it.

We reached what we suspected was the top of Kings Peak (Altitude: 13,528 feet) at around 1:30 pm.  Once there we realized I was out of water and Brian was almost out (my first time using a bladder).  So we stopped there despite being unsure if this was Kings Peak or a false summit (turns out it was Kings Peak and what we saw further along the ridge was South Kings Peak).  On the way down we had a habitual problem of not quite finding the trail.  Right as we got out of the worse part and switched back to poles, it started snowing.  Back near Anderson Pass a family was concerned about some other clouds bringing lightning.  So they rushed out by going along the mountain ridge straight to Gunsight Pass.  We weren't concerned since we'd be in the basin most of the hike back and the clouds didn't look like they'd come our way.  The snow didn't last much longer.  We headed into the basin, almost caught up with the family at the top of Gunsight, and headed back to camp.  We were in a bit of a hurry due to the lack of water.  We stopped twice to get two mouthfuls each of water.  The first time we both ate and the second time only Brian ate since my mouth was too dry to attempt it.  I tried to keep talking to a minimum and tried to prefer nose-breathing to mouth-breathing (which is difficult when you get winded on any sort of uphill due to the altitude).  At the bottom of Gunsight Pass towards camp, we ran into two friendly brothers who were going to camp in Painter's Basin. They had some pretty nice guns on them (what looked like a .357 magnum and some kind of semi-auto pistol).  Brian would have complemented them on the guns except he was a bit nervous with both of them resting their hands on them.  They pointed out some moose up ahead in some brush to the side of the trail.  Brian was able to spot the antlers but I wasn't.

Just about every half hour Brian made some kind of Lord of the Rings reference, whether it be about the beautiful countryside (which we felt background music from Jenna would have been fitting) or the climb to Kings Peak being likened to Sam and Frodo's journey through Mordor.

We got back to camp at 5:50 pm.  We pumped enough water to drink immediately and then more to cook.  During the after-dinner pumping I felt feverishly hot.  I went to bed as soon as possible.  At one point in the night I woke up and was sweating bullets but later woke up and was perfectly fine.


We were playing today by ear, our plans depending on if I still had a temperature and how Brian's legs/feet were doing.  We felt well enough to head on to Bear Lake.  We lazily packed up camp and got to Bear in time to unpack and cook lunch.

The weather was great.  I got on shorts and my water shows and walked out into the lake to clean myself off.  After pumping water, I just lay back in the hammock for hours enjoying the weather, the view, and the lack of civilization.  My legs ended up burning which just made them match my arms from the hike to Kings Peak.

Brian went on another edible/medicinal plant hunt.  He came back with Indian Paintbrush which is more medicinal and should only be eaten in small doses.  He didn't like it.

We burned a short fire and went to bed early so we could break camp early on Friday.


We gathered everything up and left camp at 7:45 am.  We made it back to the truck at 11:50 am to enjoy our can of peaches each.

We got back in Salt Lake tired, with chapped lips and running noses (both of our noses never stopped) ready to relax.  I'm surprised that I recovered enough that on Saturday I did the Herriman Stampede 4 mile race (I highly recommend it for people in the area, great price for the frills).


The Drive

We were unsure where we would be able to get gas but we were fine the whole way.  The Pilot at the east edge of Evanston had a good price and had Subway which was great to eat on Friday.

As for cell coverage, I had no service on T-Mobile once outside of the Salt Lake Valley.  I did get some  non-data roaming coverage in Wyoming.  Brian had coverage most of the way out to the trailhead on Sprint.

The Hike

We couldn't have asked for better campsites and the views from the trails were beautiful.  Brian titled this hike "Better Than Expected".

It would have been good to cut down the distance to Kings Peak but our choices were: camp at Dollar Lake (no fires), camp along the trail before Gunsight Pass (no or little water to pump), camp at Painter's Basin (it would have been rough getting full packs up Gunsight Pass and we suspect camping areas were on the opposite side of the basin but there were people heading out that way), or cut along the ridge from Gunsight Pass to Anderson Pass (no trail, loose rocks, and staying at altitude longer but like I said, some people do this).

168 ounces of water between two people wasn't enough to go from Island Lake to Kings Peak and back.

The Equipment

MSR Miniworks EX Microfilter: Already covered.

Nalgene Cantene (96 oz): Brian and I both had one of these and they worked great.  Brian used it as his primary water container while I used it around camp and instead used water bottles on the trail.  The screw top is compatible with the MSR filter.

Chinese Camp Stove with Ignition: This is compatible with the MSR fuel canisters, is cheap, and worked great.  I'm glad I did an equipment test before I left though.  The spark from the ignition came out too far from the fuel output so I had to bend it more towards the center.  Even with the adjustment, it sometimes took a couple of tries to light the fuel at camp.  This is much smaller and easier to pack than my old Coleman white-fuel stove with built-in refillable fuel tank.  The stove portion is even smaller than the Pocket Rockets.

Work Gloves: I just use cheap work gloves from Home Depot (is that even real leather?) to work the fire or handle my pot of boiling water.

Mountain House Dinners: Brian used meals from eFoods Direct.  My meals typically had less sodium (some Mountain House meals are low sodium and others aren't, so pay attention), were faster to cook (add boiling water to pouch rather than cooking in boiling water), required less cleaning (you eat out of the pouch), and cooled off to an edible temperature faster.  I used about half a MSR fuel canister while Brian used more than one.  I liked the Lasagna and Sweet and Sour Pork (high sodium).  The Pasta Primavera was ok but it had a lot of vegetables which is good on a hike like this.  The Chicken Alfredo and New Orleans Style Chicken with Rice were alright and I will probably skip them in the future in favor of even better meals.

Oatmeal Packets: I continue to find oatmeal packets (stored in a ziplock bag to avoid getting it damp from dew or rain) to work well for breakfast.  There is more cleanup than the Mountain House meals but still quick to cook.

Sawvivor:  Brian has this and I was impressed by how light it was and how well it worked at cutting wood for our campfires.

High Uinta Gear Trekking Pole: Traditionally I use a single pole made from a closet rod that has an eye hook on the end to help in putting bear bags up.  That didn't exactly fit in my luggage so I went with these low cost poles recommended to me by Brian.  They worked great.  I didn't find myself shortening them or relying on the shocks.  My static configuration worked well for me to keep my balance while I admired the surroundings, help me from falling when going downhill, and help me uphill by pulling myself up with my arms.  I'm unsure whether I'll use my closet rod or these once I'm home but I recommend them to others who don't have poles.

Thanks to Brian for looking over this and reminding me of some parts of the hike and providing some corrections.