Thursday, October 17, 2013

Hiking destinations

Julie (my wife) seems surprised that I'm actually quite interested in "rehiking" or exploring areas that I've already been.  With all of the great destinations still to see--and frankly, at my age--shouldn't I be prioritizing places that I haven't been, she thinks?  Why do you want to go back to the Uintas, for instance (a place I hiked as a teenger--nearly twenty-five years ago, shortly after it got its official wilderness designation) or the San Juans (another place I hiked as a teenager--summited Sunlight Peak, far in the backcountry).  Why do I want to hike Coyote Gulch again (my third big teenaged destination.)  Why go back to Glacier when I was there a few years ago, or Big Bend?  Or even the Grand Canyon?  You've seen that before (even if you didn't really hike it per se.)

Usually when she asks me this, I ask her how many times has she been to DisneyWorld again?  And are you interested in going back to Hawai'i?

The reality is that I'll never see everything I want to.  If I could somehow spend the entire mountain hiking season--July, August and September in most years, on the trails, I might possibly see most of the places I want to see in the US mountain ranges in the next thirty years or so--by which point I'll have cracked into my 70s and should seriously consider whether I'm still up to backcountry hiking.  I could book-end that with two months on either end seeing desert and other lower-eleveation destinations (like the Black Hills, for instance).  And then in the dead of winter for North America, I could take three more months to explore the Patagonian Andes or New Zealand's Southern Alps.  And spending ¾ of the year hiking for thirty years straight might get me to see almost everything that I really want to.  Maybe.  But clearly it's impractible for every other reason.

But when I went on my earlier trips, why wouldn't they have whet my appetite to see more?  When I was in Coyote Gulch, the Uintas and even the Needles in the San Juans, I was too young and dumb to appreciate what I was doing, really, or even pay very close attention to it (I actually had to write my old youth leaders to figure out where we had even gone.)  And I didn't see everything.  How can I say I've "done" the Uintas when I haven't even been to King's Peak or Mount Agassiz, for example?  How can I say that I've "done" Glacier when I couldn't even get to the Logan's Peak area because we went in late June and it had been a high snowfall year--the road was closed!  That's the most iconic part of the entire experience, and I couldn't do it!  How can I say that I've done the Grand Canyon when we spent an afternoon on the main road in June looking over the overlooks of the South Rim, and I never even hiked a single foot of a single trail?  The same can be said for every national park or other major scenic destination I've been to--what I did do there merely made me want to go back and do more of it even more strongly.  I didn't ever feel like I satisfactorily "saw it all" and was done with the location forever.  In fact, I specifically feel like I was missing some of the key elements of doing that location again (this is perhaps less true of the San Juan's trip.  But it was so cool I'd like to do it again anyway.)

Where I am right now, the Uintas are high on my list of places to go.  Not only is it a "relatively tame" place, where I think I could get away with going even with my lack of recent experience and not get in too much trouble, but I kind of feel a sense of kinship to the place somehow--probably simply because it's in Utah.  It's also immune from government shut-down shenanigans and whatnot, since it's not a national park, can't really be closed, and doesn't require a fee or anything other than a self-registration at unmanned trailheads to enter anyway.  Perfect location for me, I can probably be shuttled by friends and/or family to the trailhead, and it's a little off the beaten path compared to something like the High Sierras or the Alpine Lakes Wilderness or something like that.

Here's a few pictures of places I'd like to go in the High Uintas Wilderness:


  1. When I lived in Utah we used to go up to the Uintas a couple times a summer, many of the areas are very remote and difficult to get to, but surprisingly many other areas are quite accessible some beautiful lakes and hiking trails are literally right off the road if you take the Mirror Lake Highways. One of the most beautiful valleys in the world in my opinion is Christmas Meadows, accessible via a grated dirt road from the highway, which also has a nice campground, gorgeous mountain vistas and a brisk mountain stream snaking through the middle of the valley.

  2. I'm actually not put off by the remoteness. I've read a few accounts of folks hiking the Highline Trail from out near Vernal almost all the way to the edge of the Wasatches--about 80s miles and a good 7 days or so on the trail. I'm probably not really interested in doing quite that much walking, but a good 2-3 days of plenty of walking just to get to a destination doesn't phase me too much. In fact, half of the places I want to see require that. You can't get somewhere like Thousand Island Lake or Cirque of the Towers without a fair bit of walking and overnighting in the backcountry either.

    The Mirror Lake--that's on the west side of the mountains, right? I'd really like to do a King's Peak summit which typically heads out of Mountain View, WY. And I'd like to see the Naturalist Basin and some of the other areas nearby--where I think we did our High Aventure one year. I should message Bob Hoskisson and ask him where we went exactly.

  3. Yeah the mirror lake highway is kind of a loop that starts in Kamas, UT and eventually dumps out in Evanston, WY. It's the easiest and most accessible way to experience the Uintas and it is really worth the drive, there are quite a few scenic stops: various waterfalls, mountain lookouts etc. and some great lakes to stop at. Let me know if you plan on going, I still kind of remember some of the places we used to go to. Although, after being at Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, and the Wasatch mts. you may be kind of jaded and looking to see something different. We're planning on being up there the week after 4th of July, hopefully you'll still be up there otherwise we may adjust our trip itinerary.

  4. Yeah, I don't know how much Uintas we'll get to see. By the time we're done with Timp and the Y and a few Wasatch points, we'll be ready to change our tune a bit and see Goblin Valley (before some well-meaning but foolish Scout leaders topple anymore hoodoos!) and the Moab area. But I'll call you as our plans start firming up and we get the dates for our trip worked out.

  5. More likely, I'll come back another year and hike to King's Peak and maybe Naturalist Basin or something. Do a 4-5 or so day backpacking jaunt in the Uintas.