Monday, March 24, 2014

It's decided: High Uintas

Well, I've decided on potential summertime trips--to be taken in very late June, straddling the first week of July, most likely.  Although there's a chance up to two of my sons might be involved, and a very slight chance that some friend or one of my brothers might join, most likely it will just be me by myself and on my own.  I like the Uintas for this trip for a few reasons:
  • I've been there before.  Sure, it was 25 years ago, and I admit that I wasn't paying much attention to the details back then (nor would I remember them if I had been) but there's a sense of familiarity that seems nice for my first foray into a big backpacking trip in many years.  It gives me a chance to do something big and yet a bit familiar, which is marginally less intimidating than heading out across the country in a place I've never been before.
  • Although the High Uintas wilderness area is big and lonely, it somehow seems a bit tamer than some of my other options; like the Yellowstone area, for instance, which is not tame at all, except in the highly popular tourist zones.  In spite of this, it is pretty lonely--solitude is there for the having in the High Uintas.
  • I like Utah.  I have family I can stay with on the ends of the trip, even.  Plus, I really would like to climb to the summit of Timpanogos in the nearby Wasatches, and I could do that as a warm-up to acclimate to the altitude and stuff before heading into the Uintas itself.  Timp is no slouch in terms of summiting, but the summit elevation is still under 12k feet.  Ever since my teenage hike into the Uintas, I've been drawn to the area, though.  I don't even know where we went on that hike, which is curious.
  • The place is big.  I'm going to be struggling to narrow my options down to something doable, and yet I'll still have highly desireable destinations left over--with half a dozen trips into the Uintas, I'd still only scratch the surface.
I'm thinking of taking at least ten days off work, but maybe more.  With two days to drive to the area and two days to drive back, even that would only give me six days to be in the mountains.  I'd like to see if it's possible to pump that up to ten days by making it a full two weeks.  Assuming I can arrange my schedule to accomodate that, then I've got two days to drive followed by a day to do Timp, six to seven days to do the Uintas, a day to recover and two more days to drive back home.  I'm looking at possible routes assuming that schedule, or something similar.  I may be disappointed in my ability to take that much time off, though--ten days total, with only five to six in the mountains, may be more doable.  But I'll cross the bridge in the next few weeks of planning.  I'm cognizant of the fact that I'm older than I was last time I really did this, and significantly heavier--as a 160 lbs. (roughly) teenager, my ability to do this was much better than my current state--a 235 lbs. 42 year old.  I imagine I'll come back out of the mountains noticably lighter, but that that will force my hand a bit in terms of taking it a little easy.  I don't want to be too ambitious and plan something that I can't actually pull off, either.  My ability to get serious about training in the time left, and lose a bunch of weight and get really good at climbing stairs or something, is somewhat limited, but I'm going to see what I can do...

OK, with those caveats in mind, what am I thinking?  I'd actually like to, if possible, make two backpacking trips out of it, and see two areas of the Uintas.  I'd like to do a two nights, two and a half to three day trip in the Central Uintas, and summit King's Peak.  I'd come in from the Henry's Fork Trailhead, go over Gunsight Pass and Anderson Pass, bag the peak, and then continue Eastward from Anderson on the Highline Trail to go into the Smiths Fork Basin.  I could pass iconic Red Castle Peak this way.  Continuing north, the trails will take me either to the China Meadows Trailhead, or there appears to be a cut-off trail that will take me back to Henry's Fork.  Blam!  Don't need shuttling or hitchiking to get back to my car.  Perfect.  I'd like to do this during the week, because King's Peak, as the highest point in the state, is a major draw.  Because it's a weekend sized trip, the weekends can get a bit crowded.  A weekday trip should help, and then the detour into Smith's Fork Basin should provide a bit more solitude as well.

With up to four additional days, I've got a lot of options for the rest of the trip, and that's where I'm not sure what, yet, I want to do.  Peter Potterfield's suggestion, in Classic Hikes of North America, is to come into the range from the Highline Trailhead far to the west.  You take the Highline Trail until it turns off to Naturalist Basin, and then explore that for a day or so.  Then hop back on the Highline Trail (which becomes a bit of a hikers' version of an expressway, according to his scheme) over Rocky Sea Pass to explore massive Rock Creek Basin.  He also suggests spending a few days exploring this basin.  The really adventurous could then, of course, continue on over Dead Horse Pass and have a look around West Fork Blacks Fork Basin.  If I were able to get a shuttle, I could hike up north out of this basin to the West Fork Blacks Fork trailhead, even.  More likely, I'd cut my trip short of the Dead Horse Pass and just turn around and head back to my car.  And, of course, I'd love to go even a little further... to Red Knob Pass, and see Mount Lovenia, and others.  But again; let's not get too ambitious the first time out.  If I go this route, I'll almost certainly confine my trip to the Naturalist and Rocky Creek Basins.  I only have, at best, four days to do all this, unless I get rid of my Timp day or cut short my Kings Peak trip, after all.  And, as I said, I'm older, fatter, and out of practice.

But wait!  There are, of course, lots of other attractive options.  Going in via the Christmas Meadows trailhead and exploring the West Basin, Middle Basin and Amythest Basins looks really attractive.  It may be possible to crest a pass off-trail from there into Naturalist Basin, but I need to do some research to confirm that first.  If not, it's still an attractive option on its own.  The East Fork Bear River Trailhead, as well as offering access to the Scout camp in the area, could send me by Lamotte Peak, Yard Peak, Mount Beulah and The Cathedral--all scenic gems of the northwestern Uintas in the Priord and Allsop basins.

Realistically, I could decide almost on the fly at the last minute, but I'd like to not.  I'm leaning a little towards the Naturalist/Rocky Creek route, just because it's so well described and I like the notion of not venturing too far off of well-described routes for my first outlay in so long.  But the other routes are pretty clearly described and "well trailed" as well, by all accounts.

It's nice to have choices...

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