My hope was to go to the Sawtooths with a local friend of mine who grew up in Idaho and hiked the region as a teenager himself. Due to vacation constraints, it looks like it won't happen. I'll have to do my own trip, and I won't be able to do it exactly when I'd like to--I'll most likely have to go early in July (actually starting in the last few days of June.) My hope is that snowfall at the end of the season will be low, but even if it's average, I'll still be pretty good. In fact, I'll get to see mountains with snow on them--not blanketing them, but providing a patchwork, dramatic contrast in colors with rocks and patches of snow. I'm actually thinking that this might be a great time to go, but of course, it depends on the snow level at the end of the season, which I can't predict until we get to June, really.
Due to the same constraints that made the Uintas convenient last year, I'll probably go there again. But I want to do them a little bit differently. See different areas, and accomplish a few of the things that I ended up writing off last time. And, this time around, I'd like to bring one of my sons; Alex will turn 14 at the very end of the summer (actually it's extremely early in the autumn, but close enough) so he's big and capable enough to carry his own pack and walk all day, scramble up passes and maybe even a few peaks, and whatnot.
Here's my draft itinerary:
- First day I'll arrive around mid-day on the Mirror Lake. Get my week-long car pass and a campsite near Bald Mountain in the "official" camping area, rather than in the wilderness per se. Climb Bald Mountain to the summit (there's a trail that goes from a parking area on the flanks right up to the summit block.)
- Move the car early in the morning to the Highline Trail parking area and plunge into the wilderness area. Walk to Naturalist, go farther than I did previously, and set up camp in one of the secluded areas near Faxon Lake up on the bench. Depending on the time, do some exploring of Naturalist. If it's late, I'll save that for the next day. My goal is to spend two nights in the same campsite and wander in the basin for at least a full day. Might summit Agassiz and/or Spread Eagle Peaks, but if I don't, I'll at least get up on the ridge between them so I can see them up close, look down over Naturalist Basin, and then turn around and look out over Middle Basin.
- Pack up and head back to the car. From this point on, I have a few options. If I can squeeze it in, I'd like to do one of the following three minor trips:
- Actually, the first option doesn't mean going to the car, it means leaving Naturalist Basin and going over Rocky Sea Pass into the Rock Creek Basin. Get there and set up camp. Spend an entire day exploring the Rocky Creek Basin, and then a second night in the same campsite. Then pack up and head to the car.
- Take the East Fork Bear River trailhead. There's a fork in the trail, and I've love to explore either of them for two nights--the west fork goes between Lamotte on the west and The Cathedral on the east, where the east form puts the Cathedral on the west and the Beulah/Allsop ridge on the east, and goes to Yard Peak.
- Take the East Fork Blacks Fork trailhead, and head southwest to the Red Knob basin, with Wasatch Peak, Red Knob Peak and Mount Lovenia. Climb up to Red Knob Pass and look over the high views into the basin beyond. Again; this would be a two night sub-trip.
- My last subtrip is extremely ambitious. I might end up scaling it back. The most ambitious version of the trip looks like this:
- Park (again) at East Fork Blacks Fork (a prime motivator for doing the third of the three options listed above. Plus, it's outside of the fee use area, so if I'm bumping up on the timing of my pass, I can park here where no pass is required) and head east to Bald Mountain (no relation to the other Bald Mountain mentioned above.) From here, try to get to Red Castle basin for the night, and enjoy the scenery around Red Castle. The next day, head up over Smiths Fork Pass, connect with the Highline Trail, and walk by King's Peak to camp in Henry's Fork Basin near King's Peak. I probably won't have time to summit this day, so I'll do it the next morning, then pack up and head back. Can I hoof it all the way to the car and get back to Vernal in an afternoon? That might be iffy (I told you this was the ambitious plan) so I may need to spend another night in Henry's Fork Basin to pull this off.
- The less ambitious plan is to not try to squeeze Red Castle and King's Peak slash Henry's Fork Basin into one trip, and just do one of the two of them. This is really more realistic and more likely. But we'll see. I can decide on the fly, really, if I need to. If I do the latter, I'd probably move the car even further east to the China Meadows or Henry's Fork trailhead. The latter might not be desirable if I'm in the middle of the July 4th 3-day weekend, as it'll be slammed with weekender summitting folks. However, it's more likely by now that I'll be leaving the weekend and heading into the first days of the next week. If so, then I should have much lighter crowds. The Henry's Fork Basin and route to King's Peak itself is one of the few places in the Uintas that regular has a big crowd, although Four Lakes, Naturalist and a few other basins can occasionally get a few folks as well.
Here's a few images of some of these destinations. Just for inspiration.
|Ostler Peak with a little snow.|
|Mount Agassiz and McPheters Lake with some lingering snow (how much snow I'd like to still see when I go, frankly.)|
|Henry's Fork Basin with King's Peak as the small pyramid in the background in the center.|
|View to the right of the picture above, also in Henry's Fork Basin.|
|Self-explanatory. The same view as above, but closer up and later in the year, with all snow melted away.|
|A very late season approach to King's Peak, with a light dusting of new September snow.|
|Red Castle, with all the surrounding mountains lost to perspective, making it look like a lone structure. Beautiful.|
|Red Knob Pass and the basin.|
|Yard Peak from high on the slopes.|