Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Another small change

I've been giving it some more thought.  I am concerned that we're biting off more than we can chew with the notion of hiking up over Bald Mountain to Red Castle and then along the Highline Trail to Deadhorse Lake and back out again to the East Fork Blacks Fork Trailhead in the time frame that I've allocated.  So, I'm now thinking of breaking that up into two trips from two trailheads.

I'm assuming (for the time being) that I'll still do things in the same order I was going to do them initially; i.e., I'll arrive in Vernal on Sunday evening, drive out to Mirror Lake on Monday, and stay Monday on the Mirror Lake side of things.  Although there is an official campground at EFBF TH that it might be worthwhile to stay in on Monday night so I don't have to get up early and drive for two hours on terrible dirt roads before starting.  Better to do that Monday late afternoon after exploring the Mirror Lake environs a bit.

For what it's worth, I can reverse the order of the East and West trips, if desired.  But I don't believe that the "Further West" trip is likely to move.

East Trip
  • Tuesday:  Get up and hit the trail as early in the morning as is feasible.  Hike up over Bald Mountain.  Get to at least Lower Red Castle Lake by evening.  This is a fairly strenuous and long day.
  • Wednesday: Hike up to Upper Red Castle Lake and over "Wilson Pass".  Go over Squaw Pass as well; camp in the next area.
  • Thursday: Hike back to EFBF TH.  
West Trip
  • Thursday (after doing the earlier Thursday activities of the East Trip): Drive to West Fork Blacks Fork TH and make camp somewhere in Buck Pasture, or as far up the trail as I can feasibly get that evening.
  • Friday: Hike in to Dead Horse Lake.  Explore the Dead Horse Basin.
  • Saturday: Go over Red Knob Pass to see Crater Lake.  Hike back to the car by evening to drop my brother off. Not sure where to camp yet.  Christmas Meadows?  This is a potentially very long day and Friday is potentially short one.  I might be able to get over Red Knob to Crater Lake Friday night.  Maybe.  If it looks like I'm biting off more than I can chew, I can ax Crater Lake, although I hope not to need to do that.  I'd really like to see it.
An image I found of Crater Lake.  I highly desirable destination that might end up getting the ax.
Further West Trip
  • Sunday: Hike up to Ryder or McPheter Lake and set up camp in Middle Basin.  Explore as time allows.
  • Monday.  Continue exploring Middle Basin until about lunchtime or so.  Hike back to car and drive back to Vernal.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Farther afield...

Although I talk most about the Uintas, because that's where I'm going again this year, and because that's the easiest big, dramatically scenic mountain range for me to reach, I should point out that it's not the be all end all of my desired destinations.  Where else would I like to hike, if I had to make a short-list of about 10-12 destinations?

  • Although Washington State and the PNW region in general annoys me in many ways, I can't deny that there are phenomenally scenic places to visit.  Sadly, some of them, especially those closest to Seattle, are visited by hordes of granola, outdoorsy types, which means that you either have to deal with crowds, extremely limited permits, or both.  But there's a few places that I think would be worth the trouble:

  • My annoyance with the PNW is matched by my equal annoyance with California, but you also have to admit that the Sierra Nevadas are not for nothing known as one of the premiere backpacking destinations on the continent.  The John Muir trail, at about 220 miles, is the longest single expedition trail that I'm likely to ever attempt (something like the PCT or the AT is simply too long away from home to appeal to me) but for this list, I've focused on more modest destinations, many of them described by Peter Potterfield in his hiking books.
    • The Rae Lakes Loop in King's Canyon National Park, including a hop over to Kearsarge Basin.
    • The Yosemite Grand Traverse, a 60-mile epic that you can do after seeing the touristy parts of Yosemite Valley in the park.
    • An out-and-back or loop from Devil's Postpile up to Thousand Island Lake and thereabouts.  I'll note that the JMT actually covers much of the same territory that these hikes do.
  • Wyoming, on the other hand, is a state I can relate to, and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem area has some of the most highly desirable hikes on my bucket list.  Plus, unlike the west coast hikes, I can drive there in two days rather than three.
    • The Teton Crest Trail is the top destination here.  That said, it may get a bit crowded relative to some other destinations, such as:
    • The Shoal Falls Loop in the Gros Ventre (I'd probably do as a warm-up to Teton Crest.  Both together are little more than a week long.)
    • Lots of potential destinations in the Wind Rivers (Titcomb Basin, Cirque of the Towers, Indian Basin), the Absarokas, and the Beartooths that are high on my wish-list.  Not to mention within Yellowstone itself.  And that's just scratching the surface of mountain ranges in the area.  It may be a bit cheating to conflate all of them into a single bullet point for purposes of this list, but honestly, I haven't tried to prioritize them yet.  I want to do them all!
  • The Maroon Bells Circuit.  Have to do it.  Would prefer September, with bright yellow aspens, of course!
  • Lots to see still in Glacier National Park, although rather than extended backpacking trips, I'm more inclined to see this as day hikes from a base-camp in one of the lodges.  Next time I'm in the area, I want to add Waterton Lakes National Park just over the border in Canada while I'm at it.  I really enjoyed Glacier when I was there a few years ago, but it was a high snow year, I was there too early to even get to Logan Pass (too much snow) and we were only there a few days.  I barely scratched the surface of one of the most beautiful areas of the Rockies.
  • I went once to the Chicago Basin in the San Juans in southern Colorado as a teenager, and I have a strong desire to head back to that range.  I know that there are a lot of routes and destinations to choose from, and I haven't really researched much in the way of what I'd want to do yet.
  • Coyote Gulch is probably short enough that I could pair it with a trip to Chesler Park, or Fish Canyon nearby.
  • Rim to Rim to Rim hike of the Grand Canyon
  • Southern Rim hike of Big Bend National Park.  Plus, a bunch of day hikes to places like Grapevine Hills, Santa Elena and Boquillas canyons, etc.
  • Speaking of hiking in Texas, next time I visit my folks, I want to time it where I can go backpacking without it being ridiculously hot.  I'd love to see Palo Duro and Caprock Canyons State Parks.
  • I'm not that up on what's hot in Canada, but there are a few destinations in Jasper and Banff National Parks (and the other parks nearby) that have caught my interest:
    • Skoki Valley
    • Tonquin Valley
    • The Rockwall Trail in nearby Yoho and Kootenay National Parks.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Slight changes in plans

My brother and I both agree; we'd rather explore more and take our time rather than feel like we have a rushed itinerary.  That said, there is a lot of stuff smack dab in the middle of the High Uintas Wilderness that I want to see, and I want to maximize what I can do while I'm already hiking right there in the area.  So, I'm thinking of making some small alterations to the route.

On the first day (Mon.) we'll meet in the area, almost certainly near Ruth Lake.  He'll have his wife and kids with him, and they're fairly young.  Rather than really push for anything dramatic, we'll wander around Ruth Lake, maybe go up to Lofty Lake at the most while they're around.  Rather than reserve a campground, I'm looking at dispersed camping somewhere in the forest, but not in a "developed" campsite right there on Mirror Lake.  I don't know how long my sister-in-law and nieces and nephews are planning on hanging around, but we could potentially do most of the day.  I think it's more likely that a couple of hours will end up being their functional limit.  Some of my nieces and nephews are still quite small.

I'd like to think that we'll have time to pop down a few miles to the Bald Mountain trailhead and summit (assuming the weather cooperates) sometime Monday afternoon, but if not, that's OK.  If not, I might also think about hiking all the way to Ibantek Lake, just because all of the pictures I've seen of it look incredibly scenic.

But in general, the plan for Monday is to show up, see a few things, and take the day relatively easy, and acclimate ourselves to the altitude before really starting for real on Tuesday.

Early in the morning, we'll need to head out to the East Fork Blacks Fork trailhead.  I suspect, given that we'll have to drive slowly, that the drive could take up to two hours, so the sooner we get started the better.  From there, we have to climb almost immediately a fair bit to get up to the alpine tundra near Bald Mountain (the other Bald Mountain, no relation to the one near Mirror Lake Highway.)  And then we just walk on in to Red Castle Basin, set up camp, and enjoy the evening in the area.  So far, this is as planned.

The next day, we'll go up over the un-maintained and un-marked, but apparently not hard to follow trail that goes over the pass from Upper Red Castle Lake into the Oweep Basin just north of Porcupine Pass.  My original plan was to hoof it and see if we could get into the small basin between Red Knob Pass and Dead Horse Pass, maybe even staying the night at Dead Horse Lake.  I'm now thinking that that is a very long day of hiking, and that I'd really like to see Crater Lake, supposedly the deepest in the mountain range, which is maybe a mile off trail nearly due south of Red Knob Pass (but before crossing over it.)  I've also heard that there is decent camping potential there, so I'm thinking that's probably a more worthy goal for the second night.  A guy on summitpost.org made a list of the 8 top alpine scenery cirques in the Uintas.  This route would include three of them: Crater, Red Castle and Dead Horse.  If I had another day or two, I'd go for Alsop and Priord and knock off two more, but... oh, well.

The third day of "real" backpacking is a shorter one, with more exploration.  We go up over Red Knob Pass and explore the Dead Horse Lake area for as long as we want.  Considering that many believe it to be the most beautiful spot in the entire Uintas, I doubt I'll be in a big hurry to move on.  I'd like to climb to the top of Dead Horse Pass, not to go over it into the Rock Creek basin, but just to look and take some pictures from the high vantage point.  I'd like to find Ejod Lake.  I might even go up over the un-trailed pass and have a look at Alsop Lake.  Maybe.  Depending on the timing and the weather.  If we don't feel like moving on, we can spend the night right there near Dead Horse Lake, assuming that holiday weekend crowds aren't starting to show up already.  If they are, we can find a more remote and quieter place nearby, no doubt.

By Friday, we need to (probably) head back to the car, but I don't think we're in necessarily any hurry to get back.  We can stop through Lovenia Basin and gave at Wasatch Benchmark and Tokewanna.  I'm even tempted to take the West Fork Blacks Fork trail out because it's supposed to be much more scenic, but I'll probably have to cut cross country somewhere shortly after passing Tokewanna Peak.  Maybe we could even spend another night not far from Bob's Lake or something like that?  What I'd like to avoid is maximizing the hiking that needs to be done far to the north to get from the West Fork Blacks Fork trailhead to the East Fork Blacks Fork Trailhead where our car will be.  They look like they're at least 5-6 miles apart, and in lower elevation wooded and unscenic locations.  We can do it if we have to, and it might be worth it to come out near Buck Pasture and walk by Mount Beulah, etc.  But we'll see.  I'd rather find a way, if possible, to cut cross country up higher where we can get some views.  Maybe summiting Tokewanna is even desirable.  We'll see.

I'd also like to look into summiting Red Knob while we're in the area, because we'll be so freakin' close to the summit anyway when we go over Red Knob Pass.  It's hard to imagine that if we left out packs near the pass it would take much more than an hour or two tops to hit the summit and get back down from there.  In fact, I've heard from some that they've done it in considerably less time, but of course, we're a little out of practice at mountain travel.  And if we have to be in a hurry, we're missing the point; that's not our style.

Red Knob from near Red Knob pass, which is the saddle just to the right of the peak.  See the obvious trail cutting right through there that we'd also be hiking on.  Hop skip and a jump, as they say, from there to the summit.
There's still the question of what to do until Monday, when I need to be back in Vernal getting ready to hit the road for home.  My plans now have me kicking around further west in Middle or Amethyst basins or even west of Mirror Lake Highway.  But, of course, it's also a three-day holiday weekend, so that's.... less than ideal when it comes to crowds.  Maybe I'll call it a hike after that and go see something else not far away, like Goblin Valley or Fantasy Canyon, or something else that will be a change of pace from the Uintas.  Or maybe I'll just brave the crowds, which after all maybe I'm fearing more than I need to, and stick with my original plan of seeing Middle Basin and/or Amethyst Basin for a few days.  Either way, I'll probably want to be back in my car and on the road by lunch time more or less on Monday, so I can have time to do some scenic driving through the Flaming Gorge NRA on my way back to Vernal and not be in a hurry.