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.

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