Monday, May 4, 2015

More changes

As you can see, my itinerary does not stay very solid.  The latest over the weekend; my brother will not be able to join me after all, but my 13 year old son is for sure in (instead of maybe in, as he has been for months now.)  Although I'm very disappointed not to have my brother along for the hike, because our schedules didn't completely align, I can now think of itineraries without the constraint of getting him back to the car on time, which potentially opens me up to consider a different approach than I've had on my mind for the last several months.

So, here's a few fundamentals:

  • The Red Castle area has been on my list since last year, when it got cut.  I'd really like to do that.
  • The Dead Horse Lake area has quickly risen to the top slot of desirable locations in the Uintas.
  • I'll be there, at least part of the time, over the July 4th weekend, so I need to expect some crowds, especially near the end of my trip.
  • I can't hit the ground running and expect it to go well.  Not only am I going to have to drive at least a few hours from my "home base" in Vernal to the Trailheads for those two trails (East Fork Blacks Fork and West Fork Blacks Fork respectively) meaning I'll either have to start at a crazy early time of the morning with driving, or get a later start hiking than I'd like) but my first day at elevation probably doesn't want to be a major, hard hike with a lot of elevation gain.
These fundamentals create a dilemma of sorts where I'll have to accept a compromise of fundamentals.  To whit:
  • If I go to the Dead Horse area first, that means that I'll be doing Red Castle over the holiday, and will have to deal with crowds.
  • If I do Red Castle first, I might minimize my exposure to crowds (and I'm making the possibly unwarranted assumption that Dead Horse won't also have crowds here) but I'll have to have an unreasonably difficult first day of backpacking to get up over Bald Mountain and to Lower Red Castle Lake at a decent time of evening.  Major altitude sickness is sure to follow, making for a miserable day.
  • If I cut Red Castle completely from my itinerary and focus on less crowded areas that I can reach from West Fork Blacks Fork, I can do that, but then Red Castle gets missed yet again.

Part of my problem is that sheer number of destinations I want to see.  My plan was to base-camp at Dead Horse Lake and spend at least three days there; arriving in the evening on Monday, seeing Reconnaissance Lake over the pass in Rock Creek Basin the next day, seeing Crater Lake over Red Knob Pass on Wednesday, and hiking on Thursday (possibly) over the ridge/pass to Allsop Lake and exploring that area.  Friday has me leaving the Dead Horse area and coming back to the car, where I'd drive it to East Fork Blacks Fork and spend the night near the trailhead.  Saturday I'd hike over Bald Mountain Ridge to Lower Red Castle Lake, spending a no-doubt busy holiday weekend with however many folks make it to the area.  Sunday, I'd go over Wilson Pass to escape the crowds, and then go back over Squaw Pass to spend the night in the southern Little East Fork basin.  Monday I'm back at the car, hopefully early enough that I can drive to the other Bald Mountain on the Mirror Lake Highway and summit it before heading back to Vernal.

Does that seem like a really full agenda that has me in a potentially busy part of the range on one of the busiest days of the year?  Yes, yes it does.

So I'm not sure exactly how, at this point, to remedy that.  I'll probably just have to suck it up and deal with the crowds, or suck it up and have a hard first day getting to Red Castle.  I'm also a little nervous about the Allsop Lake day.  I'm also thinking of resurrecting my original idea of a bigger loop hike without base-camping at all--although in that case, I'm cautious of setting myself for really big, miserable days.

Anyway, with this new information about my brother's availability then I've got decisions to make that I didn't have a couple of days ago.

I'm actually fairly strongly inclined to reintroduce some form of my original loop hike plan, which now I can stretch out to cover the entirety (or nearly so) of my hiking time.  Stretching it out like that means that I don't have to deal with the really killer big-mile, big elevation days that scared me away from the itinerary the first time, since I can slow down and take more time to cover the same distance.  Here's a proposed altered itinerary of this plan:
  • Spend Monday getting to the area, summit Bald Mountain (the western one on Mirror Lake Highway) and spend the night in a campground nearby.  In fact, I'm thinking it'd be nice to camp somewhere like Bear River Snowpark, which would put me part of the way on the road towards EFBF, at the same price.
  • Early Tuesday, drive to EFBF Trailhead.  Hike to Lower Red Castle Lake, and explore the Red Castle Basin in the evening--hopefully I have time to climb up Wilson Pass (without our packs) or at the very least climb to Upper Red Castle Lake.
  • On Wednesday, go around the horn to Smith Fork's Pass via East Red Castle Lake and Smith's Fork Lake.  Go over Smith's Fork Pass, around the next horn to go over Tungsten Pass, and stay the night somewhere in the Garfield Basin.  If I'm doing good on time, go over Porcupine Pass too and set up camp near one of the lakes near there.  Maybe I could even make it to the treeline south of Squaw Pass.  The more ambitious route could be a hard day (three passes and lots of miles! but I don't have any need to push it unless I really feel like it.  Whatever pushing I do do, however, improves Thursday.  And then by Friday, I'm into more relaxed days again.
  • As an aside, I can vary this somewhat.  If I get to Lower Red Castle Lake late, rather than going around to the east side, I can skip that section and just hike out past Red Castle Lake and Upper Red Castle Lake, and take the Wilson Pass to to the Oweep Basin, rather than going around through Garfield.  This is surely shorter and it's nice to have in my back pocket if we feel like it, but I'm wary of making too many cuts until I see how things are going.
  • On Thursday, take the Highline Trail around Lambert Meadow and Mount Lovenia.  Before crossing Red Knob Pass, head towards Crater Lake, where I'll set up for the night.
  • On Friday, cross Red Knob Pass and set up at Dead Horse Lake.  This will be my base-camp scenario here.  If this is a shorter day, that's OK.  In fact, by this point, it'll be highly desirable, I think.  We'll be tired!
  • On Saturday, explore the area.  Climb up Dead Horse Pass, at least, and depending on the weather and how we're feeling, maybe go all the way to Reconnaissance Lake in the Rock Creek Basin.  Head back to the same site for camp.  In fact, I wouldn't actually decamp at all.
  • On Sunday, decamp and head back across Red Knob Pass to the East Fork Blacks Fork Trail.  I might hop off the trail and explore the meadows around Tokewanna and Wasatch Benchmark rather than sticking to the trail.  Heck, there's even a small lake or two in this "bight" of the ridge where I could set up the tent.
There are also creeks/streams, at least on my map, going up into the meadowy bight shown there, right in the shadow of the cliff-face, where I could camp and have ready access to water.
  • On Monday, have a lazy morning getting up late, taking down camp, and making it back to the car.  See a few sights on the way back, like Sheep Creek Canyon in the Flaming Gorge area, etc.  Back in Vernal on Monday afternoon in time to shower, change, and go out to eat.  Cafe Rio, here we come!
I actually think I'm liking that itinerary quite a bit.  It's relatively relaxed, but it allows me to see a lot of stuff, although I do have to cut a few areas that I was really interested in seeing--Allsop Lake for sure, and maybe Reconnaissance Lake too, not to mention the Buck Pasture approach to Dead Horse.  However, to make up for that, I can see the eastern bight of the Wasatch/Tokewanna ridge, because I'll be hiking right through there anyway, and I can nab the Smith's Fork Basin as a freebie on my way out of Red Castle; it's only a couple of miles out of the way, and it's worth it to take an hour or two to pass through the area when it's so close.  Again, not that I wouldn't rather have my brother able to come, but now that he's not, I can look at routes that are completely uninterrupted through the entire time that I have available to hike.

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