Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Plan™ in maps

Although I'm always talking about how my plans are subject to change, even on the fly, if necessary--and that such is actually an essential backpacking skill--that doesn't mean that I don't have plans or try to stick to them.  Here's the plan, as outlined in yesterday's post, in maps.  I've screenshotted the areas on Google Maps in Google Earth view, and hand-drawn an approximation of my route on the trail for each day.

Enjoy!  Hopefully this will be interesting, and hopefully it will more or less correspond with what I actually end up doing.  The maps as shown have more snow than I expect to see on the ground when I'm there in more than eight weeks.  This is a little unfortunate, because it makes seeing the route and the features that I'll pass through more difficult.  But still; it's what we've got.  Hopefully, when I've got actuals (i.e., after the fact) then I can redraw this and by then the satellite images will be up to date and mostly snow free.

Day 0
Show up on Mirror Lake Highway.  The backpacking itself starts the next day, but I want to get me and my son acclimated to the altitude.  We'll drive around, look at the scenery, park at the Bald Mountain Trailhead and hike up the trail the Bald Mountain summit.
Bald Mountain summit trail
It is not the plan that this be a big day with lots of stuff going on.  In fact, I'll quite deliberately keep it light.  After seeing some sights, taking pictures, and mostly driving around (other than the Bald Mountain excursion, which shouldn't take more than an hour or two tops) we'll call it a night fairly early, a little further up the road at the East Fork Bear River campground
Campground for the first night
Day 1
After a (hopefully) early start, I've got probably a good hour or two of driving further east into the wilderness on Forest Road 0058 and then Forest Road 0063 to get to the East Fork Blacks Fork Trailhead, which is the start (and finish) of my big backpacking loop.  Once we park and get started, the first day we'll take the Bald Mountain Trail (no relation to the other Bald Mountain from Day 0) and go up and over the shoulder of Bald Mountain.  Although I probably won't technically hit the summit, I'm going to count it anyway, because it's a big, broad, flat plateau of a summit, and I'll be up and over it for a considerable distance.  After a good two miles of Bald Mountain summit, in fact, we'll finally drop back into the basin and make for Lower Red Castle Lake, where we'll set up camp.

I'd like to think that we'll still have enough gas for some exploring up to Red Castle Lake and Upper Red Castle Lake before it gets dark, but we'll see.  It's a good 9 mile hike, more or less, with over 2,500 feet of elevation gain, most of that near the beginning of the hike to get up and over the Bald Mountain ridge.  We may be too tired, or it may be too late.
Route on the first day, up and over Bald Mountain to Lower Red Castle Lake.  Dotted line is (hopefully) additional exploring after camp is set up at LRCL.
Day 2

Although I may punt and just go past Red Castle and Upper Red Castle Lakes over Wilson pass to get to the south side of the main ridge of the Uintas, I'd like to do a little bit more scenic and longer route on Day 2.  The plan is to go back just a bit to the junction with the Smith's Fork trail and then go south on the east side of Red Castle, passing East Red Castle Lake and Smith's Fork Lake.  Then I'd have to cross over Smith's Fork Pass and from there find the junction with the Highline Trail (actually called the Ashley Forest Trail on my map at this point, but either way it's trail 0025.)  There's another high pass, Tungsten Pass, and then I enter the Garfield Basin, a high alpine tundra basin, with little to no trees.  This isn't going to be prime camping territory, given the lack of shelter from wind or storms, but I know plenty of folks have camped at North Star Lake before, so in a pinch, I'd camp near there.  Ideally, I'd press on even further, but this is going to be a long and hard day as it is, so I'm keeping my options open.  Anywhere between North Star Lake and Squaw Lake after yet another high pass (Porcupine Pass) is where I'll stop, in the area marked with the dashed line.  Although this day will be long, whatever I can accomplish on Day 2 means ground I don't have to cover on Day 3.  It will probably be better to suck it up on Day 2 if it's really reasonable, and get over Porcupine Pass, if I can.
Day 2 showing a lot of variability in terms of where we stop.
As an aside, as you can see from the map, we'll get a nice broadside view of Kings Peak and South Kings Peak, the highest and second highest mountains in the state on the way to Tungsten Pass.

Day 3

This day will be better if I make more miles on Day 2, but either way, I pass along Trail 0025 near the treeline on the south side of the main ridge of the Uintas for several miles heading towards the Lovenia group of big 13ers.  At the end of this section is Red Knob Pass, but before I get to that, I'll take a turn off trail to head for Explorer Peak, wherein is nestled the deepest lake in the Uintas, Crater Lake, which shows as totally frozen in this image, sadly (you can see a stark line where they have less up to date images, with more snow on them in this screenshot of the map.)  I'd like to arrive at Crater Lake with plenty of time to enjoy the ambiance before the sun starts getting low behind the Explorer Peak ridge, but I'll do what I have to.  I won't need to be in a big hurry on Day 4, so I can count on sleeping in a bit after this day is over.
To Crater Lake
Day 4

Sadly, the maps are considerably worse this far west, since they still show tons of snow (which won't be on the ground much at all when I'm there in eight weeks) so my hand-drawn lines of travel are a bit more shaky, and it's hard to even recognize exactly what the features I'm looking at are.

When I pack up camp at Crater Lake, I'll go up and over Red Knob Pass.  If the weather looks good, we might even hit up Red Knob itself as a summit opportunity (with that and the two Balds, I'm counting three summits on this trip, although none of the really iconic ones.)  From there, it's a relatively short hike (about two miles) to our campground for the night at Dead Horse Lake.  Because of the relative shortness of the day, like I said, I won't mind sleeping in, and I hope to have time to summit Red Knob.  Plus, since we're a few days in by now, we might be starting to tire.  It'll be nice to have a relaxed day without lots of ground to cover.  Plus, by all accounts (and judging from the photos I've seen) the Dead Horse area is one of the most dramatically scenic and beautiful in the entire Uintas.
Again; sorry about all of the snow.  It's hard to even recognize Dead Horse Lake from this image.  I think my line might go a few hundred yards out over the surface.
Day 5

For Day 5, I don't even pack up the tent; we just load up our waistpacks with some water, some food and do some exploring.  I want to climb up to the summit of Dead Horse Pass and cross over it to go see Reconnaissance Lake in the upper NE Rock Creek Basin, have lunch there and then come back again.  If there's still time and we still feel like it, we can walk around some more in the Dead Horse area, find Lake Ejod, maybe even look over the pass into Allsop (although I'm not counting on this), but mostly just taking it a bit easier and not even putting our packs on at all.
Same map as above, but with a packless route over Dead Horse Pass.  This is an out and back; we'll follow the same route back again.
Day 6

Now we pack up and go back over Red Knob Pass, but we stay on the Red Knob Trail and go into the Lovenia group.  I count seven pass summits on this hike, although two of them are done two ways--Smiths Fork Pass, Tungsten Pass, Porcupine Pass, Red Knob Pass (westbound), Dead Horse Pass (westbound), Dead Horse Pass (eastbound) and Red Knob Pass (eastbound).  Between that and (hopefully) three summits, my son and I can definitely say that we got the mountain hiking experience; we didn't just keep to lower basin floor trails in the forest, by any means.  Ideally, I'd also climb up to the summits (but not go over) Wilson Pass and maybe even Allsop Pass.

After passing between Lovenia and "Wasatch BM" I'll ditch the trail again and camp in the small cirque basin or bight that separates "Wasatch BM", "NW Wasatch" and Tokewanna Peaks.  This shouldn't be a long day either, but if I've got a fair bit of off-trail exploring, I might not make great time anyway.
Back over Red Knob Pass, but up to the Tokewanna cirque basin.
Day 7

Finally, on the last day, we don't do anything special other than get back on the trail and hike to the car.  It'll be several miles, so it's not like we'll make it before mid-afternoon, I'd guess, but still.  I hope to have time to pass through Sheep Canyon on the way back to Vernal without feeling rushed, and then have time to shower, change and go eat dinner at Cafe Rio in town, get a good night's sleep in a house again, and then we hit the road back for home after this.

And again; this is the proposed plan.  There are a few shortcuts baked into the plan, especially on Day 2, and if for whatever reason I'm running behind schedule, I can also ditch day 5's plans and use that day to catch up if needed.
Last day; the car is parked at the northeast endpoint of the red line.
It's a bit tricky measuring trail distances on a map, because you can only approximate with your scale ruler and trying to make as many turns in your measurement as possible to accommodate the fact that trails aren't straight lines.  But my estimates are as follows:

  • Day 0: 2 miles hiked, no packs.
  • Day 1: 9 miles backpacked, 3-4 miles hiked after setting up camp.  That doesn't seem like a lot, but since I probably can't actually put boot to trail until 8-9 AM, and I have a lot of elevation to gain, it'll be a big day even with relatively low mileage.
  • Day 2: Depending on where I stop, between 7½ and almost 13 miles.  Yikes on the longer of those estimates!
  • Day 3: 8 miles at the shortest, but if I have to take miles off of day 2, it could be up to 13 miles or even a bit more too.  Ideally maybe I should find a place to split the difference; 7½ to 8 mile days sound a bit on the soft side (although with three passes, maybe not) and 13 sounds a bit on the long side.  The total of both days is about 21 miles; can I get a more even split at about 11 miles/day and find a good camping spot in between?  There do look to be some lakes on either side of Porcupine Pass that could make adequate camping spots with access to water to refill our bottles.  We'll see.  Either way, Days 2 and 3 are likely to be the hardest by far.
  • Day 4: I only measure 5 to 5½ miles here.  Granted, a substantial chunk of that is off trail, there's a pass to summit, and maybe even a peak, but this is the first easy day since Day 0.
  • Day 5: Not really backpacking, but still walking 5 miles one-way to Reconnaissance Lake, and another 5 miles back.  
  • Day 6: I count about 7 miles, two of which are off trail.
  • Day 7: 10 miles, two of which is off trail.
Grand total rough estimate of mileage? 68.5!  

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