The best thing about the Uintas, of course, is that I can "home base" myself with my sister-in-law and her family in Vernal. It's a couple of hours away from the Mirror Lake Hwy, since it's really on the wrong side of the range, but that makes it easier to get to her place after driving for two days, and easier to leave on my way back east to come home, so that's not necessarily bad news. However, I'm just feeling like I've done enough Uintas for the time being, even with the areas that I still really want to see. A Highline Trail thru-hike, or better yet, an alt-Highline Trail thru-hike is probably still in my future.
As a quick aside, by alt-Highline Trail, what I envision is starting the actual Highline at Hacking Lake, i.e. Mount Leidy, which is where the actual above treeline thrust of the Uintas starts. I'd follow the Highline Trail west, making a brief detour to summit Kings Peak. I'd then make another detour over Smiths Fork Pass and around Red Castle, before taking Wilson Pass above Upper Red Castle Lake to get back on the Highline Trail.
I'd also detour slightly to stay a night at Crater Lake before crossing Red Knob Pass. The section of the Highline Trail between Red Knob Pass and Deadhorse Pass is the only part of the trail where it is north of the main ridgeline of the Uintas, but I would take this opportunity to leave it for good, going instead over Allsop Pass above Dead Horse Lake, to see Allsop Lake. Then it's basin hopping and lots of poor, unmarked trails (or no trails, in some cases—or going around maybe in some cases too)—from Allsop Lake, you go up between Yard and North Yard (or just north of North Yard is another option) into the Priord and Norice Lake basin. Then over (or around) to Amethyst Lake and then to Middle Basin. Then another hop over the Hayden-Agassiz ridge to the Mirror Lake Highway, and technically I may walk a little tiny bit on the far Western end of the Highline Trail.
I thought about linking trails in the Western Uintas to complete what the Highline Trail does not; i.e., thru-hike the actual high points of the Uinta Mountains that are all up above treeline, ending at Yellow Pines Trail Head near Kamas. Most likely, though, if I still even feel like it after doing that, I'd just take a day or two day hiking various locations in the Western Uintas; the Lofty Lakes loop, Notch Mountain, Ibantek Lake, etc. Or maybe I actually even do that first as part of my altitude acclimatization activities. That's what I meant to do last year, and I did, although I kept it more low-key than I would this time.That said; that's some time in the future. I'm going to leave the Uintas behind for 2016 and probably 2017 as well, at least although maybe even considerably longer, before seriously attempting that one.
Where would I like to hike next? Well, starting in 2016 and for probably many years beyond, I'll have kids going to school in Rexburg, Idaho, which actually is extremely close to the northwestern Wyoming mountain majesties. The Tetons, the Absarokas, the Wind Rivers, the Beartooth (actually north of the border in Montana mostly) are all right there, as well as other, lesser known ranges. (As another aside, it's great to have gotten married and started having kids early—in my early twenties. I'm still in my early/mid 40s and next year I'll have two of my four kids in college with the Tetons on the horizon. I intend to not even think about scaling back my hiking until I'm staring 70 in the face. At least.) Because I'll have an excuse to get up there anyway, these are destinations that make some sense, even if they're actually a bit farther to reach than the Uintas.
On the other hand, there are tons of places to see in Colorado that are a little bit less far, or at least no farther than the Uintas. Although I'll have to "home base" in a hotel somewhere rather than with family (meaning two more nights of hotel and a hundred bucks at least more in the budget for the trip) that's not really a big deal, and the drive is still easy. I'm actually favoring Colorado destinations for the next coupla years or so. What specifically?
- The Four Pass Loop in the Maroon Bells—Snowmass Wilderness, with a short detour to maybe summit Snowmass. About 4-5 days tops.
- Blue Lakes area in the Mount Sneffels Wilderness. 2-3 days. I could add this to the Four Pass Loop.
- I'd also really love to explore the West Elks Wilderness, which has among the lowest visitation in all of the Colorado Rockies.
- In between Maroon Bells and the West Elks is the Raggeds Wilderness.
All of these are relatively close to each other, with Sneffels being the farthest from the other three (although not really by a ton) and located in different range. I'm kinda favoring doing the Four Pass Loop and Sneffels as one trip, and the Raggeds and West Elks as another trip another year.
There are, of course, many other beautiful locations in Colorado to explore, and I'd really love to do more than the small sampling I've done so far of the San Juans in particular. But I've got to start somewhere. Those are, for the time being, at the top of my list for trips for the next two years.
|Mount Sneffels Wilderness|