Monday, January 25, 2016

Western Uintas exploration

I like planning trips almost as much as I like taking them.

Well, not really... taking them is certainly better, but planning them is fun, and certainly easier, so I plan a lot of trips that I may or may not end up ever taking.  The following is a plan for me and (at least one of) my boys, or at least its designed that way.  It explores some of the area west of the Mirror Lake Highway in the Uintas, and then goes back to Naturalist Basin (which I visited a year and a half ago) allowing me to see the area again, and do a better job than I did last time of exploring the area.

It's not a complicated or a long trip—in fact, it only has four nights out.  By mid-, or at worst late afternoon on Day 5, I'd be pulling into a staging area somewhere in the SLC area.  This isn't really a long hike in terms of miles either; and in fact, it is broken up into a number of even shorter legs, after which I move the car to another TH.

Here's how the trip should play out:

  • On the first day, get up fairly early and get to Bald Mountain Pass as quickly as I can.  Hike up to the summit of Bald Mountain, enjoy the views, and be back at the car before lunch.  This is the light blue trail, and the total mileage is only 2.58 miles—1.29 one way, but repeated all the way back down.
  • The second leg is in green.  This one has me move the car to the Crystal Lake TH, and taking the Notch Mountain loop (see link for some examples of the hike), including going down from The Notch a bit to explore Ibantik Lake.  This is only 6.62 miles, with only a tiny bit of it (The Notch to Ibantik Lake) repeated; the rest is a true loop.  I only plan on doing 2 miles the first day—after tackling Bald Mountain, we may well appreciate a lazier afternoon, but if it's early enough, I can make camp at Ibantik Lake itself rather than past Clyde Lake and the Three Divide Lakes.  I'll have to play it by ear and see what time of the afternoon it is when I arrive at those lakes.  If it's any later than 5, I'll absolutely stop before tackling the Notch.  It's it's before 4, I'll absolutely continue on to Ibantik (unless the weather looks bad.)  If it's in between, I'll just figure it out based on how we feel.  After camping out near Notch Mountain—either on the southern or northern flanks, depending, we'll head back and be at the car by lunch-time the second day.
  • The third leg is in purple, and is also relatively modest (just under 6 miles as measured, but since some of it requires uncertain route-finding, might as well round up that last few hundred feet or so.)  Here's a great resource; some local guy did it with his Boy Scout group, so it's definitely a tried and true route (the former route is also really quite well established.)  It requires moving the car again to the Pass Lake TH.  As I have it marked, I imagine camping at Cuberant Lake, but again, if I'm there early enough and the weather looks good, I could go ahead and summit Marsell that afternoon and then come down on the eastern side and camp at Kamas Lake instead.  Again; the guy I'm linking to did that, and it only took him about 2½ hours, but he was trucking it to catch up to the Scouts who did that same distance over the course of an entire day instead.  I'll be in between those two extremes; if I get to the TH by early afternoon, as I imagine, I can—again—play it by ear depending on how I feel.  If I end up going up Marsell in the morning, I'll get very different pictures than the ones in the link; he obviously took his in later afternoon, and my shadows would be all reversed.
  • The final leg (in red) is the longest, at 14.5 miles, and is meant to also have two nights out.  After coming back to the car at Pass Lake, I'll drive a couple miles back to the Highline TH and start walking.  I've stayed in the past at Scudder Lake, and it's a pretty decent place to stop.  It might be early enough that I'm unwilling to stop there, however, in which case I'd have to press on into Naturalist Basin.  And if I end up walking that far, I might end up cutting the trip down by one night out.  In any case, assuming that I stay at Scudder Lake after coming off of Lofty and that area, I'd spend the next day getting to Naturalist, bypassing Jordan Lake and instead going up on the bench.  There are some good spots that I scouted last time not far from Faxon Lake where I'd probably set up camp.  This is meant to be somewhat leisurely; I should get from Scudder to Faxon by mid-afternoon, I think.  I can spend much of the evening exploring the eastern side of the bench in Naturalist Basin.  The next morning, I pick up camp and go explore the western side, including LeConte and Blue Lake; coming down from the bench via the Morat Lakes, making this part of the trip more like a lollipop than a regular out and back.  I don't know how long for sure I'd spend exploring the Blue Lake area (I might even drop my pack and go up on the ridge to look into neighboring Middle Basin) but by sometime mid afternoon, I want to be sure that I'm on my way back to the car, which will take a couple hours minimum.  And once I get there, another couple of hours, I think, to drive back to my staging point in the SLC area to take showers, change into clean clothes, and eat a high calorie restaurant dinner somewhere, hopefully with big juicy burgers and fries.
Anyway, here's the caltopo of this entire trip:

Total distance hiked (not counting any exploring that I'd do once set up) is only 29.5 miles.

Potential summits on this trip include: Bald Mountain, Mount Marsell, Spread Eagle Peak and Mount Agassiz.

UPDATE: Added a slight extra little bump.  If I decide to stay one more night, instead of continuing past Scudder Lake on the way out, I turn off on the Packard Lake spur and spend one more night there.  I'd get out of the mountains earlyish the next morning, instead of late that night.  But the overlook over the Duchesne River valley from the cliffs near Packard Lake looks amazing in some pictures... and as a destination, it was completely off my radar until just recently. Another alternative for this, depending on time and weather, is that I'd go to Packard Lake for night 3 instead of staying at Scudder.  Doing that means I can maintain my original schedule, although I have to add a couple of miles of walking to accomplish it.

Actually, the more I think about it, the more I prefer that alternative.

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