On August 25, 2004 I drove toward the northern trailhead for Kings Peak Utah, Henry’s Fork. I followed the excellent directions that I downloaded from Summitposts web page. It was close to lunch, so I stopped in the small town of Mountain View, WY, to eat. There wasn’t much to choose from in this town, except a Supermarket or a Gas Station or two or The Pony Express (I do not recommend this joint- I would have done better at the gas stations). As it turns out, Mountain View, WY has to be one of the windiest towns on the planet- it was a struggle just to get from car to the restaurants front door. I mentioned the high winds to the waitress. I was curious as to whether these winds were unusual or not. She regaled with tales of woe, her trials to keep a hair-do in place, in a town that is windy 12 months out of the year. I self-consciously tucked a dirty strand of wild hair back under my cap. Well, at least this wind was normal, and not a harbinger of weather to come.
After my unsatisfying meal I drove on south and towards a snow capped mountain range. Soon I was driving down good forest roads through mostly conifer trees in the Wasatch National Forest. I saw lots of cattle lurking under the trees or at the side of the road, or even wandering in the road.
I kept one eye on my bovine friends and one eye on the odometer, as there are not many signs out here. But by following my directions and keeping track of the miles I arrived at the trailhead without the usual detours. The only notable was the four Bull Moose that I saw on the side of the road. Friendly for the time being, I guess that they were engaged in a little pre-rut conference. I had a hallucinatory 3-second experience when one of these moose took off running down the road just ahead of my car. Sounds neat? Well not when you are sharing the road with over a thousand pounds of unpredictable ungulate whose hindquarters overshadow your car.
At the trailhead I noticed a parking area for horse trailers, complete with two pit toilets and garbage cans. Further along at roads end is the hiker PA- no toilets or garbage cans there. Well, you can see who pays the bills in this National Forest! In between these parking areas are a number of campsites, each with a picnic table and a fire pit. I pulled my car into the near empty lot, put the finishing touches on packing and started up the trail. Between the trailhead and Dollar Lake the trail gains about 1200 barely felt feet of elevation. I was looking forward to getting up the Dollar Lake area this afternoon and to setting up my base camp for the next three days.
The trail flows south following the river through a lovely forest. It was a beautiful summer’s day in the mountains, blue skies with huge white clouds racing from west to east. There are not any views to speak of for the first 6 miles as you are on a forest trail. But I loved to spot the occasional beaver pond, both new and old ones. The older, abandoned ponds are in a process of being reclaimed by the forest as they proceed from wet meadows to dry ground. I stopped several times, to pump water, eat a snickers bar, or admire some forest scenery. I saw very few hikers that day, a couple of day hikers here and there. I saw more people astride horseback then walking; I had to remind myself that our National Forests are open to other activities besides backpacking for peakbaggers.
I reached Elkhorn Crossing, which is a lovely spot. There are several very nice choices in the vicinity where a camp can be set up. If you get a late start on, say, a Friday night, this is not a bad place in which to land. Once across Henry’s Fork, look left- I saw a nice spot under some pine trees. Like a lot of nice spots you will have company. Anyway- I was not stopping here for the night and the day was not getting any younger so I pushed on up the trail.
Very soon the trail will start to open up and you will get your first look at some Mountains. They are red-colored sandstone with horizontal bands of white- snow already. Close up the rock that composes these mountains are finely grained and banded.
The trail now leads you through open alpine meadows and I noticed a lot of prints in the mud- mostly small cloven hoof ones along with the usual boot and paw prints.
Even this late in the summer I had to pass through several large muddy areas. I was sure glad that I didn’t come in spring- it must be quite the mud fest as well as a bug “all you can eat” smorgasbord!
Four hours after leaving the trailhead I arrived in the general area in which I wanted to make camp. I decided not to stay at the more popular Dollar or Henrys Fork Lakes. So, I set up on a flat shelf above the trail in a sheltering copse of pine trees. After both my Garuda and a bear bag rope went up I set out to explore a little. On this open shelf there was a small dried up pond, it’s muddy bottom tattooed with more of those hoof prints as well as canine prints. I looked for bear prints and saw none. At all. I added my own prints when I crossed to explore the verge of pine forest that was just beyond this pond’s dried basin. Across the valley to the west I noticed the thin trail of smoke that must come from a campfire, but more likely from the small line cabin.
When I went down to a small muddy pond below my camp to make dinner I met two young guys. They had come out to camp for a few days. They were underdressed, I thought, in nylon shorts. The temperatures went down with the sun and they complained about the cold. A little odd for August, they thought. I pointed out that we were about 2 miles up and in the mountains- regardless of the month- anything goes. The next day they were gone.
After dinner I retired to my tent and the warmth of my sleeping bag to catch up on my journal entries. It began to rain lightly. I love the sound of a gentle rain falling on the tent; I find it so soothing. I had left my book at the trailhead and the ink in my pen was to cold to write with, so having nothing else to do I was soon asleep. Later that night I would wake up and take a short walk outside in the sharp midnight air, under a soft and velvety black sky pierced with a million bright points of stars. The near full moon was still high up in the sky heading west. It was bright enough to see by and I cast a moon-shadow on the ground.
August 26, Thursday
The got off to an inauspicious start. By the morning the rain had turned to snow, hail and graupel, and the skies were grey and very threatening. The wind was up. This would not be my summit day as planned. This meant that either I would not get the summit, or that I would have myself a full day tomorrow. I was running out of time, you see. I needed to be on my flight home Saturday noon. Right now the weather sucked and I was wishing that I had my 0-degree rated bag instead of the 20 degree one. Wearing a fleece balaclava, gloves, and jacket, I got back into bed until noon.
All morning long I heard very intriguing sounds like bells, whistles and baaas. This turned out to be a herd of sheep passing by my camp. Later, when I finally did get up, my sudden appearance scared a group resting near me. They scrambled to their little cloven hooves and ran off. The sheep also accounted for the uniformly dispersed droppings that I saw everywhere.
After lunch the weather was somewhat improved, but the time was too short to allow getting to the top and back before dark. While a moonlight ascent seems romantic, in practicality it is more risky. And I was not willing to risk it solo. The day wasn’t an entire loss, though. I did go out for a walk to stretch the legs and I did get all that wonderful sleep.
For my “walk” I decided to wander up the trail towards Gunsight Pass. A pack trail climbs to the height of land in long easy switchbacks on the right side of the pass. From there you can look down into Painter Basin with its emerald green bottoms and tracery of small streams. This and more all overlooked by long red ridges. (I still think back to that Basin, and wonder what it would be like to just keep on walking south.) I thought of several friends who I knew would just love this place- even as much as I did.
I did some scrambling about on Gunsight Mountain, enjoying the solitude. I passed only the odd hiker once in awhile on the trail. Otherwise I felt like I had the place to myself
August 27, Friday-Summit day
Another cold night at two miles high camp. I had gone to bed with thoughts of a predawn start in mind. In the morning it was still cold, and being the slacker that I am, I waited until the sun was well up before I got out of my nice warm sleeping bag. Finally I got it in gear and at 11:45AM I was headed up the trail to Gunsight Pass. This was my last chance to do what I’d come a long way to do.
Once I had gone up and over the pass, l could see that the pack road rolled off in a wide loop that takes one away from the King’s Peak and then back. I noticed a well-defined social trail off to my right and along the bottom margin of a talus field that comes off Gunsight Mountain. I decided to take this trail instead of the pack trail. It turned out to be a very nice short cut and I would recommend you use it if you wish to shave some time and distance from your trip. I much prefer to walk a foot trail, anyway, then to stumble along a rocky pack trail. I met several people who were returning from their hike along this trail and it seems to be the standard route. Soon this trail joins up with the pack trail as it ascends to Anderson Pass. From Anderson Pass it is just a matter of following the ridge up to the summit. There isn’t a register to sign, but I did share the summit with a group of college boys from Provo. The views were 360 degrees of marvelous and I could not make out a town or road in any direction.
We descended via the “toilet bowl” together, but strung out according to our strengths. This is a rock-choked chute that drops you directly from Anderson Pass to the valley’s floor in a short amount of time. But it is very steep and hard on the knees. I think that next time I would go up this chute and then take the trail back. We all worked our way down the very middle of the chute, steering clear of the shear vertical cliffs that line each side. There is a tendency for rocks to just let go and fall from these cliffs and even a small rock can be a lethal projectile. I was able to have some fun on the descent by boot skiing a bit. Once on the valley’s floor the group split in two, they to their camp at Henry’s Fork Lake and I to my own camp. I was glad to meet up with these guys, they were pretty cool and I did finally get a summit photo that included myself.
I arrived back in camp at 6:45, 7 hours round trip base camp to summit. Not setting any records, but I did thoroughly enjoy myself. Once back at camp I quickly packed up everything, without even stopping to make dinner. With in 15 minutes I was on my way out to the trailhead. Every step since I started down from the summit now a step turned towards home.
In all it would take me some three hours to hike to my car, though I would break my out bound hike to stop for the night and, finally, eat around 9:00PM. I did good service to my nickname, striding along down the trail.
August 28, 2004 Saturday.
I started out for the trailhead with the first light, passing a moose cow and calf that stood like dark quiet sentinels in a frost rimed meadow. At the trailhead I took a precious 45 minutes to clean up and to repack my bags, both for the flight home. I set a new low for showering in the great outdoors- a new low in temperature, that is. It was below freezing, and the water solidified shortly after rolling off my body. But I had to wash, I was a week away from my last shower and even I was appalled at my stench. I had visions of being taken off the plane. I even washed my hair.
Everything was covered in rime frost, even my car windows, so as I drove away I was not even allowed a last look at the mountains in my rear view window.
“I move in a world deeply and sweetly familiar to me, a world which belongs to me and to which I myself belong…” I.Dinesen
"After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, which is the most horrible thing in the world."
--Oscar Wilde on Absinthe