My wife Julie and I wanted to squeeze in one more trip before heading home to flatland South Dakota from Salt Lake City. We’d been wanting to climb Mount Emmons for years since it was the highest peak in the Uintas that we hadn't summited (13,440 feet elevation). We were hoping to do a 3-4 day backpacking trip including a ridge walk to Kings Peak, but time ran out. So we decided to make a mad dash for the summit of Mount Emmons by the shortest route possible. The evening before we drove from Salt Lake to Duchesne then up to Swift Creek Campground (8,100 feet elevation), arriving at dark to camp.
We started up the Swift Creek Trail at 7:30 a.m. in the morning prepared to stay one night. The trail had a lot of loose rock and was hard to hike fast on, but the canyon was beautiful in the typical Uinta style of broad forested valleys punctuated by red cliffs and peaks. We got lost briefly where the trail crossed the creek for the first time, but eventually we found a way across on logs without getting wet. The second crossing (back to the west) was easier to find but involved negotiating a beaver dam, rock steps in a swift creek, and a marsh. At Deer Lake we passed some tents and two lazy young fishermen, but we never saw a soul after that. Following another short climb the trail emerged into broad meadows with occasional ponds and marshes and a spectacular view of Mount Emmons. We planned our summit attack as we hiked.
East Timothy Lake
At 2:00 p.m. we reached East Timothy Lake, which I was anxious to see since that’s my name. But unfortunately it was a terrible disappointment. An old road led to the lake from Owl Creek, and at some time in the distant past a bulldozer had moved earth into piles and promoted excessive erosion. The lake was dammed and the water level was low, exposing huge mounds of dark organic matter. It wasn’t the beautiful spot to camp that we hoped for, but we hiked up a gully on the east side and set up our tent in preparation for a return from the summit. Since the lake water didn’t look inviting, we hiked around to an inlet stream to fill our water bottles. Then we cached all but a day pack in our tent and made a dash for the summit.
Our rocky route
Starting at 2:40 p.m. we took a cross-country route northeast from East Timothy Lake across some meadows and marshes then traveled east along the mountain front, crossing some boulderfields and more meadows and marshes. Our plan was to angle up the slope to the saddle northwest of the peak then follow the ridge to the summit. The entire slope was large boulders, many of them loose, and there were some small cliffs and other steep spots to avoid. It was a long, slow climb and a relief to reach the saddle at 5:00 p.m. With only a brief stop for a snack and photos we continued up the ridge, which was just as rocky and almost as steep. Eventually the slope leveled off and we were on a rocky plateau looking for a sign of the highest spot. We arrived at the summit cairn at 5:40 p.m. and quickly took photos and ate some food. The view was spectacular, especially in the low-angle light, but we couldn’t see the valleys very well because of the flat summit.
Mt. Emmons Summit
Getting back to our tent was a race against the clock, and we knew that the boulder slope would be too dangerous to travel in the dark. Being a little faster than Julie I had time to take photos and listen to repeaters with my ham radio. The boulders seemed more unstable going downhill because we were doing a lot of jumping, and there were a few scary moments when they gave way. But we made it down to the meadows right at sunset and back to our tent just after dark. We cooked a delicious salmon dinner then went to bed very weary.
We returned to the trailhead the next morning by the same route we had come up on: the Swift Creek Trail. We left East Timothy Lake at 7:45 a.m. and finished the 9-mile trek at 1:00 p.m. Just past Deer Lake we passed a group of elderly hikers making slow progress down the trail, and farther down the canyon we passed a young couple heading up, but other than that we felt like we had the whole range to ourselves. From the trailhead we drove east to Vernal for dinner then crossed over into Wyoming and made the long drive home to Sioux City, arriving at 7:00 a.m. the following morning. On the one hand we felt too old to be doing this kind of death march, but on the other hand we were glad we had accomplished a wonderful trip in the limited time available!
I have a "High Uinta Trails" book published in 1974. It says the
average size of Deer Lake at that time was 12-acres. It also states that the entire "Timothy Lakes Basin" area is outside the Primitive area, but is within the proposed Wilderness area.
I can assume that because of several years of drought on that side of the Uintas, some landowners were up there with bulldozers, trying to divert the water down to their fields.
IMHO, all the more reason to push for 'Wilderness' designation!
& glad to see more SPers who appreciate my favorite Uintas beyond the oh-so-common Kings Peak from Henrys :) Just a couple suggestions for a new user, it makes sense to attach TRs to mountains, and also everything looks better with the geographic coordinates (just click on "+" sign on a little Google map on the "Edit" page!)
We considered taking that road, but it didn't look like a sure thing. It was hard to tell from the map where the driving ended and the hiking began. :-) We'd been to the Swift Creek Trailhead before and knew what to expect.
I went on geology field camp around Henderson years ago.