Whenever we'd ski by Smith and Morehouse Lake, I couldn't help looking across the frozen lake to the East and wondering what it looks like two or three thousand feet up there, beyond the overgrown steep sides of the canyon of SM Creek. The only officially described trail that way is going into Hells Kitchen, a couple miles upstream from the lake, and then it is not much of a trail to say the truth. It almost looks like one can't possibly get from here to there!
The better-used trails to Slader Ridge and Gardners Basin all fan out of Holiday Park, which is a long, long way past the end of plowed road in winter. So to ski to the ridges towering right above Smith and Morehouse Lake on summer trails, one would need to log as much as 15 miles one-way, first East to Holiday Park and then back West. Clearly, one needs better options!
A few years back I went for my first recon trip up there, skiing from Ledgefork up Broad Canyon, briefly traversing the headwall of South Fork Slader Creek, and gliding South into Gardners Fork, all the way to Rhoades Lake. Then a year and half back, we made a Slader - Gardners loop out of Holiday Park after the first snowfalls, and before the road closed for the winter.
With the visual impressions of these trips, and a careful study of topo maps, aerials, an satellite images. I was ready to try a set of new routes East of S&M. This winter's abundant snowcover should make it a lot more fun!
From Thousand Peaks Gate, one can see what looks like an alluvial fan spreading out of Slader Ridge a couple miles to the East. There, some 3 or 4 hundred ft above the valley bottom, a large glade holds keys for ascending to Slader Ridge from the North.
We ski across the flats for about a mile and enter the open aspens on a slowly ascending former logging route. The road continues into spruce forests and into a large open area at 8,000 ft elevation. A large barren hill stands in the middle. The road skirts it on the left and forks, with the right fork switching back to the South-West and climbing several hundred ft to the vicinity of Slader's West Ridge.
But today is an exploratory trip and we are free to try whatever route we like more. So we just head straight up the major drainage behind the barren hill. Soon the West side of the drainage rises in steep boulderfields and cliffbands, and the first summit of Slader Ridge, Hill 10,195, looms ahead. We stay East of the possible avalanche runouts, and, as the forest thins at higher elevation, we enjoy the views at the headwall of "our" creek ahead of us, and at Windy Ridge behind.
A sunny breakfast stop at the base of a glade at 10,000 ft elevation, and then our track zigzags right to the high point of the ridge.
What a view from up here! 360 degrees and all the way to the Wasatch in the West and Hayden Peak in the East!
Very steep slope to our South drops 2,000 ft into the gorge of Slader Creek. We need to bypass this deep chasm, and also the valley of its right-hand tributary, on the East.
A gently descending glide through open forest and meadows brings us to the base of the rounded ridge separating the forks of Slader Creek. Just a bit of altitude to gain, and a fun glide continues SSE into main Slader Basin. South of the creek, we ski along an old logging road. Not a single snowmachine track today in this famed and motor-legal but quite remote corner of Uintas!
Finally, at the edge of the glades footing the rocky escarpment of lower Hells Kitchen Ridge, it's time to skin up again - and to have lunch. The day have been shaping up perfectly, but now we barely got two hours left to recon the route to Hells Kitchen if we want to be on the road before darkness.
Hells Kitchen Ridge
We gain the ridge at about 9,700 ft altitude and quickly ascend beyond the 10,000 mark. Here our route briefly intersects my old track to Rhoades Lake. The ridge drops steeply into South Fk Slader Creek on the left. Then the trees part and on the top of a bouldery Hill 10,586, Gardner Basin opens to the East.
"Our" ridge curves around Gardner Basin, with the 11,000er high points still over a mile ahead, as the crow flies.
Now we have to loose altitude before we switchback again to Hill 10,770, where we can finally see the chasm of Hells Kitchen ahead of us, and Cone and Wall Peaks beyond. The time is almost 4 pm though, and we gotta turn back.
Instead of regaining altitude back to Hill 10,586, we chart a different, no-ascents-needed route towards Smith and Morehouse Lake. The barren white Westerly spine of Hill 10,586 drops into a wide timbered saddle before rising again to Hill 10,348. We are going to cross over there, and to ski into Broad Canyon on the other side.
A fantastic power glide into the wide bowl, and we contour just below 10,400 level, until the tree-less ridge ahead beacons us to the pass. Then the fun continues. Open trees, soft powder, rock outcroppings lit by low afternoon Sun. We approach 9,600 contour with some trepidation, since the horizontals thicken there, but it turns out to be yet another nice glide.
Finally, we are on familiar ground, at the bottom of Broad Canyon. Back when I was here before, it was a complicated affair of downed trees, brush, and crusted spots, but today the snow is a lot thicker and softer, and we are making good progress.
Just as the setting Sun lits the slopes of Windy Ridge, we exit the narrows and head across the lake. Once the alpenglow fades, the ridges are lit again with the soft reflected light of the glowing clouds - and then the Moon casts warm-hued shadows across the last two-miler section of the road. The snowmachines are gone for the day, and the glide towards our carpark is nice and easy.
The secrets of the high country up above Smith-Morehouse Reservoir are finally unlocked!
StatsApproximately 15 miles, almost all of it previously unexplored terrain.
4500 ft total elevation gain.
No named peaks, but a whole slew of unnamed 10,000ers: 10,242 (the highest point on the ridgeline of Slader's), 10,210, 10,006, 10,586, and finally 10,770, our highest ski-on, ski-off summit for the season.
10 and half hours trip time.