The Swanson Brothers and the Kings Peak RunLarry and Steve Swansons are from the glorious 1960s-1970s generation of the pioneers of backcountry skiing in Utah. You can find a lot of the brothers' pictures in the classic Wasatch Touring guidebook of their fellow skiing trailblazer, Alexis Kelner - and a lot more images in the book are the aerials taken from the Swansons' light aircraft.
Their idea of skiing Kings Peak alpine style, in a day without any intermediate winter camps, was hatched in the late 60s, and turned into an annual Wasatch Mountain Club tradition in 1970s. It is a fun event, with all the participants picking their own goals. Some turn back at or before the treeline, enjoying a "not too difficult" tour in the wilderness taiga gorge of middle Henrys Fork, others make it into the open country of the upper basin.
Those who do push all the way to the peak face an approximately 31 mile roundrip distance, with nearly 5,000 ft elevation gain, which typically takes between 14 and 18 hours to complete. Some years, the goal turned elusive for everybody, but on my limited memory (probably 8 years?), we haven't missed a season yet.
But the organizers do miss the goal fairly often these days. Larry survived a struggle with cancer in 2004. He continues to take part in the tour but haven't summited since then. Steve haven't quite made the summit on the more recent two runs too, but the conditions were fairly unfavorable each of these years, so I fully expect him to nail the peak again in the future. To your health and stamina, guys!
Trivia and Tidbits
- Where ?
- Henrys Fork Winter TH
2006 Trip Timeline and Tales
We left the traditional carpooling spot at Parley's by 5:30 pm and stopped for an equally traditional dinner, banter, & alcohol fill-up at Lotty's. The surprising part this year was Grizz's prime rib buffet attack. No matter how much I advertise my gimme-another-slice fat-loading theory, hardly anybody follows ... but this year I found a decent match in Grizz :)
Just after 9 pm, Rob drove into Henrys Turnoff and within minutes, I had my skis on, roaming around looking for a dry spot for a camp. But to my utter surprise, everything was snow-covered this year, so we pitched the tent right on supportive crust. A few customary drops of cognac and I was sleeping like a baby.
Then, boom, Rob is up and rolling his sleeping bag, and the time is just 4 am! And I thought they'll give me at least until 4:30 to sleep <GRRR> Well I couldn't go back to sleep, I still tried doing everything as slowly and deliberately as I could, but nonetheless by 4:40, I had the tent and stuff in the car, the skis and the headlamp on, and the track rolling underfoot. ( It was a good idea to have the stuff packed ... Sharon left her tent standing, and got some unanticipated fun looking for wind-strewn gear in the trees later next night).
By the time we reached the summer TH, it was light enough in the East to switch off the headlamp. The familiar track rolled up the creekbed, but in less than two miles, it climbed out of the drainage and onto the ups-and-downs of the summer trail. Not the way we like it, but following this track was still a lesser evil compared with a mile of breaking trail in the unconsolidated powder of the creek bed.
The campers' track ended a mile short of Elkhorn Xing, and from that point we followed the creek of course, over the mini-waterfall and to the summer bridge. The winds were roaring in the Upper Basin ahead, so we stopped for a snack and to stash some water and food for the return trip just short of the crossing. The time was just after 8 am.
We followed the meadows of the creek bottom for another mile and a half and then commenced a very gradual ascent onto Dollar Lake Bench, rounding the corner towards Gunsight Pass just shy of 11,000 ft el. The winds were quite a bit stronger here, but I was able to pick a sheltered spot in the last stand of mature trees for another quick snack and skin-up. Then it was all into the head winds.
We crossed Gunsight Pass at 11:30 am (another stash site), it was certainly not a place to sit down and relax. Just pressed on breaking trail on the right-hand side slopes, fairly gradually ascending to the high plateau, aiming to the Southern-most point on its rim. In a typical year, I'd rather avoid the self-arrest nightmare of the steep impenetrable crusts of this slope, but today, the snow was reasonably soft.
The Andreson Flats plateau had pretty decent snowcover, we only had to carry the skis for maybe a hudred ft. By 12:30, Rob, Joe, and myself started skinning up the main slope of our giant. Mike opted to booting up the boulderfields, a winning strategy in the typical snow year, but it certainly wasn't the fastest with as deep snow as we had today. The gale was swirling giant vortexes of snow, and the gusts knocked us to the ground, but the goal was really close now. We probably could have skied all the way to the top, had we picked the right way around the boulderfields. The way we went, our progress was stopped by bands of bare wind-stripped rock at 13,300 ft, and we just booted on the last 200-ft segment.
It was calm as usually on the summit, I don't know what is this magic abound the absence of winds over there, but we could see the forecasted front approaching from the West. It was really time to get out. The ridgeline plumes of snow were stretching longer and more ominously with every passing minute. Mike, who stayed behind for a swipe, reported 70 mph gusts over Gunsight Pass by 4:30 pm. We've been down in the basin by then, pushed along the wind-scoured remnants of our morning track by the tail winds, in the snaking lines of low blowing snow.
In a band of stunted spruces, I met John manning his "Night Sweep Headquarters", tucked not-so-comfortably in space blankets behind a snowdrift. It was still blowing snow over ground even in this semi-sheltered spot, but it was just calm enough for me to reach for my bagel and braunschweiger at last :Q. Call it mid-afternoon breakfast if you want, all I know is that my prime-rib sustenance theory worked for me again :)
A stop by our stash tree, and then, like a blast, a great track down the valley. Rob made it back first minutes after 7 pm. I didn't need to switch on the headlamp this time either. The last skiers trickled into the trailhead by 11 pm. Thanks John for your night sweep!
The stars were shining bright as we drove out of Henrys Fork, but the Arctic front was already raging in the Wasatch mountains ahead. The road conditions deteriorated quickly for the skiers driving West, and it took them between 3.5 and 5 hours to get home. Joe mentioned rolling down the driver side window to watch Jersey walls to make sure that he's still on the road, and Rob resorted to driving with blinkers and no headlights, so blinding was the wall of snow. But by mid-morning on Sunday, everybody reported that they are home safely. Another succesfull run! Thanks Larry and Steve for the prep work and the inspiration, thanks Mike and John for the sweep, thanks Joseph, Grizz, and John for sharing the pictures, and thanks all the heroic drivers of the carpools!
See you at Lotty's in 2007 :)
- Dmitry "MOCKBA" (SP, UINTA Team)
- Rob Rogalski (UINTA Team and a decade+ veteran of Kings Peak Ski Runs)
- Joseph Bullough (SP, 1st time Swansons' Run participant)
- Bruce Coulton (another Kings Peak Ski Run oldtimer)
- Mike Berry (UINTA Team)
- Grizz "mtn runr" (SP, 1st time Swansons' Run participant)
- Bard LeFevre (1st timer too?)
- Sharon Vinnick (UINTA Team)
Other People of Note
Ron Perla made a very low-key appearance, driving all the way from the Banff area to take part in the Swansons' tour. To the local climbing folk, his name may be best associated with Perla's Ridge of Little Cottonwood Canyon's South Side, or - to the older generation - with the long-out-of-print avy handbook from his Canadian snow research laboratory. He hanged around in these parts a lot, with stints as a snow ranger in Alta and as a guide in the Tetons, before moving up North.
To the wider audiences in the world, he's perhaps best known for the 1961 first accent of Robson's spectacular Emperor Ridge in British Columbia, and of course for his interest in ethnography and genealogy.
John Marks is the ever-reliable and ever-calm skier of Team UINTA, always saving the day when some gear is broken or somebody is lagging too far behind. In his usual low-key way, he contributed a bunch of pictures of other participants, and stayed on the route the longest to make sure that everybody's got back down safely, but we haven't got a good picture of John himself (apart from a blurry shot from Mike's dispensable camera). So for this list, I just chose another nice shot of this winter, from our Lookout Peak tour.
Links to the Past KPT StoriesThis looks like my very first tour, back in 1998 I guess? It must have been the trip when I wore jeans, and packed a two-quart pot with a burner to Gunsight Pass
The Trib's Tom Wharton KPT '03 TR and a link to Tom Wharton's 4/19/03 piece in Salt Lake Trinune, in a pay-per-view archive.
KPT '04 Report might require registration with the host site?
"It's a tradition. Like a Sunday stroll through the park..." Ogden Standard-Examiner 3/20/04 article in a pay-per-view archive.
KPT '05 Album
Any more links to add?