In August of 2005, my friend John and myself decided to take 10 days to complete the Highline Trail. It was amazing the amount of planning it took to bring it all together. We looked at all options, should we go east from Hayden Pass to Chepeta, or the opposite? After much deliberation, it was decided to go east to west. Actually, the Highline starts east of Leidy Peak, but we decided to go in at the West Fork of the Whiterocks Drainage Trailhead due to the amount of time off we both had. And, looking back, I'm glad we went in there. We had planned to stay at a lake each day so we could also do some fishing, but the weather, terrain, and us, caused us to make some adjustments. I can honestly say, I learned alot on this trip. One thing I learned is, there are fishing trips and backpacking trips. Depending on your schedule and endurance, you can mix them together. Well, this trip turned into a backpacking trip. Don't get me wrong, we had a blast. But, dehydrated food can satisfy you for only so long. And, to be honest, we missed our families. Because of these few things, we actually finshed in 9 days instead of 10. Motivation: Cheeseburger and a Coke at Bear River Lodge! All in all, we traveled 68.7 miles, starting on Aug. 3, 2006, and ending at Hayden Pass Aug. 11, 2006 Man. I miss it bad!
From Roosevelt, head east toward Vernal. About 3 miles east of Roosevelt, at the top of an incline, there will be a sign to the town of Whitrocks. Turn left at this intersection and follow the signs to the Elkhorn Loop. Drive about 20 miles north on the well maintained dirt road. The signage in this area is very well maintained. Take a left at the West Fork of the Whiterocks Trailhead sign, and it's about another mile to the parking lot. There is a register there and restrooms. There is also plenty of parking. This trailhead is starting to get some attention, so about mid week, the parking lot can fill up quick.
Go past the WF Trailhead about another mile, and you'll see a cut off to the left. It doesn't look like much, but it is an old logging road that cuts up the right side of the drainage for about 2.5 miles. It not only saves time, but it gives access to some smaller lakes and keeps you higher in the drainage. Less climbing! Everybody likes that. To get onto this road from the main road, you'll need a high clearance vehicle and most likey 4 wheel drive. People are also starting to find out abut this one too. The day we started, there were 4 vehicles there.
Here we go!
Fox Lake areaDay 1
Left the trailhead at 1pm, elevation: 10,300 ft. Passed an awesome looking lake about a mile into the hike. Not sure what it was called, but it had quite a few campsites. We ran into a guy on the second day that told us the name, but I can't remember. He said there were some big cutthroat trout in there. I had my pole, but unfortunatley the goal today was to get to our first camp at Cresent Lake. 2.9 miles and 2.75 hrs later we arrived at Queant Lake. This lake is just outside the High Uintas Primitive area. This is a very nice area, remote, and not too far from the trailhead. Great place for an overnighter. About 4 years ago, I stayed at Queant Lake for 4 days without seeing anyone else. We were suckin' wind big time at this point. We hadn't eaten since breakfast, and we were starting to feel it. Downed a few snacks and hit the trail again. Passed Cleveland Lake to the west of Queant, and started the gradual climb up to Fox/Queant Pass. After many, many breaks, we topped out on the pass at 6:45 pm. Took some pictures, tried to call home,(no service) and headed down to our campsite about 1 mile away. We weren't feeling very good, a little altitude sickness I think, to go along with the lack of food. We were so hell bent on getting to camp and staying on schedule, we kind of forgot about everything else. Bad mistake! We had to go cross country instead of following the trail, due to the fact that they changed the trail location, but not the map. so, we had to do some route finding, taking more out of us. Finally reached Cresent Lake at 8 pm. John was sicker than a dog! Hurry and threw the tents up, while John was pukin' his guts out. Threw together some stove top stuffing, and instant spuds. John didn't eat a thing, and I wasn't that hungry either. Hit the sack at 10 pm. Too tired to even fish! We logged 7.5 miles for the first day. Saw some pretty country, but didn't enjoy it like I would've liked. But, we made it to camp as scheduled, so Day 1 was a success.
Went to sleep the night before, hoping for an improvement on our second day. Woke up and had a breakfast of frosted mini wheats and powdered milk. This was John's idea. I wasn't too sure about this, but I was pleasantly surprised. It actually tasted pretty good. Had some hot chocolate of course, a must EVERY morning! Hit the trail about 10 am, headed for Kidney Lakes area, about 6 miles away. Now, understand that we had very detailed maps and a GPS. Well, we learned this day that those amenities are only as smart as those who operate them. After two hours on the trail, we came to a part where the trail, according to the map and GPS, looped south about a half mile and then back north, turning northwest, then west to our destination. We decided that we could save some time buy cutting straight across the valley. Oh, and I forgot to mention that I also had compasses on my trekking pole grips. Anyway, we headed northwest, or so we thought. We had to stop and put the rain gear on, but then trudged on cross country through the pines. It was very pretty, the rain just drizzling down, not a soaker. It's kind of funny. I was out in the lead, thinking I knew where I was going. I've always wondered how people get lost. They must be out of their element or something. So, I'm cruisin' along, and John yells out, "Uh Eric, you're going south." "No I'm not!" "Yeah you are". He had to show me on the GPS where we were, and sure enough, I had us going south. We knew that Kidney Lakes was to the northwest, so I let John take over the point. We crossed a wicked rock slide area, and as I stepped onto a rock outcrop, I had a view west toward Painter Basin. I realized quickly we were way north of where we should be. A quick check of the GPS confirmed it. Way to go John! We arrived at Kidney Lakes at 2:30 pm, from the north. The trail is south! Yeah, we probably added 2 miles on to the original route. The rain had stopped by this time, so we climbed out of the rain gear, had a quick snack, and hit the trail. We had decided to go until 6 pm, and camp. Well, we lasted about another 2 miles and two hours. Once again, the heavy bushwhacking took it out of us. We made camp on Gilbert Creek, a beautiful little stream that drains into the Uinta Creek drainage. Built a fire, dried the boots out some, and sat back and relaxed. Had an awesome dinner of beef stroganoff and raspberry crumble. Ended up doing about 6.5 miles for the day.
Day 3 was our first really enjoyable day. We were slighly ahead of schedule. The trail heads west toward Kings Peak, up and over several small ridges, and finally turning southwest into Painter Basin. We entered Painter Basin about 1 pm, greeted by an awesome view of Kings Peak. All the peaks along Kings ridge are 13,000 ft plus. It is a ridge running south from the main east-west ridge of the Uinta Range. It's quite a sight. We could also see a major storm brewing up to the west of Kings, headed our way. This is a daily occurance in the Uintas. Every afternoon, somewhere in these mountains, it's raining. This is especially the case the further west you get. The peaks are higher, and they pretty much create their own weather. We were able to pump some water real quick before the storm hit. We ended up staying in a group of trees for about an hour during the hailstorm, and rain afterwards. Major thunder and lightning! Very cool! After, we headed straight for Kings. The idea was to camp as high as we could on the eastern slopes, so we could make the peak before the afternoon storms the next day. We found a great camp just before the switchbacks on the lower part of the trail. The wind was a little chilly, but the view was awesome! We had great views of the Uinta drainage to the east, Mt Emmons to the south, and Kings directly west and above. Went to sleep with the coyotes yippin' in the valley below. Elevation at "high camp" was 11,400 ft. Day 3 in the books!
After waking John to get up and get going(this was a regular morning ritual)we headed up the ridge toward Anderson Pass and the highest summit in Utah. Crystal blue skies accompanied us this morning. But about an hour into the climb, the clouds started to build. This was Sunday, so we were hoping for some solitude on this very popular peak. Hopefully, all the scouts had made the summit the day before, and made it home for sunday school! As you climb toward the pass, you have an unobstructed view of Kings, and the route to the summit, and we could see e few people up there. Reached Anderson Pass about 11 am, with a nasty storm to the west coming our way. We broke out the cell phones to call the wives to let them know we were still alive. I got hold of my wife, but John didn't. Hopefully my wife would let her know she talked to us.( she never did get a hold of her)Met three old dudes at the pass from Colorado. The must have been in there mid seventies, because they looked pretty worn. They made the summit though. Amazing! I hope I'm doing this when I'm that old! Because the weather was closing in, and we still had to drop off the pass, we decided not to summit. This turned out to be a great decision, because at the bottom of Anderson Pass, as we headed south down the Yellowstone drainage, the storm hit. Once again, we geared up and hid in the scub pines. These high basins in the Uintas have these pine patches that are perfect for hiding out from the weather. You could sleep on the ground under them easily. They are only about 4 to 5 feet high. The storm didn't last long in the valley, but Kings got hammered! I'm glad we didn't summit. You can figure about a two hour climb, up and back, from Anderson Pass to the summit by the time you stay up and take in the view. I've been up there before, but John hadn't. I'll get him back there though. Hiked through the drizzle until we got to the Smith Fork Pass trail junction. Made camp on a little rise with outstanding views of the upper Yellowstone drainage, including the west face of Kings. As we came toward our camp, spotted a nice buck, and even saw a fairly fresh bear track. Scary! Had spagetti that night with some awesome orange punch to wash it down. We camped at 11,186 ft. after a about 6 miles of hiking. It was cold after the storm passed through, around 40 degrees or so, with a slight breeze. Brrrr!
Geez! Frost on the tents! If my back teeth weren't floating, I would've stayed in my tent. Not a cloud in the sky that morning, but until that sun came out over the top of the ridge, you would think we were in the antartic! But with sun, came the bugs. Arrgh! Bugs are called "bugs" for a reason! The name describes them perfectly! After leaving the bugs behind, we headed towards Tungsten Pass. The "plan", was to cross the pass and camp at Tungsten Lake or North Star Lake. We would make camp early, do some wash, then spend the next day fishin', eatin', sleepin', maybe baggin' a nearby peak, and just kickin' back. Problem was, as we came over the top of the pass, we could see there wasn't a freakin' place to camp! No trees whatsoever,no bushes, and just basically a very wide open, tundra like landscape. What the hell were we going to do here for a day and a half? As we sat there pondering our next move, a couple passed us, saying they were heading past these lakes, and up and over Porcupine Pass. Sounded good to us. We were feeling good that day, so we headed up the trail after them. They were obviously younger, but we thought we could hang with them. We stopped at the bottom of the pass to get some water and snack a little. This took about 30 minutes. As we started up the pass, we couldn't see that couple anywhere. They must have been really in shape. We topped out on Porcupine Pass, elevation around 12,200 ft, at 1 pm. The next drainage to the west is the Oweep Creek drainage, and it is incredibly long! We could see the daily storm from the west coming right at us, so we didn't stay long. We could also see we had a long basin to cross. But, we couldn't see that couple anywhere. I took my binocs out and scanned the valley below along the trail, but they had disappeared! No way! They couldn't be that fast. John thinks they were ghosts. We were seeing things. We never did catch up with them. We went down the west side of the pass as fast as we could, as the hail started to fall. This side of Porcupine is a little exposed, so we had to be somewhat cautious. This is difficult in a hailstorm. But we made it to the valley floor, donned the rain gear, and followed the cairns. Thats one thing about the Highline in places. Where there isn't a trail, there's cairnes. We hiked through the hail until we hit some trees for cover. This is about 2 miles from the bottom of the pass. There is no cover! As we sat there for about an hour, the hail really came down! The stones were small marshmellow size, and covered the ground like snow. And boy did it thunder and lightning! We had a bolt hit about 100 yds from us! We just sank into the trees even deeper. After the storm, the clouds cleared, and the ridges that we just crossed to the north looked like they were in early november! Very cool! They also run sheep up in these high basins during the summer, so as we made our way south through the trees, we did a little herding as well. Sheep stink. We were beat as we reached our camp on a little creek at the end of the basin. Put the tents up, John went to sleep, and I went and got naked at the stream to wash my stinky bod! Three hours in rain gear do not help with hygiene! We did 10.2 miles that day in about 6.5 hrs. Very tired. We weren't entirely alone as we at dinner. We had one coyote to the west of us up on the cliffs. As he howled, another one answered from below our camp. I love backpacking!
Hit the trail at our usual time. Too late to scare up a moose or something. The trail climbed up and around a southern extending ridge. We had great views back to the north at the Oweep drainage. It is so dang huge! We headed toward Lambert Meadows to the west. Saw a herd of elk below us, but too far away to get a good picture. We met a guy coming the opposite way with pack goats. We said, " Cool goats." The guy whipped out two business cards quicker than Doc Holiday! Geez! Here we are out in the wilderness, and this guys trying to sell me something! He said he was on a ten day pack, 100 miles from Mirror Lake to Spirit Lake. He was one of those guys who, if he hasn't done it, he's seen it. He said goodbye and continued on. The Lambert Meadows area is very nice. Excellent places to camp with ample water and peaks to climb. But alas, t'was not the plan for the day. The trail drops into the Lake Fork Creek drainage then climbs to the northwest toward the main east-west ridge of the range. We continued this direction, making our camp at the bottom of Red Knob Pass. We had a herd of sheep around us, but far enough away that we couldn't smell them and barely hear them. This was by far our best camp. Definately the most scenic. The moon came up to the southeast over the mountains just before sundown, which was awesome. We were able to build a fire, and I washed every piece of clothing I had. Did about 6 miles, and camped at 11,500 ft.
Left camp and immediately climbed up Red Knob Pass. The goal for the day was to take Red Knob Pass, dropping into Dead Horse Lake on the north slope of the range. Took 40 minutes to climb Red Knob, and we didn't stay up on top long. It was clear skies, but there was a very cold 40 mph wind blowing. Took some pictures and flew down the pass, turning to the west and dropping into Dead Horse Lake. Above the lake, at the bottom of Dead Horse Pass, we decided to take the pass, crossing to the south slope again, and camp at Ledge Lake. Now, Dead Horse Pass is a nasty looking place to climb. Nothing but rock, and cliff bands. I'll have to admit, we were a little intimidated. But, after a snack we started climbing. The trail climbs quickly, and is in good condition. It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. We reached the top in 30 minutes. On the way up, we passed this dude coming the opposite way. Strange. He was dressed in black, his pack was black, had matted hair, and seemed to be in a hurry. He didn't have time for small talk with two blabber mouths like John and me. We said "hi", and that was about it. He gave us the willies thats for sure! Coming off the south side of Dead Horse, the trail is confusing. Following the trail on the GPS, we started down the slope. This sucked big time! With a 50 lb pack, it's somewhat nerve racking to negociate scree at a majorly steep angle. There really wasn't a trail. We just headed for the bottom! The forest service will hear from me! All in all, it took us 1 hour to climb and decend Dead Horse. Made Ledge Lake by 3 pm. Took a nap after setting the tents up. Too tired to fish. 6.5 miles for Day 7. Ledge Lake is a pretty little lake. A spring runs off the cliffs above, big enough that the sound lulled us to sleep.
Dehydrated scambled eggs and bacon. MMMMM! Nothing better! John had oatmeal. Boring. Packed up and headed for Rocky Sea Pass. The plan was to reach Brinkley Lake. The trail actually turns to the northwest, and follows the east-west ridge of the range, turning to the south, then west over Rocky Sea. We took a cutoff that goes directky southeast, dropping into Rock Creek, then up the other side to meet the main trail. This is a great trail, passing through pines all the way. At camp, we were at an elevation of 11,100 feet, but at the stream crossing of Rock Creek, the elevation is 9,800 feet. It is a pretty good drop, and it climbs quickly out of the drainage to the trail junction at around 10,900 feet. At the trail junction we decided to push it over Rocky Sea Pass and into Naturalist Basin. Maybe actually take a day off and go nowhere. At the east side of Rocky Sea we passed a beautiful little lake that would make a geat base camp. Here we met another gentleman, doing the same route and milage as the "Goat Guy" we had met two days before. Except this guy was easily in his late 60's or older and by himself. He asked all kinds of questions about the trail ahead, and we gave him our reccomendations. I was a little worried about him. He wasn't in the best of shape. I haven't heard anything in the news about a lost hiker in the Uintas, so I'm hoping he made it. Rocky Sea Pass is rocky, but the trail is in great shape. At the top, we got our view of the backside of the Wasatch Front. Civilization on the other side! Real food! Toilets! Showers! Decending the west side of the pass, as soon as we hit the trees, we cut to the northwest, cross country into Naturalist Basin. This avoided the 1.5 mile climb into the basin from the main trail. This is a great way to get to Naturalist's. We found a great natual spring on the east side coming right out of the rocks. We didn't bother with the pump, we just stuck our heads in and drank. It tasted great! We came into Jordan Lake from the east. Jordan is the biggest lake in the basin. The campsite I was hoping for was not available. Infortunately, this area is extremely popular, sitting only 7 miles from the Mirror Lake Highway. It was no differnt on this thursday night. But, it's still a beautiful area. The mosquitos were especially bad. I had to put on repellent for only the second time during the whole trip. We decided that we would hike out the following morning and surprise our families 2 days early. We were ready. It had been a long trip.
Packed up camp at 9 am and hit the trail. This end of the Highline is a virual highway!. I think we passed around 30 or so people heading into the back country for the weekend. It a pretty easy 7 miles to the trailhead. We reached our goal by 1:15 pm, and did the "Highline Handshake" for the camera. We did it, and even two days early! We hauled the packs to the highway, and stuck the thumbs out for ride down to Bear River Lodge, where we knew there was a Coke and burger with our names on 'em! Nobody stopped for two hours. Thanks heavens for a county sheriff, who had a slow day. By 4 pm, I had mustard and catsup on my beard, and that awesome carbonation burn, flowing through my sinuses! Ahh! What a great trip!
Necessary evils of long distance backpacking.
1.Pumping water(especially when one guy ends up doing it all the time)
2.Doing # 2. It's amazing the amount of thought that goes into finding an acronym for the word "poop". Our favorite was "missle launch".
3.Putting up you tent
4.Wiping your tent off in the morning.
5.Packing your tent up.
6.Your hiking partner's big butt tent! Takes all the flat areas!
8.Weird people on the trail.
10.The adventure coming to an end.