Gilbert Peak is one of Utah's 13'ers (there are 17-21 of them, depending on the list), and second highest county high point (Summit County). It is located in the High Uintas Wilderness Area in the Ashley and Wasatch National Forests. The Peak is named after grove Karl Gilbert, a geologist of the Wheeler and Powell survey. Gilbert is usually overlooked do to the close proximity to Utah's state high point of Kings Peak.
The Uinta Mountains are one of the few mountain ranges in North America that run east to west rather than north to south. Within the Uinta Mountains are about 2000 lakes, and some 900-1000 are full of trout. Along with the San Juans in Colorado, the Uintas have more contiguous area above timberline than any other area in the Continental United States. This is a beautiful area with many lakes, meadows, wildflowers, and some rugged peaks. Solitude is usually easy to come by once you leave the popular fishing holes behind.
One thing that makes Utah's 13'ers different, then say the Colorado 14'ers, is that the distances from the nearest roads are usually much greater for the Utah 13'ers. Gilbert is actually the closest 13'er in Utah to any road, but it is still 20 miles from the nearest road round-trip.
Utah's 12,000+ Foot Peaks With 200+ Feet Prominence
Utah's 12,000+ Foot Peaks With 300+ Feet Prominence
Gilbert Peak (center) from the south and near Milk Lake in the Uinta River drainage.
Getting ThereHenrys Fork Trailhead
There are several possible routes to Gilbert Peak, but by far the most popular route is from Henry's Fork. This is the beginning of the West Spur and North Ridge routes. From exit 39 on I-80 head South towards Mountain View on route 414 for 6 miles. At the “Y” (@ the Bronze Elk) stay right on route 410 heading towards Robertson at about 6.8 miles on 410 the road makes a 90 degree right hand turn, at this point you will want to go straight (or left) leaving 410. The road turns and stays gravel for the duration of the drive to the trailhead. Continue straight on the gravel road after leaving 410 for 12.3± to another intersection at this point turn left, right would take you to China Meadows (7 miles). After taking the left continue for 7.7± miles to a hairpin turn, at this point continue straight (or right) off of the previous road. Follow this for 3 miles to the Henry’s Fork Trail head. The last 3 miles of the road are not maintained in the winter months, so your temporary trailhead will start 3 miles sooner.
West Fork Whiterocks Trailhead
There are several driving routes to the trailhead, but this is the quickest. A good road map is needed. From Roosevelt, take State Highway 121 north. This is where the elbow in Highway 40 is, right downtown, so the turnoff is easy to locate. Stay on Highway 121 north, follow it as is makes a sharp turn at Neola and heads due east. The highway will reach a "T" and turn south. At the "T", turn left (north) to the town of Whiterocks. From Whiterocks, drive northwest along the paved road. Not long after passing the fish hatchery, will be another junction. Go straight (not left). The road heads north, then east, then north again. At the next intersection, go straight and to the Elkhorn Guard Station. Continue straigh on the Elkhorn Loop Road, up Pole Mountain, and to Forest Road 110 before heading to Pole Creek Lake. Don't take the Elkhorn Loop to Pole Creek Lake, but turn right onto Forest Road 110. If you reach Pole Creek Lake, you overshot the turnoff. Follow Forest Road 110 north for about four miles to the signed (for West Fork Whiterocks Trailhead) turnoff to the left. Instead of turning left, turn right and drive about eight miles to the trailhead below Chepeta Lake. Most of the Elkhorn Loop as well as Forest Road 110 is gravel, but usually in good condition for cars, provided you drive slowly.
Looking South towards Kings from 12,600' on the way to Gilbert.
By far the most used route up Gilbert is from Henrys Fork, Dollar Lake, and the West Spur
. Henrys Fork to Dollar Lake is considered to be one of the most crowded (because of Kings Peak) route in the Uintas, so don't expect soliude until leaving the Dollar Lake area. The route beyond Dollar Lake and up the West Spur is mostly class 2, with a little class 2+ mixed in. Despite being the most popular route, it is actually the second easiest of the routes described. The route usually takes 2 days, sometimes 2.5 days.
The easiest route to the summit is via the North Ridge
. Surprisingly, the route is almost never used. It is also the shortest route. The route has also surprisingly been ommited from any of the guidebooks mentioning Gilbert Peak. The route follows the Henrys Fork Drainage to Elkhorn Crossing. From Elkhorn Crossing, the route follows the North Highline Trail to the very broad North Ridge. The route then follows the North Ridge to the summit. The route is class 2 after reaching the north ridge. The North Ridge can also be accessed by way of the Julious Creek Trail, but at least in the early 1990's, that trail was hard to follow. The route usually takes two days.
North Ridge of Gilbert Peak.
The longest routes described are the Gilbert Creek (Whiterocks Variation)
and the Gilbert Creek (Highline Trail Variation)
Routes. These are by far the longest routes, but these are very beautiful routes. These are very solitary route, and as far as I know, is only described here on the Summit Post. Some maps show a trail up Gilbert Creek from the Highline Trail, but is has long faded away. This is not a disadvantage however, as the going isn't to difficult. Instead of following a beaten trail, you will be traveling cross-country through miles and miles of beautiful alpine flower meadows, while following the tumbling creek. Expect to be completely alone after leaving the Highline Trail. You can even expect to have a large alpine lake all to yourself for camping! These routes usually take 4-5 days from the Whiterocks Trailhead, or 5-6 days from the Uinta River Trailhead. The route up to the summit itself is class 2 and class 2+.
One possibility and the second route that is mentioned in the guidebooks is from Gunsight Pass and up and over Gunsight Peak. Why this is the route recommended by the books is beyond me, as much of it is loose scree. It is not difficult, but I found it un-pleasant when using it as a descent route from Gunsight. The only advantage this route may have is that is makes a logical route if combining Gilbert/Gunsight with Kings, but besides that single quality, I would skip the route in favor of one of the other ones. It will not be described in detail here.
Another possibility is the West Fork Beaver Creek Route. It is an almost never used route, but I have heard at least one other person speak highly of it. I have not used this trail to access Gilbert Peak, so beyond here, it wont be mentioned. You're on your own for this one, so pull out the map and compass! It should be a 3-day trip.
There are several other longer route possiblities as well. Since Gilbert isn't far from Kings Peak, it is possible to create variations of the King Peak approaches to climb Gilbert. There are several variations possible, but none will be discussed in detail. Besides Henry's Fork, two of the most logical possiblities are Uinta River-Chain Lakes
and Swift Creek
Looking East towards Gilbert from 12,100' on the West Spur
When to Climb
The normal summer season is July through September. Mosquitos are very thick in July. The Henry's Fork trailhead is usually open from May until sometime in October or early November. Between those two dates, the road is closed 3 to 3.5 miles from the trailhead.
In December through mid-February, Gilbert is a usually a 3-4 day climb via Henrys Fork (add six to seven miles round trip during this period). Climbing the Uintas are rather unique in winter because the most difficult part of the trip is actually covering the realitively flat ground to get to the mountain's base, and this is because of typically very powdery snow below treeline. Usually, once you reach the steeper parts of the mountains; the parts above timberline, the going actually gets easier because the snow is blown rock-hard. HERE
is a mid-winter trip report of an experience in the Henrys Fork Basin, and it will give you an idea of what type of conditions to expect. March is the easiest winter month to climb because of more consolidated snow and because the days are much longer. Late February is often good as well. There is often a good track by late season, especially late March because the Wasatch Mountain Club does a ski/snowshoe trip every last Saturday of March. April and May are usually easier than winter season for snow ascents. Stream crossing can be a real problem in late April, May or June, and in very heavy snow years, sometimes early July. HERE
is a trip report of a late April ski trip by SP member Mockba. He adds that for strong climbers, mid-Feb through May ascents can be done in one long day.
Henrys Fork (North Ridge or West Spur), is the only practical winter access to Gilbert in Winter or Spring. If you were to attempt the Gilbert Creek Route in Winter, for example, the round trip distance would be about 80 miles!
Gilbert Peak as seen from Kings Peak looking North on a summer day.
No permits are required.
There is camping at the trailhead (Henry's Fork Campground) and plenty of good campsites all the way to Dollar Lake. Dollar Lake is a very heavily used campsite, so I would recommend camping elsewhere in summer.
Gilbert Peak as seen from the Bald Mountain Trail en route to the Red Castle Lakes area in early September 2003.
Information regarding the conditions for climbing Gilbert Peak can be obtained from Wasatch-Cache National Forest, 8236 Federal Bldg., 125 S. State Street, Salt Lake City, UT 84128, (801)524-3900.
Weather Forecast for Central Uinta Mountains
Here are some average highs and lows from the 13,123 foot elevation (4000 meters) in the Uintas (about the same altitude as the summit):