Car to car in 1 day via Henry's Fork
My friend Curt and I were planning a trip to climb to the top of Kings Peak, the highest point in Utah back in the spring of 1997. After scouring all of the information that I could from various guide books and reading what little there was on the internet at that time, I mentioned to Curt that a few folks had climbed it on one long day, to which he quickly responded “What are you freaking nuts?” I have been known to get a little “freaking nuts” once in a while just to make life interesting, so I was intrigued and made a mental goal that day that at some point I would climb Kings in a day. After 10 years and 4 successful summit attempts, I felt like I could definitely do it and after my good friends Craig and Steve started planning to make a one day summit bid; I informed them that I was in.
We met at Craig’s house just after 8:00 PM and after making a quick stop at a convenience store for supplies and liquid refreshment we were off, heading east on I-80 for Wyoming. The drive seemed to go very quickly, as we reminisced about days in the mountains, ex-girlfriends and all sorts of rousing gossip and before we knew it we were making a pit stop in Mountain View Wyoming. The first thing that I noticed was that the air was considerably cooler than I was used to in Salt Lake and I knew it would be even colder once we reached the trailhead. After a quick break we made our way to the dirt road that would take us deep into the North Slope of the Uintas and after a few more great tunes and good laughs we arrived at the Henry’s Fork Trailhead.
The air was definitely cooler, but not as bad as I thought that it would be and although there were a number of cars at the trailhead, it was not as crowded as we have seen it at times in the summer months and we wondered how many people we would encounter on the trail. I proceeded to set up my tent, which I would be sharing with Steve, while Craig began the dubious task of clearing a nice comfortable spot in his car to sleep. The tent went up quickly and I downed a Diamox tablet, trying to avoid any severe run-ins with the altitude. On two of my previous summit attempts I had suffered from severe AMS and I certainly did not want to have to hike several miles under similar circumstances, so I was keeping my fingers crossed that I would be spared. I spent a few minutes gazing at the stars and unbelievable would be an understatement to describe the sheer beauty of the vast expanse of space that I was being privileged enough to witness. The Milky Way was bright and it seems like I have never in my life seen it so prominent and breathtaking and I was happy to be in this place in this moment, viewing this spectacular scene.
It was close to 11:30 pm and with alarms set for 3:00 am, I knew I had to settle down quickly if I was to get any sleep. It took me a few minutes to get settled in and I actually slept really well. I was in the middle of a fantastic dream when I was awaked by Steve’s alarm, but I was not tired at all and I was feeling really good and started to get really excited for our journey to the top of the state. Everyone seemed to be in a jovial mood and after we broke camp, we all quickly devoured our various breakfast items, while getting our gear ready for what we knew would be a long and tiring day. It was quite cool out I knew that I would heat up quickly, so I kept my jacket in the pack and opted for a poly-pro top over my long sleeved t-shirt and after a couple of quick photos we set off on our journey to reach the summit of Kings Peak and return back to the trailhead in one day.
We donned our headlamps and set out on a rather quick pace. We all commented that we felt great and so we really made an effort to hike quickly and with some great conversation, the time literally flew by and we reached the Elk Horn crossing in just under two hours. Right before the crossing Steve stopped because he saw a rather large animal blocking the trail and we all squinted into the night to see if we could identify the rather imposing beast. We thought it was probably a moose, so we made some noise and tried to get it to run along and after a few futile attempts, Craig inched forward to discover that it was actually two small reflecting circles on a tree and we all had a good laugh and were relieved that we wouldn’t have to put our “man skills” into play at this early hour in the morning.
After the crossing we decided to take a break and we found a nice log to sit on while we took a relaxing break. We all had various snacks, but Steve brought the “snack O’ the day”, some moose gu (Peanut butter, honey and corn starch mixed) and he generously offered us some and it was fantastic. After our break the sun was just starting to come up and when we emerged into the Henry’s Fork basin the scene was truly magical. I have been in that place many times, but never has it looked as fantastic as it did on this day and we stopped to take some pictures about a mile before Dollar Lake at 6:00 am. Passing through Dollar Lake was also very weird, because we didn’t see a soul and there was nobody stirring, so we felt confident that the usual hordes of Boy Scouts would probably not be on the trail and we were all ok with that. We continued to keep our brisk pace and as we gained more elevation we looked for another place to rest and fill up our water bladders, but unlike previous years, we did not see the usual small streams that we had encountered before. When Gunsight Pass came into view we saw a group of about 15 heading for the pass and it was the first sighting of other people so far, which is very rare for this trail during the summer season. We decided to take another quick break for more moose gu and snacks and we all agreed that we would just look for some water on the way back, as we all seemed to have an ample reserve.
After our break we made quick time heading up to Gunsight Pass and when we reached it we were greeted by the group we had seen below. It was an explorer scout troop and the leaders were trying to figure out which way to go, so we advised them that heading down into Painter Basin was a waste of time and that the easiest and quickest way was to contour over the west flank of West Gunsight Peak, which we had done before and knew was clearly the best route from here. We told them to follow us and after a few pictures and a shot of gu, we headed up. After about 10 minutes we looked back and noticed that they had taken our advice and were proceeding up the faint trail in our direction. As we continued up the plateau we were greeted by a very beautiful grouse and we stopped to take a few photos, before allowing it to move on it's way while not trying to bother it too much. The upper meadow below Anderson Pass was gorgeous and we were making decent time, so we did not stop to take any breaks, but only for the occasional photo. Eventually we made it back to the trail and we all pushed to the top of Anderson Pass, reaching it just after 9:00 am and we were greeted by a young mountain goat that hurried off into the rocks upon our arrival. We were all feeling great and we knew at this point that the summit was pretty much in the bag, but I was worried about how I would be feeling on the descent. We took a long break at the pass and were greeted by the second group of the day, a group of college students that were on a course that lasted several weeks and trekked some serious mileage across the Uintas. We talked to them for a few minutes and then we decided to head up for the summit. Craig bounded off in the lead with Steve and I trying to keep pace, but as usual, Craig’s pace only picked up as he made his way up and Steve and I stayed together most of the way. We were both feeling really good and as we passed the final false summit, I headed up for the top and Steve stopped to take some pictures of Craig on top. We reached the top just after 10:00 am and the weather was absolutely perfect with the usual stunning views in every direction. We took a nice long break at the summit, having snacks, taking pictures and enjoying the vistas. After about 50 minutes on top I started to feel some nausea coming on and I knew that I had to get moving, so geared up and headed down, while Craig and Steve attempted to catch a picture of the two of them in the air at the same time, much to the amusement of everyone. They were not far behind me and it was not long before both of them passed me, as I had really slowed down and still felt miserable, but it was nothing compared to my summit climb in 2003, when I was severely stricken with AMS about 300 feet below the summit, so I was thankful for that and knew that it was just a minor bump in the road. We passed the college group on their way up and we could also see the scout group slowly making their way up from the pass. I was feeling much better at Anderson Pass and we took a small break to attend to our more sensitive areas (See photo Boudreaux’s Butt-Paste). The hike back to Gunsight Pass was uneventful, although my feet did start to hurt a little and I knew that it would be a long hike out, but we were having so much fun that I barely even noticed.
We took another short break at the pass to ingest more moose gu, but we didn’t stay long, because we were running low on water and on our way down we spied a small pond off to our left and we could see a tiny stream running into it and we knew that it would be a perfect place to replenish our reserves. It was only a short off trail trip over to the water where we stopped and took a long break. It felt great to have the rest, but the famous Uinta Mosquitoes were out in full force and they did become very irritating, but the nice cold water really picked up our spirits. The hike back to Dollar Lake seemed much longer than it had earlier in the morning and we were all noticeably not as fresh as we had been in the AM. We also had a hint of what was to come, as we passed a few groups of hikers that all seemed to stop us for some trail beta and we happily obliged. Just after Dollar Lake we stopped for our last major break on a large rock. We ate more moose gu, jerky and crackers and thoroughly enjoyed the fantastic weather that we were having. All of us were “feeling it” at this point and we were very aware of the long trek that still awaited us, so we did take our time to rest and replenish our energy and fluids.
The rest of the hike had some familiar themes that seemed to repeat themselves over and over again: Pain and a steady stream of hikers making their way to Dollar Lake. We passed at least 3-4 scout troops with what I would estimate to be around 60 scouts, all in different attire and sporting various dispositions. It actually provided us with some mild entertainment, as we noticed the usual terribly packed packs, with all sorts of gear tied and hanging all over the place and the defeated looks that were setting in after only a few miles. I really did not feel a whole lot of pain on this hike until the last 3-4 miles, but those last few miles certainly made up for the rest of the day. My back and feet were throbbing and the lack of sleep was finally catching up. I have to say that I have done this trek many times, but on this day there never had been an experience quite like this hell that was the last 2-3 miles and they were really pretty bad for me and I just had to try and not focus on my back and feet. I tried to think about anything to take my mind off of it and it almost seemed like a week had passed by since we had started earlier in the morning. Steve and Craig pulled ahead of me on the last half mile and when I finally saw the trailhead I felt unbelievably relieved and taking my pack off was pure bliss. We had made it, Kings in a day! It was 4:37 pm, so our time was not earth shattering by any means, but we felt good about our accomplishment. We all commented that this was a perfect day with fantastic companions and that all in all we could not asked for better conditions, partners or weather. It was probably my favorite experience in the Uintas so far and I am already thinking about getting back there to do it again.
Note: To see a short video from our hike, please click on the link below:
Kings Peak Video