In the summer of 2004, I flew to Salt Lake City to begin my quest to climb the highpoints of Utah and Idaho. On a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of “degree of difficulty” with Alaska’s Mt. McKinley rated a 10, Idaho’s Borah Peak is considered an 8 and Utah’s Kings Peak a 7. At 12,600 feet, Borah is not quite as high as Kings (13,500) and it is a relatively short scamper (3 ½ miles, one-way) but Borah is very steep. In fact, it is the steepest of the 50 state highpoints
Kings Peak, on the other hand, is very remote and upon arriving at the trailhead, requires a 14-mile hike just to reach the base of the peak. Kings Peak is one of the least climbed state highpoints because of this inaccessibility. While Borah is climbed in a day, Kings typically is done in 3 days because of the distanced involved. I decided to tackle Kings Peak first, thinking that the very gradual altitude gain during the long trek in would give my body a better opportunity to adjust to the altitude.
I had hoped to do Kings with my daughter, Kea, my friend Jim Lundgren and his daughter, Ashley. Three years earlier, Jim and Ashley joined me in Japan to climb Mt. Fuji, the nation’s highpoint. We had a wonderful experience and I was anxious to share the Utah experience with Kea, as well. As it turned out, none of the three was able to join me. Left to doing this one solo, I decided I would push myself a bit and do Kings in two days: to hike in as far as I could go on day 1, climb to the summit early the next day, and then hightail it back out the 14 miles to my car before nightfall of day 2.
This was my first overnight trek in the mountains and I carried about 50 pounds on my back: a tent, sleeping bag, food, water, extra clothing and gear. I had spent the previous night in a motel in Evanston, Wyoming, a small town in the state’s southwest corner near the Utah border and after a two-hour drive the next morning, found myself at Kings’ remote trailhead. I left my rental car around noon in delightful 67-degree weather and I lumbered up the trail, feeling the full weight of my pack. By 5pm, I had hiked about 10 miles and my altimeter registered 10,000 feet. I decided to stop here and set up camp. I was in a high valley, surrounded by majestic peaks. And from this vantage point, I could see my goal, the summit of Kings Peak. I thought my day’s exertion would allow me a restful night’s sleep but the altitude caused me enough of a headache that I slept an hour or two, at most.
At dawn, I arose eagerly and prepared for the climax of my mountain adventure. I ate a modest breakfast, filled my bottles from a nearby stream and treated the water with iodine tablets. Rather than carry my large backpack, I filled a small daypack with the bare essentials for the climb and left all other possessions in my tent. This lighter pack allowed me to move faster than the exhausting day before. I was rejuvenated and ready to head out.
The trail ahead offered a gradual and winding 4-mile hike to reach the base of Kings Peak. However, I chose a more direct approach, which took me across the valley floor straight for Utah’s highest summit. This shortcut would cut my distance in half, I reasoned, and I preferred a steeper, more direct approach anyway because it’s just so much more exciting & fun.
My first challenge after reaching the other side of the valley floor was a long and steep, rocky chute, rising 1,200 feet up an incline sloped from 30 to 60-degrees. It took some time to gain the top of this chute: two steps up were too often followed by one or two steps back as the loose rocks underneath my feet gave way. Once on top, though, the summit pyramid was all that lay before me: a very large heap of rocks that rose an additional 1,500 feet to the summit. After a short break for lunch, I continued my ascent. Two hours of upward-plodding brought me to a final, precarious slab of rock, shared by a man and his two sons. I had finally arrived at the top of Utah!
The climbers who shared the summit with me were the first people I had seen since a handful of hikers near the trailhead the day before. They were awaiting the arrival of a friend who was making his second attempt on this remote peak. Their friend, Richard Carey, arrived just as I began to start back down. I visited with him briefly and discovered that Kings Peak was Richard’s 50th state highpoint. I felt privileged to witness the culmination of his peak-bagging dreams. He now belonged to an elite group of adventurers who had also climbed, hiked, walked or driven to the top of all 50 states!
It was on the way down from the summit when I realized how exhausted I was. My lack of sleep and the grueling two days were beginning to take a toll on me. It was a chore working my way down through the rocks. I tried to focus on every step now as any misplaced one could easily result in a turned ankle…or worse. Most climbing injuries occur during the descent when bodies are tired, muscles spent, and one’s mental guard is down a bit.
I made it off the 1,500-foot summit pyramid in good shape and hiked over to the top of the rocky chute. The upper section is the steepest, angled at about 60-degrees and I used my hands to lower myself down. When the slope lessened a bit I was able to descend faster. It was more of a controlled fall, and my biggest concern was hyper-extending my knee. I fell a half-dozen times, I’m sure, as my “run” down the slope got out of control. After one fall, as I was emptying my shoes of small rocks, I noticed a large white tent at the bottom of the chute. A man was standing next to the tent and it seemed he was looking up at me. I was sure he was amused at the site of me running down, falling, running some more and falling again. I was sure he was wondering “what’s this screwball doing coming down the mountain in this manner?” And then I saw another man, walking toward the fellow next to the tent…I was looking forward to visiting with these guys after getting off the chute. Any conversation would be a welcomed break, I thought.
As I neared the bottom of the chute and I looked in the direction of the tent, it was gone...and the two men had disappeared, as well ! I scanned the valley near and far and neither tent nor men were to be found. My mind was playing tricks on me. I was exhausted, sleep-deprived and still at altitude and I was hallucinating. The former conditions caused the latter, I surmised.
I continued on across the valley in the direction of my camp and after an hour had passed, I still had not located my tent. I consulted my GPS and I just could not believe the spot it was pointing me to. And so I continued to search until, finally, I decided to follow the GPS. Within 10 minutes I had found my camp. My mind was continuing to play tricks.
Prior to my trip, I told my wife I would do Kings Peak in two days and so she expected my call at the end of this second day. I could have called her and told her I was staying an extra night but I had no cell phone. I tried to rent one in Salt Lake City but a short-term rental was not available. I wanted to spend another night at this camp, get properly hydrated, have a nutritious meal and get some rest. But I knew if I didn’t hike out today, my wife would likely call the authorities and a search would begin for me. I did not want that to happen ! I needed to gather my things and hit the trail as soon as possible. I had three hours until sunset and ten miles to hike to get to my car. I decided to jettison everything except water, some snacks and a few articles of clothing. I felt awful about doing this. I could have avoided this by having a cell phone.
Carrying only the small daypack, I made good time on the trail. After an hour or so I entered the forest and soon came upon a boy standing in the middle of the trail, about 50 yards away. But what I saw next to him startled me – it was large black bear! It was broadside, right in front of the boy. But as I got closer, I realized it was not a bear but a large black dog, obviously the boy’s pet...and then I got closer still and I was stunned to see that it WAS a bear after all! But a few steps closer…and boy and beast disappeared ! My mind was at it again.
Down the trail a mile or so, I noticed a boy in a white t-shirt, staring at me. And as I got nearer, he too disappeared. I continued at a good clip but wondered if I was on the yellow-brick road on the way to Oz… then I came upon two girls sitting on a log, talking with each other, their backs to me…and then they were gone. A little while later, after coming around a bend I came upon a middle-aged man wearing suspenders, on the ground, on his stomach with his hands and legs behind him and up in the air as if he were hog-tied. He had a look of horror on his face as we looked at each other…and then he was gone!
Finally, as the sun was setting, I came out of the woods and spotted my rental car…and it did not disappear ! I unlocked the car, threw my pack in the back and drove off. I was miles away still from the small town of Evanston but happened upon a nondescript burger joint. It even had a drive-thru window so I wouldn’t have to walk my grubby self into a public place to eat. Nothing tastes better after being out in the mountains than a greasy cheeseburger and a creamy milk shake. What a pleasant ending to my adventure, I thought. I pulled into the drive-thru and a girl’s voice greeted me, “what’ll ya have, mister?”.
“I’ll take a cheeseburger and a shake”
“We don’t have any meat today, mister”
“No meat ?!! OK, I’ll have a shake. What flavors do you have?”
“Anything you want, mister”
“OK, I’ll have a chocolate mint shake”
"We don’t have chocolate mint, mister”
“What flavors do you have, miss?”
“Anything you want, mister”
“OK, then, I’ll have a chocolate shake”
“We don’t have chocolate, mister”
“Miss, what do you have?!!!”
“We have chocolate marshmallow, mister”
“OK, that sounds great, miss. I’ll have a chocolate marshmallow shake”
“OK, mister, please pull forward”
I pulled the car forward, rolled down my window...and the burger joint disappeared !
It was cool to see lightning actually strike the mountain in an explosion of rocks, flying in all directions. Got some great pics. Tip: Unless you are one of those marathon hikers, give yourself at least two nights to sleep during this hike. My feet have never hurt more than after this hike. Almost fell out of the car at the gas station.
started at 7am. took the "shortcut" from gunsight pass to anderson pass. saw some mountain goats. caught up with two guys from England on the summit ridge. first people I saw all day. They camped the night before near Dollar Lake. We summited together around 1pm and hurried off the mountain. Rain, snow, hail, sleet all took their turns in Painter Basin. up and over Gunsight again. saw only a couple more pairs of hikers coming in on my way out. lots of solitude. thunder and lightning like crazy the last 5 or 6 miles. glad to not be up high. back to the car at 7:30pm. ~28 miles total.
on a several day backpacking trip with a friend from Japan.
Camped at East Red Castle then came over from the ridge with Powell
With "West Gunsight Peak"
Did it from Henry's fork and took the contour at Gunsight. I was worried about finding it but,(without snow cover at least) it's obvious. A little stretch of Class 2-3 but then it's worth not having to give up all your elevation. I didn't realize that the last stretch before the summit would be Class 2-3 again though. There's not much of a trail there and with so many people it seemed like the only real direction anyone knew to go was up but it wasn't too hard and there wasn't much of a right or wrong way to go.
Standard route via Henry's Fork and Gunsight Pass; with Mark Duffy
Did the Henry Folk trail, started at 4:00am and returned at around 7:30pm? Nice day out, a few storms, and some wildlife spottings.
One of my longest day hikes but also most enjoyable..with Hotoven and Andy. Dropped into the Painter Basin because we missed the short cut trail across West Gunsight. Apparently you need to go up quite a bit directly from Gunsight Pass to avoid the cliff band and big talus slope. We were on top by 11:30 AM and it was threatening to storm by noon. 15 hours RT from Henry's Fork Trailhead. #37 State HP.
A backpacking trip with Robyn and the dogs. Saw some moose. Summer hail. Clear summit day. Ran into some of the ironmen who do this all in a 1 day slog.
Climbed this various times from various routes, also summited in 97,2009,2011
Great mountain to have for my first backpacking experience. It was long but not too difficult. We didn't stay on the summit too long because we got caught in the middle of a snowstorm. High threats of lighting chased us off. Rained a lot in lower elevations.
After spending the night at Lower Red Castle Lake, the morning revealed partly cloudy skies skirting the higher peaks. By the time I reached Kings Peak just past noon, rain, sleet, and snow had made travel more difficult and visibility meager. The subsequent hike down to Henry's Fork Lake was drearily cold. Still... a great hike despite the weather!
Camped at Dollar Lake. Should have taken the chute back - up and back through Gun Sight Pass made for a long day.
First time in the Uintas, a very unique mountain range indeed. Cool to see, but I'm not really drawn back. Dollar lake was a little tricky to find but a very nice place to stay. Passed a sizable flock of (domestic) sheep on the way down. We took it very chill and made it a three day trip, great time with friends.
Fun 3 day weekend, great campsite at Dollar Lake. Took the short cut from Gunsight Pass to Anderson Pass and down a chute back down to the valley. Hiked it with my wife and two good friends from Wyo, timed the rain storms perfect. Very unique Range!
Hiked in from the Henry's Fork TH and spent the night just off the trail near Dollar Lake in some trees. Got on the trail at 7:15, took the shortcut at Gunsight Pass, and summited in thick clouds before noon. Returned the same way. Rested for an hour, packed up camp, and back to the car before dusk.
No mosquitos to speak of. Some light rain a couple of times. A great trip!
Took the standard route over Gunsight Pass on the way up and went down the chute and across the meadow on the way back. Twelve and a half hours ctc with a lot of sheep in the meadow for comic relief. My second long day of this road trip.
03/29/2014 Swanson ski-in
08/10/2013 From Henrys Fork trailhead: 2:36 to summit, 4:56 round trip
3/30/2013 Swanson Bros. 12:33 round trip
8/18/2012 Gilbert, King's, South King's 8:26:53 car to car (Utah Triple Crown)
8/13/2011 10 hours RT
3/27/2010 Swanson Bros annual King's Peak ski-in, 16:50 RT
3/28/2009 With the WMC annual Swanson Bros KPT. I won't say what my total trip time car to car was. It's not pretty.
Also climbed 8/08/2007