Skiing Kings Peak in a day, since 1971
Steve Swanson cruising at 13,300 el. 3/31/07
KPT is a Utah winter classic, organized by Larry and Steve Swansons since they were rough kids, this year being the 34th. Please check more tales, links, and and trivia in last year's TR
This report is narrated in three voices, Larry Swanson's and Mike Berry's (both italicized), and my own filling in between.
The page went through a major overhaul on May 1st 2007 to include Rob Rogalski's images
Mother Nature to the rescue!
Tough trailbreaking 4 weeks ahead of the KPT Our trail prepping crew just made it to Elkhorn Xing
Larry: In late February Alexis Kelner and Larry skied into the Henry's Fork to check on the snow conditions. There was lots of snow, more than usual, but the trail breaking was difficult, with sinking to the knee in many places. They didn't get far. In came the cavalry, "Team Uinta," (Dmitry Pruss, Rob Rogalski, Judy Zachary, Mike Berry, and John Marks) with the power of young legs and enthusiasm to match. They fought through to Elkhorn Crossing in a long day. Later in March, Larry, Alexis, and Judy skied in again and discovered that "Wasatch Warming" was rapidly taking its toll. Things were starting to look tough. Snow bridges were sinking and sunny sections were bare. On Monday, before the KPT, Steve Swanson, Larry, Alexis, Milt Hollander, and Dave Hanscom gave it one last concerted effort with the idea that it might be necessary to go to the summer trail (which also had long bare sections), if the forecast storm didn't materialize. The meadows above Elkhorn were 50% bare which is a first in the long history of the KPT.
The snows did come, however, with 10 inches and more of perfect base and trail breaking conditions.
So most of the time we'd be hard pressed to find any evidence of our 4 weeks old track ... especially at pre-dawn twilight. And when we did see the overblown ditch of the old track, it was often easier to break fresh trail over pow-covered crust next to it. So much for the valiant effort of these not-so-young legs :)
The night before: 3/30/07
The "base camp" at Henrys turnoff Toast to the snow!
There wasn't that many people at the Parleys' parking lot, the traditional carpool setup, but once we arrived to Lotty's in Evanston, the place was as packed as always. Between the usual banter, I managed to finish the two usual slices of prime rib ... and I thought I wasn't even hungry! Now all this fat should carry me through the following day like magic :)
Larry told us that it was possible to drive some half-mile South of the Henrys Fork junction just last Monday, but when Mike pulled his Subaru into the turnoff, it was covered with good 10 inches of fresh snow. So we decided not to tempt the fate, stopped right there, and camped on the roadbed. A few drops of cognac and in minutes I was sound asleep in Igor's tent - thanks a lot Igor!
Top of Utah again!
Dave Hanscom at Elkhorn Crossing Steve Swanson at Elkhorn Crossing
Mike: Larry Swanson made the standard obligatory rounds for wake-up call at 4:20 am. However, thanks to an act of the U.S. Congress, daylight savings time had arrive before the King's Peak trip this year, and this meant we would not see any morning light until well beyond the campground. Of course, the much more practical advantage of an extra hour of light at the end of the day was apparent to everyone.
As usual the day started early under a star-filled sky, with the surreal scene of skiers ghosting away into the darkness with headlamps winking and bobbing down the trail. The early starters were treated to a wonderful moonset glow over the western ridges while trailbreaking on the 3 mile road in.
Stashing the goodies at Elkhorn The ski track pulls into the lower basin, as the peak looms far ahead
We stopped for a few minutes at the summer campground. A skier's track from the previous day continued up the summer trail, but of course we wanted to avoid its ups and downs and sticking-out rocks, so we dropped into the creekbed. Our old track was hard to follow in the dark, but with a few exceptions, the crust under the fresh layer of pow held just fine. Still it was substantial trail breaking effort, and I was very glad when, at last, a few more skiers caught up with me and Rob and took a great share of the trailbreaking burden.
Gerrish in the lower basin Up along the Dollar Lake Bench
The Sun finally cleared the ridges to the East and lit the meadows here and there, but it wasn't really a sunblock time till we stopped for breakfast at Elkhorn Xing at 9 am. As usually I left a stash of water, food, and spare socks at this strategic location, some 8 miles from the car. More skiers caught up with the lead crew here, and soon the whole bunch of us stretched across the beautiful open basin in the direction of Gunsight Pass.
Rob skiing across Henrys Fork Basin I can see the goal ahead!
As usually, we didn't commence a gradual ascent to the Dollar Lake bench until over a mile South of the summer trail crossing.
Mike: Just beyond Dollar Lake, on a bench with a view of the high ridge, 6 or 7 skiers took a well-deserved break to replenish energy stores and liquids and enjoyed the view of the high ridge and King's Peak itself.
Rob with the Castle Butte Judy and Rob at Dollar Lake Bench Steve Swanson near the treeline The lead team, with Henrys Fork Peak towering beyond Castle Butte across the basin
We rounded the corner towards Gunsight Pass, it was getting really breezy now, with perhaps the best place for a quick break, skin-up stop, and stash site in the wind shadow of the Square Rock, at the base of the pass.
Gerrish and Mike, with Gunsight Pass ahead In the wind shadow of the Square Rock Gunsight Pass as seen from the Square Rock Blowing hard at the pass Beyond the pass: cutoff traverse or drop-reascend?
Mike: The lead group pushed on to reach the pass around 11:30 am with perhaps 50- 60 mph tailwinds!
The pass didn't look like a good place to ponder complicated questions, the windchill was fairly unbearable. Brad started to cut an upward traverse towards the rim of Anderson flats, but the very first couple hundred feet of rock-solid wind crust were more than enough for me to make up my mind. I dropped towards the bottom of the bowl, cut a few switchbacks near the Southern side of the snowfield, where the snow wasn't packed as stiff, and finally booted a few hundred feet over the boulders. Just like in most years, despite a bit of elevation loss, I don't think I lost any extra time or energy by working around the gnarly traverse section.
Looking back at Gunsight Pass A close-up of Gunsight Cutoff My favorite alternative to the Cutoff traverse Anderson Flats greet us with swirling blowing snow Looking back at Anderson Flats and beyond
All the tracks rejoined at the edge of Anderson flats. We skied together towards the giant slope of the peak almost all the way, with one small booting section. Still, it was becoming clear that this year, there won't be fun skinning up Kings. It was possible to pick and choose a line around and maybe over boulderfields, but there were just too many rocks sticking out to enjoy skiing there. So the lead group of five left the skis at the base of the peak, and started booting almost straight up towards the ridge (some followers, for example Judy, began booting all the way from Gunsight and still were making fairly good time).
The split rock of the summit ridge shows up at last! The "Upper Saddle" marks the homestretch
It was fairly steady going, partly on the snow, partly on the boulders. The winds, still fierce on the flats below, were turning into light breeze up here, to die down completely at the summit. It was really fun to listen to the steady hum of the wind from across the ridge to the West, all the time enjoying the paradoxical calm on its East side. With the summit reached at 2:45, and the official turnaround time at 3, we didn't have to relax for too long.
Jan on the summit block Last steps to the top!
Barely a few minutes into descent, we met the second group of summiters-to-be, first Steve Swanson, the co-founder of the KPT and the oldest skiers to reach the top today, then Andrew - the youngest summiter of the trip, and Scott, the only true blue tele guy this year.
Rob at the summit Dave and Jan at the summit Jan and Bruce summit shot Lost at the peak or just geocaching :) ? Back at the "Upper Saddle", we met with Steve
I managed to glissade down a couple sections of the East slope, but it was mostly steps and boulders - still fast going, followed by even more leisurely skking back across Anderson Flats. The cutoff to Gunsight Pass, even with now firmed-up track, was a dubious sort of fun. But minutes later, I enjoyed the stashed water at the Square Rock, and the real fun glide down commenced!
Mike returning into headwind across Gunsight Pass Mount Powell Flat Top and the Basin below Sunlit slopes of Gunsight Peak Kings Peak behind us now!
Mike: A fast icy glide was in store for those skiers returning down the creekbed after 5 PM, one of the best in years! Also, the new DST coincided nicely with a moonrise viewed over the east ridge from north of the campground. This occurred just in time for our extra viewing enjoyment on the long 3 mile homestretch.
Larry: The track out was so good that coasting from Gunsight to the car in 3 hours was possible. All in all, we had the best conditions in years. As usual, there was a nice mixture of regulars and new folks for a total of 24. If this event were a university, some would be well into tenure by this time.
Last glance at the 13ers, as the track pulls into the woods at last Larry Swanson greets returning skiers
8 of us reached the summit, and most made it back to the car before headlight time. Pradoxically again, Scott had the worst glide with his fattest skis - they just wouldn't fit into the frozen track!
Thanks Larry, Mike, Brad, and Igor for sharing text and images, thanks the Founder Generation skiers - Steve and Larry and Dave for being true to the spirit of KPT after all these decades, and heartfelt thanks to all the crazy souls who joined in this time! See you at Lotty's in 2008!