Mount Powell is the smallest, but arguably the most beautiful, of the 4,000+m / 13'ers ringing the upper reaches of Henrys Fork. The close-up view of Red Castle across East Fk Smith Fk is unsurpassed, and Powell also got its own spectacular Castle Butte jutting deep into the upper cirque of Henrys Fk, and reflecting in the waters of Castle Lake.
The peak is named after John Wesley Powell (1834-1902), of 1869 Colorado River run fame, who served as USGS Director after Clarence King. Of course almost all the tourist crowds converge on the higher nearby peak named after King. Mount Powell is a place for solitude.
The peak is located in Uinta Mountains between Highline and North Slopes trail, and is fairly accessible in winter due to its relative proximity to the plowed roads to Bridger oil field facilities. The three sisters summits of the peak differ in elevation by just a few feet. All 3 exceed 4,000 m, the Northern-most being the tallest at 4,011 meters.
The route normal is from the North over Flat Top Mountain. This gradual ascent over high plateaus affords excellent views and the longest-lasting snowcover, but it is also the one most exposed to ridgeline winds and summer thunderstorms.
The North Slope route (descibed i.a. by Kelsey) is almost the exact opposite in quality. It stays below the timberline until the last two miles (in the general area of Henrys Fork Lake), then quickly gains altitude to the South-West of Castle Lake. The slope maintains nearly uniform 31 degree angle over 1600 vertical feet, and it faces generally North, making it at an attractive ski descent option.
Western slopes are steep, but one may ascend Flat Top Mtn by a gully draining from the 12,300 ft saddle separating the top of Flat Top from the Castle Butte, then continue South to Mount Powell.
Eastern slopes sport some segments of cliffbands but according to Kelsey, one may get to the top from there. Scott Patterson has been up this side of the mountain from Blanchard Lake, and may post a route description and some pictures later.
South slope (including Southwest ridge off saddle 12,073) of the Southern peak is accessible, but traversing across the two lesser summits of Mount Powell to the North requires some routefinding through a cliffband, and in winter, one can't get it done without taking the skis off.
The Northern fringes of Mt Powell are known as Flat Top Mountain. There, a 3-way trail junction just above the timberline connects North Slopes and Big Meadow trails in about 5 miles from the peak. You can get to this junction from Henrys Fk TH (6 milies), China Meadows TH (6 to 7 miles), or Dahlgreen Creek access road (5 miles). Let's start from the latter route, which is not only the shortest but has also the highest starting elevation at the trailhead, 10,000 ft.
From Mountain View, take rte 410 towards Robertson. In 7 miles, the highway makes a 90 degree turn West (right), and a well-graded unpaved road continues straight (South) towards NFS land and China Meadows TH. It is about 12 miles to a marked junction with North Slopes road to Henrys Fork, which turns sharply to the left (the road continuing straight reaches China Meadows in 7 miles, and is not plowed in winter).
North Slopes road climbs to the Henrys Fk divide. A quarter mile past the marked junctions with Whiskey Sprint and Reservoir roads, look for an unmarked junction with a graded forest road to the right (South). This is Dahlgreen access road, which serves oil wells and high-altitude logging sites. It may or may not be plowed in winter. In 4.5 miles, look for a spur road to the right (SW), marked "No ATV access". In a few hundred feet, it ends at a turnoaround at 10,000 ft. A former logging road, blocked by berms, continues up to the ridge separating Dahlgreen Creek and China Meadows drainages, and to the trail to Flat Top. (In case if you overshoot past this junction, note that main Dahlgreen road turns left and downhill, crosses Dahlgreen Creek, and continues to turn left until it eventually heads NE, in the direction of Henrys Narrows. It is blocked to vehicular traffic at mile 7). Note also that the 25,000 USGS quads do NOT show the logging roads in Dahlgreen's drainage correctly, but 100,000 quad
is nearly up-to-date. You can also consult with Google satellite maps
to for an up-to-date disposition of logging roads and clearcuts.
If you continue downhill on North Slopes road past Dahlgreen's road junction, you will descend into Henrys Fork in about 4 miles. The road to Henrys TH is described in Kings and Gilbert peak pages. It is plowed to within 3 miles of the summer trailhead in winter.
The Western slopes of Powell are accessible from China Meadows (Red Castle trail) or East Fk Blacks Fk (Bald Mtn trail). The two trails converge about 4 miles NW from the peak. The Southern slopes of the peak, overlooking Yellowstone Basin, can be accessed from Highline trail or East Fk Smith Fk pass.
Wilderness Area - no permit requ'd but certain group size and streamside camping restrictions may apply
When To Climb
The summer hiking season in Uintas is July - September. Early summer is muddy and mosquito-ridden, and fall brings snowfalls (not that they are completely impossible earlier in the year). Afternoon thunderstorms are a frequent problem in summer.
The best winter season is from February to April. Unplowed roads gradually become accessible in April-May, but South-facing slopes loose snow cover, and creeks shed snow quickly. In may be possible to do late fall - early winter skiing in October - November, depending on the quality of snow cover, although shorter daylight hours may pose a problem. Mid-winter snow tends to be deep and powdery, hindering access.