Ski Trip to Gunsight Peak

Ski Trip to Gunsight Peak

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 40.80320°N / 110.3517°W
Additional Information GPX File: Download GPX » View Route on Map
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Apr 4, 2011
Activities Activities: Skiing
Seasons Season: Spring


What: One day ski trip to the summit of Gunsight Peak (13263')
Where: Uinta Mountains, Utah, 2.15 miles NE of Kings Peak
Length: 23.5 miles round trip
Total elevation gain: 4,531'
Start elevation: 8972'
Start location: Henrys Fork winter parking
Date: April 4, 2011
Round trip time: 14 hours 25 min, 5:35am to 8pm
Time to summit: 9 hours 15 min
Participants: me
Gilbert and GunsightRoute to Gunsight Peak as seen from the north ridge of Mount Powell
Gilbert and Gunsight As seen from Kings Peak


After a successful winter ski ascent of Gilbert Peak on March 10, 2011, I wanted to get Gunsight Peak in the winter as well. Gunsight would be harder as it was an additional 2 miles RT above treeline. The problem was there wasn't much winter left and the weather wasn't cooperating. The only day that looked at all feasible was the very last day of winter, March 19. The forecast called for sun with a high in the low 30's, but 55 mph wind gusts. Given that I'd be above treeline for 9 miles, I was pretty sure I would not make it if the forecast held true. However, the worst case I envisioned was going to treeline, getting in some good practice for the next week's trip to Kings Peak, and then turning around.

The night before the winds were strong enough to shake the car as I was trying to sleep in it. The next morning was unusually warm, 28F, so it didn't feel that bad skiing in the trees. But when I hit an open meadow at 10400' the wind came directly at me and I thought my glasses were going to freeze to my face. It was truly miserable crossing that and there was no question I'd be turning around at real treeline.
Windy meadowLooking back across the meadow

I skied another mile through trees and then it opened up and again was miserable. I made it to the top of a steep pitch, taking shelter in a small clump of trees at 11100' and surveyed the scene. Huge plumes were blowing off of the ridge ahead and some times it was completely obscured. In less than a minute, my ski tracks behind me had vanished. There was no question that I was turning around. I hung out for 15 minutes and had a nice snack, dreading my initial descent across an open slope. The wind was now in the strong enough to blow you over range and it was difficult to ski back to the trees, bracing myself during gusts. Once in the trees, it was pleasant as it had warmed considerably. When crossing the meadow, the wind was now at my back. I made it to the car in a few hours thinking, "next year".
The final mileAlmost back to car and very pleasant

And hopefully next year I will be back in the true winter, but skiing conditions that high up are usually good until mid May so winter or not I was up for another go this year.

To go or not to go

It was hard to find a good day. The forecast was for snowing or blowing or both. Finally, a sunny day was predicted with winds in the 15 mph range. Sounds perfect, but there was a slight problem in that heavy snow was predicted immediately preceding this perfect day which could make travel to the trailhead difficult and trailbreaking tough.

The forecast went back and forth as to how much snow was due and when I went to bed the night before I was to leave, things looked good. At lower elevations only about 3" was predicted and it didn't matter how much was predicted at high elevations since it would all blow away anyway.

I woke the next morning to discover it had snowed more than expected, about 8" with more on the way, and decided to bail. But by early afternoon no additional snow had materialized so I reconsidered. I prepared my food and gathered everything I would need to camp out in subzero temps followed by a dawn to dusk ski trip. It was time to go and it was snowing hard again. Grrr! I had to drive 150 miles to my destination and I didn't think it was a good idea to do that alone in a snowstorm, especially when I wasn't sure if the last 20 miles of dirt road would be plowed on a Sunday. But the car was packed. I went.

Getting there

The falling snow was a localized event and ended soon after leaving Salt Lake City. The roads were much better than anticipated. The scenery was beautiful with the brilliant fresh white snow dotted with little black newborn baby cow specks lying next to their mothers. As I was whizzing by at 75 mph, I was startled to see 4 deer grazing right at the edge of the shoulder and wondered if they were the same 4 deer doing the same thing the last time I drove by. I crested a hill at mile marker 21 in Wyoming to see a long line of windmills gleaming white with sunshine silhouetted against a dark cloudy sky. I cruised to a stop at the Maverick in Mountain View, a small town of 1200 people, where I like to top off the car before leaving the last remnant of civilization.

The women's bathroom has an interesting sign on the door inside. It says "DO NOT turn the lock, only push in or YOU WILL BE LOCKED IN". I worry every time I use it but have not been locked in yet.

A few more miles of driving brought me to the dirt road. It didn't look so bad. There were even bare spots. It looked like it had only snowed a few inches. It turned out to be fine and when the snow got deeper it was obvious that it had been freshly plowed.


Now my main concern was how cold it would get overnight. It was still light out and the temperature had already dropped to 11F. When I had skied to Kings Peak, nine days previous, it had also been cold. I had told myself on that trip that I would be happy if the temp was above 0 in the morning. When the car said 1F I thought "oh boy I got my wish". But within a few seconds it had dropped to 0. But on this night I suspected it would be even colder and if it was as warm as 0, I would be genuinely ecstatic. During the night I had to position myself so that only my nose was sticking out of my sleeping bag. For Kings, I hadn't had to do that. When I got up at 4:15am the car reported -3F. I could live with that.

It takes me a long time to eat, but I crammed in as much as possible, knowing it would be difficult to eat once I got going. Food in outside coat pockets freezes and food in inside coat pockets is hard to get at without unzipping and removing mittens.

The trip

My skis were on and I was ready to roll at 5:35am about an hour before it would be light. It felt much colder than it did for Kings. My neoprene overboots were a godsend. I had 3 layers on my legs, 4 on my core, two hats, a neck gaiter, a nose gaiter, and hand warmers.

The first 3 miles is almost flat along unplowed dirt roads. I started out on snowed/blown over ski/snowmobile tracks that worked great for awhile, but I soon discovered that the new snow was less deep above the tracks then in them as the trough had partially filled with blown in snow.

After 2.8 miles I turned left on the Hole-in-Rock road and skied a short distance to Joulious creek. Off went the down vest, but I was sticking with everything else. On went the kicker skins and I ascended a steep hill on the west side of the creek. The next mile was a ski bushwhack through pretty dense trees. After the grade subsided I made my way down to the creek bed which is a cross country skiers dream. It rises steadily at a gentle grade for the next 3 miles. It is generally wide and straight with no major snags. It is mostly frozen over but there's always room to ski beside any open water.
The creek bedThe creek bed

Although the previous few sentences make it sound lovely, the disadvantage of skiing in a creek bed is that it's extra specially cold down there. Cold air sinks and you are going to be in the lowest spot around. The sun hits the trees above, but where you are it's still dark.

Earlier in the winter I had experimented to see what foods could be eaten straight from the freezer. Today I brought along some precooked bacon which when frozen, doesn't even taste cold. That was gone quickly and I wished I had planned better and brought some other taste fine frozen foods like nuts and pretzels, but I could tough it out until it warmed up.

About 9am I reached the big meadow at 10400' and I was finally in the sun. Trailbreaking hadn't been bad, but when you are the only one doing it, even not bad gets tiresome after awhile. I took shelter in the last set of trees and took a break, anticipating shedding layers left and right once I started going. But the wind picked up and the sky was quickly transitioning from bright blue to dark gray.

After the meadow there is a mile of trees, another meadow, and then the broad ridge leading to Gilbert and Gunsight. Initially there are a few clumps of trees here and there to hide behind, but by 11300' the trees are gone and there are no terrain features to break the wind. It is a barren expanse the rest of the way. I took another break at 11am, just shy of 11300', knowing it would be my last chance. I had 3.8 miles left and a little over 2000' to climb.
Last of the treesThe second meadow and the start of the ridge to Gilbert and Gunsight. I turned around at the start of this meadow last time.

The ridge becomes almost a plateau, rising gently from north to south. There are very steep drop offs to the east and west. At its widest, it is almost 1.5 miles across, totally barren, not even a big rock to break things up. Finally, after mile 8.8 at about 11900', the tip of Gilbert comes into view. But, I wasn't going to Gilbert and it would be awhile before I'd be able to see Gunsight.
Tip of GilbertFinally Gilbert comes into view.

At 12600' there is an 80' steep rocky step. As I approached it, mostly snow transitioned to mostly rocks. I kept my skis on as long as possible, gingerly stepping on tops of rocks. I gave up after awhile and strapped them to my pack. The rocky step was the only annoying footing of the trip. The rocks are big and the snow between them is either rock hard slick or does not support your weight making it easy to sink in and bang up your shins between the rocks.

At the top of the step at mile 10, both Gilbert and Gunsight are in view. Gilbert looked so close, only .6 miles away and an easy 700' up. Gunsight was 1.6 miles away and the weather in that direction looked bad. It was tempting to switch targets, but I'd already been on 3 ski trips to Gilbert, but had never been to Gunsight this time of year.

Gilbert PeakGilbert looking close
Gunsight, W Gunsight, Kings, and Henrys Fork PeaksGunsight at left, not so close

I had to walk on rock for awhile and wondered if I should have left my skis below the step, but I came to a large snow patch and was glad I had them. The snow patch wasn't nearly as big as I would have liked and at the end of it the skis came off again. It looked mostly rocky the rest of the way and any snow patches didn't look big enough to be worthwhile to ski on. I carefully considered where to stash my skis. I didn't want them to blow away or to be covered up.
Buried skis and polesBuried skis on previous trip

On my previous trip to Gilbert I had found my stashed skis covered with snow except for their tips. Without a GPS it would have been like looking for a needle in a haystack as every rock looks like every other rock. Even with a GPS it could have been tough because I've seen them be off by 50' and looking for buried skis in a circle with a 50' radius with a howling wind would be grim indeed. I considered myself lucky. Footprints get filled in fast so there is no following your physical tracks back.

I stashed them next to the biggest rock I could find which would hopefully block them from blowing away. But big is relative and this rock was only sticking up about 8" and I was worried about what would happen if the wind changed direction. The other time I had consciously placed them in a depression to keep them from blowing away and here there was no depression, but nevertheless I worried they'd be buried.
Gunsight PeakGilbert/Gunsight saddle with Gunsight beyond

I still had 1.1 miles to walk to the summit. I was struck by how brown it looked in the wind tunnel of a saddle between Gilbert and Gunsight. Brown was bad. Brown meant windy. Not windy enough to blow you over, but windy enough that when you put your foot down it doesn't always land where you think it will.
Gilbert Creek BasinGilbert Creek Basin

From the saddle there is a nice view of Gilbert Creek Basin, with the seldom climbed Cleve Benchmark at the far end of the trees. Even though it was cloudy with snow blowing around like crazy and other peaks obscured, I was always blessed with good visibility wherever I happened to be at the time I was there.
The route to Gunsight PeakLooking back from 13100'

It was still really windy past the pass but not quite as bad and I knew I was going to make it. I wanted to summit by 3pm in order to make it back to the car before dark and made it there by 2:50, 9 hours and 15 minutes after starting. From the summit there wasn't a lot to see. I had hoped to get some nice pictures of Kings Peak and the Kings-Emmons ridge, but it was completely socked in. I had to settle for a picture looking down at Gunsight Pass with West Gunsight Peak obscured behind it.
Gunsight PassLooking down at Gunsight Pass

My sister says I worry too much and today was no exception. My mind was on my skis the whole time. I wanted to get back to them ASAP so I didn't linger. I was starving by now, but it was too windy to stop. It was relatively warm, probably around 25-30F, but with the wind, my hands were freezing even with hand warmers. I carefully followed my GPS track back and found the skis with no problem. Yipee! Still starving I made my way to the top of the rocky step where I took the skis off again and wind or no wind I had to take a break. It had been over 5 hours since my last one. I couldn't take cold hands anymore so I broke out a second set of hand warmers for my mittens and having 2 handwarmers per mitten was divine. The only other time I've ever used 2 handwarmers had been on a calm day when the temperature was -22F. I felt much better after eating and life was rosy once again.
Sunshine returnsLooking north and ahead
Looking backLooking south and behind

Things brightened considerably once I was down to treeline. To the north where I was headed the sky was mostly blue. Behind me it was still an ominous shade of gray.
Almost doneStill a mile to go

I made it to the car just before dark. There was a note tucked in the driver's side window. I thought uh-oh, what did I do wrong now, did someone not like where I had parked? But again my sister is right and I worry too much. The note started out "Hey there, Don't see too many cars parked here. I was wondering if you are some of those crazy animals that do Kings in the spring?" etc. etc. etc. It was a very nice note and was a very nice way to end the day.

Trip topo

Gunsight trip topoTopo map of trip


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-19 of 19
Matt Lemke

Matt Lemke - Apr 14, 2011 10:07 pm - Voted 10/10

Thank you so much!!!

I am planning a 2 week Uintas traverse this July and this TR gives me an idea how much snow is remaining compared to last year (where the snow never went away). Don't see Uintas TR's very much. Well done


ZeeJay - Apr 14, 2011 10:23 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Thank you so much!!!

Thanks and good luck on your trip! As to snow levels, it seems like we've been getting another storm every other day this April. As to Uinta TR's, almost everyone in Utah lives between Ogden and Provo and we are all spoiled by the mountains close by.


Dean - Apr 16, 2011 10:56 pm - Voted 10/10

Amazing solo

I never cease to be amazed by your efforts. What a trip and it truly gives meaning to the oft used term "solo". Nice TR.


ZeeJay - Apr 17, 2011 9:44 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Amazing solo

Thank you Dean! :)


Moogie737 - Apr 17, 2011 6:39 pm - Voted 10/10

A fabulous report about a tremendous effort.

Thanks for sharing the poignant thoughts, the vivid descriptions and the scintillating pictures. Nice going.


ZeeJay - Apr 17, 2011 8:04 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: A fabulous report about a tremendous effort.

Thanks Michael!


lcarreau - Apr 17, 2011 8:19 pm - Voted 10/10

Blows me away ...

What I always find amazing is your "time management" skills.
When you can find the time to do what you want to do, well ...
that is heaven.

It's also been quite windy in Arizona, but it's dry as a bone and
no snow to deal with. Actually, I miss snow blowing in my face.

Awesome report, Zee !!!


ZeeJay - Apr 17, 2011 10:38 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Blows me away ...

Thanks Larry! It's easy to find the time to do what you want, you just neglect everything else :)


lcarreau - Apr 18, 2011 12:21 am - Voted 10/10

Re: Blows me away ...

Geez, WHY didn't I think of that? : )

Travis Atwood

Travis Atwood - Apr 18, 2011 5:15 pm - Voted 10/10

Fine Job

Nice work as usual ZeeJay! I always look forward to your trip reports.


ZeeJay - Apr 18, 2011 6:08 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Fine Job

Thank you Travis!


yadahzoemtn - Apr 19, 2011 10:53 am - Voted 10/10

Your Expertise and Stamina Surpasses All

Thanks for the fabulous TR. I have always said, "If I am ever lost in the mountains, I hope I am with ZeeJay!


ZeeJay - Apr 19, 2011 11:31 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Your Expertise and Stamina Surpasses All

Thanks Lana! It's about time you joined SP!!!

Dallas - Apr 19, 2011 3:55 pm - Hasn't voted


What type of ski/boot set up do you have? AT or Telemark? And what type of boots? I see that you had to do a lot of rock scrambling and I am curious to see what type of boot you had on to get through all of that? Do you think it would be advantageous to pack a pair of approach boots to help with the scrambling or is the weight/value ratio not enough?


ZeeJay - Apr 19, 2011 6:30 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Boots?

I for sure don't use AT gear, but I wouldn't really call it telemark gear either. I use back country x-country touring gear. The skis I used for that trip are Atomic Selkirks with a sidecut of 78-60-70. If anyone else had been along I would have used Atomic Sierras with a sidecut of 69-56-63 as they are lighter and faster but not as good for doing a lot of trail breaking. Both pairs have fishscales in the middle and full metal edges. Although I have full length skins, for that trip I just used 50MM kicker skins. I have NNN-BC bindings and used Alpina BC 30 boots that are fairly lightweight and flexible. I wouldn't want to hike all day in them, but for relatively short distances (less than 4 miles or so) where I'm not going particularly fast, they are plenty comfortable and I find no need to bring another pair of boots.


imontop - Apr 21, 2011 9:27 am - Voted 10/10

Great TR Zee!

You are the undisputed Queen Uinta! You got guts!


ZeeJay - Apr 21, 2011 12:32 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Great TR Zee!

Ha! I seem to remember a picture of you holding a rattlesnake!


imontop - Apr 21, 2011 5:05 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: Great TR Zee!

Not so. It was a gopher snake.....a really big one. You are comparing apples to oranges. Anyway, looking at those pictures that you took of all those wind swept ridges, the snake is much more pleasant. Thats why you're crazy. It's a good crazy though.


ZeeJay - Apr 21, 2011 6:38 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Great TR Zee!

My bad.

Viewing: 1-19 of 19



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