The Swanson Brothers and the Kings Peak Run
Larry and Steve Swansons are from the glorious 1960s-1970s generation of the pioneers of backcountry skiing in Utah. You can find a lot of the brothers' pictures in the classic Wasatch Touring guidebook of their fellow skiing trailblazer, Alexis Kelner - and a lot more images in the book are the aerials taken from the Swansons' light aircraft.
Alexis Kelner, Steve Swanson, Milt Hollander - ski mountaneering legends on a trail-prepping tour for the Kings Peak Run
Their idea of skiing Kings Peak alpine style, in a day without any intermediate winter camps, was hatched in the late 60s, and turned into an annual Wasatch Mountain Club tradition in 1970s. It is a fun event, with all the participants picking their own goals. Some turn back at or before the treeline, enjoying a "not too difficult" tour in the wilderness taiga gorge of middle Henrys Fork, others make it into the open country of the upper basin.
Steve Swanson on KPT '06
Those who do push all the way to the peak face an approximately 31 mile roundrip distance, with nearly 5,000 ft elevation gain, which typically takes between 14 and 18 hours to complete. Some years, the goal turned elusive for everybody, but on my limited memory (probably 8 years?), we haven't missed a season yet.
But the organizers do miss the goal fairly often these days. Larry survived a struggle with cancer in 2004. He continues to take part in the tour but haven't summited since then. Steve haven't quite made the summit on the more recent two runs too, but the conditions were fairly unfavorable each of these years, so I fully expect him to nail the peak again in the future. To your health and stamina, guys!
Trivia and Tidbits
Upper Basin of Henrys Fork, with the gap of Gunsight Pass on the left and Kings Peak far back on the right
...but the very first trip commenced from Dahlgreens Creek Road
When ?Last Saturday of March, 5 am
- Where ?
- Henrys Fork Winter TH
...but sometimes moved up a week - check Wasatch Mountain Club outings schedule
Since when ?1971. The first tour was done on modified downhill gear, and took the Swanson brothers 21 hours
How many times ?2006 trip was officially the 33rd, so they must have missed a couple seasons early on...
Lotty's prime rib is the way :)
Which route ?Gunsight Pass Cutoff typically, with a couple winter-specific variations such as following the creek rather than the summer trail, and beelining the peak slopes instead of going over Anderson Pass.
How long is it ?31 miles is usually quoted, but I personally think it is a mile or two longer. Allow 14+ hours.
Time-Honored TraditionsNot to be missed: 7 pm dinner pit stop at Lotty's in Evanston on the way in, and hot cocoa in the Swansons' van on return.
Memorable TidbitsRed-hued Northern Lights of 2001, frozen mallard duck in the snowcrust of Upper Henrys Basin in 2003, collapsing snowbridges in 2004, deep powder of 2005, killer drive home through a snowstorm in 2006 ... anybody has more tidbits to add?
2006 Trip Timeline and Tales
Team UINTA toasting tomorrow's adventure at the base camp
We left the traditional carpooling spot at Parley's by 5:30 pm and stopped for an equally traditional dinner, banter, & alcohol fill-up at Lotty's. The surprising part this year was Grizz's prime rib buffet attack. No matter how much I advertise my gimme-another-slice fat-loading theory, hardly anybody follows ... but this year I found a decent match in Grizz :)
Just after 9 pm, Rob drove into Henrys Turnoff and within minutes, I had my skis on, roaming around looking for a dry spot for a camp. But to my utter surprise, everything was snow-covered this year, so we pitched the tent right on supportive crust. A few customary drops of cognac and I was sleeping like a baby.
Then, boom, Rob is up and rolling his sleeping bag, and the time is just 4 am! And I thought they'll give me at least until 4:30 to sleep <GRRR> Well I couldn't go back to sleep, I still tried doing everything as slowly and deliberately as I could, but nonetheless by 4:40, I had the tent and stuff in the car, the skis and the headlamp on, and the track rolling underfoot. ( It was a good idea to have the stuff packed ... Sharon left her tent standing, and got some unanticipated fun looking for wind-strewn gear in the trees later next night).
First glimpse of Kings
By the time we reached the summer TH, it was light enough in the East to switch off the headlamp. The familiar track rolled up the creekbed, but in less than two miles
, it climbed out of the drainage and onto the ups-and-downs of the summer trail. Not the way we like it, but following this track was still a lesser evil compared with a mile of breaking trail in the unconsolidated powder of the creek bed.
Out of the woods and into the basin
The campers' track ended a mile short of Elkhorn Xing, and from that point we followed the creek of course, over the mini-waterfall and to the summer bridge. The winds were roaring in the Upper Basin ahead, so we stopped for a snack and to stash some water and food for the return trip just short of the crossing. The time was just after 8 am.
Dollar Lake Bench
We followed the meadows of the creek bottom for another mile and a half and then commenced a very gradual ascent onto Dollar Lake Bench, rounding the corner towards Gunsight Pass just shy of 11,000 ft el. The winds were quite a bit stronger here, but I was able to pick a sheltered spot in the last stand of mature trees for another quick snack and skin-up. Then it was all into the head winds.
|Dollar Lake area |
|Near Gunsight turnoff Summit ahead
|Gunsight Peak avalanches |
|Gunsight Pass ... ... is a wind tunnel Into the wind Cutoff Traverse
We crossed Gunsight Pass at 11:30 am (another stash site), it was certainly not a place to sit down and relax. Just pressed on breaking trail on the right-hand side slopes, fairly gradually ascending to the high plateau, aiming to the Southern-most point on its rim
. In a typical year, I'd rather avoid the self-arrest nightmare of the steep impenetrable crusts of this slope, but today, the snow was reasonably soft.
|Cutoff - looking back |
|The rim of plateau Summit ahead
|Henrys Fork Peak |
|Ants on a hillside Breezy, ain't it? Starting switchbacks Mike (left), Joe (right), me and Rob (out there)
The Andreson Flats plateau had pretty decent snowcover, we only had to carry the skis for maybe a hudred ft. By 12:30, Rob, Joe, and myself started skinning up the main slope of our giant. Mike opted to booting up the boulderfields, a winning strategy in the typical snow year, but it certainly wasn't the fastest with as deep snow as we had today. The gale was swirling giant vortexes of snow, and the gusts knocked us to the ground, but the goal was really close now. We probably could have skied all the way to the top, had we picked the right way around the boulderfields. The way we went, our progress was stopped by bands of bare wind-stripped rock at 13,300 ft, and we just booted on the last 200-ft segment.
|Last switchbacks |
|Summit ridge cliffs ahead Rob relaxes as Joe approaches Bard, Grizz, Sharon Painter Basin below
It was calm as usually on the summit, I don't know what is this magic abound the absence of winds over there, but we could see the forecasted front approaching from the West. It was really time to get out. The ridgeline plumes of snow were stretching longer and more ominously with every passing minute. Mike, who stayed behind for a swipe, reported 70 mph gusts over Gunsight Pass by 4:30 pm. We've been down in the basin by then, pushed along the wind-scoured remnants of our morning track by the tail winds, in the snaking lines of low blowing snow.
View of Mt Powell on the way down
In a band of stunted spruces, I met John manning his "Night Sweep Headquarters", tucked not-so-comfortably in space blankets behind a snowdrift. It was still blowing snow over ground even in this semi-sheltered spot, but it was just calm enough for me to reach for my bagel and braunschweiger at last :Q. Call it mid-afternoon breakfast if you want, all I know is that my prime-rib sustenance theory worked for me again :)
Back at John's "Sweep HQ"
A stop by our stash tree, and then, like a blast, a great track down the valley. Rob made it back first minutes after 7 pm. I didn't need to switch on the headlamp this time either. The last skiers trickled into the trailhead by 11 pm. Thanks John for your night sweep!
The stars were shining bright as we drove out of Henrys Fork, but the Arctic front was already raging in the Wasatch mountains ahead. The road conditions deteriorated quickly for the skiers driving West, and it took them between 3.5 and 5 hours to get home. Joe mentioned rolling down the driver side window to watch Jersey walls to make sure that he's still on the road, and Rob resorted to driving with blinkers and no headlights, so blinding was the wall of snow. But by mid-morning on Sunday, everybody reported that they are home safely. Another succesfull run! Thanks Larry and Steve for the prep work and the inspiration, thanks Mike and John for the sweep, thanks Joseph, Grizz, and John for sharing the pictures, and thanks all the heroic drivers of the carpools!
See you at Lotty's in 2007 :)
- Dmitry "MOCKBA" (SP, UINTA Team)
- Rob Rogalski (UINTA Team and a decade+ veteran of Kings Peak Ski Runs)
- Joseph Bullough (SP, 1st time Swansons' Run participant)
- Bruce Coulton (another Kings Peak Ski Run oldtimer)
- Mike Berry (UINTA Team)
- Grizz "mtn runr" (SP, 1st time Swansons' Run participant)
- Bard LeFevre (1st timer too?)
- Sharon Vinnick (UINTA Team)
Other People of Note
Ron Perla in his hometown of Canmore, Canada Perla's Ridge in lower LCC
Ron Perla made a very low-key appearance, driving all the way from the Banff area to take part in the Swansons' tour. To the local climbing folk, his name may be best associated with Perla's Ridge of Little Cottonwood Canyon's South Side, or - to the older generation - with the long-out-of-print avy handbook from his Canadian snow research laboratory. He hanged around in these parts a lot, with stints as a snow ranger in Alta and as a guide in the Tetons, before moving up North.
Mt Robson. Emperor Ridge is the right skyline
To the wider audiences in the world, he's perhaps best known for the 1961 first accent of Robson's
spectacular Emperor Ridge in British Columbia, and of course for his interest in ethnography and genealogy.
John Marks is the ever-reliable and ever-calm skier of Team UINTA, always saving the day when some gear is broken or somebody is lagging too far behind. In his usual low-key way, he contributed a bunch of pictures of other participants, and stayed on the route the longest to make sure that everybody's got back down safely, but we haven't got a good picture of John himself (apart from a blurry shot from Mike's dispensable camera). So for this list, I just chose another nice shot of this winter, from our Lookout Peak tour.
Links to the Past KPT StoriesThis looks like my very first tour
, back in 1998 I guess? It must have been the trip when I wore jeans, and packed a two-quart pot with a burner to Gunsight Pass
The Trib's Tom Wharton KPT '03 TR
and a link to Tom Wharton's 4/19/03 piece in Salt Lake Trinune
, in a pay-per-view archive.
KPT '04 Report
might require registration with the host site?
"It's a tradition. Like a Sunday stroll through the park..."
Ogden Standard-Examiner 3/20/04 article in a pay-per-view archive.
KPT '05 Album
Any more links to add?