The Swansons' 33rd Kings Peak Ski Run

The Swansons' 33rd Kings Peak Ski Run

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 40.83044°N / 110.36865°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Mar 25, 2006
Activities Activities: Skiing
Seasons Season: Spring

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.
On a trail-prepping trip in Henrys ForkAlexis 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, the trip organizerSteve 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

West Gunsight Pk, 5/22/05Upper Basin of Henrys Fork, with the gap of Gunsight Pass on the left and Kings Peak far back on the right
Where ?
Henrys Fork Winter TH
...but the very first trip commenced from Dahlgreens Creek Road
When ?
Last Saturday of March, 5 am
...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...
Preparing for a long haul dayLotty'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 Traditions
Not 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 Tidbits
Red-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

UINTA Team at Henrys Winter THTeam 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 KingsFirst 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.
Henrys Fk Peak and Mt PowellOut 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.
Breaking trail across Dollar Lake BenchDollar 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 Spur of GilbertDollar Lake area
Approaching Gunsight turnoffNear Gunsight turnoff
Strong WindsSummit ahead
Warm sluffs off Gunsight PeakGunsight Peak avalanches
Kings PeakGunsight Pass ...
Kings Peak... is a wind tunnel

Kings PeakInto the wind
Cutoff TraverseCutoff 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.

Traverse off Gunsight PassCutoff - looking back
The goal in sight again, at last!The rim of plateau
Above the Gunsight CutoffSummit ahead
Andreson Pass & Henrys Fork PeakHenrys Fork Peak
Kings PeakAnts on a hillside
Kings PeakBreezy, ain't it?

Kings PeakStarting switchbacks
Kings PeakMike (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.

Nearly There...Last switchbacks
Summit ridge cliffs aheadSummit ridge cliffs ahead
Relatively calm on the topRob relaxes as Joe approaches

Bard and mtn_runr negotiating a steep sectionBard, Grizz, Sharon
Painter BasinPainter 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.
Mt PowellView 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 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 :)

2006 Summiters

Kings-Emmons RidgeMOCKBA
Cold front approaching from the WestRob
  • 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)

Kings Peakmtn runr
Kings PeakBard
Painter BasinSharon
Mike passing the  sweep duties  to JohnMike

Other People of Note

Ron Perla in his Canmore backyardRon Perla in his hometown of Canmore, Canada
July 3rd, 2005 - Little...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.

Simply Mount Robson (3954 m)...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.

The veil of fog begins to liftJohn Marks

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 Stories

This 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?


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-9 of 9

mountaingazelle - Mar 29, 2006 3:35 am - Voted 10/10

Kings Peak

Good trip report Mockba. Glad to see that a few people made it to the top. It looks like you had very stong winds near the summit. I also like the backpack that you're wearing in the photos.

Joseph Bullough

Joseph Bullough - Mar 29, 2006 1:23 pm - Voted 10/10

very nice

Very nice writeup Dmitry! Nice to read some of the history behind this trip. Good job...


Dean - Mar 29, 2006 2:16 pm - Voted 10/10

Good stuff !!!

Thanks for the enjoyable trip report & pics.


nebben - Mar 30, 2006 12:18 am - Voted 10/10


Maybe next year I'll think about this?

Travis Atwood

Travis Atwood - Apr 3, 2006 4:07 am - Hasn't voted

Great Job

Fantastic trip report MOCKBA. I think next year I might have to join you guys. Nice work!

Dmitry Pruss

Dmitry Pruss - Apr 4, 2006 12:01 am - Hasn't voted

Thanks everybody!

The report evolved quite a bit since it was posted, with new sections about people and with a section of links to the past TRs, news stories, and photo albums from Kings Peak Runs. So please visit again :)))

Yeah, mountaingazelle - and I figured why my pack had this interesting shape. It is just, I left a rolled foam mat inside in the morning LOL.

Scott Wesemann

Scott Wesemann - Mar 7, 2007 11:00 pm - Voted 10/10


These pictures are fantastic! Enjoyed the report.


lcarreau - Jan 30, 2008 7:40 pm - Voted 10/10

Hello, Dmitry !

NICE JOB, as usual! Was fasinated by the "tidbits" about
the red-hued Northern Lights. I have seen them here in Arizona!
It was during the dead of winter when I saw them. It was scary
at first, because I didn't know what they were, until I read about
it in the local newspaper. Thanks for the incredible information!

Dmitry Pruss

Dmitry Pruss - Jan 30, 2008 8:47 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Northern Lights of March 30th, 2001

were truly spectacular, seen all the way down to Mexico and in truly unusual colors too. I didn't recognize them for what they were right away, too ... thought it was a glare from breaking lights of a rickety Ford Escort we were driving up this washboard from Lone Tree, at first LOL!
Here is a great page describing this Auroras event

Viewing: 1-9 of 9



Children refers to the set of objects that logically fall under a given object. For example, the Aconcagua mountain page is a child of the 'Aconcagua Group' and the 'Seven Summits.' The Aconcagua mountain itself has many routes, photos, and trip reports as children.