West Gunsight trip report
After two of my friends bailed on a summit attempt of Gannett Peak in the Wind River Range, my friend Craig and I decided to head up to the Uintas for a few days to climb some peaks, do some fly fishing and relax, as we already had the time off from work and we wanted to make the most of it. This would be our third trip to the Uintas in as many years and this trip would definitely be more relaxing than the last two. In 2003 we attempted the three highest peaks in Utah in one day with a reporter and a photographer with the Deseret News and then in 2004 we attempted to climb several 13ers in one long hike, but were pounded with severe storms and we decided to bail after 4 peaks, so we were both really looking forward to this hike.
We had talked about taking a video camera to capture our exploits for future posterity, but Craig did not have a tape for his camera, so after stopping at a local grocery establishment in Salt Lake City to pick up some tapes and last minute supplies, we were off. The drive to the Henry’s Fork Trailhead was pretty uneventful, although we did take some time to bark into the camera and of course listen to Depeche Mode, which has become our standard band of choice on road trips for some reason.
We arrived at the trailhead at about 4:00 PM and we were not concerned at all about the late start, because we knew we could easily make it to Dollar Lake in time to set up camp. We were both surprised by the lack of cars and knew that all of the reports of snow in the Uintas this year were keeping people away and we did not mind at all. The previous winter had dumped quite a lot of snow in the high country and most of the word on the street was that there was still quite a lot on the North slope, so we brought ice axes just in case, but upon looking at the high peaks on the drive in, we knew that we would be fine without them, so we left them in the truck.
After a few miles of fast hiking, we noticed a bull moose in a meadow on the right side of the trail, so we took out the camera to capture the moment and while we were at it we applied deet, because the mosquito’s were very thick and they had become increasingly annoying. We made really good time and before we knew it we were at Elk Horn crossing and we decided to take a quick break to have a small snack. After a few minutes we came out into the meadow and noticed that there was quite a bit more snow on the mountain this year, but nothing serious at all and really nothing to worry about. After about 15 minutes of hiking through the meadow, we came upon about 15 moose, most of them bulls on the left side of the trail about 75 yards away. Some of the bulls were jousting with each other and we quickly got out the camera to capture the moment. One of the bigger Bulls was obviously trying to assert himself and he began to run off the other Bulls one by one, much to their displeasure. One particular cranky Bull was not giving up so easily and after putting up a short fight with the bigger more dominant bull, he turned his attention to Craig and I and started to charge us on a dead run. We both nearly wet ourselves and after a short charge, he stopped and stared us down, contemplating whether or not he would take out his frustrations on us. We stared at each other for what seemed like hours, but was only maybe 20 seconds and then he started to move our way again. At this point Craig and I made a hasty retreat to some willows a few yards away to get out of his sights and after a few more minutes we noticed that he still did not want to give up on a fight and was not in any hurry to give up his position, so we hunkered down and waited. Eventually, he gave up and retreated with the other bulls to the South side of the meadow. After brushing ourselves off and thinking for a moment about my size and place in the world and on whether or not I was still on top of the food chain, we made it back to the trail, where we continued to watch the moose and keep a close eye on the cranky bull, that had moved a couple of hundred yards away, but still kept turning around to give us a stare from time to time.
When we reached Dollar Lake we were shocked at the lack of people and boy scouts that we thought would surely be there. The place was deserted and we could not believe how dead it was, but we were not going to complain. We decided that in the morning we would climb West Gunsight Peak and depending on how we felt, would possibly climb another peak as well. After setting up camp, cooking and eating our Mountain House dinners and shooting a few minutes of footage for our amateur documentary (believe me.. those were riveting minutes), we hit the sack, knowing we wanted to get an early start the next day
We slept in a little and took our time getting ready and it was so nice not to have the usual disturbances (Boy scouts playing grab ass) at Dollar Lake to content with. The weather was perfect and although it was a touch cool, the sun was out and I knew it would be a perfect day. The hike up to Gunsight pass was pretty uneventful, except that the altitude bothered me a little and Craig got ahead, as I was bogged down in the snow that had covered the trail. I hurried to catch up and by time I got to the pass, I was feeling a touch of nausea, so we took a break to figure out what we were going to do. It did not take long, as both of us had been eying a route straight up the face and through the cliff band directly to the right of Gunsight Pass. After posing for some pics with a marmot, we were off up the slope. We reached the cliff band and had a short scramble up through the cliffs and we both thought it was rated about 5.3, but not too much to worry about.
After the cliffs we had to traverse a snow slope, which actually turned out to be a little exposed and without ice axes, we carefully made our way across the slope, crossing back and forth between rock and snow, making sure of every step, as a fall here could have been interesting, with the cliffs below.
Once above the snow, it was a short scramble up a mildly steep class 2 scree slope to the summit. Craig made it before me and I was greeted on top with him filming my triumphant slog to the apex.
The day was absolutely PERFECT and the views were amazing! We had lunch and Craig broke out some smoked salmon that tasted fantastic and we both enjoyed the great food and views! After a few pics we decided that we wanted to bag Kings as well, so we packed up and headed down the West flank, scrambling over boulders and at times loose scree.
Most of the North face of Kings was covered in snow and we both wished that we had taken the ice axes and crampons, so we could go straight up the face, but without the axes, we decided to take the standard approach. We stopped just before Anderson Pass to filter some water coming right off of the snow field. It was COLD and tasted so good. We stayed mostly right on top of the ridge to stay off of the snow and it was really incredible, because it was much more exposed right on top of the ridge and the views were much better than being on the usual trail. We made really good time and once again, Craig filmed me scramble up the final few hundred feet and I arrived on top to a fabulous view and PERFECT weather. We seriously contemplated a quick climb over to South Kings, but it was getting late in the day, so we worried about time and decided to head back.
We decided that a glissade would save some time and energy, so we found a perfect spot on a saddle below the summit that looked really good with a good run out at the bottom and not a lot of rocks in the way. We used our trekking poles for breaks and both had a good slide to the bottom.
This saved a lot of time and of course we caught the whole thing on camera for fun. We decided that we would make a direct descent right over the East flank of West Gunsight peak and avoid the drop into Painter Basin.
Upon reaching the East flank of the mountain, we realized that the whole side was covered in snow and we would have to make another glissade to get to Gunsight Pass. We searched for a good spot and it was hard, because that side is very cliffy with a lot of rocks. We found a pretty good spot and Craig decided to go first with me following behind. The slope was fairly steep and I was a little nervous without my axe, but it did not seem all that bad. I did have a few close calls with some rocks, but we were able to make it down to a shelf about half way down to re-assess our progress. We found a perfect spot for a second slide and this time we thought a race to the bottom would make a better movie shot, so we slid down the slope, passing each other and at the same time trying to avoid the rocks. It was actually quite funny, although we both got going really fast and I soon realized why most people do not advocate this technique, as it was very hard to slow down and we both hit the rocks harder than we would have liked at the bottom. We were both fine however, with just a few minor bumps and scrapes, but nothing too serious, plus we captured it all on film and it was worth a few bruises.
The rest of the trip back to camp was pretty uneventful, as we made really good time hiking over the pass and back through the snow to the meadow. We only saw a couple of people all day long and it was by far the most solitude I have ever had in this part of the Uintas. Back at camp we were both a little sore and tired, so we cooked dinner and lazily hung out until it got dark.
The next day we debated climbing another peak, but there was nothing within close hiking distance that we had not already climbed, so we decided to give the fly rods a try in our secret spot. Once again the stream was just amazing and we both caught and released several brook and cutthroat trout.
The river was still running a little high and fast, so the fishing was not quite as hot as it has been in the past, but that is a relative statement, because it is always good there. The hike back out was uneventful and we stopped and fished along the way.
I have to say that this was another perfect trip into the High Uintas and the best part is we didn’t even have to hitchhike home like the last time we were there.