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8 DAYS IN THE HIGH UINTAS

Day 1:

I woke up at 5 AM eager to get going and meet my cousin at his house. I had spent months training, anticipating a long trek through the highest mountain range of my home state – Utah. I got ready and grabbed my backpack which I meticulously packed the day before and into the night. It seemed the thoughts of what I had packed were never ending. The last thing I wanted to do was leave something I wanted behind.

We arrived at the trailhead in the late morning hours. Our journey would begin following a river named East Fork Blacks Fork. Both my cousin and I agreed the name at best made little sense, at worst was improper English. It was the last week in August and smaller mountain ranges may have been lacking in water access. This was not the case for the massive Uinta range where water still flowed in abundance. I stood next to the river and snapped my first photo. I felt a crisp cold breeze on the morning air being pushed along by the power of the river. After an approximate 8 miles of hiking, we made camp in an alpine meadow just below the tree line. We awed at sunset views of what (at the time) we thought was Mount Lovenia.

Day 2:

I awoke just before dawn in an attempt to get started early on the trail. The night had been cold and a layer of frost covered the ground along with my tent. The sky was cloudless and soon gave way to light as the sun crept over the mountains. A warm welcome quite literally as I hung my rain fly out to dry over some tree branches.

After getting all packed up we quickly realized we had strayed from the standard route. In fact the mountain we had been admiring the night before was not Lovenia at all but rather Quandary Peak. With a slight adjustment we made our way to the upper basin. Once there our view was unobstructed as we had made our way above the tree line. Grass fields spanning two miles in every direction yielded views of the surrounding 13,000ft peaks. Soon we were back on the main trail making our way up to Red Knob Pass. On top of the pass Lovenia stood magnificently, jutting straight up from the basin below 1,500 plus feet. As much as I wanted to summit Lovenia at that time, it was not meant to be that day. My cousin, not feeling well (freeze dried meals the likely the culprit) was intent to press on toward our next camp. This sickness coincidentally formed the butt of many jokes between us, punchline always being something about Mountain House Chili Mac. Not wanting to split up I continued on with him over the pass. Surrounded on all sides by giant peaks and enormous alpine basins, the view was among the best I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing.

Approximately nine miles from the beginning of day two we reached our second camp at Dead Horse Lake. The land was lush and green, surrounded by pine trees and grassy land covered in flowers. The beautifully colored cliffs of Dead Horse Peak reigned high above. The lake, as most are in the Uinta range, was as a mirror. The cliffs and trees reflected as a perfect image on the lakes surface. There we stood gazing at the beauty surrounding us and the vertical cliffs that lead to our next destination. We contemplated how it could be possible for a human to safely traverse the path to the top. It seemed insanity to attempt a passage here, so we consulted our map. We found we were indeed looking up at the route and theorized where exactly the trail may take us. I fished for a couple hours while my cousin was resting after which I went to sleep myself.

Day 3:

The morning brought with it a haze that loomed in the sky. After packing up camp we began a jaunt around the lake. We soon reached the bottom of the pass and crossed a small snow patch, remnant of the harsh winters that plague these mountains. An ominous sign manifested by a horse skull atop a rock marked the way. Dead Horse Pass – we wondered among ourselves how many horses has perished here, their owners pushing them upward on the steep cliffs. Once again the massive scale of the Uintas proved to set up an illusion. From the lake it seemed impassable, though once traversing the steep cliffs, a path well enough for any man to walk comfortably had been forged through the cliff bands. My training was paying off as I pushed swiftly and quickly up the trail. I reached the last obstacle a mere 10 feet from the top. An enormous mound of rock blocked the trail, protruding from the belly of the mountain itself. This, I thought, is why the pass and lake are aptly named “Dead Horse”. My imagination was in full swing -If I had been Hannibal, I would have built a fire beneath it and thrown wine onto the hot stone. Destroying the rock and making way for my elephants behind.

Once on top of the pass the scene was that of a pastel painting. The soil was a rainbow of milky green, turquoise and red. Dead Horse Peak and the cliffs above appeared as soft shades of pink trapped inside the clouds. I looked down into the next basin below, an impressive sight to behold. A giant shelf of rock stretched for 2 miles before a sudden drop to the lower basin. The only plant life, patches of tiny shrubs and grass clinging to small amounts of soil that had accumulated in patches on the surface of the rock. I descended down; I felt I was entering another world, a Martian landscape void of life. I silently admired the beauty of this foreign scenery with much delight. On an alien world, I thought, there is no one I’d rather have beside me than my cousin Todd. I soaked in the moment and breathed in the fresh mountain air. This to me was the epitome of life’s greatest gifts. The trail became increasingly faint and I kept my eyes peeled for cairn’s to mark the way. Amidst the strewn boulders, I noticed a large object protruding upwards in the distance. I made a bearing toward the object and found it to be large cairn. It was meticulously stacked with three large boulders at the base with another flat stone and one smaller stone adorning the top.

Our next camp was planned to be at Jack & Jill lakes. We would be spending the next four nights there. We reached a fork in the trail with a sign pointing the way to Jack & Jill in one direction and Head of Rock Creek trail in the other. We stopped at the junction for a short break. The morning haze had now turned into full blown clouds. They were dark and had brought a cold front with them. As we rested at the sign, we quickly found our rain gear and began preparing for the imminent storm. I was snapping some photos of the surrounding meadows and high peaks. My cousin shouted out at me “what are you doing!!??” It seems I had inadvertently caught him with his pants undone while tucking in his shirt. We had a good laugh and I asked him to make a better pose for a shot with him in the foreground. With a funny face and a “hang loose” sign, I got my shot! Seconds later the clouds unleashed their furry on us. Huge drops of rain and sleet poured down from above. As a patch of sky broke, I saw Dead Horse Peak blanketed with a thin layer of snow. I was very glad to have been down in the basin rather than up on the cliffs.

Jack and Jill lakes are two parallel lakes divided by a small strip of land. Our original plan was to make a camp right in between the two lakes. Once we arrived, we found the far end of the land to be somewhat swampy. Looking ahead we could see the land strip rise up a bit and hoped we’d find a site where we would have a view of both lakes from camp. It turns out we had no luck, a few shabby sites lurked in the uneven and boulder ridden land between the lakes. We made our way to the west end of Jill Lake and up on top of a small outcrop. It was a pristine view of Jill Lake, South Yard Peak and the unnamed peak jutting off its side. “We’ll make camp here” we decided. All in all a good spot with one exception – this was free range cattle grazing ground. Once set up, we found cattle lethargically wandering right into the middle of camp. Giving chase to the cattle, they soon realized they were not welcome. Not much of a problem here after except for an occasional wanderer and obnoxious “mooing”. The rain continued the rest of day and into the night.

Day 4:

After a night of being pummeled, I awoke to find the rain unrelenting. Everything was wet. The ground was wet, the trees, bushes, shrubs, everything. I went to where I had hung by pack and lowered down. It was surprisingly dry being hung under slight coverage from the taller trees above. Shout out to Kelty for making a totally waterproof pack. It has never been wet inside despite being exposed to long periods of rain and even snow (this trip was no exception). With the weather showing no signs of letting up, I decided to hang out around camp. My cousin and I went down to Jill Lake to do some fishing. Apparently Todd had some inside knowledge of what type of fly to use. His grandpa had been trekking into the High Uintas since before we were born. Todd had received an awesome set up from him to take on our trip. He had a fishing pole with cork grips that broke down into its own carrying tube. The pole was set up to accept either a standard reel or a fly reel. There was a sort of leather pouch that held hand tied flies. The flies were flawless and the craftsmanship in their construction was unmatched. “San Juan Worm” “That’s what my grandpa told me to use” he said. A few minutes later and we were fishing. The San Juan worm worked like a charm. Todd was reeling in fish left and right. Despite the rain or perhaps because of it, the fish were in full feeding mode. I reeled in a beautiful brooky. It had a bright red color on its belly and was surely the best fish I caught on the trip. I admired him or her (I’m defiantly not knowledgeable in this area) for a minute and sent it back to its home in the depths of the lake.

At one point in the day I was wondering back into camp. I found that Todd had made a new friend in the form of a Squirrel. Or was it chipmunk? I don’t quite remember either way but the little critter had indeed become very friendly. Although, I think his true intentions were set on getting a hold of the stash of assorted nuts my cousin had. The rain subsided here and there but throughout the day, it remained a sort of constant annoyance.

Day 5:

The morning brought a slight break in the weather. Although some clouds loomed around in the distance, it was dry for the time being. After having spent the entire day before at camp, I decided to embark on a little adventure to Lighting Lake. I informed my cousin of my plan and he agreed it sounded good. I was ready to hit the trail almost immediately. Todd said he would be taking an hour two to make breakfast and get ready. We agreed that he would meet me at the lake and I started out on my own. About a quarter mile away and approximately 100 feet below the lake, I took a small break. I ate half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and some mushrooms. I arrived at Lighting Lake a short time later to some sprinkles from the clouds. Nothing to concerning for time being, I took a walk around the circumference of the lake. Once I had wandered around nearly full circle, I came to rest upon the perfect campsite. Not another soul was to be seen or heard anywhere. I was all alone to indulge in the beauty of Lighting Lake. “This is where we should have made our base camp” I thought to myself. The scenery here was superior to our site which sat at a much lower elevation. The landscape around Lighting Lake was that of high alpine meadows. Clusters of pine trees broke up the grassy land around the lake. The psilocybin was starting to take effect. The weather however, was taking a turn for the worse. There was small fire pit at the site that was poorly made. “This simply will not do” I thought. With my brain on fire, I scrambled to improve the pit before the impending storm broke loose. I dug a small hole next to the pit to bury some ashes. I moved the couple large stones from around the pit and began to dig it out. I kept the pit at a relatively small size and frantically gathered some larger stones to create the perimeter. Inside my head was like the center of a thermonuclear bomb upon detonation. Thoughts being compressed like atoms to create heavier thoughts, blasting their energy into my psyche. I quickly gathered fire wood and broke it up into perfectly sized logs for my pit. The fire was roaring when storm unleashed a hailstorm. The sky grew dark and the wind cold. Within seconds the ground was painted white. Balls of hail smashed into ground with such force they were bouncing all around. In typical Uinta style the storm subsided as quickly as it began. The sun beamed down heating the ground and melting all the hail. I stripped my rain gear off and was ready to bask in the sun. I found a big boulder in the middle of the meadow and put my shirt down on it. I lied down on my back on top of the boulder and felt the warmth of the sun on my chest. Lying there in serenity, I thought I heard a voice. Who could this be? I stood up and turned around to see none other than my trusted sidekick, Todd. I explained to him my state of mind and offered him the means in which to join me. After serious consideration he graciously declined the offer.

With the break in weather we thought this would be a good time to do a bit of laundry. On the edge of the meadow there was a small tree next to big log. The downed tree looked like a good place to hang our cloths out to dry so we headed over to it. We hung our cloths out and noticed a sock lying on the ground. It did not belong to us and had obviously been there for some time. I wondered to myself what the story behind this sock could be. I happened to notice it was a very nice and expensive sock. Whoever lost it must have been very upset I thought. I wondered; could they have put their cloths out to dry on this same tree? Perhaps they hastily grabbed their clothing off the branches and accidentally dropped one sock.

Todd got his fishing gear together and set off to the lake for some fishing. The weather again turned to rain. The pattern repeated like this all day, segments of rain followed by blue skies and sunshine. I sat on the log at the edge of meadow watching from a distance as Todd cast out to the lake. Within minutes I heard it “Fish on!” A few minutes later the same thing. As he slowly walked around the lake, the success rate did not let up. I suspect it was around the 5th or 6th time of yelling “fish on!” that he grew tired of it. I sat there looking up at the patch of blue sky, dark clouds surrounding me on all sides. I had a perfect view of South Yard Peak and clouds moving swiftly over its summit. I pondered life and death. I had now lived more of my life without my father than with him. These thoughts brought forth a longing to turn back time. Knowing this was not possible, I thought about loved ones gone. Even thoughts of my dog Royal weighed heavy on my mind. I thought about my cousin Mike Motta. Mike had a brilliant mind and we shared many intellectually stimulating conversations before his death. I wished that I had been there more for him before his passing. Maybe I could have helped in some way - I thought. As I sat on the log and pondered death, I heard an unfamiliar sound. Moving fast and loud, I turned my head to the direction of the phenomenon. I beheld a hawk diving toward the meadow from the sky above. The sound was that of the air splitting as the hawk reached speeds in access of 100 mph. Its path made a slight bend in my direction, the hawk spread its wings and soared a mere foot above the ground. I watched in awe as it blazed above the ground in front of me. Then just toward the end of meadow it plucked its dinner from the grass. For a split moment everything made sense and the circle of life seemed whole. I spent the rest of the day gathering firewood and hanging out around the meadow.

Todd had made his way around the entire lake and the day was growing long. We prepared to make our way back to camp when I pulled what Todd and I have come to call a “Swapp move”. This is something that does not bring me pride to admit but must somehow be in my DNA. My uncle Bucky who married my dad’s sister told me once “You can always tell a Swapp. You just can’t tell them too much.” Todd said to me “Have you eaten anything today? You better eat something”. To which I replied “Why? Why do I need to eat something?” Of course a long conversation ensued about what “Swapp” may or may not be capable of without food. In the end I conceded that my cousin was not trying to tell me what to do and I offered up an apology. We finished up at the lake and made it safely back to camp. The plan for tomorrow would be to make a bid for the summit of Yard Peak.

Day 6:

I stepped out of my tent in the early morning hours. It seemed the weather had once again broken although today the horizon looked clear. “Perfect weather for a summit bid” I thought. I got my day pack ready with lunch and water for the day. Todd and I set off with a tentative route to the summit in mind. The plan would be summit South Yard and continue over to yard. From camp we backtracked to the fork in which we departed toward Jack & Jill on day three. The trail here was relatively flat and opened up to a rocky basin. I looked out to the west where the moon was fully visible in the sky above the trees. I paused and snapped a quick photo in an attempt to capture the brilliance of the moon. To other side of the trail the sun was peaking over the horizon. A continuous flow of water cascaded over the rocks eventually pouring of the side. The sun was reflecting brightly on the rippled water producing a scene of tranquility. Over the side of the rocks the tiny waterfalls had created a couple deep pools. If it were warmer outside, this would make the perfect swim hole I thought.

If there is one thing relevant to say about this story it’s this: Todd does not like to take the beaten path. Many times I have followed him through less than ideal terrain. This type of hiking is typically referred to as “bushwacking” by most people. Admittedly this is not my preferred method of navigating in the mountains. Barking upon our bushwacking adventures have, at times, been somewhat of a disaster. Other times it has proven to afford us views and scenery seldom seen (if at all) by others. This day our choice to wander off on our own path toward the summit of South Yard would yield the latter. We carefully examined the terrain above us and decided to veer off the trail toward a small chute that appeared to be passable on foot. Once at the base of the chute we started upward. Our path was very steep, strewn with giant boulders and small patches of grass. I stopped for a moment on one these grassy patches to apply some sun screen, just a flat enough spot to keep my footing. We reached the top of the chute and began crossing a small plateau on the edge of the tree line. Hiking along I came across a beautiful sight to behold. I small body of water reflecting the morning sun appeared seemingly out of nowhere. My first instinct was “oh, a small run off pond”. As I got closer I realized this was not a run off pond at all. It was in fact a giant alpine spring. The water was crystal clear and standing at the edge one could see ground beneath as if no water at all was present. Fine silt and sand formed small indentations below the surface where the force of nature pushed water from deep underground back to the surface. These are the world’s biggest water filters, powered by the earth itself. How many people have had the pleasure of feasting their eyes upon this secluded gem I wondered? Crossing the small flat we soon arrived at the base of South Yard. Making way above the last of the trees we navigated up the steep talus deposit. We finally made our way to the ridge and an impressive rock formation came into sight. In between the ridge linking South Yard and Yard was a mass that looked as if were the Taj Mahal or a Tibetan shrine. It was a round buttress with a small spike of rock jutting upward on the top. Climbing a trail of scree, we saw the first human we’d seen in days besides one another. Just below the summit a man passed us on his descent. He was planning the traverse over to Yard Peak as we had originally planned to do ourselves. After contemplating following his path over to Yard, we opted to keep our bearing toward South Yard. A few minutes later we stood on the summit of South Yard. The view was superior and we could even see Jack & Jill Lakes where our camp was located. It seemed there were hundreds of lakes littering every surrounding basin. I snapped a few photos including one of Todd on the summit. I handed my phone over to Todd in so he could in turn get a pic of me standing on the summit. Todd took a couple pics of me standing there and suggested I should probably improvise some type of gesture to make the picture more appealing. I posed with one foot atop a rock and a cheesy grin (available for viewing on the “about” page of this blog). Later on, to my surprise, this pic would end up getting more “likes” than any other pictures in the album I posted on Facebook. I still find this be odd as I posted over 70 pictures some of which I think were much better. From South Yard we watched the man we had passed traverse back on forth beneath a band of cliffs blocking his path to Yard Peak. I assume he eventually found a route somewhere further to east. A decision was made to skip Yard for this trip and head down to Helen Lake and Lighting to make full loop back to our camp. Descending the ridge, the beauty of Priord Lake caught my view. I distinctly remember the color of the lake; it was a deep and dark turquoise blue.

Once down off the ridge we walked through an amazing landscape in the high alpine terrain. Boulders of all shapes and sizes broke up the grassy flat land. Small run off ponds littered the ground with their crystal clear waters. Again we passed through many campsites superior to ours. We both agreed, had we known we would have gone the extra 2 miles to Helen and made camp there. As we passed through one particular camp, we noticed a strange, out of place object on the ground. An old cast iron weight sat in the dirt. It was a round weight plate for a barbell. If memory serves me correct, I believe it was a 5 lb weight. “What in the world is this doing here?” we said “who would pack a weight 13 miles from the nearest road and to an elevation of nearly 11,00ft?” I quickly concocted a couple possibilities and posed my theories to my cousin. The less enjoyed theory was that someone had used the weight for training. Perhaps they had loaded it into their backpack purposefully. Once this said person was ready for their departure they accidently left the weight behind. Or perhaps they had just had enough training and left the weight there knowingly, not wanting to pack it back out. The more favored theory went like this: Upon arriving at camp and unpacking, an unsuspecting hiker found himself (or herself) to be the butt of a practical joke. While setting up camp they found the weight hidden inside their pack. Furious at this discovery, they threw the weight onto the ground and cursed the person responsible. The innocent victim then refused to pack the weight back out and left it in the dirt to rust. The sun was beating down in between the endless clouds, warming my body. Soon we reached Helen Lake. The day was still young and I wanted to more with it than head back to our camp. Todd wanted to take advantage of the weather and head back to camp to get some laundry done. I decided I would meet him back there later. I contemplated making an attempt to summit Priord Peak. Eventually I decided it would not be wise to stray up the steep cliffs alone. Instead I would take advantage of the weather in another way. I stripped off my cloths down to my skivvies and jumped into the lake. I swam out toward the middle of the lake and turned to my back. I floated there in the middle of the lake, looking up toward the high peaks, the clouds and the blue sky. There is nothing quite like the feeling of jumping into a cold alpine lake after a day of sweating profusely. Unlike the day before, there was a small camp of people at Lighting. Some of the group had made their way to Helen for some fishing. Although they were on complete opposite side of the lake, it seemed they were not fond of decision to go for a swim. By the time I swam back to shore and pulled myself up on a rock, they were gone. I sat there alone basking in the sun until I was dry. After a while I packed up and headed back to camp myself.

Day 7:

On the morning of day 7 it was time to pack up from our base camp and move on. It had rained again throughout the night. As I took down my tent, I found the rain had taken its toll. The constant saturation of moisture had caused a couple the Velcro straps on the rain fly to come unglued. While this discovery was a slight set back, I couldn’t help but praise my tent holding up so well over the years. I’d been using it for nearly 15 years already. Even though it was only a 3 season tent, I had also used it many times even in the winter months. It had always kept me dry, has great ventilation, two vestibules and up until with point had held up incredibly well. I got some medical tape that Todd had on hand and engineered a quick repair to get my through the last night to come. After we were all packed up, we sat at the edge of camp and paid homage to our home of the last 4 days. I took in some last views of Jill Lake and we started on our way. Our goal for today would be to reach our last camp at Carolyn Lake. With a 6.5 mile journey ahead, our first obstacle would be ascending our last mountain pass of the trip. Rocky Sea Pass lie ahead at an elevation of 11,280 feet, nearly 1,000 feet of elevation gain from our camp.

Approaching Rocky Sea Pass about 3/4 miles away the land opened up. A small alpine plateau revealed my first views of the pass. I observed that toward the top of the pass, it was still snow packed. With the trail dwindling, there were more cairns for the masses to use while navigating toward the pass. Unlike the meticulously stacked cairn that led the way for me coming off Dead Horse Pass, these cairns mostly resembled piles rocks placed at random. At the edge of a meadow I walked on smooth rock slabs that mimicked an ancient cobblestone road, one cairn was stacked nearly as tall as me. Soon I reached the base of Rocky Sea Pass and began my ascent to the top. As I started upward the view became increasingly spectacular. While trekking up the switchbacks, mild temperatures combined with my exertion to reach the top had brought on a sweat. I reached into the snow pack and formed a snowball. I took that snowball, put it under my UV buff and formed it to my head, making a sort of AC headpiece. Once on the top I took in a full panoramic view of Rock Creek Basin. Stretching for over 7 miles, it was lush and green, a layer of pine trees as far as the eye could see. In the distance Explorer Peak reigned supreme on the horizon with its pointy pyramid shape. Continuing down the ridge, a massive mound of rock known as Squaw Peak jutted up into the sky in excess of 12,800ft. Despite many clouds lingering around the horizons, the weather was holding up well.

From the time I reached Rock Creek Pass, people were becoming more common. When I reached Carolyn Lake I first passed a family that had made camp on the far end of the lake. Their horse was grazing on the tall grass and the smoke form their fire filled the air. Another decent camp site sat adjacent to theirs. A very good site indeed but to close the others I thought. With my cousin not yet arriving, I took my pack off and leaned it up against a tree in the campsite. My intention was to walk the perimeter of the lake to scout for any better sites. My pack would serve as a sign to my cousin that I was around somewhere and would also work as a tool to hold this site if I found nothing better. Along the same side as the family had made camp, I saw a couple other tents further up the shoreline. Knowing this, I set off in opposite direction to scout out the options. I soon came across some more people camped on that end of the lake. I decided to cross a small inlet stream and continue searching to the west end of the lake. After passing some potential spots, I finally found a secluded outcrop at the far west end of the lake. “Perfect” I thought. Unobstructed views of the western horizon, a nice fire pit and all within a short walk to the lake. I made my way back to where I had stashed my pack and met up with my cousin. I told him of the site I found on the other end of the lake. He agreed we’d be happier making camp as far away from the crowds as possible and set off to the other side. I was set up in a jiff and the weather was still in cooperation. The sun was beating down and I felt its warmth. “It’s now or never” I thought “time for a swim”. When I last swam at Helen, I didn’t have my hygiene bag with me. This was my chance to actually wash my body along with my swim. I toted my soap and a bandanna down to shore and sat down on a large fallen tree to undress. I took my shirt down into the waters with me as to give it a wash along with myself. Once again in nothing but my undies, I walked into the lake. With my first step I was nearly stuck. The soft layer of muddy sediment below a thick layer of moss was nearly quicksand. No use going in slow at this point. Once my foot was free, I flopped my whole body right into the frigid water. Of course by this time the clouds were moving in and turning the sky dark. I hastily washed my armpits and bathed in the lake. I washed my shirt, lathering it up with soap and wringing it in and out of the water. Whatever warmth I had left in my body had been pulled out by the cold lake water. I rushed up my cloths and frantically tried to dress as the rain started sprinkling down on me. I lumbered into camp like a Popsicle. Hunkering down in my tent, I busted out all my warm winter clothing and climbed into my sleeping bag. Once I felt warm enough to leave the comfort of my tent, I exited fully bundled up. Upon my exit, Todd let out a hysterical laugh. There I stood covered from head to toe with winter cloths complete with my gloves and all. Of course the slight sprinkle of rain had already given way back to the sun. “It’s over seventy degrees out here” Todd said “You look like you’re ready for a blizzard”. Eventually not long after, my core temperature was finally back to normal and I resumed the standard attire. I kept my rain gear close as I knew the sprinkles of rain were not far off again.

For some time I had been excited about a stay at Carolyn. This lake was stocked with arctic grayling. I had learned about arctic graying from a friend of mine who told me about how they are an ancient species and even have a fin on their back like a shark. Having never seen one or caught one, I rigged up fishing pole and cast out into the lake. “Fish on!” I reeled in my first bite. An arctic grayling to be sure but it was tiny! Not be discouraged I kept fishing. After about three or four graylings, I came to a conclusion – they were all tiny in this lake. “Nothing but minnow’s!” (A pun on the grayling’s size) I exclaimed. “I suppose I better get at least one pic” I thought. I reeled in a grayling and asked my cousin to get a picture of me with my “anchovy”. I soon packed up my fishing gear and returned to camp with a disappointment over my “minnows and anchovy’s”

As dusk was settling in the clouds moved out and a clear blue sky sat on the western horizon. My cousin and I basked in the last of the sun over a cup of coffee. It was peaceful serenity as we sat on the rocks and conversed with each other about life. Our last night in the mountain seemed to be picture perfect, like something out of a fairy tale. That night our fire blazed in the stone made ring. The rocks were stacked high in a circular shape resembling a hearth you might find in a 19th century log cabin. I stayed up late after Todd had retired to his tent. I sat and looked into the flames of our perfect fire and contemplated the science of releasing the energy stored inside the burning logs.

Day 8:

The morning of day eight was a little bitter sweat. On one hand I was looking forward to a proper shower and sleeping in a bed rather than on the ground. On the other hand, I love the mountains and the serenity I had felt on this trip was not something I was happy to leave behind. Our last stretch of trail was approximately 7 miles to the road. After our descent of rocky Sea Pass we had reached the basic elevation of our end point. The trail was relatively flat the rest of the way. Being this close to civilization brought with it an obvious increase of human traffic. The closer we got to the road, the more often we passed groups of people. Some just out for the day, some for multiple days backpacking like us, others passed in droves on their horses. Todd and I both watched with a bit of envy as the caravans passed. Those on horseback covered the miles with ease while the pack horses brought with them all the amenities of a luxury camping trip. We imagined what we might bring with a pack horse – bacon, eggs and hash browns for breakfast every day? A Dutch oven to cook pizza and peach cobbler dessert? The possibilities are endless.

I had arranged for my mom to pick us up at 4 o’clock that evening. We had made good time and arrived a couple hours early. I quickly found the running water tap, re-hydrated myself and gave my hair a crude wash. Soon a potential problem arose. I had told my mom to meet us at the Highline Trail Head Campground. To my surprise, the forest service had discontinued the campground. With no cell phone service this deep into the Uintas, I had to no way to reach my mom and advise her of the news. She undoubtedly would be looking for the sign I had explained would say “campground”. None the less, I thought, she will find us. After all it was still the “Highline Trailhead”. Todd may have not been so optimistic at this time and soon a slight panic would set in. 4 o’clock soon passed and there was no sign of our trusted ride back to civilization. I began to worry myself, what if she was lost, what if she’s driven all the way to WY looking for the campground sign? In typical Uinta fashion, rain started down from the skies above. We took some shelter under some trees at the edge of the parking lot and waited. With nothing to be done, I posted up on a large rock at the entrance next to the road. She would defiantly see me here if she passes. It was sometime around 5 o’clock when I saw the Subaru approach. With my sister in passenger seat, my mom turned in the parking. She pulled over to a spot next to our packs under the tree and we loaded up. I couldn’t get my shoes off fast enough and my mom had brought some snacks up. My aunt had had put a little package together for Todd complete with Sabra hummus and some dipping chips that I was obliged to share in. My mom and sister explained that they had been stopped on the way by a road closer. Highway 150 was the only way in and out of our location and was temporarily closed to bring in a life flight helicopter. Of course this made for a slight panic on their end wondering who had needed emergency evacuation deep in the mountains. In the end, it was a trip I will never forget and will probably live up to be among my favorites. I would end up logging over 60 miles and cross off another high Uinta peak in South Yard. 8 days in the wilderness and not one was bad.



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