Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Top of Utah

We did it! This past weekend we climbed to the top of King's Peak and to the top of Utah! Highest peak in Utah at 13,528 feet!

Friday morning Brandon headed in for a few hours of work and then came home and we finished packing just in time for Zach to meet us at Brandon's house. We got some sandwiches at Subway and then headed out! It was about a three hour drive along I-80 and then the forest road that lead South from I-80 towards the Henry's Fork Trailhead. Beautiful drive, particularly the last bit towards the mountain. The landscape changed quickly from rolling plains to pine forests to mountains.

Ready to head out on the trail!

We arrived at the trailhead, found a place to park (the parking lot was packed!) and then headed out around 4:00 in the afternoon. Hiking in wasn't bad at all (just a little bit of rain at one point). It was about eight miles in to our camping spot and it took us about four hours, getting us to where we wanted to be with just enough time find a spot and gather some wood for a fire. We'd originally planned on camping at Dollar Lake (which, by the way, is not visible at any point from the trail - it's entirely hidden by the trees), but when we got close to the lake we saw a sign that said if we camped on the West side of the trail (Dollar Lake is on the East side) we could build a campfire. So West side it was, right in the midst of the trees. After setting up our tent and gathering wood we got our stove going to boil water for our dehydrated meals and then tried to build a fire. Fire building did not go particularly well. Everything was damp from the recent light rain, and between that and the darkness setting in, we struggled to get even a weak fire going. We did eventually make it happen, but it was the kind of fire you had to watch constantly, rather than the kind that was solidly going. A little time by the fire, warm dinners, and it was off to bed!

Heading into the mountains.

Rain ponchos for our packs (and us).

Beautiful trail!

King's Peak is the little point right in the middle. 

Saturday morning we woke up fairly early, made some hot breakfast, and replenished our water, taking our time and enjoying the morning. Around 9:25 we headed back on the trail, this time with our day packs rather than our hiking packs with all of our gear. The first part of the hike Saturday morning was South through the valley slowly rising towards Gunsight Pass. A very pretty part of the trail. All along the way (throughout the entire three days), there was a constant variety of colors. The rocks were sometimes striped and always covered in neon lichen of some kind. Wild flowers were everywhere. Perhaps it was just the right time of the year, but even the grass was a wide variety of greens and reds.

Heading up the traverse just pass Gunsight.

Once we reached Gunsight Pass we headed up the traverse to the upper valley. The traverse was a shortcut that would take us directly up the side of the mountain rather than down into another valley before taking us up again. Definitely the better route to take, in my opinion. Once up the traverse the hard part of the hike started.

The mileage for each day was slightly longer than we'd anticipated, but Saturdays hike up the mountain was particularly long (closer to 14 miles round trip that day). Once up the traverse, we crossed what seemed to be an endless valley of awkwardly shaped rocks. We knew generally where we were going (towards the base of the last part of King's Peak), and had the slight assistance of frequently placed cairns, but it still took us a lot longer than we'd anticipated. Near the base of the last part of the peak, we finally ran into the greater part of the snow. By then I wasn't sure if I really needed to summit or just call it good where we were. Frequently through the last slope we took breaks just to try and muster the energy and will power to keep going up. I think our loss of ambition might have been partly due to the terrible wind and cold (not to mention that it was snowing), but also that the air simply didn't have as much oxygen as we were used to so it took almost no time for us to be winded between breaks.

One of many cairns. 

The view backwards over the valley of rocks. 

The view onwards towards the summit!

At the summit! We made it!

Incredible view from the mountain.

But on we pressed (Zach was a trooper - I swear he wasn't touched by the altitude at all!), and we made it! All the way to the top! And you know, we were there for maybe five minutes before the sun broke out and the weather entirely shifted. Gorgeous views all the way back down. We'd played switch off all day with a man and his son (Mike and Enoch - 50 and 17 respectively), and we did this all the way to the top, arriving just before them. On our way back down we passed two people just below the summit, but then the path was almost completely empty all the way back down. This was odd, as we'd had lots of company up until the base of the last part of the summit, but it turns out that most of our previous fellow travelers had been turned off by the weather and turned back. We met a number of them back along the trail. I'll admit, this made me feel a lot better about our moments of wanting to turn back. But still glad that we'd gone on, particularly with how the weather had turned once we were up there.

Just heading down from the summit.

Sunlit view!

This was the "trail" for a good portion of the hike. 

Better trails in the valley where we camped.

The way back down seemed to go much smoother and faster, though it still took awhile. We filled back up on water on our way back and gathered a little bit of firewood. However, as we arrived back in camp with a fair amount of light left, we had plenty of time to seek out the dryer branches rather than the plethora of wet wood available to us. Between the still not-super-dry wood we had and the addition of a steady wind, I'd say that making the fire the second night might have actually been harder, even with our additional preparations. However, the efforts finally paid off and we had a strong fire with plenty of fuel to let us relax. So warm. It took Brandon and I two shots to get dinner right, as the first meal we'd made (white chilly) was too spicy for us. When you're super hungry and just need to fill your stomach, it isn't the time for your food to be too spicy to eat. But the second meal worked fine. It rained more that night after we'd all climbed into our tent, but not enough to keep us from sleeping.

Sunday morning we woke up not too early and gathered our things together, had some breakfast (freeze dried granola with blueberries - yum!) and then headed out. It was probably the coolest morning/day aside from up at the summit, but once we got moving we were able to warm up. It took us closer to three and a half hours to get back to the car, but we were so happy once we got there. Brandon had hurt the lower part of his leg a bit (perhaps a high ankle sprain) on Saturday, so he was probably the most happy to finally be off his feet. And we had the pleasure to be of assistance to some fellow hikers who'd returned to their vehicle to discover the battery dead. Hooray for Zach's dad keeping a jumper cables in their truck that we borrowed! There really couldn't be much of a worse location to have car troubles than down there.

Done and done! Back at the parking lot!

The drive back to Salt Lake was wonderful and quick. And then naps and rest dominated most of the rest of the day. But we did it! Made it there and back! And while it was difficult (30+ miles), it was very worthwhile.

A quick turn around, I have the Nebo Half marathon this Saturday and in and around the half we've got ComicCon here this weekend! I got some last minute inexpensive/free tickets so we'll be making some stops there over the weekend!

Note: As usual, there are a plethora more pictures on Facebook.

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