High Uintas Wilderness

The Uinta Mountains are the highest east-west oriented mountain range in the U.S.  They are located in the extreme northeast corner of Utah, and extend into Wyoming, and are a sub-range of the Rocky Mountains.  They contain the highest peak in Utah, Kings Peak, at 13,528 feet.  I last backpacked in these mountains in 2004, and once previously in 1993, so I was anxious to visit them again.  Thus, the setting for my latest adventure to the high country, the second week of August, this year.

I was joined by long-time backpacking partners and friends Joe and Mike, along with Joe’s fiance Sarah, and friend Ken and his grandson Alec.  We appear fresh at the trailhead:P1040064Just one of the creek crossings we navigate along the trail:P1040098On Day 1 we hiked 7 miles, with an altitude gain of 1200 feet, and made camp just below Squaw Pass:P1040126We have missed the peak bloom season, even at this altitude, but here we find a few lone columbine blooming in the shade of a fir tree:P1040108Squaw Pass was a formidable climb, but we topped out around lunch time and descended into a wide basin and set up camp 2:P1040149P1040182Afternoon thunderstorms rolled in from the west and created a wonderful play of light on the mountains against the dark, foreboding clouds of the storms:P1040208These mountains are sedimentary, remnants of an ancient sea floor, so the banding in the rock layers is colorful with many contrasting variations:P1040213Storms cleared, and the night sky was spectacular, with the Milky Way rising above the mountaintops:P1040225Next morning, we faced the daunting task of going up and over Porcupine Pass, a seemingly insurmountable obstacle as we make our approach:P1040231A look down at the basin from atop Porcupine Pass, an altitude of 12,200 feet:P1040256Heading down the other side of the pass into another basin, we head off-trail and surprise a huge muley buck, airborne as graceful as if weightless:P1040277Our campsite was spectacular, surrounded by mountains, with a gurgling stream to lull you to sleep:P1040286Third night out, the Milky Way made another grand appearance:P1040328Next morning it was up and over Tungsten Pass, with a look back at Tungsten Lake from atop the pass:P1040357As we enter yet another basin, we see Kings Peak, highest point in Utah, rising before us:P1040372Our camp for the next two nights will sit in the shadow of these, the highest peaks in this mountain range:P1040395As we make dinner, several local residents approach our camp, apparently disturbed by our presence in their favorite shelter trees where they bed down:P1040459P1040461Not far from camp, a beautiful waterfall (which we first admired on our 1993 trip to this basin) flows from the remaining snow fields, clear and cold:P1040434After the ascent of Kings Peak, next morning we break camp and head over Smyth Fork Pass, in the direction of Red Castle Peak and Lower Red Castle Lake, seen here through an unexpected snow storm that hit us coming down the north side of the pass:P1040488Trying to pump water in the snow is chilly business:P1040490We reach lower Red Castle Lake and set up camp with snow clouds still swirling overhead:P1040504And almost as quickly as the snow appeared, it is gone to reveal a spectacular view of Red Castle and Smyth Fork Creek:P1040533That night is the peak of the Perseoid Meteor Shower, and we spot a couple of spectacular meteors, some with long, bright ion trails visible even in twilight. Here, a smaller meteor is captured by my camera after midnight:P1040551Next morning we set off on a day hike up to Red Castle Lake, a 7-mile hike with an altitude gain of about 1000 feet, but well worth the effort:P1040591P1040604Next day, we make the 1400-feet climb up and over Bald Mountain.  Below, Bald Mountain Lake sits awaiting the remaining snow melt for its icy waters:P1040720From atop Bald Mountain you can see 360 degrees in all directions, and the views of the peaks is spectacular.  In 1993 Joe and I were chased across this high plateau by storms and lightening, and couldn’t enjoy its beauty.  This day is much different:P1040704Some of the blooming beauty that we spot on the way down, on our last day:P1040724P1040731P1040732A trail-weary crew: 8 days, 55 miles, 8900-feet elevation gain, and wonderful friendship…the right combination for another fantastic voyage through God’s creation.P1040734