| Kings Peak, Utah‘s monarch
Kings Peak, 13,528'
(Highest point in Utah.)
Friday, July 4-5, 2008
Total Elevation Gain: About 5,000 feet.
Total Round-trip Distance: About 27 miles.
For most people, Fourth of July weekend is all about barbecues, beer and fireworks. But for us, it was all about driving 450 miles to a remote trailhead, then hiking almost 15 miles into the wilderness to climb an elusive state highpoint.
Shortly after 6 a.m., Ryan, a friend of ours, pulled up to our house and we shoved all our crap into the back of his truck. Still undecided on whether or not to bring our ice axes, we went ahead and threw them in, procrastinating on the decision.
Just north of Fort Collins, from I-25, we spotted our first pronghorn galloping freely in the grassland. Just a few short hours later, from I-80, we had seen our seven-thousandth pronghorn.
The drive was boring. Just rolling plains, trucks and refineries – for hours and hours. Oh, and pronghorns, too.
The long hike to base camp
Shortly after 1 p.m. we pulled into the Henrys Fork parking lot (about 9,400') just as thunder started to rumble above us. We scrambled to get our gear together.
Because the recent trip reports we read said that ice axes weren't really needed (for the standard route), we made the quick group decision to leave them behind. After slinging my 35-pound pack onto my back, our decision felt like a good one.
At 1:30 p.m. we registered and started up the trail. Within minutes rain started to dump on us. What a way to start a 30-mile trek, I thought.
Counter-clockwise from top-left: Gearing up; crossing the footbridge near Elkhorn Crossing; and a couple moose (blobs of brown at the bottom-left) we saw staring us down from a few hundred yards away:
The approach was long – much longer than any approach I've ever done with a heavy pack. It was also wet, muddy and boggy. Fortunately, the 1,400 feet of elevation gain was very gradual and the trail was easy to follow.
The rain finally stopped and we were able to better appreciate our surroundings. The wide valley was rather scenic and it stretched for miles.
Getting closer to Dollar Lake:
Often, people make camp near Dollar Lake (by they way, you can't really see it from the trail, as it's hidden by a forest), which is about 7.5 miles in, but we hiked up a bit further and found a good spot near a pond.
View to the south from our camp:
Unfortunately, when the rain stopped, the mosquitoes came out in full force. When we tried to purify water near the pond, we got swarmed. When I tried to pee by a tree, I got swarmed. Strong breezes offered temporary relief. And even though our bodies were drenched with bug dope, the little bastards just wouldn't leave us alone. The world really needs more bats.
That evening we dined on pepperoni sticks, Wheat Thins and cheese … with rum punch. Backcountry camping always brings out the weirdest cuisine combinations.
Out of nowhere, a storm blew in and we were hit with some nasty squalls. We had to frantically throw all our crap into our tent and/or under the vestibule (and Ryan's bivy).
The rain came down hard and it didn't let up all evening. Rather than deal with the boredom of being tentbound, we decided to just call it a night at the early hour of 8 p.m. It wasn't a hard decision to make, though, as we were all pretty tired.
The storm pounded us throughout the evening. From 8 p.m. until 2 a.m., I woke up every 30 to 60 minutes, usually when the storm quieted down or intensified.
At one point, Jen woke me up and asked if I thought the tent was going to blow away. It sounded really bad but I thought it would hold. Then she turned on her headlamp and I could see the tent flexing and twisting in the whipping wind. One corner of the tent was pumping in and out furiously, right into my face. But I was too tired to give a damn. And there was no way I was going out there to cinch things down. Luckily, it held.
At about 2:30 a.m., I woke up to the peaceful sound of quiet. As I peered out of the clear plastic window on our rainfly, I could see a million stars (my Fourth of July "fireworks") through a portion of clear sky, which offered me some relief that we might actually get to climb a mountain.
By 6:40 a.m. we were on the trail, headed toward Gunsight Pass (about 11,800'). The air was cool and the skies were cloudy. Luckily, the clouds were wispy and non-threatening.
Hiking toward Gunsight Pass:
Let me take a minute to clear up some confusion about "short cuts" on this climb ...
The "standard" route takes you over Gunsight Pass, continues southeast on trail 068 until it hits trail 025, then you take a right (heading west on 025) up to Anderson Pass, then you climb Kings Peak's ridge to the summit.
Short cut No. 1 (as I'm calling it) appears to be a snow climb. When you look at Kings Peak from Henrys Fork Basin, this is the steep gully just below Kings / Anderson Pass (seen in my second and third photos of this TR). It is southwest of Gunsight Pass. You would not need to ascend Gunsight Pass to access this gully. I know nothing about this route, but others have noted this as a more direct route. This route looks pretty steep and nasty for a summer route, though.
Short cut No. 2 can be ascended just after gaining Gunsight Pass (see the next photo). If we had our ice axes with us, we probably would have taken this route. When we were hiking back, we noticed a couple climbers going up this way, and I think it would bypass a lot of agony.
Short Cut No. 3 is the way we went, and as far as I could tell, it was/is the way most people go. This southward route contours the base of the cliffs. By taking this route, you avoid having to drop as far into Painter Basin, and you shave about a mile or so off the route (made our climb about 27 miles total instead of 28-29). Contrary to what we read, we still lost more than 400 feet, which we had to regain both ways. We also had to cross some snowfields and do some class 2 boulder hopping.
From our campsite, it took us about an hour to gain Gunsight Pass.
Here's the short cut (what I called "Short Cut No. 2"), but the snow was firm and we didn't have our axes with us, so we passed in the interest of safety (inset map shows location; red arrows show route):
Traversing below the cliff bands (my "Short Cut No. 3"):
Some climbers ahead of us crossing the large, steep snowfield:
While Ryan crossed the big snowfield sans axe, Jen and I opted to scamper up higher and cross the rocks with smaller snow sections:
About the time we regained the standard trail, my spirits were dampened by the darkening sky. A few drops of rain were like salt in my wound. My frustration turned to anger. The more I thought about how much we had invested (kennel fees to board our dogs, gas to get to the trailhead, miles hiked with heavy packs, enduring storms and mosquitoes …), the more pissed off I became. I felt like our chances of summiting were getting slimmer by the minute. Sure, I know, "the mountain will always be there" -- But I won't!
Now don't get me wrong, I would never put myself in danger just to gain a summit, but those decisions are never easy ones to make, especially when you have a lot of time, energy and money invested in them.
We continued to keep a close watch of the sky as we continued to march up that long, wide-open slope toward Anderson Pass.
Hiking up toward Anderson Pass (Kings' false summit in the background):
Once we made it up Anderson Pass (9:15 a.m.), everything seemed to get better. The sky improved … and once we started up the rocky ridge, my mood improved.
Me, with Anderson Pass to my right (left, in the photo); our base camp was in the valley in the background ... "Short Cut No. 1" is the top red arrow:
Climbing the ridge (mostly class 2) was pretty fun. There was some surprisingly healthy exposure to the right (easily avoidable, though).
Kings Peak (13,528') on the left, South Kings Peak (13,512') on the right:
Hiking along the ridge (a yellow vein of rock can be seen in this pic … kind of reminded me of Wetterhorn):
More ridge climbing:
The summit and the steep west face:
Just minutes after 10 a.m., the three of us gained the summit. The views were stellar. Met a couple friendly guys on the summit.
Aubrey, Jen and Ryan on the summit:
Curiously, Gilbert Peak (13,442') to our north and South Kings Peak (13,512') both looked higher. It was a strange optical illusion.
After spending a half-hour on the roof of Utah, we started back down.
Jen and Ryan looking out above Painter Basin and contemplating our return route:
On our return we decided to cross the steep snowfield (the snow was much softer than it was on our ascent):
At 1:30 p.m. we made it back to camp. I wanted to collapse.
Originally, we planned on staying another night at camp after the climb. But with looming storm clouds in the distance and hungry swarms of mosquitoes eager to revisit our skin, we decided to man up and hike out.
By 2:30 p.m. we were back on the trail and slogging our way out.
Top: our camp; bottom: Ryan jumping across a particularly wet section of the bog:
The trail just kept going on and on. Every muscle in my body ached.
By the time we got back to the trailhead, at 5:30, we were all walking like zombies. Curiously enough, it took us just as long to hike out as it did to hike in.
As we loaded our packs into the truck, mosquitoes began to swarm us again. I swear, you can't stop for two seconds ... they know no mercy!
Then, within two seconds of closing the doors, we began to suffocate in our own funk. Sweat, bug spray and moose poop mud filled the air and made me want to puke.
Less than two hours later, we were drinking beers and eating in Rock Springs, Wyoming. We then scored some classy rooms at the local Holiday Inn. It felt so good to wash off all that filth and funk in a hot shower. And if anyone from the Holiday Inn is reading this, you should really consider installing garbage disposals in your shower drains.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):