Duchesne County Highpoint Trip Report

Kings Peak (13,528 ft)

Date: June 24-26, 2004
Author: Kevin Baker

My friend Patrick Thornley and I decided earlier in the year to try Kings Peak, highest point in Utah. This mountain is in the Uintah Range, due east of Salt Lake City. My wife Jenni and I had previously attempted Kings in July 2001, and were turned back just 200 vertical feet from the summit by an approaching storm. It turned out that the storm brought only snow showers on the summit but we wanted to be safe. I had a personal vendetta to settle with this mountain but my wife wanted no part of the boulders and long approach this time.

Patrick has the same goals and lists that I have, so we were both eager to knock out Kings. Patrick was looking for state highpoint #47, while I was hoping for #32. We set out from Colorado Springs the afternoon of June 23rd, and made a quick and uneventful drive to the booming town of Rawlins, WY. We figured this would be a good place to stop over, half-way to the Uintas. Thursday we were off to an early start and had no problems finding the trailhead using Don Holmes' directions. We arrived just before noon at the Henry's Fork campground just off of county road 77. There were a few cars in the parking lot, which turned out to be a couple of large groups. We inadvertently parked in the horse lot instead of the hiker parking area 1/4 mile up the road. By the time we realized this, we had our 50 pound packs already strapped on us. Hopefully that would not be a bad omen.

We started out at 12:40 under threatening skies and temps probably in the 70's. The first mile or so we tried to set a rhythm as our bodies were getting used to the extra weight. This was my first backpack since trying Kings three years ago, so my hips were hurting by the end of the day. After a couple of miles, our luck with the weather quickly burst as the skies opened up with an onslaught of steady rain and hail. We were making good time but had to stop to don a fleece and shell. Pat is a little more warm blooded than me, so he pressed on with his polypro and shorts. The rain and hail made us move even quicker, as there were open areas that were exposed to the weather. The closest lighting strike was 3 seconds, which meant we were less than a mile away. We met a group of hikers huddled under some trees just before reaching Elkhorn Crossing. They had a couple of horses carrying some of their gear and said they would try Kings tomorrow and camp at our destination of Dollar Lake.

At the crossing of Henry's Fork, we saw our first obstacle. Three years ago there were 4 stable logs across this stream, but now one of them was washed out and there were now 3, one of which was by itself. At this point, there was hail on the logs and the stream was running fast and deep. It is only about a ten foot crossing but it makes you a little nervous with a heavy pack and not much experience with this! I made my way gingerly across and a lightning bolt boomed nearby. Not too good for the concentration! Pat made it across with flying colors, using his poles and the third lone log for balance. At this point, we were only 2.5 miles from Dollar Lake and felt like we could do the 8 miles in less than 4 hours. After the crossing, the trail breaks out of the forest for the most part and exposes you to the weather the rest of the way. The rain let up, but it was now getting pretty cold, so we both wore gloves and shells. About 1/4 mile from Dollar, a few cracks got too close for comfort as we were one of the higher objects in the valley, so we waited again in a grove of trees for 20 minutes. We quickly became chilled, and pressed on. Just below the lake, another fording of Henry Fork is necessary and we were now plodding through a swampy mess of mud through the willows as the stream is all over the trail. Some footbridges would work nicely here, since the trail is basically made wider by people choosing their own paths based on the conditions. As we both were not wearing boots, our feet were miserable and cold. At 4:40pm, we arrived at our destination and found a nice cozy spot in the woods a couple hundred feet north of the lake.

We quickly setup camp as the rains subsided and donned dry clothes for the night. A nice combo of fettucine alfredo, mixed vegetables, and tiramisu put us in better spirits for summit day on Friday. Both of us did not sleep well the first night, as it was difficult to get used to our 10,700-foot elevation.

We stumbled out of the tent around 6 am, getting our gear ready for the summit push. We both packed very light, figuring this would be no more difficult than an easy 14'er with the 3000-foot gain from Dollar Lake. We left our camp at 6:45 am, with clear skies to start. We gained the base of Gunsight Pass in about 45 minutes. I choose to ascend the gentle gully straight up to the pass, as it was still filled with hard snow, while Patrick stayed on the trail which switchbacked along the northeastern slopes of Point 13103. Pat had to traverse some annoying snow fields and contour around another to meet me at the pass.

Our next task was to look for the confusing unofficial "cutoff" trail that avoids losing significant elevation by contouring around the north side of Pt 13103, joining the trail that descends into Painter Basin. We descended only a switchback or two and could not find it. Our mistake was the cutoff trail is at 11,300 feet, according to Gerry Roach, and we contoured across at 11,800 feet. This turned into a nasty loose scree and boulder traverse that lost valuable time for us. We stayed lower than my previous attempt with my wife but it was still frustrating. The group we saw the first day had just crested Gunsight Pass and asked us which way to go. We said not to follow us since they would probably be cursing us in our footsteps! Luckily, we came across a steep snow field that made us decide just to go straight up and gain the ridge at around 12,100 feet. We stayed to the right of this snow field on the rocks, since we did not have ice axes. I had a feeling this would dump us out onto the high plateau below Anderson Pass and luckily it did. From here it was an easy walk across open tundra to meet up with the trail about 1/2 mile below the pass. Anderson Pass is still filled with snow but it was an easy walk to the beginning of the north ridge to the summit. We made it to Anderson Pass at 9:40 and storms were already beginning to build but at this point they were not threatening.

I knew the final 0.6 mile on the ridge would be tedious, since it took my wife and me 45 minutes to get to 13,300 feet. The ridge has about 3 false summits, which is very disconcerting when you are racing the weather. There are a few snow fields to skirt, but I basically stayed on the ridge to avoid them. I finally could see the familiar summit block, and topped out at 10:45am. The summit is rather airy with the flat boulder perched on the edge. I called out to Pat on my radio telling him I was coming down soon with a storm from the east moving closer but he soon appeared and joined me for a quick celebration and pictures. We quickly left at 11:10 and carefully made our way down the maze of boulders. The large group behind us was scattered on the ridge as we met them descending and a few of them didn't make it as light sleet began to fall. Pat and I made it back down to Anderson in 45 min, then took the standard route, which descends all the way to 11,200 feet into Painter Basin. I discovered I was out of water, so we filled up my water bladder and headed back for a brutal reascent of Gunsight Pass. The ascent is only 600 feet or so, but after a long day it was slow going. After finally cresting the pass, we took a short glissade down the snow field as storms were getting close again. We were lucky to avoid any major precipitation, until just below Gunsight when hail was unleashed from the heavens again. We staggered back into camp 4 hours from leaving the summit, wandering around looking for our tent, which I failed to set a way point for. Our feet were much drier this day, so the night was much easier to sleep through. Before hitting the sack, I headed to the woods to take care of some business as nature called, when suddenly it started hailing on me! This mountain never gives up!

The 3 hour 10 minute hike out was uneventful on Saturday other than trudging through the swamps again and seeing some kind of weird looking swimming varmant. Not sure what that was. We staggered back to our car, relieved to finally check this peak off the state list.

Hike statistics: About 28 miles round-trip with 5,130 feet of elevation gain via Henrys Fork Basin.