Sunday, November 16, 2014

Across the High Uintah Mountains - North2South July 22-26 2014

   First of all, I'd like to thank Dan for laying a blanket of guilt so thick that I couldn't put off this trip report any longer, because, every time I thought of setting up camp at the computer and then got distracted with the busy-ness of life, I thought of him hammering away at a doctoral dissertation. And anyone who knows me, understands that I have a rather irritating voice in my head that often says,"Well, if he/she can do it, so can I!"  Rest assured, this post will not even remotely come close to the height, width, nor length of Dan's Doctoral Dissertation, and it will most likely be more applicable to the masses.  Love ya, Dan!;)

   Tuesday July 22, 2014.  Here goes.  The adventurous  hikers included myself - Desertbound, my husband the Rock, beautiful daughter Q-May(16) and nephew-in-training-even-though-I'm-too-sexy-for-my-pants (don't ask, it's a long story which will be told later)... Mckay(17).  Now we must remember that Q-May and Mckay have been backpacking together since they were wee little ones and so we really missed having our BFFs Indy-n-Joe, Mckay's parents with us on this trip and thought of them often.  You will find our "before" photo below.  It was taken at the West Fork of Black's Fork trailhead leading up into Buck Pasture on the north slope of the Uintah Mountains. Elevation 9500 ft.  Advisory warning: the 4WD road into this trailhead can be rough in spots.  When we asked our oldest daughter (25 yr old) to drop us off, we had no idea she would have to negotiate a river ford and such a rough road by herself on the way back out.  She was a trooper!  She made it safely back to Evanston and then home with only minor hysterics/panic attack and projectile crying.  This is Shematite The Brave as she waves good-bye to us!

Desertbound, Rock, Mckay and Q-May

               The teenagers are sporting their bright, shiny faces and clean clothes and hair...:)

             Hiking up Buck Pasture towards our destination for the night, Dead Horse Lake.

 Whenever I asked Q-May what direction we were going, she always said south...and she was right:)

   There was a mandatory stream crossing about a mile and a half in and another one further up the trail...hence the bare foot photo. We quickly learned that Buck Pasture would be more aptly named Marsh Meadow.  The multiple boggy crossings had Q-May squealing whenever she felt the cold, muddy water seep into her hiking shoes.  It also caused a boy scout that hiked ahead of his troop and caught up to us to sink hip deep in black ooze.  I think he still had 2 shoes on his feet as he quickly extricated himself. No doubt he was befuddled by the novelty of finding a beauty like Q-May on the trail and miscalculated the length of the steps required to safely negotiate this particular Marsh Meadow crossing.  No worries.  His troop and leaders were quickly on the scene to both harass and help as needed.  The four of us quickly left the 20 or so scouts behind and we neither heard nor saw a sign of that troop again.


 Mckay lives "down south" in the red rock desert of Southern Utah.  He commented more than once on how GREEN everything was and how beautiful the mountains were.  His gratitude was infectious.

                                                                   Lunch break:)

            After about 13 kilometers (8 miles) and a little bit of a climb at the end, we reached camp at Dead Horse Lake, elevation 10,878 ft. It took us a leisurely 6 hours on the trail.  Lesson learned - using trekking poles under a super sunny sky at high altitude means I need to apply sunscreen liberally to my arms, not just once:) Coming from an elevation of just over 2000 feet, Mckay felt a little bit tired the first day but after a good night's rest, he and Q-May put their hustle on and we adults literally could not keep up with them and I run 15 miles a week.  I wished several times that I had put more weight in Q-May's pack (she was at about 22 lbs fully loaded at a petite 5'2") to slow her down and Mckay's long legs took him wherever he wanted to go and then some.  In the photo of camp below you can see the 2 tents that we brought. The light grey/green one is the one Q-May and I used.  She carried the fly and I carried the tent and poles.  It's an ultralight Rainshadow2 Tarptent weighing in @ a mere 42 oz and sleeps 3. With just the 2 of us using it, we had plenty of room for everything a girl could need:)  Rock and Mckay shared the lightweight yellow Marmot. You will also notice our luxury items, our REI camp chairs.  After a long day on the trail, it's nice to sit on something besides a hard rock or log.  Rock and I have decided the extra 2 lbs of weight is worth it.

                                                          Mckay fishing at Dead Horse Lake.

        There's nothing like sitting by the campfire watching the sunset on the cliffs across the lake.
End of Day 1

Morning on the mountain...Wed. July 23, 2014
Without looking, Mckay poured his leftover scrambled egg water behind him onto what he thought was the ground...:)

Dead Horse Pass is behind me in the photo below.  It gave me such anxiety last year, but this time, I knew what to expect...except for having to cross the snow field...yikes!

   Red Knob Pass can be seen in this photo. It's in the distance behind and over Q-May's head.  Rock and I traveled that trail last year when we hiked the Highline.  The view from that pass was our favorite of the whole trip.  However, the meadows and wildflowers were stunning on this beautiful morning!

   The horse skull strapped to the rock behind Q-May in this photo was a startling reminder of perhaps how Dead Horse Pass got it's name. The warning on the map that this pass is hazardous to horses and pack stock is not to be taken lightly.


                                               Mckay conquered it like a pro...elevation 11,500 ft.

                                     The view from the top of Dead Horse Pass looking east south/east
                                                  into the upper end of Rocky Sea Basin.

At the top of DHP looking back down at the lake and the valley we hiked up the day before.


                                                                Rocky Sea Basin

We'll call this...Turtle Rock.

In retrospect, Mckay said this was his favorite part of the trip.  It reminded him of what Middle Earth might look like from Lord of the Rings.

              This is the usual distance that the teenagers hiked ahead of us.  They kept a great pace!

   We came down into Rocky Sea Basin on the south side of Dead Horse Pass and enjoyed a trail lunch at Ledge Lake (see photo of Q-May) elevation 10,845 ft.  We then followed the Ledge Trail (121) to Phinney Lake, elevation 10,625 ft.

                                                             Lunch at Ledge Lake


   We found Phinney Lake (elevation 10,625) after an easy second day hike of under 4 kilometers, set up camp and enjoyed a wonderful afternoon of hungry fish.  Mckay concentrated on learning how to tie a bubble and a fly on his line...

                                                    ...while I caught myself some dinner!

                                                                                                                Notice the clouds starting to darken...

                                                       We all had fun fishing @ Phinney!
   It was right around 5:00 when Mckay caught as many fish as he wanted to eat for dinner and decided he wanted to take a little nap.  He proceeded to dive into the man-tent.  Rock followed him and so Q-May and I went to our tent as well to "tidy things up" and batten down the hatches as it started to sprinkle.  That's when the rain hit, the thunder rolled and the lightening flashed!  I've never been so up close and personal with a thunderstorm before.  We were camped right up near the lake next to the cliffs so it seemed like the sound of the thunder bounced and echoed all around us.  It was so loud!  And the lightening was pretty close!  But, above the noise of the thunderstorm we could hear lots of voices coming from over by the trail and where we thought Anderson lake would be.  Loud talking, yelling and hollering could be easily heard from our tents.  We supposed it was probably a group of scouts that got caught out on the trail in the storm trying to hurry and set up camp and dive for cover.  As afternoon thunderstorms usually do in the Uintah mountains, this one rolled on through and was over within just over an hour.  The yelling from the neighbors dimmed down to occasional shouts of laughter and then just quiet.  We emerged from the tents ready to cook our fish for dinner and dry our gear...and in Q-May's case, shoes that got left out.  Fresh fish cooked over a campfire is the BEST.

   Q-May is dressed in full Ninja mosquito fighting gear.  She said after the trip that she would have preferred rain to the mosquitos.  She has very sweet blood.  They didn't bother me that much once I had the 100% Deet sprayed on.

                                     Our view of Phinney Lake from camp after the thunderstorm.
    End of Day 2

Day 3 - Thursday July 24, 2014

    Another beautiful morning dawned and we could hear our neighbors pack up and leave as we filtered water from the lake.  Our water filter was slowly dying a painful death on this trip.  Being somewhere in the vicinity of 10 years old, it had every right.  We started rationing our H20 purification tablets the first night when we got to camp and Mckay realized he couldn't find his iodine tablets anywhere.  He soon realized much to his dismay that he probably left them at one of the stream crossings where he refilled his water bottles.  This upset him quite a bit and only the realization that his actions could possibly be someone else's answered prayer made him feel any better.

 So we said goodbye to our camp at Phinney Lake and headed south along the Ledge Trail on the east edge of Rocky Sea Basin.

 As we hiked south along the Ledge Trail, we had this high, rocky ridge to our left (east) and fields and meadows of gorgeous wildflowers and wonderful springs (so beautiful!!) that sometimes came right out of the rocks and eventually flowed down into Rocky Sea Basin...

...which was on our right side (to the west).  In the 2 photos below you can see the view out over the basin to Rocky Sea Pass that will take you to Naturalist Basin and eventually Mirror Lake.

   We sat and ate some trail lunch as we checked the map.  This spot was close to where we started heading up over the ridge to the east into Squaw Basin.  Our plan was to camp at one of the lakes there for the night.  As we hiked up this much steeper trail we all got pretty warm.  Once again the teenagers easily out-paced us and Rock and I caught up to them at the top of the ridge as they say on a log enjoying the view looking down into Squaw Basin.

Due to the strenuousness of the hiking and the warmth of the afternoon, it was at this point that Mckay decided to remove the bottom portion of his zip-off hiking pants while exclaiming that,
                     "Taking off my pants was the best decision I've made all day!"
                                                     To which I had to respond,
"There will come a time in the not so distant future when you will say that again, Mckay." ;)

After descending the ridge and upon reaching the trail junction just before Rock Creek, we decided to head over to Squaw Lake and camp for the night.  The photo below is of Q-May crossing Rock Creek as we head east to the lake.  On the map the trail looks fairly level, but don't let that fool you.  We still had a fair amount of uphill hiking to do in the 2 kilometers before we got to the lake.

After about a 9 kilometer (5.5 miles) hike, and quite a lengthy search for a good camping spot, we dropped our packs and set up camp.  Because you see, the scout troop that we could hear the day before, beat us to the best camp site at Squaw Lake (elevation 10,483).  But we found a very nice one for ourselves in the trees. Rock did the neighborly thing and once we set up camp, went over and chatted with them.  They were a troop from the Provo, UT area and they in fact were camped at Anderson Lake the night before which was the lake just to the south of where we were.  The thunderstorm rattled them, too:)

                                                    Mckay had fun starting the fire:)

     As far as fishing went, Squaw Lake was almost a total bust.  Rock caught the only fish that night. But the scenery, the sunset on the water, the pink clouds in the evening sky and the warm fire all made up for it.
                                                              END OF DAY 3

   Day 4, Friday July 25th dawned bright and sunny.  Rather than spend 2 nights here (where the fishing wasn't so hot) and have a long hike out on the last day, we decided to pack up and head southwest out of Squaw Basin and follow the east fork of Rock Creek, trail 063, until we found a good campsite.
                                                             Good Bye, Squaw Lake!

                       It always feels good to wash your feet in a nice cold, mountain stream!

                                 The trail crosses over this bridge on the east fork of Rock Creek
                                              just after a trail junction(above photo) on the map.

We came across this nice campsite but decided it wasn't quite far enough down the trail and we could still cover several miles before we set up camp for the night.

   I snagged this photo just as we caught up to the teenagers and before we headed down the multiple switchbacks toward the Rock Creek drainage where we hoped to find a campsite for the night.  Then we would head on down to Upper Stillwater reservoir where my parents would be picking us up the next day.
   As we hiked down the dusty, rocky switchbacks, I was having such dry eyes from having to keep watching the rocky trail and where I placed my feet, that I had to squint with one eye and close the other one.  This slowed me way down.  By the time we got to the bottom of the Rock Creek drainage and to the bridge that crossed it, the only campsite that was at all flat enough for tents was already taken.  This was the Friday afternoon of a holiday weekend in Utah...

We even tried to find a spot to camp along the reservoir but the sides were too steep and rocky.


   This meant that our only option was to hike all the way to the Upper Stillwater Reservoir Campground and hope that we could find a campsite there on a busy holiday weekend. We put in more miles that day than we had anticipated and we were all a little bit tired.  So, as we hiked down the trail, discussed our options, rounded the corner  and discovered our scout troop friends outside of the campground bathroom doing what looked like a service project, we were amazed and delighted.  One of the leaders told us that they didn't have any cash with them (just credit cards) and so the camp host was letting the troop work for their campsite that night.  The fee was $10.00.  I quickly turned to Rock and asked him if he had his wallet with him, which he did.  He pulled it out and found a five dollar bill...and then he counted out five more one dollar bills!!!  We asked where the camp host was and thanked the scouts.  We hiked as quickly as we could down the road to the camp host, asked if there were any sites still open for the night and they gave us the very last one just as another truck pulled up right beside us!  We called it the miracle of camp #11.  If we had literally been 10 seconds slower, we would have missed it!
   So...after hiking roughly 13-14 kilometers, we got to wash our hair in the camp faucet.  And we got invited over to dinner by the Hispanic Provo Scout Troop!  The scout leaders had their wives and families come and meet them at the end of their trip and they brought hamburgers to grill and fresh watermelon and they shared with us!  It was so fun getting to know them a little bit and hear about the adventure they had and the unique challenges they face as a troop. Their leaders were all courteous, kind and gracious and I'm sure the boys are learning from their example.
     My parents, Dreampacker and Trailblazer were set to arrive the next day, Saturday July 26th around 2 pm. This left us with lots of leisure time in the morning at the campground.  Here are some things that Mckay learned on this trip.


                                   Across the High Uintah Mountains North-2-South from the
                              West Fork of Black's Fork to Upper Stillwater Reservoir in 4 days.
And there you have it.