King's Peak - The View From the Top
Late summer is the best season to explore Utah's towering mountains, where dark green forests guard azure lakes, and where the afternoon breeze always feels cool. In these areas you can hike and camp, ride horseback through fields of wildflowers and see a wide assortment of wild animals.
A few years ago I lead a Boy Scout Troop to the top of King's Peak. At 13,528 feet above sea level, the peak is a daunting challenge. High enough that the air is thin and hikers need to be careful of altitude sickness. But not so high that you need specialized mountaineering gear and training.
We started from the Long Park Trailhead, on the edge of Hell Canyon, and backpacked through Gilbert Basin and over Anderson Pass, in the Uinta Mountains wilderness area.
Five days on the trail. Rain five days in a row. (It always rains in the Uintas - count on it.) Five days carrying a heavy pack through dense forest, across meadows and over passes above timberline. All for the privilege of scrambling up the barren, rocky face of Utah's highest mountain.
When we reached the summit we pulled out the cell phones and let the kids call their mothers. They were mighty proud - both the boys and their mothers. Now, some years later, those boys still brag about that trip - still feel a surge of pride when they reflect on it.
We covered about 30 miles on our trek. Other trails to King's Peak are somewhat shorter - the easiest approach is about 25 miles round trip along the Henry's Fork drainage on the mountain's North Slope.
Backpacking is the most common recreational activity in the Wilderness Area, but some people approach the summit on horseback (braving serious saddle sores if they are not use to riding). Others pack in using llamas or even goats.
Along the way, almost everyone stops to fish in the pristine alpine lakes and streams. Fishing is usually very good and is a major attraction; many people trek into the mountains just to fish - not feeling the need to conquer a windswept peak. With almost a thousand lakes to choose from, plus hundreds of streams, the mountains are paradise for fishermen.
Paved roads skirt the Wilderness Area and provide access to many beautiful campgrounds, lakes, streams and scenic areas. The most famous is Highway 150 - the Mirror Lake Highway. It runs from Kamas on the south to Evanston, Wyoming, on the north, climbing to an elevation of 10,687 feet as it crests the pass just under the summit of Bald Mountain. You pass more than a dozen small lakes along this beautiful drive.
The Flaming Gorge/Uintas Scenic Byway provides access to the eastern side of the mountains. Other roads, mostly gravel, probe to the edge of the wilderness from north and south. All of these roads lead to excellent campgrounds, fishing waters and scenic areas.
Many people view the mountain scenery from the comfort of an automobile - never getting out to hike. Others take short, easy strolls to scenic viewpoints, like the Provo River waterfalls located along Hwy 150.
Day hikes to lakes are common for both fishermen and photographers. In the Uintas you can choose from hundreds of trails, so it is easy to find one to match your schedule and desire for adventure.
You'll see beautiful country, no matter how you approach the Uintas. But if you really want to see the mountains, really want to feel the soul of the rock, you've got to get into the wilderness, away from the roads, and become a vagabond for a few days.
The Uintas are unique but Utah offers many high peaks where you can escape into wilderness - from the Pine Valley Mountains near St George to the La Sals near Moab to the Deep Creek Range near Wendover.
Get out and wander.
- Dave Webb
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