What a crazy spring it’s been for the weather in Utah. Here it is almost the middle of June and the Uintas are still buried in snow. It will be weeks at best before its clear enough for some good backpacking at the higher elevations. But after all the epic desert trips last month I felt like it was time to get up there and check things out. Seems like most folks don’t bother until the road is open but there is still a lot of beautiful trail to be had in the lower elevations along the Mirror Lake Highway.
We left Salt Lake early Saturday morning with very loose plans. First thing on the agenda was to drive the Mirror Lake Highway until the snow blocked the road just to scout things out. We made it about 8 miles past the usual winter closure point at Soapstone. There were several road closed signs before that but no snow until this point.
We stopped for a minute up at the top and talked to a woman who told us that they were filming a Chevy truck commercial up there. She was concerned about having enough room for all of the vehicles they were about to send up from Soapstone. She said they needed some footage of the truck plowing snow so they came here. If only they would plow it all the way to Wyoming! From there we decided to head back down and start backpacking but Taylor wanted to try longboarding down the highway. This is a little higher than my adventure level. No brakes? Yeah, I don’t think so.
When we passed back by Soapstone there were probably 100+ people and 20 or 30 cars waiting to head up for the Chevy commercial. They had equipment to put on quite a production up there. This is the Chevy truck that will be in the commercial.
We didn’t really have a great plan going into this trip. I figured we would hike up Yellow Pine, Shingle Creek or something similar until we hit snow around 8500-9000 feet. Probably setup camp there and then strap on the snowshoes and day hike well above snow line. So on the way back down the canyon I let Taylor pick between Yellow Pine, Shingle Creek or North Fork Provo River. He picked North Fork because neither of us had ever hiked there. I had very briefly studied the layout of the North Fork area but not very well. We found a spur road on the west side of the river and started the hike up from this trailhead, just a 100 feet or so off the main highway.
About a mile and a half up the trail we intersected with Boulder Creek which was raging out of control. The trail usually goes right through this without a bridge but there was no way we could walk through it with this kind of flow. We hiked downstream a bit looking for a possible crossing but there was nothing.
We decided we would turn around and go hike one of our other options, Shingle Creek or Yellow Pine. We knew they had bridges built over the rivers so we would be able to get much further. Right after turning around we noticed that we had past by a yurt on the way in without noticing it.
We hiked over there to take a look around. The yurt is pretty nice, it would be an awesome place to stay in the winter. It’s only about 1.25 miles from the road so it would be easy to load up a sled with luxuries and snowshoe or skin in. Unfortunately the area around the yurt was not in great shape. A lot of trash, and very gross trash at that. In fact the whole trail had a lot of trash on it. I imagine its because of the winter use it must receive.
We hung out at the yurt for a few minutes trying to decide what to do. After studying the map I noticed an old road that we had intersected appears to reach Boulder Creek and then turn into a trail. Thinking there might be a bridge there we hiked back over and looked around again. There was no bridge but we found a huge log that had come down over a narrow spot in the river. It was kind of high up and the river was just completely out of control down below. Normally I would say it was an ideal log to cross on but I honestly don’t know if we could have survived a fall into the river here. It all funneled into this spot and than careened down the hillside, pure whitewater as far as I could see below. It honestly might as well have been a 100 foot drop onto rocks.
I wished I had my wide angle lens on here. It’s hard to grasp just how intense this was. Those are my feet in the bottom of the picture and the log ahead. Another scary element was that the bark was very loose. Carpenter ants were tearing it apart so when I stepped anywhere other than dead center, the bark would slide a bit making me think it could shed off easily.
After the successful log crossing we found the trail and were heading back up the canyon. We felt victorious! I would have stunk to have to turn around and go do something else. Oh and the sun came out too. So nice up there right now.
But then we were stuck again. About a half mile later the trail crossed the North Fork Provo River and once again, no bridge. This shot doesn’t look too scary but that water was waist deep at the shore, probably deeper in the middle and flowing very fast. We looked around for a crossing but everything was so deep.
There was a nice campsite right there by the river so after a bit of deliberation we decided to accept defeat and camp there for the night. It was only noon at this point so we figured we might try and bushwhack up the side of the river as a day hike.
We had some lunch and then spent the afternoon just relaxing. We gathered a lot of firewood and later in the afternoon it was time to filter water. When I go backpacking we usually share a single filter, stove, etc. to save on weight. Usually we bring my filter because it’s one of the fastest on the market but Taylor really wanted to bring his old MSR Miniworks because he had just put a new cartridge in it. I know how slow those things can be so I made him swear that he would pump all the water if that was the case. The weight between the two filters is exactly the same so it really doesn’t make sense to bring the slow one in my opinion. We thought it would be fun to time how long it actually took to pump 10 liters of water. This pump is advertised at .83 liters per minute while my First Needs XL is advertised to be 1.83 liters per minute. We figured if it worked as advertised it should take around 14 minutes. Well, that didn’t quite work out. There were other problems in Taylor’s filter and after about an hour of straight pumping we still only had about 5 or 6 liters of water. Not good. This is Taylor taking it apart trying to figure out the problem.
The things you do when you should have been hiking all day. We decided to have a little competition to see who could start a fire with nothing other than firesteel and tinder we could find around camp. I won but apparently pouring white gas on my tinder was cheating so I guess the win goes to Taylor. It took him about 20 minutes to get a nice fire going.
In the evening the river level rose quite a bit and started flooding the area around our camp. This might not look to bad but it really is waist deep or more just at the shore. The trail usually goes right through this.
After that the clouds moved in so thick that I could barely tell where the moon was in the sky. I was hoping to get some night shots with the cloud blur but the best I could do was this shot during dusk.
We hung out around the fire until around midnight and then I was off to bed. I was not very happy to find that my thermarest inflatable pad had somehow developed a rather large hole since my last trip. It would pretty much completely deflate in about 30 seconds so I was left sleeping on the ground with nothing but the light foam insulation to act as padding. In the middle of the night it occurred to me that Nikita was sleeping on a perfectly good Thermarest Z-Lite foam pad. Well most of one anyway, I have one that is cut into 1/3 and 2/3 that I bring for the dogs and also to use as a chair. I swapped her for the deflated thermarest and to my surprise, a deflated Thermarest is actually a LOT more comfortable than their ultralight Z-Lite pad. I don’t know how anyone sleeps on those things!
The next morning was overcast and damp. The entire campsite had become quite saturated. Not flooded but the ground was very, very wet. I felt like a bit of a tool for packing the snowshoes and not the fly rod.
Taylor’s pump had gone from barely working to not working at all in the morning so we messed around with that for a long time before getting back on the trail. He ended up having to boil water for his breakfast. I’m glad we figured that out on a short trip like this. On the way out we once again had to cross Boulder Creek on the log of insanity. It was less scary going back over and I was able to get a shot of it with my wide lens on.
We decided to go back past the yurt and see if there was another path going down that way. It turns out there is actually a closed road that goes up there so we followed the road out. Just past the yurt we came upon a large bull moose but wouldn’t you know it, I had my wide lens on and had packed my long lens inside my pack. Usually I leave it on the outside for quick lens changes. Never the right lens when you need it!
The road was much nicer to hike on because there wasn’t nearly as much water and it looped right around to where my truck was parked. We only hiked about 4.5 miles on this adventure, nowhere near what I wanted to do. I was originally hoping 3-4 miles to camp, another few miles day hiking in the snow and then another 3-4 out to the car. Once I got home and studied the map a bit more, I realized that may have been possible had we chosen the actual North Fork Provo River trailhead. Apparently the real trail starts on the east side of the river. Oh well, we still had a fun time. Hopefully the snow melts off soon though, I’m still itching for some high alpine backpacking.
View the full set of photos on Flickr.
See more of my trip reports to the High Uintas Wilderness.
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