northfork2011slide

North Fork Provo River, Uintas, June 2011

Posted by on Jun 13, 2011

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.
End of the Road

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.
Closed

Taylor

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.
Stunt Truck

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.
North Fork Trailhead

The forest at this elevation was alive and well. The grass was green, water was flowing all over the place and there were tiny yellow flowers everywhere.
The land of tiny yellow flowers.

In many places the trail had become a stream or sometimes even a bit of a swamp.
Runoff

Nikita was really happy to be out with me again. I’ve had to leave her home so much lately because I’ve been doing so much in the National Parks.
Nikita

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. Boulder Creek

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.
Boulder Creek Yurt

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.
The Yurt

The Bunks

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.
Crossing

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.
Second thoughts

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.
And then the sun came out

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.
North Fork Provo River

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.
Camp

Taylor spent an hour or so rigging up his shelter to be pole-free by hanging it from a tree. It worked out pretty well.
Shelter

Meanwhile I setup my shelter and laid in the meadow with Nikita. It was a very beautiful and serene place to spend the afternoon.
Our meadow

Slurp!

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.
'Field Maintenance'

Looking back at camp while Taylor pumps. That’s our ‘cooler’ in the foreground.
Three more

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.
Fire contest

Campfire

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.
Flood

Sunset was shaping up pretty good but then the clouds really moved in.
North Fork Sunset

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.
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.
Unnecessary weight

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.
A wider view of the log of insanity

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!
Never the right lens!

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.

Do you have questions or comments about this or any of my trip reports? Hit me up in the comments below or email me through my contact form.

4 Comments

  1. avatar
    Dave Johnson
    June 15, 2011

    Looks great. I’ve always wanted to hit the Uintas. I live in Logan and we have a lot to offer but nothing like the amount of lakes to fish and hike that the you guys have down there.

    Reply
    • avatar
      Nick
      June 15, 2011

      Thanks, Dave. I’m actually from Logan. I lived there my whole life until about 6 years ago. The funny thing is, the Uintas aren’t much further from there then they are from Salt Lake! It takes me about 1.5 hours to get to Bald Mountain Pass and from Logan I think it took me about 2.

      Reply
  2. avatar
    Rich
    June 25, 2011

    Thanks for the pics. I am ready to do some fishing up there myself. I would like to hike to Ibantik Lake and then follow the Weber River to Holiday Park to a friend’s cabin. Would like to do this over the 4th of July. I’m sure the river will be raging. Any idea how much snow I’ll run into? Thanks.

    Reply
    • avatar
      Nick
      June 26, 2011

      Hi Rich,

      I just backpacked Shingle Creek this weekend, I also took a drive up to Bald Mountain Pass hoping to do a different hike with snowshoes. I can say with absolute certainty that there is no way you’re going to be able to do the route you described on July 4th. Even if you did it in snowshoes (which you would need), the river crossings on the Middle Fork Weber will be intense and there are no bridges. Based on my observations this weekend it’s going to be mid-to-late July before it will be doable and even then the river crossings on the Middle Fork won’t be easy. I’ve had trouble crossing them on much lighter snow years. I wish they would put some logs/bridges up down there.

      -Nick

      Reply

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