High Uintas Quintuple Pass backpacking adventure

Jen

Formerly colefeet
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West Fork Blacks Fork trailhead --> Dead Horse lake --> Allsop Lake--> Priord lake --> East Fork Bear River Trailhead --> West Fork Blacks Fork trailhead

This trip was super special to me as It was masterminded by my favorite Utah backcountry specialist @Nick , who enhanced my half baked ideas with his detailed knowledge of the area, and I was able to go out with my good friend and backcountry ski partner, Beata. Beata and I have spent a ton of time navigating in the snow but this was our first summer backpacking trip with just the two of us. Our plan was to complete the "uintas trifecta traverse" (trademarked by @Nick) going from Dead Horse Lake to Priord, passing through Allsop on the way, but as we did five passes during our loop we thought it deserved a quintuplet title.



We left salt lake city in Beata's little Camry, ascending crappy dirt roads until we reached the ford where the West Fork Blacks Fork river crosses forest road 63, preventing those of us in weenie vehicles from reaching the trailhead and adding on a rather mindless 3 miles round trip to our total hiking. As it was Thursday we saw only one family camping along the forest roads and a couple of men watching their sheep, horses ground tied nearby, but all before we reached the official trailhead. After registering at the forest service box we headed up the trail thru Buck's Meadow, as beautiful as @audraiam had promised us. The weather was pretty overcast, both shielding us from the sun but dulling the mountains. The deadfall, from what google tells me is beetle kill, makes for a depressing start to the path, but the creek winding through the thick greenery of the basin bottom makes up for it.



It was 11.5 miles to reach Dead Horse Lake from the car, and as time was ticking by rather quickly with our late start we were lucky enough to time an opening in the clouds with sunset, lighting up the peaks around us as we emerged from the trees after a short uphill climb. Unfortunately we also seemed to time our arrival at the peak of mosquito hunger - bug spray was used copiously. The area was gorgeous, high alpine meadow and Dead Horse Pass to the south, Red Knob Pass to the east and our objective for the next day, the ridge between Dead Horse and Allsop lakes to the west of Lake Ejod.


Approaching Dead horse Lake:



Dead Horse Lake:



Our camp for the night was gorgeous; our tent rested on soft grass with the cirque rising up around us, glowing in the light of the setting sun. The temperatures were perfect - I can't remember the last time I slept in the mountains without my sleeping bag zipped all the way up. We set no alarm and slept like the dead.




Friday brought us clear skies and sunshine in the morning. We decided to trot up Dead Horse Pass before we headed out for the day. It was fantastic to ascend a pass with nothing more than a little water. Marmots whistled at us as we climbed up the clear path, only washed out in one section, and the view we were rewarded with at the top made the extra time and short miles (just 1.5 round trip from our campsite) well worth it. To the opposite side starts the Ashley National Forest, with the highline trail meandering across a high rocky ledge/bench. Definitely a trail i'd like to hike one day.

Looking into Ashley National Forest:


Looking down at Dead Horse Lake:



We retrieved our packs from a little grove of stunted trees, our marmot friend watching us suspiciously, and headed around the north side of Dead Horse Lake, passing one couple camped on the far side. We headed due west of Lake Ejod where the ridge was clearly lowest.



We wondered about beginning our climb immediately as the clouds were rolling in and the winds picking up and we had only a small idea of our descent on the other side. Our climb was on larger scree, holding our steps easily, and within five minutes of climbing we found a fairly well-established social trail. As we walked it many other faint trails joined up from various start points below us, illustrating how many people must ascend this ridge.

We reached the saddle to find various cairns marking top of the main ridge line. The clouds decided that it was a good time to pelt us with hail and rain. B's raincoat was a little inadequate for the large raindrops so we wrapped the tent fly around it (a trick perfected during our hike with friends to Conundrum Hot Springs in drenching rain the previous summer). It works.




The sight of the storm pushing down the valley with the high wind was spectacular and we bore the brunt of the storm for less than 10 minutes. From looking at previous trip photos we knew there was a continuous cliff band below us but we couldn't see if from our vantage point. We knew we needed to keep tight along the ridge line going north until we came to the end of the cliff band to find a scree field descent but we weren't sure quite how far. There were no trails or cairns. The ridge angle was steep and the footing super loose; we had to constantly re-direct our traverse as the slope kept trying to take us into descending directly.

headed back up to the ridgeline when we had dropped too far too fast at the start:


Once the scree field came into sight it was easily identifiable as the place most suited to descent but it would have been very easy to make a mistake and find yourself sliding in the loose, rocky soil over an earlier section of cliff if you weren't cautious.

The field where you start the descent:


View of the basin as we began our descent:


View of the descent from the opposite side of Allsop's basin. We started in the flat section on the ridgeline's right, followed under the uppermost cliff band and descending the loose scree-filled shoulder that bulges out from that face:



Fighting for our footing the entire descent was tiring on the legs and even after reaching the grassy basin floor there was another approximate 500 ft of elevation loss to the lake. There weren't too many downed trees in the thicker forest surrounding Allsop, however, and we reached the blissfully bug-free shore of Allsop a little worn out but happy. We snacked and napped on perfectly flat, sun-warmed rocks and watched a family of fisherman attempt to catch the active fish that were breaking the surface repeatedly. It was an odd sensation to just lay out without a constant bug assault - a gift from nature no doubt.



After lunch we set our sights on our third pass of the day, a low saddle south of Cathedral Peak on the ridge between the left and right hand forks of the East Fork Bear River. Our path of ascent was easy to pick from just three possible talus fields and once reaching our field of choice it took only 20 minutes of steady rock hopping to reach the top. It was easy but shifty, and I'd make sure that I had SPOT messenger or that someone really knew where i was, as the potential for getting trapped by shifting boulders.



This ridge line would make a fantastic trip up to cathedral peak and we were tempted to head that way, but I'm glad we opted out as it was already 4:30 in the afternoon and we still had some distance to get to Priord lake in questionable weather. There was a rough trail that was easy to follow on the way down and we reached the basin floor quickly at the shore of an unnamed lake.

Descent into Priord's basin:



We found a social trail that stopped and started around the edge of the rockfall winding west then south towards Norice Lake. It helped our pace when we could find a trail as the terrain was irregular with clumps of dense trees, deadfall, and the occasional sudden drop off.


We rested on the shore of Norice for a bit, watching the nefarious cows graze, then attempted to find the trail to Priord. We never did - the map made it look like the trail ran close to Norice but after thrashing up a hill and through a fair amount of flora we gave up on it and just bee-lined for the lake. While we were marsh- and deadfall- hopping a second hail storm moved in required us to take shelter in some tight trees. It was sizable hail, almost marble sized, but passed quickly.
cows:


Looks like hail:



There was another small climb to Priord that was disappointing because we really just wanted to be able to sit down and make dinner by now, but it was worth it as the view from Priord was fantastic. The lake was turquoise as Nick had promised, and there was only one pair of guys camped on the shore.




We headed for the southwest end and found a beautiful spot overlooking the lake with the cirque above us. Someone had even built a rock table and chairs of which we gladly availed ourselves. As dusk descended I amused myself watching the fish eating bugs off of the water surface, they were throwing themselves in the air, really putting on a show. A fisherman's dream I'd imagine.

Our spot for the night -you can see the ripples from all the fish on the lake in the background:


Our plan was to hike out of Priord's basin in the morning towards the East Fork Bear River trailhead then head east over Deadman's pass, over another small unnamed pass that drops into cataract basin, and on to West Fork Blacks Fork Trailhead. We estimated this to be about 15 miles. We were wrong.

We left the beauty of Priord lake on Saturday morning as a large group of horsepackers arrived. The trail immediately dropped into the cover of trees and continued that way well past meeting with the trail to Allsop lake. It was a clear and easy to follow path for a while, but then devolved into a mess of downed trees and side trails. I would not have been happy leading a horse through that. After a stop at the creekside to soak our feet and refill water we reached the Bear river trailhead and were pleased with our time, 10 miles out, thinking we were a third of the way there. Then we started up Deadman's pass. In the boiling sun. Ugh. The dry shells of beetle kill trees did nothing but make us feel like we were climbing into hell. We wished for a hail storm, a cloud, anything at all. It may only be 1500 ft of gain and not that a steep of an incline, but at the time it was extremely uncomfortable. You could see, however, the teenage aspens taking over the space left by the dead pines, and it was pretty interesting.

B loving Deadman's pass:


Aspen taking over:


We collapsed at the top in the shade of a tree for a while, then discovered that the trail leading down to road 664 was non-existent. We headed cross-country towards the road where a few four wheelers and dune buggies passed us, unfortunately not with any room for extra passengers. A mile down the road it branched to the right towards a small lake. The main road continued on the Trail Creek Trail, but we headed south of the small peak, past the unnamed lake and thru a grassy clearing with a branch of what appears to be Mill creek running through it. We reloaded on water (it was so incredibly hot) and 13 miles into our day started up our fifth pass for the trip.

The elevation gain was small but there was almost no trail to be found. We bushwacked and crawled over trees until the top whre we found a well-established trail that (thankfully!) was clear with little deadfall, dumping us down into Cataract Basin and towards our trailhead. Our feet were aching and we were tired but getting into the shady side of a pass made all the difference. We no longer felt like we were dying and were able to practically jog down the clear, wide path. By the time we hit the West Fork Blacks Fork trailhead we were at almost 16.5 miles. Crossing the river to get to the register at the trailhead absolutely wrecked what was left of my feet, and I had to sit down for a while to talk my feet into continuing the last mile and a half to the car. Why in the world didn't we bring the 4wd vehicle? We were passed by a few riders on horseback and a teenager ripping around on a four wheeler but our attempts to hitch a ride were in vain. By the time we crossed the ford and were back to our Camry we were at 17.8 miles, much more than anticipated. My feet hurt.

If I was to do this trip again I would park towards the Trail Creek Trail and cross country it to the West Fork Blacks fork trailhead, lengthening the first day and shortening the third. I'd also definitely throw in another night and a peak summit or two, particularly The Cathedral or Yard Peak. I would never want to do this trip counter-clockwise as going up the pass from Allsop to Lake Ejod/Dead Horse would be a nightmare of climbing while sliding back down.

Our total mileage was 38.5 with almost 6,000 feet in elevation gain. Definitely not the most challenging in altitude numbers, but with the navigation required and the beautiful scenery of the basins it is a loop hike I'd highly recommend for those who feel comfortable with off-trail travel.
 

Jackson

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What an awesome trip with some awesome ridges and basins. Thanks for writing this up!

When were you out there? I was out with a few friends at Red Castle the 22-23 of July, and we had similar weather. 4 or 5 successive thunderstorms about every 20 minutes. Full of painful hail. Can't imagine ascending/descending a pass in that!
 

Jen

Formerly colefeet
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What an awesome trip with some awesome ridges and basins. Thanks for writing this up!

When were you out there? I was out with a few friends at Red Castle the 22-23 of July, and we had similar weather. 4 or 5 successive thunderstorms about every 20 minutes. Full of painful hail. Can't imagine ascending/descending a pass in that!
Yup, July 22-24. Ouch.
 

WasatchWill

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Looks awesome. One of these days/years, I'll carve out some time to check out some more of these north slope jewels.
 
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Nick

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You guys are seriously badass. There's not many people that I can sit down in front of a trail illustrated map and give them such rough details to pull off a route like that. And all in 2 nights! Well done, and the trip report is excellent too.
 

Devo

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What an awesome route! I can't believe you threw in Deadhorse pass just on the side of an already stacked mileage trip, although it is an awesome view. Huge props!
 
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gnwatts

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Great report and beautiful pictures. X2 about the badass.
 
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Vegan.Hiker

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Wow this looks amazing. Great report and pictures. I can't wait to make it back to Utah.
 
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slc_dan

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WOW! @Jen! Nick has been talking to me about that route for a few years. So awesome to see it realized. I can't imagine two better ladies to do it. You and B!

thanks for writing this up and sharing. Have an awesome time in Leadville.
 
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Jen

Formerly colefeet
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WOW! @Jen! Nick has been talking to me about that route for a few years. So awesome to see it realized. I can't imagine two better ladies to do it. You and B!

thanks for writing this up and sharing. Have an awesome time in Leadville.
Thanks!!! So sad I missed you and Jodi while I was in slc but it looked like your road trip was wonderful!!! I'll be back in October and definitely want to see you three !!!!!
 

Jen

Formerly colefeet
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Joined
Feb 7, 2012
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You guys are seriously badass. There's not many people that I can sit down in front of a trail illustrated map and give them such rough details to pull off a route like that. And all in 2 nights! Well done, and the trip report is excellent too.
You can thank the lack of patients in Leadville's ER for being able to actually write anything up! Thanks for the wonderful route, Beata and I had a ton of fun :D
 

Rockroller

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Sep 21, 2013
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Great trip report with some awesome pictures. This area is on my list of places to hike to in the future. What a beautiful area.
 
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Dave

Broadcaster, formerly "ashergrey"
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Daaaaang Jen. It's crazy to have been to all of those places separately, then to see you link them so masterfully in one outing.

The burn scar in East Fork of the Bear is really depressing. It's hard to see that standing dead, then realize how much more of the range needs to burn for its own good. Once it goes, decades have to pass before it returns to any semblance of health.
 
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Dan

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Awesome write-up @Jen . Very interesting to read about your navigation on Allsop Pass, it closely mirrors what I would expect most people would do coming from Dead Horse, the temptation is to drop off the ridge too early if heading for the scree slope descent. Did you take a look down the couloir that is immediately below the lowpoint in the saddle? It is possible to descend that, but it looks intimidating AF from the top, we opted to find the scree descent as well.

It also looks like you picked the right scree field on Yard (or Cathedral) Pass. By right I just mean the one that has the remains of an old trail in it. This past week I took a lot more time trying to find it, as I had found remnants of constructed trail 5 years ago, and wondered if there was more I hadn't found. Turns out, much of that trail is still in reasonable shape on the Priord side after an initial 100 yards are so that have been wiped out by rockfall. We even found some old cowboy campware, like a teapot that was banged up and rusty, pretty close to the saddle. I had previously walked the ridge towards Cathedral before descending, but following the old cowboy trail gets you down much faster. Looks like you probably took the faster route.

Such a rad zone, nice work on the link-up!
 
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