McPheters and Middle Basin -Labor Day Weekend 2017


Life really is better Here
Apr 20, 2013
It has been way too long since I posted a trip report. I am always glad to see reports, but like this one or not, perhaps this one at least may brighten someone's day.
Or you may hate it. If you hate it, sorry it is long.

This past Labor Day, I took my 10 year old son up into Middle Basin. Lucky for him this was the third trip of the summer. We skipped out of work and school for a good 4 day, 3 night trip. He had some success fishing this time, which is what he wanted. I got in some great R&R, didn't have too much knee pain, and had some fabulous, way too warm weather for early September. So we came out true winners.

Maybe there are too many photos here, or too many words, but with a final night finale like this... there was a lot to choose from.
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We started the trip as all kids want. His dad loading him into the jeep at 430am...
It was still dawn when we neared the trailhead. Chilly, a bit misty, and still groggy... but the parking lot at Christmas meadows was nearly empty.
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We didn't really stop until after we had crossed Ostler creek and climbed up to the first rays of sun.
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The leaves on some trees were just starting to change, which was actually really cool, because between Friday in and Monday out the colors in the aspens changed a lot.
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After cruising at the beginning, we took it slow the rest of the day. Moving at a speed to try and get to that final, short climb into the basin around lunchtime.
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We breakfasted in the meadow here. Pop tarts and a muffin with Powerade. My son wandered off to play in the stream while I sat under this ancient giant.
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The end goal was going to take some slogging through typical Uinta trail.... it had rained a bit either Wed or Thursday, or both, and the mud pits were especially large, and wet enough that you could not just say to heck with it and walk through them without them swallowing your shoe. The fresh mud was nice though. We could clearly see where a feline had walked along the trail and then placed its feet before springing to a rock at the side of the trail, where the rock had slightly caked, but still wet mud. Bobcat it seemed, and perhaps fresh enough that we were not far behind it.
My son passed the time talking about what he knew about birds and coyotes. I was in the lead this time, while he was talking about osprey when we rounded a corner head on to a moose. She took one look at me through her long eyelashes and then all I saw was the hair on her shoulder through the trees, a bit more than eye level, as she thudded and then crashed off stage right.
The mud made those tracks interesting for my son as well. You could clearly see the skid where she came to a stop and then turned to thud away.
Otherwise, except for some aerial bombardment of pinecones from the squirrels, it was peaceful forest walking. Not a single human yet.
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I am sure these ponds have a name, but not sure what it is. Sure is beautiful being at the foot of Aggasiz.

I told my son the brookies are fickle and my not bite if they can see him. So he tried sneak attack fishing.
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It didn't work, but it was fun. If you have read my other posts, you know I am a terrible fisherman, just a disclaimer...
I cast three times here, and pulled in a brookie 2 out of 3x (IE, lucky or really easy fishing)

Finally after all of our breaks and slow hiking, someone caught up to our early start. We spoke and then leapfrogged him a few times on the way up to Ryder, including when my son and I had a breakdown in our relationship and good feelings at the top of the main climb.
My son has some specific challenges and although miles 1-7.5 agreed with him, the last .5 was too much. He had a tirade, but since this trip was all about going his pace, it turned out it was really the only bad one of the trip, and who could really blame him. I did feel bad for the guy passing us who probably figured he was going to hear us all weekend. Luckily as we made it to the first pond up in the basin, my son nearly stepped on a frog, and all was forgotten. Funny thing was that 3 years earlier his sister almost stepped on a frog not 10' from the same spot of trail. Coincidental?

We stopped briefly at Ryder to drink in the shade, but we should have dropped a line then. The brookies were rising so much that it looked like it was raining, and except for the guy who had passed us, the lake was pretty much deserted. Instead we climbed up to our destination at McPheters. Found a spot, dropped our packs and I sent my son off to the shore.

It was not long before he pulled in a good, healthy tiger. They seemed to only come in two sizes. Somewhere around a foot, and the others were pan-sized. This first one was about a foot, nice and fat. Made a great late lunch.
We passed the afternoon away on the shore, it still being unseasonably warm.

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Only evening events worth mentioning was a dang Big Agnes pad littered somehow with little holes or tears from the last time it had been used by the kids a couple of weeks prior. Something that we never were able to fully resolve. It had been perfectly fine for a dozen nights before this one, but oh well.
While waiting for the glue to dry and seal the holes I had found, I was reclined on a rock when some feet stomped to a stop in front of me. I opened my eyes, expecting to see my son, but instead was a dozen feet from a nice 3 point. He looked at me. I said, Hello there.
Then he was off pronging gracefully away.
THEN my son came running into camp, said he had scared a buck out of some trees. I said, I noticed...

My son slept on a slowly deflating mattress, but it wasn't cold and he is still young. On the other hand, I ended up having to let some air out of the Thermarest to stay comfortable. Irony? or Cruel?

The night was too quiet. Too still. Not even a breeze. The only sound was the tinnitus in my ears.

By 430 the moon had set, my body was done sleeping, and so after a little bit of time in the tent. I found a spot, sat down and watched morning slowly come.
With the first real light of day the coyotes sang. Not deep howls, but the playful yips and hollers that echoed across the basin and seemed to continue from other basins nearby. We hear coyotes sometimes from our home, sometimes goaded by me or the kids, but it is always cool.

Again, no real tripod, just gloves and a rock. It has limits, but it weighs nothing.
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The sun started up, but no breeze came with it. Probably three hours at least of glass on McPheters. Almost always I have had thermals moving as the sun came up, but not this Saturday morning.
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I wandered and wandered. No one else was at the lake. The fish were not rising, it was just me, a few goats up on East Hayden, and a pine marten with a little pika in its mouth. Too far and too fast to capture with a camera.
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We passed the day entirely at McPheters.
This time I casted a few times, caught a Tiger that put up a great fight, leaping fully out of the water as I pulled it in.... so we kept it for lunch and my son put everything back that he caught. He really liked fishing the shallow bay where he could see his prey.
When it finally got a little windy I took a snooze in the hammock.
Later, we crossed the outlet and fished the far side and made dinner. Fisherman's friend bouillabaisse soup over instant rice. Their soup is in a pouch and not exactly light, but heck, does it taste good.

The weather became more normal for the Uintas. Building clouds, and a small sprinkling of rain.

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My son fishing.
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The day had been excellent. Only a few people had been around the lake, and considering it was a holiday weekend. I would take it happily.
The only blight was that it seemed everyone who climbs the shoulder and then onto Mt Hayden has to toss or roll rocks down into Middle Basin? WTH? Is there some movement out there to fill Middle Basin in by idiots rolling rocks down into it? The acoustics there are awesome. You can hear the exact words people are saying from up on the pass and the peak when they are yelling... and I saw four different groups sending rocks down that were not on accident. Seriously.... >Rant over<

The sunset was sublime. Not over the top, just interesting. The moon popped out just as there was a little bit of color making it extra special.

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The moon peeked out.
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The night was too still again.
The goats were active. The moon was bright. I was awake for more of it than I should have been.
Dawn came slowly, but this time I did not even mess with the camera, just found a new spot and watched the light overcome the darkness as the stars winked out in the sky and in their reflection on the glassy lake.

We wandered around before packing up lunch and heading down to Ryder for the morning.
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The lake was almost too glassy and the reflection too perfect, but it was mesmerizing, even to my son.
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Some springs feed some kinda stagnant willow ponds up above Ryder and then trickle down to these wonderful cascades. My son played for a while, climbing around the different levels before we dropped down to the lake.
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Are these Currants? They were quite tart. I may be wrong, but I had remembered from scouts that berries that ended with a bud on the end like this were palatable?
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The brookies were pretty feisty, and until my son snagged and lost his last clear bubble (we started with five... what did I say earlier? I suck at fishing, I probably lost two of them...), until we no longer had a clear bubble to put behind the fly, he was bringing in brookies consistently, not HOT, but good enough.
Once he had to put on the colored bubble, the bites went to the bubble.

The most hilarious- to me- was I told him to drop the fly into this pool with almost a dozen little trout in it, just to see if he could get one to attack the fly. He overcast and snagged on a small log. He started getting mad at me, saying it was my fault, but I could not stop laughing because as he tugged to get back the fly, the bubble would bounce into the water, and all the trout would swarm it like little piranhas, even leaping out after it. He never did find it funny.

Once that was over, the rest of the Sunday was spent as Sundays should be. We wandered the long way back to camp, bouldering on the cliffs and rocks, which led to me laying in the shade while my son ran about. Then time in the hammock. Then a dip in the lake as the clouds started to gather, and then dinner. I kept icing my knee in the lake to prepare it for the next day, as on Saturday I had stepped wrong and I was feeling pain and not really looking forward to the slog out.

The clouds built and threatened, but all it led to was one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen in the Uintas.

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After the sun set, the moon tried to come out from behind the storm. There was lightning I was trying to capture, but I missed it in every shot.
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Someone was playing death metal while they laughed around their fire until late into the night, but I did not really mind.
The moon was intense now and it was another beautiful night. I had the lucid, crystal clear dreams that I usually only get after days out on the trail, and woke up laughing at their hilarity more than once.
Finally, before the sun rose I had everything packed, and it was not long after that we were on our way out. The hike out just never ends, and I had to encourage my son the last mile or so, but he did great to that point.

But long before the end....Down at the end of the climb into Middle Basin where you cross the Sweetwater, we ran into a couple who asked if this was the way to Amethyst. They had hiked in the dark and stopped down below the climb, knowing they were probably too far. I said, no, sadly that fork was over 4 miles behind you. But try McPheters, no one else is camped up there and it is a beauty.
Truly, McPheters is a beauty.

Ryder on the way out.
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Just a touch of fall.
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Formerly Cuberant
Aug 8, 2016
What a great trip! Thanks for the report.

Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk


Oct 30, 2016
Beautiful. How soon till this area is snowed-in for the season?


Life really is better Here
Apr 20, 2013
Beautiful. How soon till this area is snowed-in for the season?

All depends on snow. A couple of years ago some friends went in November to Amethyst, which is the same trailhead.

Mike K

Jul 6, 2012
Too many pictures! Too many words!! :) Kidding. Photos and story telling were great! Trundling (rock-rolling) is naughty...but kind of fun on occasion! :whistle:


Life really is better Here
Apr 20, 2013
I saw that snow from a friend's text during lunch... Early snow is always nice.

But looking at the forecast, you still should have ample chances until it snows in.


Broadcaster, formerly "ashergrey"
May 5, 2012
Yes, today's snow will melt but the season is almost over.

Gorgeous string of sunsets captured in this report. Bravo!


Sep 22, 2016
Beauty photos, and some great one to one time with your son! We visit Utah in October most years, but the focus has always been the desert. Just might have to make some time for a few days in the Uintas.


Jan 28, 2013
Yeah those look like currants/gooseberries. I like to nibble on them when I come across them. Awesome report btw. If you're interested in identifying plants in Utah, the best thing I've found is a .pdf file from USU, called "Mountain Plants Of Northeastern Utah" you can download it here.
There is also another one called "Desert Plants Of Utah" you can download here.
Those mostly only cover identification, not edibility though. For edibility, once I know the plant name/scientific name I then use or the book "Wild Edible Plants Of Western North America" By Donald R. Kirk to see what the plant can be used for.


Life really is better Here
Apr 20, 2013
of course USU will have it (proud alum here)...
thanks, I will check it out.


I love Utah
Sep 26, 2017
These photos are beautiful! Thanks for sharing. I've been to Amethyst Lake twice now, but have never ventured out to middle basin. Fingers crossed that all the snow that the Uintas have been getting recently miraculously melts so we can get a last trip in ;)
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