Return to Middle Basin, Hayden Pk, & Bald Mtn


Ready For More
Jul 23, 2013
This trip actually ended up being a last second decision after originally planning to meet up with @Blake Merrell to hike the Highline Trail of the High Uintas. However, after some discussions with our respective wives, and considering the logistics of the driving it would require, we opted to put that trip on the back burner and shoot for something smaller and closer to home. Middle Basin was ultimately decided on.

September 9 - 11, 2015

Being familiar with Middle Basin after taking a trip there with my wife a couple years earlier and having thoroughly enjoyed it, I was very much anticipating this return trip. Blake picked me up at my place early in the morning and we set forth for the Uintas. Driving over Bald Mountain Pass along Mirror Lake Highway, we were caught by surprise to find a herd of mountain goats grazing along the side of the road. I knew there were goats up in the area and had been up in the area numerous times before but never have seen them until this trip. And there they were, right at the roadside.

Soon after, we arrived at the trailhead and set sail up the Stillwater drainage. We kept a good pace until we were about two-thirds of the way up where we pulled out to one of my favorite rest areas along the trail and had some lunch. It was nice to pull the shoes off and dip my feet in the cold running stream.

After a good rest, we continued on. Only minutes later we found ourselves at the edge of a picturesque little pond sitting at the edge of a marshy meadow in lower Middle Basin. The water was relatively clear and about a dozen different little brook trout could be observed swimming about. We couldn't resist taking another break. This time wouldn't be for lunch though. It was to do a bit of fishing, of course. It looked like a prime spot for Blake's Tankara. I carried a standard spinning reel.

After a few casts for each of us, we both hooked a brookie.

We threw out a few more casts with no further success. Satisfied with the time we had spent here, it was time to turn our attention back to the trail to our final destination for the day.

A couple miles later, we were gazing out across the most popular lake of the basin, Ryder Lake.

We thought about setting up camp in one of the many sites all along and above its shoreline but I suggested checking out a few spots up near McPheters Lake that had looked appealing when I had last been up exploring in the basin. As we were rounding Ryder Lake to get up the bench above it, we paused for another view of the lake and one of the waterfalls feeding into it.

With my pack still on and camera in hand I foolishly tried to step down to a little ledge right above the waterfall. Suddenly I found myself off balance and the momentum of my pack took me off the ledge in what was one of the scariest seconds of my life. Ever so fortunate, the fall was only about 8 to 10 feet and perhaps miraculously, I was able to land on both feet and absorb the shock in such a way that no limbs were broken, twisted, or otherwise dis-located. Luckily, the only injury sustained was some minor scrapes and scratches on my hands from using them to help support the landing and of course, my pride was hurt a bit as well.

Oh, and then there was my little point and shoot camera. Its life came to an end that moment as it settled into a shallow pool of water beneath the falls. I immediately retrieved it, pulled the battery and committed to bury it in a bowl of rice upon returning home in hopes of resurrecting it but knew the chances of bring it back to life were now grim. Realizing this, I was bummed out, but happy to have had my cell phone well-protected. It served as a respectable backup and actually proved to perhaps be an even better picture taker than my little point and shot I had just lost, minus no true optical zoom function.

Having gathered myself all together, we continued on up the bench above Ryder for almost another half mile, chasing up several little waterfalls and meandering streams we had to navigate over and around along the way.

At last we had arrived at a promising site with a fantastic view of McPheters Lake sitting a few hundred feet away. Up went our hammocks.

With only a little bit of direct sun left before it settled behind Hayden Peak towering above, I grabbed my reel and rushed down to the edge of the lake. I knew this lake had some tiger trout in it so I was excited to see if I could land one. No sooner than my second cast did I get a hit on my line that hooked something strong and to my delight, I was already reeling in a beautiful looking tiger. At about 15 inches, it was easily the biggest fish I can ever remember catching out in the wild. Blake pulled up with his reel a little further up but wasn't able to match my catch with one of his own.

The sun had finally disappeared from sight and the crisp cool evening air quickly took over. We opted to keep the fish and share it among the two of us as a nice little side to our respective dinners. Darkness was now fully upon us and it was time to call it a day.

I had gone to sleep anticipating quite a display the next morning with the sun expected to light up the east side of Hayden peak above us. I was not disappointed. The spot ranked right up there among the best views I've been fortunate enough to ever wake up to.

I really wanted to sleep in a bit but was too tempted to get out and start snapping some pictures of the morning alpenglow creeping in all around the basin and some nearby reflections while firing up some breakfast.

After breakfast, the chance to try some more fishing was too irresistible. However, despite several casts from a number of different spots along the shore, there would be nothing caught this time around. This would be the only session of fishing on the trip that would leave me skunked. After a couple of hours, we put away the reels, loaded up some daypacks, and set off for Hayden Peak.

Less than a month before, I had joined a facebook group up to the summit of Hayden Peak from the western side of the ridge and was now familiar with the correct ridge line to take once on the ridge. I was happy to now lead Blake up there for his first time. The difference this time around would be gaining the saddle along the ridge to Hayden from the eastern side. Of course, I was already familiar with that section as well due to the Middle Basin trip my wife and I had taken two years earlier.

Skies were clear so up we went.

Navigating through the alpine tundra along the base of Hayden Peak

Blake surveying the talus field leading up the saddle

As was now customary, we took bit of a breather once we crested the saddle and soaked in the surrounding views.

On the saddle with Hayden Peak

The view west from the saddle, Bald Mountain in upper middle

Thistle above Middle Basin

Rested, we made our way along the ridge, Class 3 scrambles, false summits and all. By mid-afternoon we had reached the summit, had ourselves a good rest with some lunch, lots of picture taking, and simply soaking in more of the majestic views.

Middle Basin with McPheters & Ryder Lakes from summit of Hayden Peak

360 pano from Hayden Peak

180 pano looking eastward from Hayden Peak

Pano with Blake taking in the view westward from the edge of Hayden Peak

Myself at the edge of Hayden Peak, Bald Mountain in the distance

The true summit

King of the Mountain

A random ladybug

After staying our welcome, we made haste to get back down to camp and get some more playtime in down in the basin. Perhaps we were a bit too hasty because this time it would be Blake that would have a close brush with serious injury or worse. He got ahead of me and as he was rounding off the east face over to the ridge leading back to the saddle, he went too low and hit a little chute of scree and talus where he stepped on a loose rock that caused him to lose his footing and fall. Fortunately, his arm and elbow was able to hook onto a more secure boulder as he fell or else that may have been the end of him with only a few feet of downward sloping loose scree between him and a straight drop of at least a couple hundred feet.

I wasn't far behind and it made my own heart jump as I heard him fall and shout. Again, serious injury was averted, having only dislocating his shoulder a bit that he was able to pop back into place. We each gathered our composure and felt gratitude to God to still be well and whole.

I directed him back up to the higher and more stable shelf and we continued our way down. Needless to say, we were both a bit more careful about our footing the rest of the way down.

When we arrived back down in the basin, we figured it was sunny and warm enough to make a splash in McPheters Lake. As typical of any high alpine lake, the water turned out to be ice cold but wonderfully refreshing for a quick cool off.

Back in Middle Basin

Blake's dramatic entry into the lake

Myself, about to be cold!

Dried and warmed back up, we packed up our camp and went back down to Ryder Lake to set up camp for the final night, simply to enjoy another angle of scenery and to take advantage of some more tree cover after experiencing a good bit of wind the previous night.

Our second night camp

We also wanted to spend the rest of the evening checking out the fishing at Ryder Lake and its two nearby sister lakes. To my surprise, the fishing proved to be red hot at Ryder. I'm no expert fishermen or one with a whole lot of experience, but on this evening, somehow, I brought in six different brookies in a row. I would also land what was, by far, the smallest fish I've ever caught.



#3 - isn't this small one just so cute!?


And so on...

I think Blake was able to catch at least one himself out of Ryder.

Satisfied with the success at Ryder, I did a 180 and walked a few yards over to Ryder's closest sister lake and threw a few casts out. The fishing was just as hot there with three more quick catches.



And get the idea.

The sun had settled out of sight once again for the evening and so we returned back to camp for another late dinner where we conversed on a number of topics including speculating the end of society as we know it with some skepticism given all the headlines for the month weighed against optimism for the future before we ultimately retired to bed.


The following morning brought another opportunity to capture some more reflection shots, this time across Ryder and its sister lakes.

Not too hurried to get back to the trailhead right away, we lingered around for a bit that morning and I took the opportunity to get one last round of fishing in, this time at the lower lake by Ryder. Once again, only a few seconds after throwing out each cast, I'd get a good hit and hook another fish. I stuck around long enough to catch another three brookies.

It was now time to return to camp, pack up, and head back out.

Fall season was definitely settling in on the place. Aspens were all gold with much of the ground flora going red.

Having arrived back at the trailhead by mid-afternoon, we concluded we had enough time to fit in a quick little hike up Bald Mountain along the drive back home. Despite driving past it dozens of times over the last several years, I hadn't been up it since doing it with another friend way back when we were in high school, so I was eager to experience it again.

It was quite exhilarating to look out at Hayden Peak in the distance across Mirror Lake and think about how we had just been on that summit only 24 hours and some change before after all we had seen since.

I'm not a geo-cacher, but it wasn't hard to stumble upon this geo-cache. At first I thought it was a summit register, and it may well have been, but it also obviously a geo-cache because there were lots of other little goodies inside in addition to the typical notebook and pen. I don't know how long the little flag had been there, but it was only fitting along with the "Faith" plaque next to it with it being 9/11 that day.

Apparently the top of Bald Mountain is also quite the place for people to try their hand at the art of creative cairn building.

We came down Bald Mountain without incident and for that, we were again thankful.

We concluded the trip with a stop in Kamas for some pizza and ice cream before returning home.

No trace of any clouds were ever visible during the whole trip. That is highly abnormal for summer time conditions up in the Uintas. It also kept the days pleasantly on the warmer side. Weather is really variable in September and October up in the Uintas where you can experience either extreme on the weather scale. It just so happened we lucked out with a stretch of superb weather.

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Wow. Reading this brought back a flood of emotions. I love the beauty of the area. Your photos are spectacular. Getting up early really paid off for you. Maybe one day I'll learn how to get my but out of bed in the morning. Haha!

It was fun to see you catch all those fish! Thanks for sharing them during dinner that first night. I was happy to catch my 5 or so fish during the trip. Glad the little Tenkara rod worked. It wasn't as effective as yours though!

Sooooo. That slip of mine. Scariest. Moment. Of. My. Life. My life is forever changed because of that moment. Not only an I more paranoid about heights and falls, my shoulder needed surgery to fix the dislocation. I'm 3 months out since I had the surgery, and my shoulder will never have the range of motion it once had. It's interesting how one simple thing can change your life forever. I am grateful for life. That slip helped me realize how quickly it could be taken away.

Anyway.... I loved this write up. Wish I had the skill to write like this. It was great to meet you Will. I enjoyed our conversations and I loved learning of your backpacking methods.
Sooooo. That slip of mine. Scariest. Moment. Of. My. Life. My life is forever changed because of that moment. Not only an I more paranoid about heights and falls, my shoulder needed surgery to fix the dislocation. I'm 3 months out since I had the surgery, and my shoulder will never have the range of motion it once had. It's interesting how one simple thing can change your life forever. I am grateful for life. That slip helped me realize how quickly it could be taken away.

You had to have surgery after that?! Wow! I didn't know that. Guess it was a little more serious then. Will the limited range of motion affect your canyoneering pursuits and abilities at all? And thanks for the other kind comments. Looking forward to more adventures in the future!
You had to have surgery after that?! Wow! I didn't know that. Guess it was a little more serious then. Will the limited range of motion affect your canyoneering pursuits and abilities at all?
well, two weeks after this trip, I went on a scout camp where I was SUP'ing. I fell of the paddle board, and when I did, my paddle stuck upright in the mud, and I my arm pit landed on the upright paddle, forcing another dislocation. so.... it was kinda both of those incidences that made it necessary for me to have surgery, but yeah....

I should have a full recovery and receive most of my range of motion back. I shouldn't be limited in what I can do.
These mountain trip reports are killing me. I'm dying to get back to the Uintas now! Those pictures were beautiful. I really liked the morning reflections. Looks like you couldn't have had much better conditions for a trip.
Good stuff guys! Great pics Will. Looks like it was a great trip. Sorry to hear about the shoulder Blake. =(
Looks like a nice couple of days in the high country! It's a shame your camera went down but you still captured some great memories in your pictures. Thanks for sharing!
Good job on the video too! And again, you got some really good pictures. I can tell you really took your time and focused on it.
Wow, what happened? Rotator cuff tear?

And you took those pictures with your phone!? Wow!
Good job on the video too! And again, you got some really good pictures. I can tell you really took your time and focused on it.

Thanks Mike! I'm happy with the Samsung I now have over the HTC phone I used to have. Seems to be much more crisp with the photos it takes. I don't spend too much time with setting up my shots other than a couple seconds to evaluate where the direction of the light is going and what I think will make a good exposure and then point and compose what I think is a good frame and then just click. Every now and then I'll play around with some of the different modes and settings, but usually it's just on auto-mode. I'll do a touch of tweaking with some auto-enhancements on my computer if I think the enhancement looks better before publishing them, so I'm flattered you think they took some time. ;)

And you took those pictures with your phone!? Wow!

All but the 2nd through 7th. After that, it was all phone pics!
Love it Will! And I LOVE your passion. I can't believe you took most of those photos with a camera phone.
Your photos area really good. Ever since I saw the cover photo on the homepage, i've been looking forward to reading this.
Thanks for the write up.