Uinta Discovery Trail 2018

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Back in September I got a text from @LarryBoy, asking if @Capsnack and I would like to join him on his attempt of the "Uinta Highline Trail Deluxe Edition". His intended route traverses the range from East (Leidy Peak) to West (Hayden Pass) following the Highline Trail. However, in sections where the Highline Trail runs below tree line, the Deluxe Edition travels off-trail along ridge lines to stay as high as possible. The weather forecast was unusually stable for the High Uintas, with a perfect weather window (except for high winds) for a four-to-five-day trip. We immediately knew it was going to be a good adventure one simply can’t say no to. Here is the trip report:

Day 1:
After a long drive and a short, stormy night at the Leidy Peak trail head, we started our journey and quickly reached our first objective, Leidy Peak. From there, our plan was to follow the ridge all the way to Divide Lake where we would set camp that night. Despite the somewhat high winds, we made good progress and soon summited MOUNT UNTERMANN (what a great opportunity for @LarryBoy to work on his "Angry German" accent) and Eccentric Peak. Along our way, we enjoyed sublime views that one only gets when sticking to the ridges instead of meandering through the “low country” on the Highline Trail.

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We made our way along a series of cirques, the terrain getting rougher and travel slower. Relentless 60-70mph gusts almost blew us off our feet multiple times.

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We rejoined the Highline Trail after roughly 20 miles of off-trail hiking at North Pole Pass and made our way down to the more sheltered terrain at Brook Lake where we set camp for the night.

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Day 2

The agenda for day two was to follow the obvious ridge to Gilbert Peak and set camp in Henry’s Fork somewhere near Dollar Lake. However, none of us had attempted this section before and satellite imagery suggested that the section just East of Gilbert Peak might be somewhat exposed. Since the winds were still hauling in the morning, we decided to abandon our initial plan and stick to the Highline Trail. This would allow us to stay almost entirely below tree line until we reached Painters Basin, giving the winds a chance to die down.

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Bailing from the intended route was the right decision, but still somewhat unsatisfying for all of us. On the way to Anderson Pass, we reflected on the fact that we would at least get to experience the different facets of the Uintas: windy ridgelines, breathtaking basins, and moderately well-maintained trails below tree-line that made trail miles not much faster than off-trail miles. Thus, we renamed our adventure the Uinta Discovery Trail (UDT, since: “Is it REALLY an adventure if it doesn’t have an acronym?”).

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Obviously, the UDT would not be complete without King’s Peak, Utah’s highest point. It was only a short detour from the pass and neither @Capsnack nor I had been to the summit. It sure was worth the effort:

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That day, we set up camp in Yellowstone Basin as the sun was setting. Watching the last light of the day hitting the west face of King’s Peak was magical.

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Day 3
We started our third day by climbing over Tungsten and Porcupine Pass.

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From Porcupine Pass, we followed the Highline Trail and shortly dipped into the trees west of Lambert Lake. We made our way over Red Knob Pass, which according to @Capsnack should have a five-star review on Yelp, enjoyed views of Mt. Beulah, and set camp at Dead Horse Lake.

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As we were falling asleep in our tents, @LarryBoy reported the sighting of a white, dog-like creature walking past our tents, sniffing on the ground. Since @Capsnack and I hadn’t seen the creature, we thought he was trying to scare us. A few minutes later, howls rang across the valley. The “mystery wolf”, which turned out to be a dog belonging to a party camped close to us, surly kept me awake for a while that night.

Day 4
On the morning of day four, we climbed over Dead Horse Pass and parted once again from the Highline Trail. Following more or less well-maintained trails, we contoured Rock Shelf basin along a series of lovely alpine lakes. We briefly rejoined the Highline Trail to climb over Rocky Sea Pass. These were our last steps on the official trail which stays entirely below tree line from Rocky Sea Pass until its western terminus at the Hayden Pass trail head. Instead, we contoured north towards Naturalist Basin and climbed up to the obvious low point on the ridge east of Mount Agassiz.

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Climbing the pass turned out to be surprisingly straightforward. The same cannot be said for descending the loose scree slopes down into Middle Basin where we camped for the night.

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Day 5
Only one more climb separated us from our car, the somewhat intimidating Hayden Pass.

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@LarryBoy had climbed the pass from Middle Basin before and assured us that the up would be relatively straightforward. The views from Hayden Pass were jaw-dropping and it certainly made for a worthy end of the UDT.

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We knew that coming down Hayden pass on the other side is possible, however, we didn’t know if it would be doable with packs on. We followed a reasonably well cairned route through the cliff bands until we reached a short fifth class section. Since we all are used to scrambling in exposed terrain, had light packs and a rope to lower them, this wasn’t a big obstacle.

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The last 1.5 miles to our car were fun boulder hopping and a little bit of bushwhacking. Apparently, there is a maintained climbers trail through the trees to the trail head, but we never found it. We reached the car around noon that day, just as clouds started building. Hiking @LarryBoy's Uinta Discovery Trail was a special treat only possible due to an extended window of unusually stable weather. Thanks for letting us tag along!

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Bob

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#3
Nice report......
I hate loose dogs in wilderness areas
 

DrNed

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#4
Wow!

I'm trying to come up with something clever to say
but everything I think of would seem to make light
of what has to be an amazing hike and not to be
attempted by any old goober with a backpack, I'm sure.

I too would love to see your route.
 

LarryBoy

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#5
Sure thing, the caltopo that we used is here: https://www.lbhikes.com/2018/03/the-highline-trail-guide.html

Note it does not contain the final alt west of Rocky Sea Pass. That particular alt is, as @Stickerbumper mentioned, a bit hairy in places (steep and loose talus; a couple low-end fifth class moves) and I wouldn't feel right publishing it. Most folks around here would find it a trivial task to map it themselves based on @Stickerbumper's description anyhow.

I will say that, mile for mile, it's one of my favorite routes anywhere. The last time I did the UHT, I came away a little disappointed. The UHT was great, but spent a lot of time in the trees. Our route this time around pretty successfully replaced all those boring forest walks with spectacular above-treeline vistas. All killer, no filler. Except for the Fox Lake ->Painter Basin stretch, which was a necessary bailout due to those high winds.
 

Miya

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#6
Awesome share!

Glad the wind didn't keep up for your entire trip!:twothumbs:
 
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Sure thing, the caltopo that we used is here: https://www.lbhikes.com/2018/03/the-highline-trail-guide.html

Note it does not contain the final alt west of Rocky Sea Pass. That particular alt is, as @Stickerbumper mentioned, a bit hairy in places (steep and loose talus; a couple low-end fifth class moves) and I wouldn't feel right publishing it. Most folks around here would find it a trivial task to map it themselves based on @Stickerbumper's description anyhow.
Thanks for chiming in @LarryBoy, I wouldn't have felt comfortable with sharing your maps (not knowing you already did in your blog ;)). For those interested in hiking the UHT or a variation of it, I would highly recommend having a look at @LarryBoy's Highline Trail guide.
 
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Nice report......
I hate loose dogs in wilderness areas
And I am apparently scared of wild animals sneaking around our tent.

Awesome share!

Glad the wind didn't keep up for your entire trip!:twothumbs:
The winds were pretty challenging, both mentally and physically. I think we all were glad when they died down eventually.
 
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Wow!

I'm trying to come up with something clever to say
but everything I think of would seem to make light
of what has to be an amazing hike and not to be
attempted by any old goober with a backpack, I'm sure.

I too would love to see your route.
There are a few spots that would allow to split our first day in half which would allow to also do a similar route with less ideal weather and shorter days ;)
 

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#11
Those relentless high winds can really be a bummer!
So appreciated and LOVED your TR!! Of all the trip reports I've looked over this past month I can't stop thinking about this one: will be a definite "bucket list" trip for 2019!
 

WasatchWill

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#12
UDT...I like it! Nice job guys! When I was on the ridge above Naturalist east of Agassiz, I had a hard time seeing any viable route or scree chutes once could slide down into Middle Basin from the low point on the saddle I was perched on. It all looked like cliff-bands below, but obviously others have done it, so perhaps further east along the ridge a good chute/couloir would have come into view? Glad to see you guys found a way down. Far more work to dip down there and then back up and over that other pass at Hayden than sticking to the UHT, but certainly more adventurous. I think there are numerous ways down off that final pass you guys came over back to the trailhead as I don't remember encountering anything more than class 3 when I went up and down that way once. I've yet to do that with an overnight pack though.
 
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#13
UDT...I like it! Nice job guys! When I was on the ridge above Naturalist east of Agassiz, I had a hard time seeing any viable route or scree chutes once could slide down into Middle Basin from the low point on the saddle I was perched on. It all looked like cliff-bands below, but obviously others have done it, so perhaps further east along the ridge a good chute/couloir would have come into view? Glad to see you guys found a way down. Far more work to dip down there and then back up and over that other pass at Hayden than sticking to the UHT, but certainly more adventurous. I think there are numerous ways down off that final pass you guys came over back to the trailhead as I don't remember encountering anything more than class 3 when I went up and down that way once. I've yet to do that with an overnight pack though.
A few years back in Middle Basin I scrambled up to the ridge a few miles south of Hayden pass hoping to get a cel phone signal (nada). There were several spots on the ridge between there and Agassiz that would have been death-defying trying to traverse. That's probably why they dropped into Middle Basin then back up again.
 

LarryBoy

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#14
For that matter, you could also probably get on the ridge from Rock Creek Basin up near Lightning Lake, and then do a full ridge scramble from Spread Eagle all the way to the Hayden Pass TH. Sounds really fun, actually. I might just do that someday. But that wasn't this trip. Wasn't the reason we were out there.

The focus, this time around, was on making the Uinta Highline Trail the best backpacking experience it could possibly be. If we were going to dabble in technical travel, it had to be for a really good reason - in this case, two easy climbing moves allowed us to replace the boring ten-mile forest walk with a spectacular off-trail route. It's kind of like Steve Allen's approach in Canyoneering III. The focus is on non-technical hiking, but if a short stretch of relatively easy technical travel is required to make a really cool route "go", then so be it.

Also, @WasatchWill... I wouldn't be surprised if we were talking about the same spot. One person's class III is another person's class V. It wasn't particularly exposed (maybe a 15 foot drop if you were to fall), but it required some basic rock climbing moves. So, we get back to the problem that the YDS is fundamentally flawed because, as commonly used, it conflates difficulty and danger. :)
 
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#15
For that matter, you could also probably get on the ridge from Rock Creek Basin up near Lightning Lake, and then do a full ridge scramble from Spread Eagle all the way to the Hayden Pass TH. Sounds really fun, actually. I might just do that someday. But that wasn't this trip. Wasn't the reason we were out there.

The focus, this time around, was on making the Uinta Highline Trail the best backpacking experience it could possibly be. If we were going to dabble in technical travel, it had to be for a really good reason - in this case, two easy climbing moves allowed us to replace the boring ten-mile forest walk with a spectacular off-trail route. It's kind of like Steve Allen's approach in Canyoneering III. The focus is on non-technical hiking, but if a short stretch of relatively easy technical travel is required to make a really cool route "go", then so be it.

Also, @WasatchWill... I wouldn't be surprised if we were talking about the same spot. One person's class III is another person's class V. It wasn't particularly exposed (maybe a 15 foot drop if you were to fall), but it required some basic rock climbing moves. So, we get back to the problem that the YDS is fundamentally flawed because, as commonly used, it conflates difficulty and danger. :)
@LarryBoy or @Stickerbumper, do you happen to know the total miles on that spectacular trip? I looked at your caltopo link, but could not see any distance (probably just my technical ineptitude..)
 

Capsnack

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@Born to Hike, total mileage of this trip was around 78 miles (days 1-4 between 17 and 20 miles, day 5 a short and sweet 3 miles). Our route was a little different from @LarryBoy's caltopo link in spots though. If you click on "Open in Caltopo" in the upper right hand corner on Larryboy's map, it will take you to the actual caltopo map and you can click on the colored segments to see the mileage, elevation profile etc.
 
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@Born to Hike, total mileage of this trip was around 78 miles (days 1-4 between 17 and 20 miles, day 5 a short and sweet 3 miles). Our route was a little different from @LarryBoy's caltopo link in spots though. If you click on "Open in Caltopo" in the upper right hand corner on Larryboy's map, it will take you to the actual caltopo map and you can click on the colored segments to see the mileage, elevation profile etc.
Thank you!
 
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I think there are numerous ways down off that final pass you guys came over back to the trailhead as I don't remember encountering anything more than class 3 when I went up and down that way once. I've yet to do that with an overnight pack though.
Also, @WasatchWill... I wouldn't be surprised if we were talking about the same spot. One person's class III is another person's class V. It wasn't particularly exposed (maybe a 15 foot drop if you were to fall), but it required some basic rock climbing moves. So, we get back to the problem that the YDS is fundamentally flawed because, as commonly used, it conflates difficulty and danger. :)
I think one can also climb up to the pass using a chute further towards Hayden Peak and I do remember seeing a less steep, but more loose looking route down from Hayden Pass southeast from where we came down. There was however no way we would have seen this route from the top and the only beta we had was for the route we ended up taking down. Glad it worked out!

A few years back in Middle Basin I scrambled up to the ridge a few miles south of Hayden pass hoping to get a cel phone signal (nada). There were several spots on the ridge between there and Agassiz that would have been death-defying trying to traverse. That's probably why they dropped into Middle Basin then back up again.
For that matter, you could also probably get on the ridge from Rock Creek Basin up near Lightning Lake, and then do a full ridge scramble from Spread Eagle all the way to the Hayden Pass TH. Sounds really fun, actually. I might just do that someday.
I think the ridge between Spread Eagle and Agassiz is pretty straight forward, what come after looks a little hairy. I've seen beta for the ridge between Hayden and East Hayden (upper 3rd to lower 5th class), but so far I haven't found any for a Hayden to Agassiz traverse, though I'm sure it has been done.
 
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