On Sept. 20 I started a backpacking trip into the High Uintas Wilderness Area from the Highline trailhead. My brother and I have done several backpacking trips in Wyoming, but this was my first attempt at a solo backpacking trip. A day by day summary of the trip is provided below. If you have any questions about my trip, don’t hesitate to contact me! I have posted a gallery with some more pictures here.
The day began with an early morning flight from OKC to Denver, and then a flight from Denver to Salt Lake City (SLC). The flights went smoothly and were on time, and I landed in SLC around 10 A.M. It was roughly $200 cheaper to get my rental car away from the airport, so I got an Uber ride to the Enterprise location. Once I had my rental, I headed to the post office a couple blocks up the street to pick up my backpacking gear. Once that was in hand I hit the road to the Highline Trailhead. I stopped along the interstate in Park City for a quick lunch, then stopped at the Chevron in Kamas to get my recreation pass. I’m glad I did that since they were aware of a few “fee free” days, so I only had to get a 3 day pass instead of a 7 day. The next stop was the trailhead. Since it was my first solo trip, I was a little worried about fitting everything in my pack, but I didn’t have any issues getting everything packed. I got all my gear packed up and hit the trail around 2:45. I’ll have a future blog post about my thoughts on the logistics of getting myself and my gear to the trailhead.
I was thinking about trying to make it to Naturalist Basin on this day, but with the later start, I decided to camp at Wilder Lake, and take some time to go check out Wyman and Packard Lakes. The first 1.5 miles or so were all downhill, which was nice, but I knew that meant it would be uphill for the last 1.5 miles back out. Between the trailhead and Wilder Lake I saw several people hiking out. I talked to one couple who seemed to have difficulty getting to Wyman and Packard Lakes, so that got me a little bit worried. But the trail was fine for me, so I’m not sure if they took a wrong turn somewhere or what.
I got my camp set up at Wilder Lake and then headed to Wyman and Packard Lakes. It was a short, easy hike to both lakes, especially with only my daypack on. The view down the drainage for the East Fork of the Duchesne River near Packard Lake was really neat, particularly with some fall color sprinkled in. Down towards the bottom of the drainage I could see some smoke, which I found out after the hike was part of the Murdock Fire. This would come into play later in the trip. I headed back to camp and cooked dinner. Probably around 6:30 or 7:00 a group of three showed up and set up camp down on the other end of the lake. It wasn’t too long after they showed up that I called it a day and hit the sack.
After not getting much sleep due to being cold, I got up for day 2 to find my Camelbak somewhat frozen. The hose was completely frozen, and some of the water in the main bladder was frozen. I was able to warm up enough of the liquid water that I was able to thaw out my Camelbak hose and make breakfast. After that I got packed up and hit the trail.
The original plan was to hike all the way to Gladys Lake and camp there. However, after the cold night, I figured I would go ahead and camp at Brinkley Lake due to a slightly lower elevation and more shelter from any wind. Plus it meant less distance I had to carry my large pack. On the way to Rocky Sea Pass, I passed one sign for Four Lakes Basin that pointed to the right, and didn’t give it much thought until I came to another sign for Four Lakes Basin that also pointed to the right. The second sign was the correct turn. After taking a look at that first sign on the way out, I believe it was supposed to point straight, but it was just crooked. Something to keep in mind if you plan on hiking there.
The western side of Rocky Sea pass is a relatively gradual grade (compared to the east side). I took a few minute break at the top of the pass to take in the views and try out my map & compass skills. After the break I headed down the east side of the pass. It’s not completely vertical, but it’s not far from it. Thankfully the trail switchbacks, which makes it easier. I still managed to fall on my butt once though. It wasn’t too long of a hike to Brinkley after getting to the bottom of the pass. I got camp set up and relaxed the rest of the day. I only saw one person the entire day (on the west side of the pass).
After learning some lessons the first night, I was able to stay warmer the second night, and I didn’t have a frozen Camelbak when I woke up this day. Brinkley Lake was like glass when I got up, and I was able to get some really neat reflection pictures. After that I ate breakfast, got my daypack packed, and hit the trail. Had I camped at Gladys Lake, I may have tried to summit Spread Eagle Peak on this day, but I decided against that pretty early on and just decided to hike the loop up to Rosalie Lake, Gladys Lake, Lightning Lake, and back to Brinkley.
The hike up to Rosalie lake was mostly in forest, but it opened up once up to Rosalie Lake. From there to Lightning Lake the hike was right around tree line with some great views. There were a few places along this stretch where the trail got pretty faint, but it was only for a short distance, so it was pretty easy to find where the trail picked up again. This was a really neat section of trail, and I took my time taking lots of pictures. I was definitely glad that I decided to camp at Brinkley Lake and just take the leisurely stroll on this loop. After Lightning Lake the hike back to Brinkley Lake was once again mainly in forest. Around 2:00 it started to get a little bit smoky, so I was glad I got the trip in early in the day and was able to get pictures that weren’t too hazy.
After I got back to camp I decided to stop using my main water filter (Katadyn Hiker) and go to my backup filter (Sawyer mini water filter). I was having issues with the Katadyn being difficult to pump. Not sure what the issue was, but this was the second trip in the row where this was a problem (and I was using a new filter on this trip). While it was a little bit of an inconvenience, it was kind of nice to get some experience with the Sawyer. I’ll have a post later on about my thoughts on the pros and cons of each.
The original plan for this day was to hike back over Rocky Sea pass and stay in Four Lakes Basin that night. However, I decided that morning to skip Four Lakes Basin and head to Naturalist Basin. I could do Four Lakes Basin on a different hike, and this would allow me to explore Naturalist Basin the next morning when the smoke was (hopefully) at a minimum. Neither of those happened. Haha.
On the way up to Rocky Sea Pass I saw a family of Mountain Goats. I had never seen Mountain Goats before, so that was exciting. Remember the Murdock Fire? When I got to the top of Rocky Sea Pass that morning, it looked like Naturalist Basin was already fairly smoky from the fire, and it looked like Four Lakes Basin was pretty clear. So I decided to head to Four Lakes Basin after all and get some pictures there since it was clear. I got down into Four Lakes Basin, and tried to find a camp spot that was out of the wind, but didn’t have much luck. My tent almost took flight while I was setting it up, but thankfully I was able to grab it before it did. While I was snacking on some trail mix in my tent, I decided I didn’t want to spend the afternoon walking around in the strong wind, and I didn’t feel like being bored out of my mind for several hours, so I packed everything back up and headed towards Naturalist Basin. As I got closer and closer to Naturalist Basin, the smoke continued to get worse and worse. It finally got to the point where it was so thick and enough ash falling out of the air that I didn’t feel comfortable continuing on, so I headed back towards Four Lakes Basin.
With the strong winds that day, I assumed that fire had made it close to the Highline Trail, so I started thinking of my options. I took a look at one of my topo maps and saw that I should be able to get out south to the Grandview trailhead. I decided to start heading south towards that trailhead, and possibly hike out that way instead of to the Highline trailhead. When I got to Pinto Lake about a mile south of the Highline trail, I decided to camp there. However, from this vantage point, it looked like the fire may still be south of the Highline trail, so I thought once again about trying to hike out on the Highline trail. After it started to get a little smoky at this lake and I noticed there were some cows at this lake, I decided to hike back to the intersection with the Highline trail and camp there. Assuming the fire wasn’t at the trail, I figured I could get up early the next morning and hike out, hoping the smoke would clear up overnight. By this point I was completely worn out, and my feet were quite sore. I think that was easily the most I had ever hiked during a day with a big pack on. I got camp set up, ate dinner, and called it a day.
I did not sleep well at all leading up to this day due to being worried about having to hike out through the Grandview trailhead. I got up at 5:00 A.M. It rained some overnight, which was desperately needed up there, although it wasn’t near enough to make much of a dent. However, a lot of the rain ended up freezing to my rain cover. So the cold temps along with the wet rain cover made it a little bit of a pain to get things packed up. But I got everything packed up and hit the trail around 5:45 A.M. This was my first experience hiking in the dark (with a headlamp of course), which was different. Thankfully it was an easy trail to follow. I made it out to the trailhead without any issues other than really sore feet. I was pretty bummed that I didn’t get to explore Four Lakes Basin or Naturalist Basin, but I was really glad to make it out to my vehicle and not have to go out through the Grandview Trailhead. On the way down the mountain, I stopped several times to get pictures of the fall colors.
In summary, I’m still happy with the trip. I was still able to get some good pictures, and the smoke could have been a much bigger problem than it was. It also provided valuable experience that can be applied to future trips. The trails were all easy to follow and intersections marked well, so no issues there. Outside of seeing several people on that first day hike in, I saw very few people the rest of the hike. While there are definitely some pros to solo backpacking, I think I prefer having someone that I can share the trip with.
Plus, going out a day earlier than planned gave me some extra time to explore Park City, and I was able to take some time to get some fire hydrant pictures in Park City, which I will post to my website in the next couple days. But if you haven’t done so already, go check out the other photos from the backpacking trip. I look forward to exploring the Uintas further in future trips.