Trip Report: Sawtooth Mountains 2019

Sawtooth Map Export
Planned route. Read below to find out what actually happened. 

This past Saturday I left for a 5 day backpacking trip in the Sawtooth Wilderness in Idaho. The plan was to start at Stanley Lake and do the loop down to Grandjean, up North Fork Baron Creek to Sawtooth Lake, and then back to Stanley Lake (see map above). But if you know me very well, you know that my backpacking trips rarely go according to plan. This was no exception. Keep reading for the details. 

Day 1

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Picture near Bridal Veil Falls (looking opposite direction of falls).

Day 1 got off to a very early start with a 6:30 A.M. flight to Denver, followed by a short layover and then a flight to Boise. That all went very smooth, even getting to Boise 15 minutes early. I got my rental car, and then headed to the post office to pick up my gear. It was still a little before 11 when I got my gear, so I packed as much as I could in the post office parking lot, and then stopped by a Subway to grab lunch before hitting the road to the trailhead. The drive to the trailhead took about 2.5 hours. 

It was in the lower 80s according to the car thermostat. I converted my pants into shorts before starting, which was the first time I had ever hiked with them as shorts. I finished getting my backpack packed and then hit the trail at roughly 2:45. There is a pretty amazing view of McGown Peak from the trailhead. I’m not used to having the great view right off the bat. Most of the hikes I have done require some hiking before the great views start. I stopped a short ways down the trail to fill up with water. On the first mile or so of the trail, there was very little shade, which got me wondering if I had packed enough sunscreen. Thankfully the forest got more dense, and the shade was definitely appreciated. 

I was a little worried about how late I would get to my planned camp spot having got a late start, but I made really good time and got there around 5. That was even with stopping several times for pictures. I camped at the junction with the Elk Creek Trail, which apparently isn’t a trail anymore. There is a tree “blocking” the trail from the main trail (picture above right). When I stopped to camp, I didn’t even see the sign for the trail (picture above left), but figured if it wasn’t the trail, it was close enough. (The next day as I was leaving, I actually noticed the sign for the trail.) I set up camp, and then taped up a couple of my toes that were already starting to get a sore spot.

A note regarding this tape. I used Leukotape, which definitely worked as advertised. However, I had watched a video prior to the trip where someone had put the tape on strips of wax paper so she didn’t have to take the whole role. I tried this at home, and it seemed to work. However, when I tried to remove the tape at my camp spot, it was very difficult to get the tape off without ripping the wax paper and leaving some on the tape. I’m assuming it was partly due to the tape being on the wax paper for a while in combination with the wax paper becoming “brittle” due to getting creased once it was packed. Next year I will likely wrap the tape around something (pencil, pen, etc.).

I ate dinner, and then did some reading before calling it a day. 

Day 2 

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Picture from Observation Peak looking southeast.

I got up at 7 on Sunday and got breakfast ready. Once breakfast was finished I got camp packed up and hit the trail towards Observation Peak. Not too long after leaving camp the trail entered forest that had burned. At this point, I really started to question whether I had brought enough sunscreen, as I was pretty sure most of the rest of the hike didn’t have much shade.

It was a fairly short hike to get to the intersection with the Observation Peak trail. I got up to the peak around 10. There were great views all the way up to the peak. It was difficult to see the trail in a couple spots, but I was able to find it again quickly. There was very little shade on the peak, but luckily there were a few trees that provided a shady spot. The views from the peak were spectacular, and definitely exceeded what I was expecting. I spent about 40 minutes at the peak resting, eating a snack, and getting pictures. It took me about 40 minutes to get back down to the trail junction, where a couple other hikers were just starting to head up. 

I started to head towards Trail Creek Lakes and ran into a few other hikers headed towards Observation Peak. I stopped at a creek a short hike down the trail to fill up with water. I was getting pretty low on water at that point, so it was a relief to get some more. I rested for a bit more, ate some trail mix, and put on some more sunscreen. I was going to convert my pants to shorts once again, but I figured I better not so I could save sunscreen. I kept going towards Trail Creek Lakes and arrived about 12:30. Right off the bat I could see at least a couple camps set up, and ran into a guy from one of the camps. We chatted for a little bit, and then I continued on to find a camp spot. 

I found a camp spot pretty quickly, but I wasn’t a huge fan of it. It was pretty darn close to another camp, and closer to the water and trail than regulations allow (although it was hard to find a camp spot that was far enough from the trail and water). It was also really fine dirt/dust, which I knew would get on everything. I went ahead and set up my tent anyway since I figured it would be hard to find another camp spot and so nobody else took the spot. I figured I would look for another spot while going to the second lake. 

From reading a guide book, I knew there was a way to get up to the second lake via a gulch on the north side of the lower lake. I hiked around the north side of the lower lake and didn’t see this gulch, so I decided to hike up the hill near the creek between the two lakes. It was steep and had a lot of loose rock. I knew it wasn’t the best idea, but it looked doable and I didn’t feel like trying to find the other way. Two-thirds of the way up my foot slipped and I hit the ground hard. I knew right away I had hurt my left hand. I fully expected one of my fingers to be crooked when I looked at the hand, but thankfully none of them were. I was pretty sure I had broke at least one of them though, possibly two. I laid there for a couple minutes gathering myself and taking stock of my situation. 

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Looking down at the first Trail Creek Lake from the second Trail Creek Lake.

With as far up as I had made it, I knew going back down wasn’t an option, so I got back up and continued up the hill to the second lake. I made it up to the second lake, got a few pictures, and then worked on finding a different way down. I found the gulch referenced in the guidebook, and took that way down to the first lake. I found a possible camp spot on the way down, but I wasn’t 100% sure that my tent would fit, and at that point I didn’t feel like hauling my tent up there to find out. 

The rest of the day was pretty rough due to very little shade, warm temperatures, gusty winds, and the dusty conditions. The hand injury just made it that much worse. A while after I got back down to the lower lake, I also discovered I must have landed on my hip when I hit the ground, as I had a pretty good scrape and bruise there as well. I didn’t do a whole lot the rest of the day other than hang out at camp and read. 

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As I was making dinner that evening, I noticed the saying on the bottom of the packaging (picture above). I just had to laugh as I probably got what I deserved picking a camping spot that went against regulations. I put on my rain cover (which was nearly impossible with my injured hand) shortly before calling it a day. I read in my tent for a while before finally deciding to try and get to sleep. Unfortunately, my sleeping pad is pretty noisy when I move, so I was paranoid the whole night that I was bugging the neighbors every time I moved. That didn’t help anything either. 

Day 3

On Monday, I got up a little before 7. I got breakfast ready and then got camp packed up. I decided to hike back out instead of continuing on with the hike as planned. If my fingers were broke, I didn’t want to do any more damage to them than had already been done. Once camp was packed up I hit the trail back towards Stanley Lake, at about 8:15. I was back at the trailhead around 11:40. I rinsed off some at Stanley Lake and changed into a new pair of clothes. I drove into Stanley to get a drink at the convenience store before heading back to Boise. I got back to Boise a little after 3 and stopped at a travel center to figure out what my options were. I decided I had three options: stay in Boise until Saturday, fly home early, or drive home. All three options were roughly the same cost, so I decided to go ahead and leave early to save a couple days of PTO. I got a hotel room and pretty much spent the rest of the day getting my backpacking gear cleaned up and getting stuff situated to pack and ship the next day. 

Day 4

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Picture of injured hand after getting to the hotel.

On Tuesday I got up at 6:30, and left from the hotel around 7:45. I dropped my gear off at the post office and then headed to an urgent care clinic to get my fingers checked. According to the X-rays, there were no fractures. Ironically that was more frustrating. Had I known that I probably would have finished the hike. But I was definitely relieved I wasn’t going to have to wear a splint. That would have made work really frustrating since I do a lot of typing. 

I wandered around downtown for a little bit and got a couple fire hydrant pictures, then ate lunch at Westside Drive In. If you are looking for something to eat in Boise, I highly recommend their meatloaf sandwich. It was delicious. At that diner I got the “fortune” above. Once again I just had to laugh, as my injured hand and hip would beg to differ otherwise. After lunch I headed to the airport.

Conclusion

The little bit of the hike I got to do far exceeded my expectations. For relatively low elevation mountains, I was pretty impressed. It was definitely warmer than I would prefer during the afternoon, and the lack of shade on the second day didn’t help much. If I try the trip again, I’ll avoid Labor Day weekend, likely do it later in the year, and bring more sunscreen. I was really bummed I didn’t get to finish the loop as I didn’t even make it to the part I really wanted to make it to. The trails were very easy to follow, with the exception of a couple brief spots going up to Observation Peak. I didn’t see any significant wildlife. I saw quit a bit of hoof tracks on the trail though. And next time I’ll be more careful about picking my camp spot, as karma apparently has my number. 

Trash

The only trash I found during the hike was a plastic bottle cap at the lower Trail Creek Lake, at my camp spot. For as many people as I saw during this hike, especially at Trail Creek Lakes, I was quite impressed that was the only trash I saw. Kudos to all the visitors for keeping it clean.

Katadyn Hiker vs. Sawyer Mini

Filter vs

The Backstory

Before I get into the pros and cons of each filter, I’m going to start out with the backstory about why I ended up carrying the sawyer mini with me backpacking in the first place.

When we first started backpacking, my brother and I carried the Katadyn Hiker water filter, pictured above left. It got us through four trips without any issues, and I had never thought about carrying a different filter. My backup plan if this were to ever fail was to boil water with my Jetboil. Last summer (2018), my brother and I did our annual backpacking trip in July, which was trip #5 with the Katadyn Hiker. We went to the Highland Park area of the Big Horn Mountains. On day 3 of the trip, while we were camped in Highland Park, the wind came up pretty bad, and while the wind was blowing we went to fill up our bladders in a small pond. The wind had caused the pond to become pretty rough, and thus the water had quite a bit of sediment in it. We went ahead and filtered some water into our bladders, and during the process it got pretty hard to pump the water. Fast forward to the next day. As we were preparing to fill up our bladders at a different spot, my brother noticed some stuff floating around in his water. At that point, we figured the filter was likely bad, and ended up hiking out a day early. Thankfully neither of us got sick from drinking the water.

After this experience, I realized that boiling water probably wasn’t the best backup plan. I wouldn’t be able to do much water at once, it would take a while to cool off, and it would use up a lot of fuel. So before my first solo trip a couple months later in Utah, I looked into alternatives for backup water supply, and I decided to start carrying a Sawyer Mini with me in addition to the Katadyn Hiker. I also bought a new filter for the Katadyn Hiker for my Utah trip. Just a short ways into my Utah trip, it again became hard to pump the Katadyn Hiker filter. I didn’t want to chance bad water again, so I got to give the Sawyer Mini an unplanned test run for the rest of that Utah trip.

For our trip this year, my brother and I decided to carry two Sawer Mini filters each instead of bringing the Katadyn Hiker and a Sawyer Mini each. Based on my experience of using each, I figured I would provide some of my pros and cons of using each.

Pros & Cons

Had we not had problems with the Katadyn Hiker filter, we would have likely continued using that filter this year. I have no idea why we are having the issue of it becoming hard to pump, but for the 4 trips where it worked, we really liked it.

One advantage that the Katadyn Hiker has over the Sawyer Mini is that the water I am carrying around is good water. The water goes from the source, through the filter, and into the bladder, and then can be used for anything at that point. When I’m using water out of the bladder for cooking, brushing teeth, etc., I don’t have to worry about using unfiltered water. With the Sawyer Mini, the water I am carrying around is unfiltered, so I have to be careful about using water out of the bladder. At night, I will typically remove the Sawyer Mini filter from my bladder, put the original mouthpiece on the bladder, and the keep the Sawyer Mini in my sleeping bag to keep it from freezing. However, I have to be careful not to take a drink out of the bladder without the filter, or use the water for cooking, brushing teeth, etc. I just feel like using the Sawer Mini adds a little more of a chance that myself or someone else could accidentally use non-filtered water for something that it shouldn’t be used for.

One other big advantage the Katadyn Hiker has: the bladder is easier to drink out of with the original mouthpiece vs with the Sawyer Mini. With the Sawer Mini attached to the bladder hose, I almost have to work a little bit to take a drink of water. It’s not bad, but it is definitely harder to take a drink with the Sawyer Mini. I also felt a lot of times that I had to hold the Sawyer Mini to my mouth when I was taking a drink, particularly if the trail was rough. However, with the original mouthpiece, I feel like I’m typically able to stick it in my mouth and then take my hand away while I’m taking a drink.

One last advantage the Katadyn Hiker has over the Sawyer Mini: meal time. When we were using the Katadyn Hiker, we would typically fill our camelback bladders up when we got to camp, and then we would have enough water for drinking, dinner, and brushing teeth. However, with the Sawyer Mini, I have to fill the squeeze bag up with water, squeeze the water out into my Jetboil to boil, and then fill the squeeze bag again to clean up after dinner. Also, when I take the Sawyer Mini filter off my bladder to use on the squeeze bag, I have to either put the original mouthpiece back on, or be careful to set the bladder in a way that the water doesn’t flow out and not set anything on the bladder. Not a huge additional hassle, but it is definitely nice having a full camelback that I can use and not have to fill up a smaller pouch a couple times. Along this same note, though, my arms can end up getting pretty tired by the time I’m finished filtering water with the Katadyn Hiker, particularly if I’m filling up a couple large bladders.

The big advantage with the Sawyer Mini? It makes filling up the bladders very quick when you’re hiking. I just get my bladder out of my pack, scoop up some water in a water source, and then put the bladder back in the pack. I don’t have to assemble the pump filter, make sure I’m not getting the “clean hose” in the non-filtered water, keep track of the caps that go on the inlet and outlet nipples, and then disassemble the pump filter. To me that’s a huge plus.

One other big advantage of the Sawyer Mini is that the filter itself is a lot smaller. I can store the filter and my cell phone in my sleeping bag pocket at night without them bothering me. I doubt I could even fit the Katadyn Hiker filter and main body in my sleeping bag pocket. So if I’m worried about my filter freezing, I would much rather have the Sawyer Mini. I do have to be careful, though, that I put the original mouthpiece back on the hose when I take the Sawyer Mini off the hose.

One other final thing to note: when my brother put the Sawyer Mini onto his bladder hose, he put it on as far as it would go. The problem with this? It made it nearly impossible to get the filter back off. After the trip, he ended up having to cut the bladder hose to get the filter off. Just something to keep in mind if you are going to use a Sawyer Mini filter.

My Choice?

My plan going forward is to carry the two Sawyer Mini filters on each trip. Despite a little more hassle at camp, it’s not enough to outweigh the benefits of a smaller filter and easier bladder filling along the trail.

So there you have it. Everybody is different, though, and the choice is yours. Plus, there are many more options out there besides these two filters. These are just the two I have experience with. Feel free to comment on this post with any feedback you have about these filters, or why you use a different filter!

Trip Report: Aero Lakes

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Last week my brother and I completed a four day backpacking trip to the Aero Lakes area of the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness in southern Montana. We had wanted to do a trip in the Beartooths the past couple years, but had decided not to each year due to reports of lots of snow remaining. We finally decided to just give it a try this year. This is a blog post to share our experience and provide some details that hopefully will be useful to other people who make the trip in the future. 

Day 1

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Map with markers to details I point out below.

We started off from Cody, WY at around 7:30 A.M. and drove to the upper Lady of the Lake trailhead (marked with the green circle on the map). We arrived a little after 9 A.M. One of our maps showed the trailhead here, and it appears to be marked as the official trailhead. However, the map above shows the trail beginning at the blue circle. There appeared to be a parking area in the vicinity of the blue circle based on what we could see walking by, but I’m not sure about the feasibility of getting to that spot unless you have a high clearance vehicle since, based on the map, you have to cross the creek with your vehicle. In addition, it still appeared you had to cross some sort of creek/wet area without a bridge from the blue parking area. The green trailhead has a footbridge across the creek. However, the green trailhead adds about 1/4 to 1/2 mile to the hike. The dirt road to the trailhead (green circle) is a little rough, but it can be reached with a sedan as long as you take it easy and are careful. 

The hike in was pretty straightforward until we reached the area where Star Creek and Zimmer Creek meet (yellow star on map above). As you approach this spot you will see a trail take off to the left (see picture below).

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Trail junction shortly before Broadwater River.

We went straight, following the better looking trail (red arrow in picture). Shortly thereafter we crossed the creek and continued on our hike. However, I quickly realized that we were following a creek going with the flow of water, which I knew wasn’t correct, so we subsequently backtracked, crossed the creek again, went back to the Y, and took the trail that goes off to the left (green arrow in picture), which ended up being the correct trail. The trail that we took initially (red arrow) follows Broadwater River briefly, and then Sky Top Creek until eventually dead ending (according to a guidebook I read), but it wasn’t marked on either of the maps I had. So if you do this hike, make sure you take the trail that goes to the left. If you have to cross a large creek at this point, you are taking the wrong trail. The correct trail crosses a creek, but a much smaller one. On the correct trail, you will be to the left of a creek, going against the flow of water. 

The hike up Zimmer Creek was pretty straightforward. There is a cairn on the opposite side of the creek to indicate where to cross to head up to the Aero Lakes. I believe the map above shows the trail crossing Zimmer Creek earlier than we did (we crossed at the cairn). I have shown where I believe we crossed (pink dotted line). We were able to cross on boulders. The hike from this point up to Aero Lakes was brutal. It was a long, steep climb with loose rocks, boulders, and snow once we got near the top. The guidebook I read says it is referred to as Cardiac Hill, and climbs about 900 ft in roughly a mile. 

Notice on the map above I show us not following the trail up to Lower Aero Lakes (our route shown in pink dotted line). We realized after coming back down that the route we took up was different, and I’m guessing we went up a ravine/canyon to the north of where the actual trail runs. We ended up at the same cairn by Zimmer Creek coming down, but the route we took was definitely different. We were obviously able to do it the different way going up, but it would have been easier to follow the actual trail. Still very difficult, but easier. So if you’re not following a trail, you’re probably going up the wrong ravine/canyon. We apparently just missed the trail, which starts a little ways away from the creek behind the cairn. 

I believe it took us a little under 6 hours to reach Lower Aero Lake from the trailhead. After reaching Lower Aero, we found a camp spot on the point on the southern part of the lake, just to the southeast of where you reach Lower Aero. A few notes on this spot: 

  • It provides great shelter from the wind from every direction other than the north (which came in very handy one evening).
  • You have a great view to the north, including Glacier Peak, Mount Villard, and The Spires. 
  • If you plan on hiking up to Upper Aero Lake, you will have to hike around the western/northwestern side of Lower Aero, which takes roughly an hour. 
  • Our two person tent was a very tight fit in this spot.
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Our camp spot at Lower Aero Lake (green arrow).

In my opinion, this is one of the best camp spots on the lake. However, had we camped at the NW part of the lake (yellow arrow), it would have knocked about 2 hours off each of our day hikes we did. So if you want to reduce hiking time towards Upper Aero, I would probably recommend camping somewhere along the western/northwestern side of the lake (which several people did while we were up there). Finally, if you camp up on the northwest side of Lower Aero (yellow arrow area), it may be a little noisy at night due to a couple waterfalls, so keep this in mind if you like it quiet when you sleep. 

We spent the rest of the day hanging out at Lower Aero. 

Day 2

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Map with approximate route for day 2 (pink line).

The goal for day 2 was to take a day hike to Upper Aero Lake and then over to Rough Lake and back. When we looked out the tent after getting up, we were surprised to see about 2/3 of the lake had a thin layer of ice over it. That was pretty cool to see. From our campsite, we weren’t quite sure how to get to Upper Aero, as it appeared there was a cliff that would prevent us from going the shortest/easiest way, but we saw a couple other backpackers camped near the cliff, so we figured we would see if they knew how to get there. 

We hiked around the lake and eventually got to their camp. They said they hadn’t been able to figure out how to get to Upper Aero. As we were talking with them, a mountain goat wandered down into their camp, probably about 50 yards from us. The dog with the other backpackers saw the mountain goat, and subsequently took off after it chasing it off. Even though it was brief, it was cool to get to see the mountain goat. Shortly thereafter, a group of 4 other backpackers showed up, and they were able to figure out a way down the cliff (see picture below). Thankfully so, as our alternative routes would have been much harder and I’m not sure they would have even worked, so kudos to them.

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Route down cliff on north side of Lower Aero Lake (pink line).

We headed towards Upper Aero, and took some time to get pictures of the two waterfalls between Upper Aero and Lower Aero. We crossed the creek between the two lakes, and made our way to the east side of Upper Aero. Our plan was to hike along the east side of Upper Aero, and then go over a pass to Rough Lake (pink route in map above). However, we only made it to the black “X”. It looked possible to keep going, but it appeared it would be slow going due to snow and boulder hopping. I believe it was around noon when me made it to this point, and it was already starting to look a little stormy, so we decided to call it off getting to Rough Lake and just spend some time at Upper Aero so my brother could get in some fishing at Upper Aero. We hung out at Upper Aero for a little while then headed back to camp, stopping on the NW part of Lower Aero so my brother could fish some in a different spot. 

Later that evening we had a storm come through that kicked the wind up pretty good and had a little rain with it. I would say gusts around 30 mph. I was definitely thankful for our sheltered camp spot. It stayed windy for a while, but gradually calmed down, and was pretty calm by dark.

Day 3

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Map with approximate route for day 3 (pink line).

We had thought about heading towards the Goose Lake area on this day, but since we didn’t make it to Rough Lake on day 2, we decided to give it another shot on day 3 with an earlier start and a different route. We left shortly after 7:00 A.M. (vs. about 9:00 A.M. on day 2) and headed up towards Upper Aero again. We decided to go up and over a different pass this time. You can see the approximate route we took on the map above. 

The climb up to the pass wasn’t too bad. Lots of boulder hopping and walking across snow. A portion of the climb down the other side was really steep, but not too long. I have no idea if we went the easiest way or not, but it got us where we were wanting to go. We made it down to Shelter Lake, then to Lone Elk Lake, and then to Rough Lake. It took us about 3 hours to get to Rough Lake from our camp spot, with about an hour of that just hiking around Lower Aero. The hike from Shelter Lake to Rough Lake wasn’t bad at all. We spent some time at Rough Lake, then spent some time at Lone Elk Lake on the way back out, and then headed back to camp. 

Once again that evening we had a storm come through. This one looked a lot worse than the evening before as it approached. During the storm there was plenty of lightning approximately 1/2 to 1 mile away, but we only got moderate rain for a little while, and the wind really didn’t come up much with this storm. It wasn’t near as bad as I thought it would be, thankfully. It cleared out a little before sunset, and we got treated to a pretty cool sunset with the storm clouds. 

Day 4

Day 4 was our day to hike back out. We took our time getting camp put up in the morning, and my brother got in some more fishing. We left around 9:30 A.M. As I mentioned earlier, we took a different route going down than we took coming up, and there was a trail pretty much the whole way down, which helped a lot. We somehow managed to overlook the boulder crossing we used for Zimmer Creek on the way in, and ended up crossing through the water little further downstream. The hike out was pretty uneventful. It took us about 4.5 hours to make it back to the trailhead. 

Final Thoughts

Despite the difficult hike in, it was well worth it. It is a beautiful area, and it was really cool to see the huge mountain lakes. There was lots of boulder hopping and walking on snow once up to Lower Aero lake. There is a spotty trail around the west/northwest side of Lower Aero and up to the creek between Upper and Lower Aero, but other than that it is pretty much figure out which route you think is best. Along the entire route, there were plenty of muddy and marshy areas, likely due to both snow runoff and rainfall. 

The mosquitos were definitely a nuisance up to and including Lower Aero. They weren’t nearly as bad at Upper Aero for some reason. Mosquitos were pretty bad at Lone Elk Lake as well. 

There were plenty of wildflowers bloomed on our trip, although it would probably be better if you waited another week or two. 

We saw a few smaller animals (rock chucks, pikas, etc.), but the mountain goat was the only large animal we saw during the trip. We saw plenty of hoof prints throughout the trip, but no bear tracks.

If you want to get away from people, this probably isn’t the hike for you. I believe there were roughly 15 other people we saw come through Lower Aero Lake while we were there, which I’m pretty sure is more than we have seen on our 3 Big Horn Mountain backpacking trips combined. However, it was by no means crowded. We met in person with only about half of those people. 

All in all, it was a great trip with great scenery, and was definitely one of the smoother trips my brother and I have had. 

Finally, just want to do a shout out to Dmitria and Kate. We ran into them several times during the course of our trip. It was pretty crazy how similar our trips were, and it was fun getting to share plans and what we each had done since last seeing each other. Hopefully my brother and I didn’t bug you two too bad. 

Stay tuned to my Facebook page as I will post on there when I have pictures from the trip posted to my website, which will likely be late this week.

If you have any questions about this hike, don’t hesitate to send me a message using the contact page, or send an email to info@brentuphoto.com.

Fishing

My brother did a lot of fishing while we were up there, so I figured I would provide a quick note on fishing during our trip.

  • Lower Aero Lake: caught a lot of Brooke Trout out of this lake, with a few around 12 inches in length. My brother says he had one about 16 inches come off right at shore. 
  • Upper Aero Lake: probably spent about an hour fishing this lake, but never got any bites.
  • Rough Lake: probably spent about an hour fishing this lake, but never got any bites.
  • Lone Elk Lake: probably spent about 45 minutes fishing this lake, and caught a few very small Brooke Trout. 

Trash

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The picture above is the trash other people left behind that we packed out. With as popular as this area seemed to be, I’m actually surprised (and pleased) we didn’t see more. Regardless, please pick up after yourself if you are out hiking/backpacking, and if you see any trash left behind, please pick it up and pack it out. 

 

The Importance of Maps

Not just a map, but maps. As in more than one.

When my brother and I started doing backpacking trips, I took along a National Geographic topographic map. The National Geographic maps gave us a general idea of where trail intersections should be, which is all we really needed to know. We weren’t doing any off-trail excursions. And luckily we never ran into any instances where we needed any sort of other map.

This past summer I took a navigation course through REI, and learned about the custom USGS quad maps on mytopo.com. With mytopo.com, you can create a map that merges several USGS quad maps into a single map, possibly eliminating the need to carry multiple USGS quad maps. I tried one of these maps out for the first time on our hike this past summer in the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming. It was so nice to have the detail of the USGS quad map. I rarely looked at the National Geographic map that we had during that trip. I was definitely glad I had learned about these maps, and they were something I was going to use going forward.

Fast forward a couple months to September. I took my first solo backpacking trip out to the Uinta Mountains in Utah. Just like the trip in Wyoming, I had a custom USGS quad map from mytopo.com and a National geographic map. Once again, I loved having the detail of the USGS quad map, and for most of the trip, that was the only map I really needed. But if you read my trip report post, you know that I ran into some issues on the way back to my car. Some strong winds had kicked up a wildfire and was blowing the smoke across the trail. I knew the fire was relatively close to the trail, and the smoke and ash was thick enough that I didn’t feel comfortable hiking out on my first attempt.

This is where having both the USGS quad map and the National Geographic map was important. With the possibility that I may not be able to hike out the way I had come in due to the wildfire, I knew that I needed to look for other potential ways out. However, due to the zoomed in nature of the USGS map (relative to the National Geographic map), it didn’t show any other trailheads. I could find other trails on this map that went other directions, but I would have no idea if they led to other trailheads. This is when the National Geographic map came in handy. It wasn’t as detailed, but since it showed a larger area, I was able to see other trailheads and map out a secondary way out if it was needed. It definitely wasn’t ideal and I wasn’t looking forward to it, but it at least gave me relief that I had another option.

Thankfully I didn’t have to use that secondary option, but it made me realize the importance of having (at least) two maps: one with detail of the area I’m planning on hiking, and another that shows a broader area just in case something goes wrong and I have to find another route.

And while we are on this topic, I would highly recommend taking a navigation course if you are going to be doing any sort of hiking/backpacking. My brother and I took several trips without either one of us having taken a navigation course. You may be able to get by without those skills, but you never know when you’ll run into a situation when you’ll need those skills, and they could save your life.

Uintas Trip: Getting My Gear and I There (and back)

The Logistics

When I first started looking into putting this trip together, I knew I had two main options: drive or fly. The driving option was pretty straight forward.  The flying option was a little more complicated. Do I take all my gear in checked luggage and hope it doesn’t get lost? Do I ship it ahead of time with FedEx, UPS, or USPS? Do I check/ship some of it and rent some of it when I get there? Were there items that I couldn’t ship or put in checked baggage?

After doing some research with Google and thinking it through, I decided I would fly and ship my gear ahead of time. Mainly to save time and I felt like there was a smaller chance of it getting lost with FedEx/UPS/USPS than with an airline (particularly if I was going to have more than one flight segment). But then there were still a few questions. What items couldn’t I ship? What would I ship it in? Where would I ship it?

After doing some research, I came up with a list of four items that I may have issues shipping: camp stove fuel, bear spray, bug spray, and matches (strike on box specifically). From what I read online, some people didn’t have any issues sending these items, while others did. I went by a local UPS store to ask them about shipping these, and the clerk there gave me a couple numbers I could call. I gave one of the numbers a call, and the answer I got was something along the lines of I had to have an account with them to be able to ship those items. I didn’t want to set up an account, so I moved on to USPS. After doing quite a bit of research online, I came to the conclusion that it would be possible to ship all these, although I figured I may have to convince the clerk at the post office. This document is what I took with me to the post office to use if I had any trouble. (I did have to convince the clerk at the post office here in Del City that I could ship the items, but once she took a look at the documentation, it wasn’t an issue, and she was very thankful for me having done the research beforehand.)

With that sorted out, the next questions was what to ship them in. I wanted something reusable, so I decided to go with a plastic storage tote. Based on a plastic storage tote I had at home, I figured that I would need a tote in the mid 30 gallon range. After looking at several different totes, I decided on the HDX 38 Gal. Tough Storage Tote from Home Depot. This had locations where I could put labels, seemed sturdy enough, and had some locations where I could secure the lid. But after doing some research on the shipping costs, I determined it would be cheaper to send two 27 gallon totes instead of a single 38 gallon tote, so I returned the 38 gallon tote and bought two 27 gallon totes. For the hazardous materials labels and address labels, I created them in Microsoft Word, printed them onto Avery 8 1/2″ x 11″ TrueBlock Shipping Labels, and then cut them out. To seal the lid (keep it from coming off), I was originally going to use zip ties. The only problem with this was that I would have to have something to cut the zip ties once I picked up the packages, and with flying in, I wasn’t going to have any sort of knife on me or anything like that. However, when I was looking at zip ties, I noticed some velcro strips used to tie cords (similar to these). These ended up working perfectly. They are reusable and don’t need any sort of item to cut them. Here are a couple pictures of my packages (after getting them back from Utah).

The final step for the shipping was where to ship the packages to. I don’t have any close friends or family in the area, so that wasn’t an option. I called the post office closest to the SLC airport, and asked them about it. They told me about general delivery. With your package addressed for general delivery, it will be held at the post office, and you just have to show up with your ID to pick it up. However, the post office I called stated that I would have to pick it up at the post office downtown, which wasn’t a huge issue. The USPS website says that general delivery packages will be held for 30 days. However, when I called the downtown SLC post office, they said they would only hold it for 10 days. Just something to be aware of if you go this route. (Also keep in mind that you will need to take return labels with you to put on your packages to ship them back home. I printed some out prior to leaving and took them with me in a book so they didn’t get bent up during the trip.)

So now that the shipping was figured out, I could go ahead and book my flights. Southwest seemed to have the cheapest round trip flights, and they got me to Salt Lake City pretty early in the day, so I went with them. I then had to get a method of transportation. I looked at several car rental places at the airport, and the one with the best reviews was Enterprise. I had used Enterprise once before and had a good experience, so I decided to go with them. I had heard, however, that it may be significantly cheaper to rent a car away from the airport, so I started looking at Enterprise locations away from the airport. It turned out that it was about $200 cheaper to rent a car from a downtown location than at the airport. And as an added bonus, the Enterprise location was just a couple blocks from the downtown post office. Round trip Uber between the Airport and the Enterprise location was about $30, so I would still save about $170.

The Cost

Here is roughly how much it cost me to do the trip this way:

Shipping Packages: $220
Airfare: $340
Car Rental: $200
Rental Car Gas: $20
Uber: $35
Travel Meals: $40
Hotel: $90
Airport Parking in OKC: $60
Total: ~$1,000

Had I done it driving instead of flying, here is what I estimate the cost would have been:

Gas: 2,306 miles/30 mpg = 77 gallons x $3.00/gal = $231
Hotels: $180
Travel Meals: $70
Total: $481

So quite a bit more expensive to go the flying route as opposed to driving (assuming I’m not forgetting anything). But what about the time component?

The Time

Here is how the time works out flying:

Thursday: Fly from OKC to SLC, get some hiking in
Friday: Hiking
Saturday: Hiking
Sunday: Hiking
Monday: Hiking
Tuesday: Hike out to trailhead, stay in hotel in Park City.
Wednesday: Spend a little time in Park City/SLC, then fly from SLC to OKC

Here is how I figure I could do it driving:

Thursday: Drive 10 hours, stay in hotel.
Friday: Drive 7 hours, arrive at trailhead, get a little bit of hiking in.
Saturday: Hiking
Sunday: Hiking
Monday: Hiking
Tuesday: Hiking
Wednesday: Hike out to trailhead, drive 7 hours, stay in hotel.
Thursday: Drive 10 hours, arrive in OKC.

The driving option ends up being roughly twice the actual travel time compared to the flying option. With the driving option, to get roughly the same amount of hiking time, I would have to miss one extra day of work compared to the flying option. The flying route also gave me a little time to spend in Park City, although not a whole lot of time (an afternoon and morning, although some of that time would be spent getting cleaned up and getting stuff packed up and shipped). Keep in mind, though, that this will depend on how far you have to drive and your flight options.

What I’ll Change Next Time

Having gone through all this, there will probably be a couple things I do differently next time:

  1. If I’m making another trip to Utah, I’ll probably drive next time and save myself a few hundred bucks and the hassle of having to ship all my gear. I’m blessed to get generous PTO at my current job, so using my PTO is less of a worry for me than I’m sure it is for others. I also enjoy road trips and am not a huge fan of flying.
  2. Next time I do fly, I will probably try to use a larger carry on bag, and bring along my sleeping bag in it’s stuff sack. The sleeping bag takes up the majority of one of the storage totes, so I’m pretty sure if I take that in my carry on (and maybe a few other smaller items), I may have to only send one package instead of two.

 

Hopefully this has been useful for you. I know when I first started planning this trip, it was a little daunting trying to figure out all the logistics and the best way to go about it. Each trip will be different, but I hope this at least helps you see different options you have, or gives you some ideas you hadn’t thought about, for your next trip.

Trip Report: Uintas Backpacking Trip

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.

Day 1

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East Fork of the Duchesne River drainage near Packard Lake.

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.

Day 2

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Rock Creek drainage from Rocky Sea Pass.

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).

Day 3

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Gladys Lake

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.

Day 4

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Jean and Dean Lakes in Four Lakes Basin.

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.

Day 5

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Fall colors while driving down the mountain.

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.