Trip Report: Eagle Rock Loop

My Eagle Rock Loop route by day. Keep in mind water crossings will vary by person and based on water levels. There were many other crossings I was able to do without sandals. Topo map from MyTopo and trail based on this Forest Service document.

When I first heard about Eagle Rock Loop a couple years back, I was really excited to give it a try for a weekend backpacking trip. It would be nice to have a backpacking trip that was relatively close. This past weekend I finally got around to giving it a try. I started at the Little Missouri Trailhead on the NW side of the loop (where the Athens Big Fork Trail and Little Missouri Trail meet) and did the loop counter-clockwise. I’ll give an outline of each day below and then some overall thoughts at the bottom, along with some pictures, of course 🙂

Thursday

Camp spot Thursday night just above Little Missouri River.

I left OKC around 1:30 P.M. on Thursday, and got to the trailhead around 6:00 P.M. About the last 9 miles of the road are gravel. It’s in good shape with the exception of a few potholes. I was the only car at the trailhead when I got there. I was going to camp next to the parking lot, but there was a no camping sign posted, so I ate dinner and then got my stuff and crossed the river. Someone already had the established camp spot right across the river, so I started up the hill and found a (non-established) spot a couple minutes up the hill. While I was setting up camp, I noticed a tick crawling on my stuff. I was already nervous about ticks to begin with, so it didn’t help seeing one that quickly. Haha. After I got camp set up I went back down the hill and did some reading next to the river. While I was reading Rebecca came over and we chatted for a little while. Rebecca was the person at the established camp spot. She is from New Orleans and out of a job right now due to Covid-19, so she is doing a bunch of hiking around the area. She was at the end of her first day hiking the loop. After chatting for a bit we went back to our camps. I got ready for bed, finished reading the chapter, and then went to bed.

Friday

View from Eagle Rock Vista.

Friday morning I ate breakfast, got camp packed up, and hit the trail at 8:00 A.M. I took the side trail at the top of the first ridge (Hurricane Knob ridge), which provided a great view. After that it was down into the valley with Straight Creek, and then up to the top of the ridge of McKinley Mountain. Then it was down into the valley with Long Creek. I used my sandals to cross Long Creek. Of all the camp spots I saw along the Athens Big Fork (ABF) trail, the camp spots next to Long Creek were my favorite. After that it was up and over the ridge for the Brier Creek Mountains, and then down to Brier Creek. That was followed by the ridge for Leader Mountain, and then down to Blaylock Creek. I used my sandals to cross Blaylock Creek and then took a break for a few minutes. The crossing for Blaylock creek was a really neat spot. The trek down to Blaylock Creek, and then the trek back out, were the most difficult of all the valleys though. The next ridge was the ridge next to Brush Heap Mountain. I took the side trail that headed toward the top of Brush Heap Mountain. Part way up the trail, I realized I should have left my backpack at the bottom of the trail. I guess I thought the trail would be a little shorter. I turned around before I reached the top, but there were still some great views. I’ll have to go to the top next time I do the loop. After that it was down to East Saline Creek, and then up to Eagle Rock Vista.

I reached Eagle Rock Vista at 1:00 P.M. My plan was to camp at Eagle Rock Vista, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to kill that much time there. It was fairly windy there as well. I thought about continuing down to Viles Branch, but eventually decided to go ahead and camp at Eagle Rock Vista. I was completely worn out by the time I got there. I was really glad that was the last hill for the day. According to data from Charlie Williams’ website, it had been a combined elevation gain of ~2,150 ft. and elevation loss of ~2,000 ft. over seven miles for the day.

There were three camping spots that I saw along Eagle Rock Vista. I grabbed the middle one. I ate some trail mix and then got camp set up. I expected to have a lot of people come through during the afternoon, but actually had very few. I typed up some notes from the day, laid down for a while, and then did some reading. I noticed Rebecca walk by at one point, so a little while later I went and chatted with her for a bit. While we were chatting she mentioned she had cell service. I checked, and sure enough I had it as well. I resisted the urge to check anything since the point of doing the trip was to get away, so I turned my phone back to airplane mode. Haha. After chatting with her for a while I came back to my camp spot and worked on getting some pictures with my good camera.

I had quite a few people come through during the late afternoon and evening. Both of the other camp spots got occupied. I was hoping the wind would die down once the sun went down, but it stayed windy most of the night. I knew it would be a tough day, and it definitely was. I would put it right up there with the harder days I have had on trips in the “big mountains” (aka Rockies). It was fun seeing the different ridges and valleys, and Eagle Rock Vista was a nice reward at the end.

Saturday

I have to admit that I did take advantage of the cell service on Saturday morning before I left Eagle Rock Vista to check the weather and make sure there still was no rain in the forecast. Thankfully that was still the case. I hit the trail at 7:40 and headed down to Viles Branch. I ran into Rebecca one last time at her camp spot shortly after getting on Viles Branch. We chatted for a minute and then I continued on. There were a bunch of stream crossings along Viles Branch, but thankfully I was able to cross all of them without having to change into my sandals. I really liked the hike along Viles Branch. That was my favorite stretch of the loop.

Shortly before reaching the Little Missouri River I caught up Nick, another person backpacking the loop. We chatted as we hiked along the trail. He was also from Louisiana, and had hiked the loop several years back. We got to the river around 9:45, and that was a definite sandal crossing. As I was going to tie my boots onto my backpack, I noticed that Nick had clipped them onto his backpack with caribeners. I had some spare caribeners, and had one of those “why didn’t I think of that” moments. So thank you to Nick for helping me out with that. It was definitely handy the rest of the trip. Once we got across the river I knew we were supposed to start going upstream, but Nick started walking downstream. Since he had done the trail before I figured he knew where he was going, but after a minute I asked him if we should be going upstream. Then he mentioned he was going fishing, so I turned around and went to find the trail. While going back to the trail, I managed to get a stick between my trekking poles and my legs, which ended up tripping me and I fell. Thankfully I didn’t hurt anything. I’m sure I made a great first impression with Nick though. Haha. I took a break for a few minutes before hitting the trail again.

After that I was on the struggle bus for a while. I knew I was supposed to cross the river again, and got to a point where I couldn’t see an obvious spot where the trail kept going straight, and it looked like a good spot to cross the river, so I crossed the river. I found out pretty quick that was not the right choice, so I had to go back and cross back over. Once I kept going straight I found where the trail was. Had I actually put myself in the right spot on the map, I would have known that was the wrong spot, but I didn’t have myself in the right spot, so that was mostly my fault. Shortly after that I went through the Winding Stairs area and crossed the river at the appropriate spot. The Winding Stairs area was a little anti-climcatic for me, so that had me confused as well. The stress/frustration about trying to follow the trail probably didn’t help. There were a ton of people there, which made me think I was closer to Albert Pike than I was, which also got me really confused. I found out after I got home there is a parking lot fairly close to Winding Stairs, thus why there were so many people. But that got me really confused as I was hiking through there. A while after that I came to a stream crossing that had blue markings and double diagonal white markings. The trail markings up to that point had been a single white rectangle. That got me really confused. After I crossed the stream there was a sign for a parking lot. Once again, I had no idea about the parking lot near Winding Stairs, so that again made me think I was close to Albert Pike, but a sign said it was still 2 miles to Albert Pike. So between the first river crossing and Albert Pike, I was all sorts of confused. Once I actually got close to Albert Pike and was next to the road, I finally realized where I was on the map. I got to Albert Pike at 1:00 P.M., and it was time for a much needed break and a reset. I was already fairly worn out, but knew I wanted to get farther down the trail that day.

I took about a 30 minute break at Albert Pike, during which I let my feet sit in the river for a few minutes, ate some trail mix, drank some water, and looked at the upcoming trail on the map. Then it was back to the trail again. There were a couple creek crossings shortly after that where I had to put on my sandals to cross. At the next river crossing I met Rainey and Gary from Dallas. I spent a few minutes there chatting with them. They had been on the trail the whole week and were on their way out. Gary recommended I check out the Ozark Highland Trail, so I’ll have to check that out at some point. Just before I left they pulled a couple packets of applesauce out of the river, which I thought was a pretty genius idea. I’ll have to keep that in mind for future trips. I was a little nervous to cross the river with them watching after what happened earlier with Nick, but I made it across fine. Haha.

While I was talking with Gary and Rainey, they mentioned they would likely camp near the double crossing down the trail. I had no idea what they were talking about, but it ended up being the next crossing. It was a creek crossing followed by crossing the river. I didn’t realize it was the double crossing though, so I put my boots back on after crossing the creek, and then headed down a social trail that went who knows where. After a short walk, I figured it wasn’t the correct trail, and then went back and realized I was supposed to cross the river at that spot, so I had to put my sandals right back on. I made it across there and kept on hiking. I found a decent camp spot shortly after 5:00 P.M. and decided to call it a day. I was really worn out again. I got camp set up and then took a dip in the river to rinse off. I’m usually not one to hop in a river, lake, etc. since I’m really not a fan of cold water, but I knew it was going to be a warm evening/night, and I felt gross, so I wanted to get cleaned off. It was definitely cold, but I felt a whole lot better once I got dried off and warmed back up.

After that I went and talked to Nick and Nicole. They were camped in a spot just up the hill from me, and had got there right after I arrived. They had driven up all the way from Houston. They hadn’t planned on doing the whole loop, but someone talked them into it after they started hiking. They didn’t bring any sandals with them, so they had done all the river/creek crossings barefoot. These are not nice, soft dirt bottom river crossings. These are rocky, slick, really hurt your feet river crossings. I’m sure I would have called it quits after the first couple crossings, but they had powered through, so kudos to them. I chatted with them for a few minutes then went and ate dinner. After dinner I got my good camera out to try and get some pictures since I hadn’t had it out since Eagle Rock Vista that morning. After that I read and then went to bed.

I knew Saturday night was going to be warm, so when I set up camp I unzipped my sleeping bag and had it available to use as a blanket, and slept straight on my sleeping pad. It actually worked out really well. I should have done that the prior night. Made me glad I got a sleeping bag that can unzip all the way.

All the river/creek crossings throughout the day that required sandals were a huge pain. I would estimate it easily added an hour to the hike. I will admit that the cold water always felt good on the feet though. Haha. It ended up being a 15 mile day, which I’m pretty sure is the longest I have ever hiked in a day. The only other day I can think of that comes close is a day in Utah that I believe was in the 13-14 mile range.

Sunday

Little Missouri Falls

I hit the trail at 7:45 Sunday morning. About a 1/4 mile or so up the trail I reached Little Missouri Falls. I figured I was close, but I didn’t realize I was that close. That was definitely one of my favorite spots along the loop. Farther down the trail I saw some sort of large cat looking animal run off. If I had to take a guess I would say it was a bobcat, but I didn’t get a great look at it. It didn’t appear to be a mountain lion. I passed three different pairs of people between the falls and the trailhead, two of which I knew I had seen previously on the trail. One pair had camped up at Eagle Rock Vista the same night I did, and the other pair I had passed in Viles Branch. It was fun to see them again. I got lucky and met one of the pairs at what appeared to be a spot where I had to cross the river, but they let me know I could stay on the side I was on. Sure enough, I hiked about 20-30 yards and ran into the trail again. It looked like flooding had washed the trail out at some point. Huge thanks to them for the tip. I got to the trailhead at 9:40 A.M., which was the only place I had to use sandals for a stream crossing that day. I cleaned myself off a bit, changed into some clean clothes, ate a Clif bar, got gear loaded into the car, and then hit the road. I got into Mena, AR just after 11, so I stopped at Wendy’s and got a BBQ cheeseburger for lunch. That and the sweet tea tasted wonderful. Haha. After that it was back to OKC.

Overall Thoughts

For not being a “big mountain” hike, I was actually quite impressed. You don’t get the grand views of the granite peaks, cirques, and alpine lakes, but it is a different kind of beauty. There are some pretty cool views from the ridges along the ABF, but other than that you are in pretty dense forest most of the time. The creeks and Little Missouri River have some really pretty spots. It was also really cool to cross the “little” Little Missouri River and the “big” Little Missouri River, and see it change from big to little along the hike. And for not being a “big mountain” hike, I was actually quite surprised with how difficult it was. If you don’t do ABF, it really wouldn’t be too bad, but the ABF adds a lot of difficulty to it.

If you do this hike when the weather is nice hiking weather, don’t expect to get away from people, although if you do it during the workweek the crowds would likely be smaller. Outside of the Winding Stairs and Albert Pike areas, the traffic really wasn’t too bad though.

Speaking of weather, be sure to be aware of what the weather has done recently, and what the forecast is. Heavy rains can cause the creeks and river to rise very quickly, and make crossings dangerous or impossible. Back in 2010 a flash flood of the Little Missouri River in the Albert Pike area killed 20 people. Charlie Williams has some good advice in the “Water Crossings” section on his page.

The trail is fairly easy to follow most of the time. There are definitely some confusing spots at stream/river crossings and where there are a bunch of social trails though. I never felt like I was completely lost, but I was definitely frustrated at times that it wasn’t marked better in spots. Be ready to go around, over, or under trees. There were lots of downed trees across the trail. Some appeared recent, but most of them looked like they had been there a while. Trekking poles were a tremendous help for the stream crossings. I probably would have used sandals at several more crossings if I didn’t have my trekking poles to help with balance while crossing on rocks, so I would highly recommend those. Also, bring sandals or some sort of shoes for water crossings. I wouldn’t recommend doing the whole trail in sandals, and I doubt many people will want to hike in wet boots. I talked to several people who saw at least one snake. Thankfully I never saw any. I never found any ticks on me, much to my surprise. I didn’t wear sunscreen at all. Between having pants, a long sleeve, a hat, and the trail being in the shade most of the time, I didn’t need it. That would probably be a different story if I did the hike in winter when the trees didn’t have leaves. I’m not going to be surprised if I start breaking out in a rash from poison ivy, oak, etc. I think I may already be starting to get a rash in a couple spots. Big question is probably how bad is it going to be. Haha.

There were definitely lessons learned on this trip that will hopefully make any future trips much smoother. I’m not sure if I would do it the same way next time or not. With all the different trailheads, there are many, many different ways to do the loop. I may try starting at Little Missouri Falls next time, go clockwise, camp in Viles Branch the first night and camp at Long Creek on ABF the second night. That would split up the ridges over a couple days, and spread the mileage out a little more evenly. Not really sure there is a best way to do it. The vast majority of people I talked to started at Albert Pike. With all the different trailheads, you can easily split the loop up into different day hikes if you’re not a fan of backpacking.

Finally, I hope I got everybody’s names correct. If not, I’m sorry. I tried to jot them down in my notes as soon as I could. Haha. Thank you to those who chatted with me for a bit and kept me company on the trail, even if it was just for a few minutes. I always enjoy getting to know fellow backpackers along the trail, especially when I’m hiking by myself. If you have any questions about the hike, don’t hesitate to reach out. I’ll do my best to try and answer. Also, just do a google search for “Eagle Rock Loop Arkansas” and you’ll be able to find plenty of other great write ups on the loop. I have placed some links to other write ups below.

I will likely get pictures posted from my good camera early next week. I’ll post on my Facebook page when they are up.

Forest Service Info

Ouachitamaps.com (Charlie Williams)

The Outbound Collective

Fayetteville Flyer

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.

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

Blog Map 1
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. 

 

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.