Creating new thru-hiking routes & guides, hiking videos, outdoor documentaries, backpacking trip reports, trail journals, photos and more!

Posts tagged “peak bagging

Mojave-Sonoran Trail Thru Hike 2021 – Section 9: Quartzsite to Kofa

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

Mojave-Sonoran Trail Thru Hike 2021 – Section 9: Quartzsite to Kofa

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

Cowboy camping in a small cave at the edge of the cliffs along the Kofa Mountains ridgeline

Mojave-Sonoran Trail Section 9 Map

mojave sonoran trail thru hike map of section 9

Mojave Sonoran Trail Thru-Hike Section 9 – Quartzsite to kofa, 40 Miles

The above map only represents represents section 9 of 9 on the MST. For a more detailed map and general route info, see the Mojave-Sonoran Trail Guide page.

Mojave-Sonoran Trail Section 9 Journal

Day 40 – December 12th

Miles: 10.9 (half day)
Animals Seen: 4 bighorn sheep

I had a ride scheduled back out to the highway where I left off for 8:30 this morning. I packed up my stuff, stuffed my face with as much food as I could, and hydrated with two liters of water. Got down to the hotel lobby and my ride didn’t show up until 10:30, so that’s a good chunk of time missing from my day. Still, I figured this is better than hitching since I would have to get a ride down the interstate which is very hard.

The shuttle driver dropped me off along the off-ramp exit from Interstate 10 to highway 60. It’s nothing but desert along the road here. “Right here will do”, I said.
Of course, this is very strange to most people, and I love the reactions I get. I got out and started walking south into the desert. My pack was heavy, with 6L of water and 7 days of food. Probably more than seven days of food actually, I went a little overboard on this one.

hiking ranegras plain to black mesa new water mountains arizona desert

I’m heading for that mesa, called Black Mesa

My original plan was to follow the highway West a bit and then cut south along a dirt road on the map. However, that would easily add two or three miles to the hike. It’s hard to know ahead of time what things will look like and what the terrain will be, but once I was here and got my eyes on it, I decided a cross country Trek directly towards my destination would do just fine. So that’s just what I did; set a course for Black Mesa and go.

hiking ranegras plain to black mesa plamosa mountains arizona desert

hiking ranegras plain to black mesa plamosa mountains arizona desert

hiking ranegras plain to black mesa plamosa mountains arizona desert

It was cross-country hiking at first, until I met up with a wash. There were tire tracks here, and leading the direction I want to go, so I followed. A few miles up, I saw a sign marking the 4×4 roads. Interesting, because these roads were not on my map. And really, one shouldn’t use the word “road”. It’s just a wash with lots of gravel. It’s pretty open and clear, but sometimes the loose gravel is tougher to walk then it would be to not walk on the “road”.

My original plan was to follow the highway West a bit and then cut south along a dirt road on the map. However, that would easily add two or three miles to the hike. It's hard to know ahead of time what things will look like and what the terrain will be, but once I was here and got my eyes on it, I decided a cross country Trek directly towards my destination would do just fine. So that's just what I did; set a course for black mesa and go.

Black Mesa

My original plan was to follow the highway West a bit and then cut south along a dirt road on the map. However, that would easily add two or three miles to the hike. It's hard to know ahead of time what things will look like and what the terrain will be, but once I was here and got my eyes on it, I decided a cross country Trek directly towards my destination would do just fine. So that's just what I did; set a course for black mesa and go.

A nice wash to walk

My original plan was to follow the highway West a bit and then cut south along a dirt road on the map. However, that would easily add two or three miles to the hike. It's hard to know ahead of time what things will look like and what the terrain will be, but once I was here and got my eyes on it, I decided a cross country Trek directly towards my destination would do just fine. So that's just what I did; set a course for black mesa and go.

Climbing obstacles in the wash

The scenery was pretty nice leading up to Black Mesa. Despite the loose gravel, it was pretty easy walking and I couldn’t complain. The wash eventually narrowed, became thicker with vegetation, and presented a few pour offs to climb. Easy though, no biggie.

hiking ranegras plain to black mesa plamosa mountains arizona desert

The canyon I came up

hiking ranegras plain to black mesa plamosa mountains arizona desert

Rocks. Lots of them.

hiking ranegras plain to black mesa plamosa mountains arizona desert

The route up Black Mesa

I reached a point where it was no longer worth staying low in the wash, it was too difficult. I climbed up to the Ridge above and continued to make progress that way. Out of the wash and on top of the ridge now, I followed it uphill some more before I had to drop down into another wash on the other side. Black mesa was getting closer, and the views were nice. There were lots of basketball sized rocks to step over with tons of cactus in between. An obstacle course.

hiking ranegras plain to black mesa plamosa mountains arizona desert

As I entered the new water mountains wilderness, I joined an old dirt road leading up to black masa mine. My notes list a bunch of interesting minerals here, and it’s time for a lunch break. I brought way too much food for this section, including some leftover town food such as pizza and chicken strips. Great lunch, and I poked around through the tailings while I ate.

hiking ranegras plain to black mesa plamosa mountains arizona desert

Black Mesa Mine. Some cool minerals here

After lunch, I explored a couple of the mining tunnels into the mountain. There were several openings, and most of them link up underground. There were a couple of different tunnels to explore. I found one interesting specimen that I kept, hoping to identify it later. It featured metallic red and yellow colors that I have not seen before. Pretty cool.

hiking ranegras plain to black mesa plamosa mountains arizona desert

hiking ranegras plain to black mesa plamosa mountains arizona desert

After leaving the mine behind, I continued uphill past the point where the road ends. This climb was easy in the sense that it wasn’t too steep, but tough because of the thick brush among large boulders, in addition to my heavy pack.

hiking ranegras plain to black mesa plamosa mountains arizona desert

On top of Black Mesa

hiking ranegras plain to black mesa plamosa mountains arizona desert

View from the summit of Black Mesa

hiking ranegras plain to black mesa plamosa mountains arizona desert

Black Mesa summit panorama

hiking ranegras plain to black mesa plamosa mountains arizona desert

View east along the mesa

I reached the top of the Mesa, and the view was pretty much non-existent at first. A slight uphill grade hides the horizon, and the terrain is still choked with vegetation and boulders. I need to climb the high point to see what I’m working with here. Another 50 feet of elevation gain and I’m there. I was surprised to see a large rock cairn at the top, and there was even a summit register in a glass jar. There are almost no signs of use leading up here, no path or cairns along the way. The register had two entries from 2021, and nothing prior.

hiking black mesa plamosa mountains arizona desert

I could see the Kofa Wilderness to the south, and the new water mountains to the northeast, where I’m headed next. But first, I head east across the Mesa towards its twin. It looks like part of the same Mesa from here, but a canyon separates the two.

hiking black mesa plamosa mountains arizona desert

Black Mesa is actually two conjoined mesas separated by this canyon

I was hoping the Mesa would be more clear and open, easier to walk, but it really wasn’t what I’d hoped for. When I did reach the canyon, my first thought was how much deeper and steeper it looked then the map implies. I need to find a way down this thing.

hiking black mesa plamosa mountains arizona desert

Canyon between the Black Mesas

hiking black mesa plamosa mountains arizona desert

hiking black mesa plamosa mountains arizona desert

A treacherous hike down Black Mesa

I worked my way around the edge of the mesa until I found a weakness. I followed this down into a side canyon that I would take down to the main canyon separating the two mesas. However, it’s steep and the rock is loose. I fell a couple of times, despite moving slowly and being aware of the dangers.

hiking black mesa plamosa mountains arizona desert

hiking black mesa plamosa mountains arizona desert

After a tedious and treacherous decent, I reached the bottom. My original plan was to go back up and walk the other Mesa as well. This too would involve some treacherous hiking to descend the other side, judging by the maps. With less than two hours of daylight left, I chose to skip the second Mesa. This too had its challenges. I briefly walked the canyon uphill, which forms a saddle at the top. Descending this also looks like quite a chore.

hiking black mesa plamosa mountains arizona desert

Coming down this steep slope of Black mesa

I started Contouring around the hillside more than simply descending. I fell again, this time I felt lucky to have not tumbled and hurt myself. Loose rock gave way and I Tumbled backwards, falling on my ass. My hand struck a cactus, but Thankfully not a cholla. Whew. Getting tired of these falls, though. There weren’t many other places along the route that compare.

hiking black mesa plamosa mountains arizona desert

Route down from Black Mesa

hiking black mesa plamosa mountains arizona desert

Looking back at the route I came down

It was slow going on the descent here. Time is ticking away and I’m still quite far from the bottom. I found some interesting quartz veins on the way down as well which further distracted me. There were a couple of small crystals, well-formed and excellent clarity. Didn’t have time to find anything worth keeping though, at least not without any tools to utilize here. I saw another 3 big horn sheep as well.

Like most nights, I found a suitable camp with only a few minutes to spare before dusk. I was glad to be off the slopes of the mesa and ready to ditch my heavy pack for the night.

Day 41 – December 13th

Miles: 14.6
Animals Seen: Bighorn sheep

hiking black mesa plamosa mountains arizona desert

Ranegras Plain campsite below Black Mesa

The wind started picking up as the sun rose. This made packing up camp a bit of a chore. It also made it feel Cold, even though the coldest overnight lows are still to come in the next few days.

hiking black mesa plamosa mountains arizona desert

This morning’s walk picked up where last night’s challenges left off. It’s off trail, the terrain is Rocky, and the vegetation is often thick. It’s a pain in the ass.

It wasn’t long before I reached a dirt road. What a relief. I could cover some ground now, and do so without tripping every other step, sliding on loose rocks, and dodging cacti. No matter how you slice it, the next several miles will be less interesting as I move between black mesa and the new water mountains, so I might as well do it efficiently.

hiking black mesa plamosa mountains arizona desert

hiking black mesa plamosa mountains arizona desert

Ramsey mine

I reached the Ramsey mine, where the map marks a water tank. However, there was no water here. There was one spot it looked like it could have held water at one time, an Earthen berm with the remnants of some sort of black liner. This would have been many years ago though, nothing recent.

hiking black mesa plamosa mountains arizona desert

Ramsey mine

hiking black mesa plamosa mountains arizona desert

hiking black mesa plamosa mountains arizona desert

Black Mesa

The mine itself featured a couple of vertical shafts and a wooden structure. I poked around the tailings for a bit, but didn’t find anything that caught my eye.

hiking ranegras plain to new water mountains arizona desert

hiking ranegras plain to new water mountains arizona desert

hiking ranegras plain to new water mountains arizona desert

Leaving the mine, I followed a road that heads towards the New Water Mountains. This was an open desert walk through the foothills of the Plamosa and New Water Mountains. Somewhere along this section is the transition between the two mountain ranges.

hiking ranegras plain to new water mountains arizona desert

hiking ranegras plain to new water mountains arizona desert

Twin Peaks

hiking ranegras plain to new water mountains arizona desert

As I approached, mountains grew taller and their character began to show. Some impressive formations, both near and distant. Twin peaks is the closest, and it dominates the view here. My route wraps around Twin Peaks, and it’s a great view from every angle.

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking

Guzzler near Twin Peaks

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking

The permanent trough

Just below twin peaks, I encountered a guzzler. This one was actually a combination of a permanent guzzler and a more temporary one. I’m guessing that the permanent guzzler has been running dry, and so the second temporary guzzler was added to ensure the animals don’t go thirsty. Either way, there was good water in both drinkers (troughs). Better water in the permanent one, actually. Crystal clear, despite some green algae on the bottom.

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking

In addition to the permanent trough, there was also this portable guzzler. Dual drinkers, this one is filly-loaded

No less than 6 game cameras were set up here at the guzzler. Surely one was left by the BLM or whoever administers this land and looks after the guzzlers, but the others can be attributed to unsportsmanlike Hunters. Might as well just go “hunt” at the zoo. Anyhow, they got me on camera filling my water. I chugged a litter, and filtered 4. This gives me 6L for the rest of today and tomorrow. There’s a chance I might get water tomorrow evening, but it doesn’t look very promising. So it’ll probably be two full days before next water. In retrospect, I probably should have taken 8L, but I’ve done this several times on this route now and I know I’ll be just fine.

 

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking

A nice walk down this canyon

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking

Entering the New Water Mountains

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking

Uh-oh. These clouds (altocumulus, I believe) are a sign of bad weather coming… perhaps a day off…

Leaving the guzzler, I found the canyons I hiked through to be very pleasant. I followed the dirt road four ways until it led me to the boundary for the new water mountains wilderness.

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking

Hiking the New Water Mountains Wilderness now

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking

Now I walked a wash through an increasingly narrow canyon. I reached a side Canyon that looked choked with vegetation… Yep, that’s the one I’m looking for. This one will take me to my next destination, a summit called “the eagles eye”.

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking

A game camera was set up here, with a label stating it’s for monitoring mountain lion activity

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking

Water in this hidden slot canyon

The walking from here on out was pretty slow. The canyons were often narrow, there were small pour offs to climb, more thick vegetation. It wasn’t long before I reached a side canyon that caught my eye. It was very narrow, a slot. As I approached, I could see a game camera setup here. Entering the slot, there was water! I haven’t seen anything like this on my route yet. The water was a foot deep where I could see, maybe two feet deep farther back. There was plenty of water here and it looked to be fairly good quality. Very cool. As I exited small slot canyon, I had to look at one of the cameras set up here and one was marked as “mountain lion detection project”. This is big cat county, after all.

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking

After exiting the canyon that had water, I was still walking a narrow canyon seeing where that led me. The wash let me to a spot where I could climb up a little hill and enter a new Canyon.

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking

This area has a lot of dry potholes. In wetter times, water would be more abundant here.

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking

Eagle’s Eye

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking

As I worked my way up into the Basin below the eagle’s eye, I saw a few cairns. However, these would be the last I’d see. The route up was very cryptic. There are many small Canyons, ridges and washes to choose from, and so the route up was not obvious at all. A bit of trial and error mixed with instincts.

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking to eagles eye summit

Approaching the crest of the New Water Mountains

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking to eagles eye summit

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking to eagles eye summit

Just below Eagle’s Eye

The Eagles eye is a large arch along the crest of the mountains. The arch becomes visible as you work your way up into the basin below. I took a route that led me directly below the arch. There was a lot of loose rock here and a little bit of class 2/3 scrambling, but easy enough.

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking to eagles eye summit

Going over the crest of the New Water Mountains

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking to eagles eye summit

View southeast along the New Water Mountain crest

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking to eagles eye summit

View north/west across Ranegras Plain to Plamosa Mountains

I reached the top of the ridge and walked over the crest of the New Water Mountains, now looking North to interstate 10. I startled a big horn sheep, which promptly ran away. I walked along a Rockwall that led me to the eagle’s eye, a hole in the Rockwall about 15′ in diameter. Eagle’s Eye was much Cooler than I thought it would be. Farther down the ridge line was a large volcanic plume, which served as a great background prop for the arch.

 

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking to eagles eye summit

Eagle’s Eye, New Water Mountains

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking to eagles eye summit

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking to eagles eye summit

View east from the north side

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking to eagles eye summit

Check this place out!

Not surprisingly, there’s is a summit register here as well. This peak gets some traffic, also not surprising being that it’s a pretty unique one.

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking to eagles eye summit

Looking back at Eagle’s Eye

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking to eagles eye summit

The route ahead

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking to eagles eye summit

I descended the summit and took a different route this time. Like the route up, the route down involved some trial and error as well. The descent went quicker though than the Ascent.

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking

Once I had dropped back down to the main lower wash, it was time to go up and over a small pass that would take me to the next Canyon over to the north. This pass was pretty straightforward and Simple.

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona campsite with tarptent notch li

Camp in the New Water Mountains Wilderness

I descended the pass and found myself in the wash below. The next segment of my route goes back up to the ridge line, but it’s after 4:30 now So I’ll have to find a spot to camp somewhere down here and tackle that in the morning. It took a bit of searching to find a place to set up my tent, but found a spot around 5pm. This is one of the earliest campsites this whole route. Seems like every night I’m pushing it right up to darkness.

Day 42 – December 14th

Miles: 10.4
Animals Seen: 1 bighorn sheep, 3 Jack rabbits

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking

It was a very calm and still night. Since I got to camp a little early last evening, I was able to finish my evening routine earlier, and went to sleep earlier. 12 full hours of sleep was enough. Only one week now to the winter solstice, shortest day of the year in terms of sunlight.

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking hidden benchmark summit

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking hidden benchmark summit

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking hidden benchmark summit

Today began with the climb uphill. It wasn’t bad though, not overly steep or loose, and quite scenic the whole way. The sky was mostly clear when I woke up, with the exception of clouds building over the Kofa Ridgeline. The clouds continued to build as I Climbed, but this only enhanced the views, adding some extra flair to the scene.

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking hidden benchmark summit

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking hidden benchmark summit

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking hidden benchmark summit

The higher I Climbed, the better the views. I was really digging my surroundings this morning in the New Water Mountains. I was really looking forward to the view from the crest once again.

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking hidden benchmark summit

Outstanding desert landscapes of the New Water Mountains

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking hidden benchmark summit

Just below the summit of Hidden Benchmark

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking hidden benchmark summit

Crest of the New Water Mountains, view east

I’m climbing up to a peak called hidden benchmark. It’s aptly named, since the summit is hidden until the last moment. It took twice as long to climb up as it should, because I kept turning around to admire the landscape, take photos, and film from a slightly different angle, each better than the last. I dodged cholla the whole way up, which seems like second nature now.

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking hidden benchmark summit

Panorama view from Hidden Benchmark Summit, 2,806′, New Water Mountains

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking hidden benchmark summit

The ridgeline to Eagle’s Eye. It MIGHT be possible to connect them…

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking hidden benchmark summit

Kofa Mountains to the south, where I’m headed nexthiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking hidden benchmark summit

 

The summit of hidden benchmark was grand. Each direction had something to offer; the massive Renegras Plain to the north, the rugged Ridgeline of the New Water mountains to the west, Kofa Mountains and black mesa to the south, and the stunning peaks and ridges of the New Water Range to the east. I stopped here for a good while to soak it all in. There was a summit register here, placed all the way back in 1987! There were only seven or eight entries Since then. This benchmark truly is “hidden”.

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking hidden benchmark summit

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking hidden benchmark summit

The summit of hidden benchmark was also choked with cholla. I tiptoed my way through a Minefield of these monsters as I descended the summit and made my way east along the ridge line. The north face of the ridge was a sheer drop-off, and despite the horrendous field of Cactus, was an enjoyable walk. I spooked a big horn sheep along the way. I’ve been seeing them lately, Although not in the same numbers as the Lake Mead area in the beginning of my hike.

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking hidden benchmark summit

This view over the Ranegras Plain is just so massive. It’s hard not to stop here for a moment and just realize how small you are

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking hidden benchmark summit

Looking back towards Hidden Benchmark

This was one moment where I really stopped to reflect on this hike as a whole. I’m just a few days from the end now. From here, looking north over the massive Ranegras Plain, I can see much of the route I traversed over the past couple hundred miles. There is now a story to accompany the view. The landscape has meaning to it now, stories attached to it, and a personal connection to it. What a journey it’s been it get here.

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking hidden benchmark summit

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking hidden benchmark summit

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking hidden benchmark summit

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking hidden benchmark summit

The Crest of the New Water Range gets tougher as I hike east…

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking hidden benchmark summit

I followed the ridge around a couple of saddles, and continued on until it became more effort than it was worth. Then I dropped down from the ridge line and made my way into the Canyon below. The descent was easy, a nice change of pace. Soon I met up with the wash below.

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking

Prominent landmarks abound

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking

hiking the new water mountains wilderness arizona backpacking

Walking the wash now, I was also surprised to find it so easy going. While stopped for lunch, I found a tick on my leg, crawling, not digging. Only the second of the trip, the first being in the Plamosa Mountains during the last section. Surprising to see any on this hike, considering it’s the desert, and the weather pattern has been so dry.

hiking arizona desert inbetween new water mountains and kofa mountains

hiking arizona desert inbetween new water mountains and kofa mountains

New Water Mountains

I was covering good ground now. I follow this out of the canyon and into the open desert. Here, I left the new water mountains wilderness and entered the Kofa national wildlife refuge. Managed by the fish and wildlife service, this 665,000 acre plot of land contains the Kofa Wilderness, which is 550,000 acres. That makes it the second largest and Arizona. It’s a massive landscape.

hiking arizona desert inbetween new water mountains and kofa mountains

After a few miles in the wash, it was time to set a course cross county towards my next destination; a well, and a cabin. I picked a distant landmark, in this case a power line transmission tower, and headed for that. A 4×4 road parallels this as well.

hiking arizona desert inbetween new water mountains and kofa mountains

See the windmill blades?

hiking arizona desert inbetween new water mountains and kofa mountains

hiking arizona desert inbetween new water mountains and kofa mountains

No wonder I didn’t see any water from satellite…

hiking arizona desert inbetween new water mountains and kofa mountains

Yum!

I passed the power lines and the dirt road, and from there it was a short walk to the well that is marked on the map. When I got closer, I could see a windmill, it’s blades moving rapidly. Clearly this one is functional. As I approached, I could see the windmill working as it should, pumping water into a large tank. From there, and underground pipe Sends water over to a trough. The trough was covered with an awning, which is why I didn’t see any water here from satellite when I did my research. The trough was also full to the brim. The water looked pretty green, but upon dipping my bottle into it, It was a little bit more clear than I was expecting. Still, pretty green.

I had three liters of water on me at this point. I filled my two-liter platypus bag with water, but didn’t filter it now. The Kofa cabin is only a half mile away, So I took the dirty water with me and headed for that.

hiking arizona desert inbetween new water mountains and kofa mountains

Kofa Cabin

hiking arizona desert inbetween new water mountains and kofa mountains

As I approached the cabin, I could see it was a pretty solid structure. I had been told that it was, but I was expecting a wooden structure cobbled together with pieces of scrap metal, or something of the like. Instead, it was a stone structure. There was a plaque out front that said it had been built in the 30s by the CCC.

camping at ofa cabin in the kofa national wildlife refuge arizona

A wood burning stove!!

I opened the door and was surprised how nice it was inside. The floor and walls are all concrete, there are no holes in the walls or ceiling, and it looked solid all around. There were two wooden beds to set an air mattress and sleeping bag on, a wooden table with chair, a shelf full of random knickknacks and things left behind by previous visitors, and even a wood burning stove. Hell yeah, this will do!

camping at ofa cabin in the kofa national wildlife refuge arizona

This place is solid!

It was only 3pm now, but this evening it’s supposed to rain. Not only that, but the winds are forecasted to be 25 miles an hour, gusts 40+. This would not be a fun night to be in a tent out in the open desert. I can’t sleep at all when the tent is whipping in the Wind. Additionally, when dirt and dust is flying around in high winds, it wreaks havoc on my tent zippers. I would gladly forgo a few extra miles of progress today to avoid the hassle of spending the night out in this storm. For once, a nice solid cabin to spend the night in, when it’s truly convenient.

 

camping at ofa cabin in the kofa national wildlife refuge arizona

Fully stocked with, uh, stuff

First things first, I made my bed and unpacked my bag. Then I made inventory of what was on the shelf. There was quite an array of items here. There were several beverages; 3 16.9 ounce flavored propel water bottles, one bottle of water, a Capri Sun, iced tea, two cans of beer and one spiked sparkling water. All of these were unopened, and were looking pretty good to me right about now. A couple of granola bars, some canned food, etc. Lamp oil, but no lamp. Some less than interesting rocks, some books and magazines, first aid kit, etc. There was a guest log as well, with several recent entries including three people who stayed here only the night before.
I think the weirdest thing here was two pool cues. The rest of this stuff at least made sense.

 

I ate lunch, and wandered around the property for a bit. It was nice to just hang out for a little while and not be pressured to cover miles. Then, I heard a vehicle approaching. From afar, It looked like a modern and high-tech version of the Ghostbusters vehicle. Instead, it was a tricked out Toyota 4Runner, built into a camper. “Sweet rig!” I said to the guy as he approached.

The occupants, Ben and Asuki (spelling?), were from Denver and on a road trip. This was their first time in the region, and they were doing some exploring. He was pretty excited about seeing saguaro cacti for the first time, as I was years ago on my first Arizona trip. We chatted for a good half hour before they moved on.

camping at kofa cabin in the kofa national wildlife refuge arizona

camping at kofa cabin in the kofa national wildlife refuge arizona

Home for the evening

The rest of the evening was uneventful. I watched the sunset from my front porch while drinking an adult beverage. The winds really picked up as night fell, absolutely howling. I can only imagine how stressful tonight would have been in my tent. There was a small amount of wood next to the stove, So I threw that in and warmed up the place before going to bed. Man, what a luxury.

Day 43 – December 15th

Miles: 19.8
No Animals Seen

The wind was absolutely howling last night. I never heard it rain, but apparently it did. I was extremely thankful for this cabin; it was so nice waking up with a roof over my head.

hiking kofa national lifelife refuge desert backpacking

Today’s walk…

hiking kofa national lifelife refuge desert backpacking

hiking kofa national lifelife refuge desert backpacking

This skies were clear and the air was crisp, to say the least. I was bundled up as I began my walk this morning. The new water mountains generally run east and west, and to the south, there are two more east-west running ranges within the Kofa Wilderness. Each one of these ranges is separated by a valley of about 25 miles. Today, I will walk that first valley, between the new water mountains and the range at the heart of the Kofa Wilderness. In the valley are some low hills, mostly uninteresting. Therefore, I have chosen to stay on a dirt road most of the way.

hiking kofa national lifelife refuge desert backpacking

Small amount of water at Wilkinson Seep

hiking kofa national lifelife refuge desert backpacking

Wilkinson Seep

I passed Wilkinson seep, which was the next water source south of the well near Kofa cabin. There were a few liters of water here, and it looked like decent quality. With 2.5L of water on my back already, I skipped this one.

hiking kofa national lifelife refuge desert backpacking

hiking kofa national lifelife refuge desert backpacking

hiking kofa national lifelife refuge desert backpacking

The hillsides became thicker with grasses, albeit dry grasses, as I walked south. This was a bit different landscape than I had seen along much of my route.

hiking kofa national lifelife refuge desert backpacking

hiking kofa national lifelife refuge desert backpacking

hiking kofa national lifelife refuge desert backpacking

Water at Mid Well

Today was remarkably uneventful. Practically nothing happened. I covered some good ground quickly, and made it to Mid Well shortly after 2pm. Here, a windmill pumps water into a tank, which is then piped into a trough. Just like the windmill near the Kofa cabin yesterday. The water here was even better. The trough was filled to the brim with clear water, despite a lot of algae growth and shine little swimmers. I filled up with 5.5L here.

camping at wilkenson cabin kofa national wildlife refuge arizona

Wilkinson Cabin. This one is much rougher than Kofa Cabin

camping at wilkenson cabin kofa national wildlife refuge arizona

About a half mile away I encountered the Wilbanks Cabin. This one is a wooden structure, and I could immediately tell it was nowhere near as solid as last night’s cabin. The front door was wide open, and upon entering, I could see light shining through many of the boards in the walls. Some of the windows were missing glass, with only screen remaining. Some of the screen was pulled down, leaving large gaps for anything to enter. And worst of all, the place was absolutely littered with rodent feces.

There’s a windmill here on the property as well. The blades are turning and the mechanics seem to be functioning properly, but the tank next to it was empty and the nearby trough was bone dry.

camping at wilkenson cabin kofa national wildlife refuge arizona

Camp for the night in Wilkinson Cabin

camping at wilkenson cabin kofa national wildlife refuge arizona

camping at wilkenson cabin kofa national wildlife refuge arizona

A sink full of mouse shit

Still, I debated whether or not to stay here. I’ve covered nearly 20 miles today and don’t really need to cover any more ground to stay on track. I have 2.5 more days of this hike, and the things I want to do and see are spaced out pretty good from here, roughly 12 miles per day. So I decided to stay in the cabin. There are two bed platforms to get me and my gear up off the ground away from the rodents that will surely be active after sunset. There’s a pretty solid breeze coming in through the windows, but I don’t think I would be that much warmer in my tent anyways. This is just a more convenient way to cowboy camp, I suppose.

Day 44 – December 16th

Miles: 12.4
Animals Seen: 3 bighorn sheep, 3 Jack rabbits

Last night was miserable. It was far colder than I expected it to be… 22 degrees this morning when I woke up! My quilt is only rated for 40 degrees, and to make matters worse, it has horizontal baffles, so all of the insulation slides from the top to the sides leaving many cold spots. I had on every piece of clothing available to me, in addition to using my trash compactor bag (backpack liner) around my feet and legs. Still, I was cold all night. The weather has been very mild this entire trip, and the clothing and gear I brought have been perfect until last night. I suppose I could have sent a warmer sleeping bag and a fleece or puffy jacket for this last section, but I was expecting overnight lows in the mid-30s, not low twenties! Additionally, all of the rodents living in and around the cabin were quite active, scurrying around pretty much all night. They mostly seemed to be in the ceiling and other parts of the cabin, not directly near me, thankfully.

I have been getting up around 7, but today I waited for the Sun to rise above the Horizon before I got out of my bag, closer to 8. It was just too cold. My feet were freezing l, and I was shivering until I could go outside and stand in the sunlight. Just a miserable start to the day. I was about an hour late to start walking today as a result, and not that motivated.

Part of my lack of motivation this morning was due to the fact that the scenery was just not that interesting. Yesterday’s road walk was quite Bland, and today picked up where yesterday left off. The exception was that I started today with a bushwhack instead of a road walk.

The route this morning was a bit difficult to follow. There were a lot of low Hills, no large landmarks to work with. This type of terrain always seems to make it difficult for me to see the path forward. I was just kind of stumbling around anyway, trying to warm up. It really didn’t take too long though oh, I had to stop and shed off my base layers. It was good to be warm again!

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

Scenery is getting better now…

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

Squaw Peak

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

My cryptic route led me up to a small pass. Then I dropped down to the wash below. It was here where the scenery began to improve. As I looked back behind me, multiple craggy outcrops and Peaks meet up the ridge line that surrounded me. I followed this wash up to another pass.

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

Coming down the little pass to the wash

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

Back to a little climbing obstacles along the way. Fun

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

Awesome!

I dropped down into a very colorful wash with some cool jagged peaks sticking up all around me. Now this is what I’m talking about.

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

After emerging from the wash, the views opened up. The colors were intense here, strong reds and oranges, which always make for a beautiful scene.

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

Kofa Mountains Panorama

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

Kofa Wilderness

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

The scenery now was stunning. Ultimately, I would drop down into a canyon on the other side of the pass, but this pass was also somewhat of a Ridgeline, and I made it a point to explore as much of it as I could. I headed up to a point along the ridge that looked like it would offer the best vantage point, even though it was out of my way. I’m here to see the sights, there is no point in walking by amazing things just because they are a little out of the way, as long as I have the time. And today, I do.

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

I’ll be dropping down into that canyon next. Looks pretty awesome!

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

Making my way to the high point

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

Look at those colors!

I bagged a small Peak along the top, and ate lunch. Every direction now was stunning. Deep Canyons, Jagged Peaks, Red Rocks. Aesthetically pleasing and just what I needed after yesterday’s boring Road walk.

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

I followed the Ridgeline to the point where I would drop down into my next Canyon, enjoying the excellent views along the way. At the top of the Canyon, the route ahead looked difficult.

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

Another majestic unnamed canyon

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

The canyon was moderately difficult. There was a lot of vegetation and some loose Rock in the beginning. Eventually I reached the wash below, and the route became a little easier. This Canyon was beautiful as well, both the upper and the lower portions.

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

The lower part of the canyon widens out. I hadn’t see many (any?) wildflowers along the way, but there were some here in this canyon.

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

View out to King Valley

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

Big Dick Canyon panorama

This Canyon dumps into King Valley, which separates the Kofa range from the castle Dome range to the South. But before reaching King Valley, I Veer off to the next Canyon to the West. It’s name? Big dick Canyon. Yep. Alright then.

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

Big Dick Canyon

Big dick Canyon was fairly easy to walk throughout the majority of it. It was fairly scenic, but I preferred the unnamed Canyon I walked prior to this one. It was beginning to get late in the day now, and my pace quickened.

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

The view back down Big Dick Canyon

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

I’m glad the majority of the lower canyon was an easy walk, because the final six or seven hundred feet were more difficult. It was moderately steep, and mostly they climb up large boulders spaced out in the wash. Basically, a big stair climb. Not too bad, except for all the occasional Thorn bushes mixed in. They drew blood a few times.

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

View from the top of the pass

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

The route to the ridgeline

At the top of the pass, I was expecting the game Trail or something on the way down, but nothing. After descending 100 feet or so along loose Rock and thick vegetation, my route veers off into a side Canyon. This would take me up to the Ridgeline.

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

Kofa Mountains ridgeline

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

View down the crest of the Kofa Moutnains

When I reached the Crest, roughly around 5 p.m., I was quite happy with what I saw. In fact, stunned would be a better word. I knew instantly this was going to be a great walk, and right at Sunset too. The Northside of the Ridgeline is Rolling Hills, basically all the stuff I was walking yesterday and this morning. Not all that interesting. But from the crest, looking South, it’s all Jagged Peaks, sheer Cliffs and downright incredible Mountain scenery. Wow!

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

I walked this Ridgeline with excitement, not caring so much about the fact that I need to find camp. Just enjoying the moment, fixated on the Setting Sun and the constantly changing Vantage points Along The Ridge that constantly commanded my full attention.

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

Arch in the distance

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

Sunset behind an arch on the Kofa Mountains ridgeline

In the distance, I saw an arch along the Ridgeline. Soon enough, I was standing underneath it, trying to find the perfect angle for the right photo. I probably had a huge grin on my face the whole time.

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

The sun seems like it took forever to set. Sunsets like these are few and far between. To be able to walk such a beautiful place, at the perfect time of day, with the best lighting possible, it’s what every outdoor photographer dreams of.

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

Cowboy camping in a small cave at the edge of the cliffs along the Kofa Mountains ridgeline

The Ridgeline itself was pretty Rocky. There’s no soil here, nor is there if you drop down to the lower Ridgeline that run perpendicular to it. I began to think about the possibility of cowboy camping. I was hoping to set up my tent, for the extra warmth it will provide. But the opportunity to sleep up on this incredible Ridgeline is too good to pass up. I found an overhanging Rock, not quite a cave, but just a few feet from a huge cliff with an outstanding View. It’s not exactly flat, but one’s head and feet would be slightly elevated. This I think I can manage. Surely this would be one of the coolest campsites I’ve ever had!

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

Full moon tonight

I watched the last remaining rays of sunlight fade just beyond the jagged Ridgeline to the South. The Moon is nearly full tonight, Nature’s night light. I sat on the edge of the cliff eating dinner, completely in awe of my surroundings. So special, so meaningful to have a campsite like this, on the second to the last night, on such an incredible journey. Indeed, moments like this are very sparse in life. Even for all the walking I’ve done, I recognize this tonight. I’ve had a lot of great campsites over the years, and a lot of great campsites on this hike. But seldom do they invoke such profound feelings.

Day 45 – December 17th

Miles: 14.7
Animals Seen: 1 bighorn sheep

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

Morning view on my last full day of hiking

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

The first half of last night was awesome. I was warm, there was no wind, and it was comfortable. The second half of the night, not so much. The wind started picking up and by 7am, it was freezing cold. I waited until 8am, when the sun hit me, to pack up. Still, an amazing place to wake up to, and totally worth it!

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

Crest of the Kofa Range

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

Heading down off the ridge

I continued walking to Ridgeline this morning, but it was much less Pleasant than last evening. I couldn’t feel my hands, and my GoPro batteries were dying. Great views, but similar to the night before. Time to drop off the ridge.

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

The route to Squaw Tank

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

Squaw Tank

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

Water in Squaw Tank. This one is supposed to be pretty reliable

Next I hiked over a series washes and ridges to reach Squaw tank. There was plenty of water here, both in Natural Pools and man-made improvements. The water was good. Seems like a reliable source.

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

Squaw Peak

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

Then I followed hoodoo wash upstream to a saddle, over to another saddle, and through a series of washes that led me to an old (no longer in use) 4×4 road in Kofa Queen Canyon. The first half this walk was a pain in the ass. There were lots of thorn bushes and cacti to stab me. I took a cholla ball to the ankle, one of the few along this route that got me. On top of this, it was still cold. It wasn’t warming up much, like yesterday.

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

I eventually hit a wash that was much easier to walk. I made good time through this section.

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

Next I reached an old dirt road running through Kofa Queen Canyon, and is closed as it’s inside the Kofa Wilderness. An easy walk though. The road eventually reaches a point where it crosses the Wilderness boundary and is open to vehicle traffic. It’s Wilderness on all sides of the road, but the road itself is technically not wilderness and open to vehicles.

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

Kofa Queen Canyon

I followed the road past Summit Canyon to Indian canyon. Here, I’ll begin the hike up to the summit of signal peak. One 4×4 passed me along the dirt road, and didn’t slow down at all. Typical. I always slow down for humans walking or riding bikes, especially on dirt roads. Maybe it’s just me.

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

Indian Canyon, the route to Signal Peak

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

 

Lower Indian Canyon was stunning. This whole area is stunning! Looking back at my photos, they do nothing to convey how amazing this canyon is. Sometimes the camera just can’t match the eye. Super impressive rock walls and formations all around. I passed an older lady with her dog, the only hiker I’ve seen since day 2! Just up the trail, a family, flying a drone illegally. I could hear the buzzing overhead for a while.

hiking the kofa mountains and kofa wilderness in arizona

Hard mode.

hiking to the summit of signal peak, high point of the kofa mountains arizona

hiking to the summit of signal peak, high point of the kofa mountains arizona

There was a variety of braided trails to choose from in the lower part the canyon. It wasn’t obvious at all which one is the main one I should be following. I chose poorly, and strayed off Trail. I took a pretty horrible path up, and it would be a long while before I regained the correct path again.

hiking to the summit of signal peak, high point of the kofa mountains arizona

The route up to Signal Peak

hiking to the summit of signal peak, high point of the kofa mountains arizona

I Climbed boulders and fought thick vegetation, making life much harder than it needed to be. I just didn’t know where the trail was, and went by the route I had mapped out at home as a back up. This peak is the high point of the Kofa range, and this canyon gets a decent amount of traffic. I do know there is a social trail here, with the occasional cairn. It’s somewhere.

hiking to the summit of signal peak, high point of the kofa mountains arizona

Indian Canyon

hiking to the summit of signal peak, high point of the kofa mountains arizona

The route up

I found small game trails and an occasional cairn, but they were not the main path. Bummer, because I fought my way up the steepest part of the climb, basically off trail. It was steep, loose and thorny. I dreaded coming back down. The views remained excellent, though!

 

hiking to the summit of signal peak, high point of the kofa mountains arizona

The route continues up…

hiking to the summit of signal peak, high point of the kofa mountains arizona

hiking to the summit of signal peak, high point of the kofa mountains arizona

hiking to the summit of signal peak, high point of the kofa mountains arizona

I made it up to the top of the steepest section, but since I missed the main trail, I was not where I should have been. I had to drop down into the canyon below in order to progress forward. This is where I intersected the main trail, finally.

hiking to the summit of signal peak, high point of the kofa mountains arizona

hiking to the summit of signal peak, high point of the kofa mountains arizona

Most of the rest of the way up was easier to walk, despite losing the main trail a couple more times. It was less steep now, and much less vegetation, so this made life easier all around.

hiking to the summit of signal peak, high point of the kofa mountains arizona

 

hiking to the summit of signal peak, high point of the kofa mountains arizona

La Posa Plain

I climbed out of the canyon and gained the ridge. The summit of Signal Peak was just a short ways away now. The views really began to wow me, opening up to massive Vistas of the Kofa range, King Valley, and pretty much everything in every direction.

hiking to the summit of signal peak, high point of the kofa mountains arizona

Signal Peak summit view panorama

hiking to the summit of signal peak, high point of the kofa mountains arizona

Signal Peak summit view west over Kofa Wilderness

hiking to the summit of signal peak, high point of the kofa mountains arizona

King Valley, Castle Dome Range, Kofa Wildenress

hiking to the summit of signal peak, high point of the kofa mountains arizona

hiking to the summit of signal peak, high point of the kofa mountains arizona

Signal Peak summit view panorama

When I reached the summit, the winds were very strong. I was freezing cold, could barely feel my hands. I wanted nothing more than to sit on this Summit and soak it in, being the last high point along my route, but today was not the day for that. I snapped a few pictures, signed the summit register, and drop down off the summit as quickly as I could. I was really bummed about this, putting in so much effort to get up here and not being able to enjoy it properly. But sometimes that’s the way it goes, especially when climbing mountains.

hiking to the summit of signal peak, high point of the kofa mountains arizona

Ridgeline below Signal Peak

hiking to the summit of signal peak, high point of the kofa mountains arizona

I ate a quick snack below the summit, with a small Windbreak. It was 3:30 now, and it has taken me about an hour and 45 minutes to get up here. I should probably hurry down now.

hiking to the summit of signal peak, high point of the kofa mountains arizona

Descending Signal Peak

hiking to the summit of signal peak, high point of the kofa mountains arizona

hiking to the summit of signal peak, high point of the kofa mountains arizona

Entering Indian Canyon

Fortunately, I found the route down to be much more straightforward. I never lost the main route once, and made hit town in 1 hour. I was really happy about this, especially through the steepest section where I had basically bushwhacked my way up.

hiking kofa queen canyon to skull rock kofa wilderness arizona

Kofa Queen Canyon

hiking kofa queen canyon to skull rock kofa wilderness arizona

Hiking Kofa Queen Canyon. A pretty damn nice road walk

hiking kofa queen canyon to skull rock kofa wilderness arizona

Skull Rock Campsite

hiking kofa queen canyon to skull rock kofa wilderness arizona

The famous Skull Rock

Next it was a half mile walk down the dirt road to Skull Rock. I was really looking forward to Camping here, but I was disappointed to see 4 vehicles here. It’s Friday night, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Still, this entire Kofa Queen Canyon is pretty stunning. I walked a quarter mile away and hiked up hill short ways to an outcrop of rocks. I found a few places suitable to camp, under small overhangs, like the one from last night. I chose a lower one, hoping it would be more out of the Wind. If it was this cold today, tonight will be freezing. Hopefully the wind dies down, but I will do everything I can to get out of the wind at this point.

hiking kofa queen canyon kofa wildenress arizona backpacking and camping

Kofa Queen Canyon

hiking kofa queen canyon kofa wildenress arizona backpacking and camping

Kofa Queen Canyon campsite

hiking kofa queen canyon kofa wildenress arizona backpacking and camping

View from camp in Kofa Queen Canyon

The view from tonight’s camp was spectacular. Probably even better than from Skull Rock, but I won’t be able to say that I camped inside a skull shaped Rock. Oh well. I’ll be shivering tonight and tomorrow morning no matter where I camp, just gotta make out through one more long ass night. Longest day of the year is only 4 days away now.

Day 46 – December 18th

Miles: 12.4 (half day)
No Animals Seen

 

Last night was pretty tolerable compared to th

hiking kofa queen canyon kofa wildenress arizona backpacking and camping

Morning, day 46

e previous nights, in terms of the cold temps. Low 40s, with only an occasional mild gust of winds. It was a nice campsite, and I’m really starting to dig these kind of caves/overhangs for cowboy camping. But today is my last day of hiking, and that’s what’s on my mind now. I know this when I wake, but later, it will set in even more.

hiking kofa queen canyon kofa wildenress arizona backpacking and camping

Kofa Queen Canyon

hiking kofa queen canyon kofa wildenress arizona backpacking and camping

The route up to the pass

hiking kofa queen canyon kofa wildenress arizona backpacking and camping

Route up

hiking kofa queen canyon kofa wildenress arizona backpacking and camping

I start the day with an off-trail climb of about 400′. It’s easy going at first, a grassy hillside with excellent views of lower Kofa Queen Canyon. It becomes steeper at the top, and brushier. Pretty manageable though. And, great views! Impressive unnamed peaks and rock formations make up the nearby ridges and please the eyes.

hiking four palms canyon kofa wildenress arizona backpacking and camping

The pass between Kofa Queen Canyon and Four Palsm Canyon

hiking four palms canyon kofa wildenress arizona backpacking and camping

Looking down on Four Palms Canyon

 

I reached the saddle and took in the view from the top. I could now see down into upper Four Palms Canyon, and I could tell it was going to be an awesome place.

hiking four palms canyon kofa wildenress arizona backpacking and camping

hiking four palms canyon kofa wildenress arizona backpacking and camping

The views were great from the top, but they really seemed to improve as I dropped lower. There wasn’t much of a game trail or anything to follow, so I made my way down as I saw fit. The upper reaches were slow, but manageable.

hiking four palms canyon kofa wildenress arizona backpacking and camping

The saddle

hiking four palms canyon kofa wildenress arizona backpacking and camping

Four Palms Canyon

After dropping down over 300′, it was time to go up and over a small saddle, instead of a really steep side canyon that lies below. As I dropped down from the saddle, I would take the main body of Four Palms Canyon downhill.

hiking four palms canyon kofa wildenress arizona backpacking and camping

hiking four palms canyon kofa wildenress arizona backpacking and camping

Saguaro on guard

hiking four palms canyon kofa wildenress arizona backpacking and camping

The north face of Signal Peak, which I atop yesterday afternoon, makes up the south side of Four Palms Canyon, and it’s incredibly scenic. The steep, jagged crags give the rock walls some depth, and the orangey-red rocks mixed with green vegetation give this canyon some great color. A truly majestic place. I was quite happy to have this be my last canyon of my Mojave-Sonoran Trail thru hike.

hiking four palms canyon kofa wildenress arizona backpacking and camping

Lower Four Palms Canyon

The lower reaches of Four Palms Canyon flatten out, and become a network of braided washes. I kept looking back over my shoulder, at the beauty of this canyon, but also symbolically, not ready to end my hike. Not while walking this kind of canyon.

hiking four palms canyon kofa wildenress arizona backpacking and camping

Pillars guarding the entrance to Four Palms Canyon

hiking four palms canyon kofa wildenress arizona backpacking and camping

Sunlight creeping over the pillars

Large outcrops of pillars and lone rock formations guard the entrance of Four Palms Canyon. Once past these, I would be in the open desert. Passing these pillars was the moment it hit me. These pillars represented the symbolic end of my route, despite a 2+ hour road walk that separates me from Hwy 95, the physical end point. I paused here to appreciate the profoundness of the moment, and all it meant to me.

hiking four palms canyon kofa wildenress arizona backpacking and camping

Passing the pillars, emerging into the final stretch of open desert

hiking four palms canyon kofa wildenress arizona backpacking and camping

I’ll walk the base of these mountains to Palm Canyon

 

After passing the pillars, I emerged from the shadows of the canyon and into the sunlight of the desert flats. Surprisingly, there was a decent trail connecting Four Palms Canyon with Palm Canyon, to the south. I hiked this trail to get to Palm Canyon Rd. This is what I’ll be walking to my end point now.

hiking palm canyon kofa wildenress arizona backpacking and camping

Palm Canyon

There were car and RV campers along much of Palm Canyon Rd. It’s the most popular spot in the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, so this is no surprise.

panorama view of kofa mountains and palm canyon arizona

Kofa Mountains and Palm Canyon

Now that the off-trail hiking is done for the day, and for the entire route, I begin to reflect on the journey. It’s difficult to find the words to describe the feeling, and my mind struggles to comprehend the moment. When reaching the end of a thru hike, I think we expect there to be some eureka moment all of the sudden, some intensely profound lesson to be learned. But for me, it doesn’t happen like that. Nothing happens all of the sudden. The lessons learned aren’t learned at the end, they are learned in the moment.

So what did I learn from hiking this route, the Mojave-Sonoran Trail? For me, hiking is about progression. I’ve expanded my desert and canyon skillsets, along with my confidence to find water and to cover ground without it. I’ve grown more confident in my mapping abilities, choosing scenic routes and routes that offer safe (but challenging) passage. At the same time, I’ve learned to embrace flexibility, having the confidence to “hike anywhere” and not simply along a route that’s been planned ahead of time. I’ve learned that I feel more comfortable in the desert than almost anywhere else.

As the final miles tick away, I’m ready to close the chapter on this journey. I’m ending the hike at Hwy 95 in the middle of nowhere, seemingly a illogical end point. But since the Yuma Proving Grounds military base basically surrounds the Kofa NWR, sitting in a big “U” shape, the route has no logistical way to proceed south unless it’s a long road walk. And even then, there isn’t much farther to the south worth seeing, unless one was set on ending at the border of Mexico. No, the Kofa Wilderness is a fine place to end this hike. Palm Canyon Rd and Hwy 95 will be my southern terminus. Here, I have a close friend in Phoenix (2.5 hour drive each way) who will pick me up. There is also an option for a shuttle service to Yuma or Quartzsite for end point travel logistics.

celebrating at the end of a thru hike on the mojave sonoran trail

Huge thanks to my buddy for coming all the way out from Phoenix to pick me up at the finish line!

When I reached hwy 95, my friend was just pulling in. His wife was using the Jeep today, so he was driving his C6 Corvette. I get to ride in style back to Phoenix, and stink up his vette with my dirty hiker trash aroma. He was kind enough to bring me some McDonald’s cheeseburgers and a bottle of champagne to celebrate. Having a good friend here at the end with me, even if he wasn’t there with me along the hike, was an awesome moment. Something I didn’t have on the Basin and Range Trail, or the Continental Divide Trail. It really meant a lot to me to have him there with me.

thru hiker eating a cheeseburger and drinking champagne at the end of the mojave sonoran trail

A McDonald’s cheeseburger paired with champagne. A true hiker trash celebration

I shook up the champagne and tried to blow the cork, but this wasn’t the kind that does that, apparently. I got a minor eruption of champagne, which I tried to drink as it fizzed out of the bottle. Good enough. Now, time to pair it with a cheeseburger. If you hike long enough, there really are cheeseburgers at the end of the rainbow!

That’s the end of my journey. I have no idea what’s next. Life has evolved into an extremely impulsive array of decisions that I call adventures. My past experiences have given me the confidence to set out on these journeys with less planning and less research, simply taking the experience as it comes. The good, and the bad. Indeed, I don’t know where life will take me next. But I move forward knowing I have the courage to take on whatever it is I dream up next. And above all, I know that I can’t face the future knowing my last adventure was my greatest. I fear that day, and that motivates me more than anything else.

Like what you see?

Seven Devils Mountains, Idaho – He Devil Summit Hike (July 2021)

Seven Devils Mountains, Idaho – He Devil Summit Loop Hike

hiker standing on the summit of he devil peak in the seven devils mountains, idaho

  Watch the He Devil Summit Hike Video On Youtube 

  • Hike Location – Seven Devils Mountains, Idaho – Hells Canyon Wilderness
  • Land Administration – Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, managed by the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest 
  • Hike Type – Loop
  • Fees & Permits – No fees or permits needed
  • Trailhead – Windy Saddle
  • Length Of Time Hiked – 1 day
  • Miles Hiked – 15.56
  • Route Difficulty – 7.5
  • Scenic Beauty – 8
  • Solitude – 8

Video: He Devil Summit Loop Hike – Seven Devils Mountains, ID

Pre-Hike Planning Notes

There are no fees or permits required to hike in the Seven Devils Mountains. The road up to Windy Saddle is doable by car, but it’s a bumpy ride in places with a lot of washboard roads. There are a lot of steep inclines, your vehicle will be working hard to get up here. There is a FREE campground a half mile from the Windy Saddle Trailhead called the Seven Devils Campground. This is a great place to stay the night before your hike, if doing a day hike, or perhaps the night after finishing your hike. There is no water up here. There are pit toilets at the campground and the trailhead. 

He Devil Summit Hike Maps

Here’s the caltopo map of my He Devil Summit Loop Hike: 

elevation gain chart for he devil summit hike loop

Download GPX file for the He Devil Summit Loop Hike

 

He Devil Summit Hike – July 15th, 2021

Miles Hiked – 15.56
Elevation Gain – 5300′
Route Hiked – Loop hike from Windy Saddle to He Devil Summit and back

My buddy Sam and I slept in the Seven Devils Campground last night in my camper van, about a half mile from the Windy Saddle Trailhead. This made it easy to get an early start on today’s hike, a loop that bags the summit of He Devil, the highest point in the Seven Devils Mountains of Idaho at 9,393′. We’re on the east side of Hells Canyon, the deepest gorge in the US, within the Hells Canyon National Recreation area and the Hells Canyon Wilderness. We had a much longer hike planned for this area, but because of the thick forest fire smoke and high temperatures, we’re cutting this adventure short, and just doing a day hike to the summit of He Devil. 

There were maybe 4 other vehicles parked at the Windy Saddle trailhead this morning. We started walking just as the sun crested one of the hills above the saddle. Through the thick forest fire smoke, it was an orange ball of fire. Pretty cool looking, but also pretty sad that we won’t get the distant views we were hoping for here.

he devil summit hike, walking east fork shep creek drainage through dead trees

Hiking East Fork Sheep Creek, near Windy Saddle

The trail begins by dropping in elevation from the trailhead and traversing a massive area of dead trees. The trail was clear, thankfully, but this area just looked dead and barren. 

forest fire smoke obscures view into hells canyon wilderness

View north to Hells Canyon Wilderness

After dropping to 7,200′, the the trail quickly begins to climb up in elevation now, traversing a ridge facing northeast. We’ll climb to 8,000′ as we round the corner of a ridge. Our first big views towards Hells Canyon would have been here, but the thick forest fire smoke obscured them. There are some nice purple wildflowers up here along the trail, especially prospering in some of the old burn areas.

hells canyon wilderness wildflowers while hiking

Wildflowers in the Seven Devils Mountains, Idaho

Next we drop in elevation again, from 8,000′ to roughly 6,600′ as we drop down into the canyon with West Fork Sheep Creek. Switchbacks at the top make quick work of the biggest descent. Soon enough, we trade mountain views for the cover of the forest. Here, things are green and lush, thriving, unlike the valley we started our hike in. 

hikers view of west fork sheep creek hells canyon idaho

West Fork Sheep Creek

West Fork Sheep Creek was a solid flowing body of water, with some small cascades. Very nice, very pleasant. Then we climbed out of the forest again, and our mountain views returned. This was some pretty solid high mountain scenery, especially considering the surrounding area of Hells Canyon which doesn’t really have anything else like this nearby. 

hiking hells canyon wilderness

Hiking the Seven Devils Mountains near Lily Pad Lake

The trail leads us up and out of West Fork Sheep Creek and leads us to a pass between Dry Diggins Ridge and Lily Pad Lake. It’s pretty flat here at the moment, with a great view of the hazy mountains in the distance. There’s lot of water here now, and the route will pass by 5 small lakes on the way up.

mountain goat along hiking trail in hells canyon wilderness, idaho

Mountain Goat in the Seven Devils Mountains

While hiking through another patch of forest, in between Lily Pad Lake and Basin Lake, we spotted a Mountain Goat alongside the trail. He was pretty chill, just doing his own thing. Always cool to see.

view of mountain silhouette from hiking trial in seven devils range idaho

Hiking the trail along the chain of lakes

view of gem lake from he devil summit hike trail

Gem Lake

Now the trail continues to climb uphill around Shelf Lake, and then passes Gem Lake. The trail stays a distance away from both lakes, though, staying elevated above them. Good trail, good views. 

hiker looking up at silhouette of seven devils ridgeline idaho hells canyon

View up towards the Sven Devils ridgeline

hiker in hells canoyn idaho walking up mountains

The trail climbs above Rock Island Lake, again with no real view of the lake. Soon though, we leave the trail and begin our hike off-trail through a boulder field to continue our route up to the summit of He Devil. 

hiking boulder field on he devil summit hike seen devils mountains idaho

Climbing the boulders to the ridgeline. He Devil is the jagged peak along the ridgeline

hiker climbing over boulders along mountainside in hells canyon idaho

Climbing over the boulders

Next we worked our way out into a large boulder field in order to reach the ridgeline. The route wasn’t too bad, just slow and tedious. 

hiking now field below ridgeline seven devils mountains idaho

Snow field below ridgeline

melting two bottles of snow for water in idaho mountains

Melting snow for water

I should have stopped to fill up on water at one of the creeks we passed farther back, but I didn’t. I figured I’d gone past the last liquid water source, and I turned to a snow bank for water now. I stopped to fill up two 1 liter bottles with snow, and will let them melt as I carry them. 

view to hells canyon idaho in forest fire smoke

Hazy view towards Hells Canyon, the deepest gorge in the US… 7,993′ deep at it’s deepest point!

hiker walking up ridgeline in mountains to summit

Sam hiking up the ridgeline to He Devil

views through forest fire smoke on he devil summit hike

Good views despite the forest fire smoke

There was one steep section to climb before gaining the ridgeline. From here, it’s a straight shot up to He Devil. There’s sometimes a path to follow, but also, it’s occasionally a bit of a scramble up the boulders. The views are as good as they can be with the smoke.

He Devil Summit in Sight

It was a good hike along the ridgeline. The route is not super well defined, but easy enough to figure out on your own. It was mostly a fun walk up. The final approach to then summit block required a short bit of scrambling to reach, with no exposure. 

he devil and she devil peaks in the sevin devils mountains idaho

He Devil summit view northeast to She Devil

he devil summit view, seven devils mountains idaho

He Devil summit view south to Mt Belial & Devils Throne

hiker standing on the summit of he devil peak in the seven devils mountains, idaho

Sam on the summit of He Devil (9,393′), highest point in the Seven Devils Mountains, Idaho

The views form the summit of He Devil were awesome, even with the forest fire smoke. It’s an impressive ridgeline, with a view of the other 6 “devils”. It’s just the kind of ridgeline you want to find your self on top of. However, because of the smoke, we had practically no view of Hells Canyon, the deepest gorge in the US. I could see the outline of the Oregon side of Hells Canyon in the distance, but just barely. I wondered how the view would be, on a clear day. At it’s deepest point, Hells Canyon is 7,993′ deep. That’s a pretty serious landform, just the kind you’d want to overlook from a peak like this. 

hiker climbing down from summit of he devil peak

The initial climb down from the summit

Sam descending the mountain

hiker on summit hike to he devil mountain idaho

Sam on the ridgeline

The hike down from the summit was pretty quick and easy. Just a return hike down the same ridgeline for now. 

hiker traverses snow and boudlers below he devil peak, idaho

Sam working his way to a snow field

hiker glissading down the snow on idaho mountains

Sam glissading down the slope after a failed ski attempt

When we dropped down from the ridgeline, we took a slightly different route on the way down than we did on the way up. We made it down a section of steep and loose boulders and reached a snowfield. Sam and I had been talking about our skiing abilities, hat is, the ability to slide down the snow on your shoes, like skiing. I’m pretty decent at this, and made my run a couple hundred feet down hill with no poles, and didn’t fall. Sam bit it after a few feet, and glissaded the rest of the way down. Good times. 

hikers view of sheep lake seven devils idaho

Sheep Lake

After a tedious walk through the lower section of boulders below He Devil, we reached a more suitable hiking terrain of soil, green grasses and small rocks. We find ourselves on a saddle, which we crest for our first close view of Sheep Lake.

view of sheep lake

Hike down to Sheep Lake

sheep lake shoreline views of mountain ridges above

Excellent views nearing Sheep Lake. She Devil peak looms above

shores of sheep lake in seven devils mountains idaho

Sheep Lake from break spot

We picked up on a hiking trail again as we descended down to Sheep Lake. Now we have good trail and outstanding views. Once down at the lake, it was the obvious place for a break. I drank some of my snow melt water here, which was freezing cold. I also filtered some water from the lake, which was a much more tolerable drinking temperature. 

alpine lake view in the seven devils mountains idaho

Hiking the south side of Sheep Lake

sheep lake hiking view

View across Sheep Lake

Hiking around small off-shoot of Sheep Lake

Next we traversed the south shores of Sheep Lake, below She Devil. There’s a short section of boulders here, otherwise it’s a nice grassy walk. The shoreline wraps around to another smaller lake, an off-shoot of Sheep Lake. Nice views here too. This would make an excellent place to camp, if we were staying the night. But we aren’t, so it’s back to the van. 

hiking faint trail in the seven devils mountains

The route up. Can you spot Sam?

steep loose chute to hike up mountain

The route we hiked up

hiking trial in seven devils mountains

Narrow path along this ledge provides easy walking

Now we are looking for a trail that could connect Sheep Lake to Mirror Lake. From the other side of Sheep Lake, it doesn’t look like it would be a good route, too steep. From up close, it looks very steep too, but we started to see a weakness in the mountainside that could allow a path to hike up. USFS and USGS maps don’t show a trail here, but OpenStreet maps does. Interesting. We thought we could see a very faint path to follow as we hiked up the steep slopes, so it was a good sign. Additionally, there was indeed a narrow ledge, more or less, that allowed for easy passage compared to the surrounding terrain. Things are looking good. 

hiking trail to mirror lake seven devils mountains idaho

Nearing the top of the pass to Mirror Lake. 

mirror lake pass hike

view from pass in seven devils mountains over mirror lake

First view of Mirror Lake from pass

At one point, we had to squeeze through two rocks, a space barely big enough to fit with a backpack on. Past this, there was more steep terrain, but it’s all been manageable. This route has really worked out. This is way more direct, shaving off several miles of hiking versus the way we started the hike this morning. It’s a different route and it’s scenic, so its a win-win.

elevated view of mirror lake, seven devils mountains, idaho

Mirror Lake

hiekrs view of windy saddle in the seven devils mountains

View of Windy Saddle Trailhead in the distance

After cresting the pass, Mirror Lake came into sight. This was a really nice lake, and well hidden from the Seven Devils Campground, but just a few hundred feet away. For now, a steep descent stand in the way. There was some slippin’ and slidin’, but we both made it down in one piece.

view of mirror lake from shoreline

Mirror Lake

We made it down off the steep slopes and hiked over to Mirror Lake to enjoy one last view of this fine alpine lake. I didn’t expect much out of this lake, because it was so close to the Seven Devils Campground and honestly, because it was tucked away in an otherwise ugly spot, with all the dead trees and such. This was a really nice surprise and a nice way to end our He Devil summit loop hike. From here, it’s about 1/2 mile back to the Windy Saddle trailhead where we parked. 

 

 

 

Like what you see?

High Uintas Wilderness, Utah – 8 Day, 95 Mile Solo Hike Aug 2015

view from the summit of king's peak in the uintas wilderness

High Uintas Wilderness Hike Overview

View ALL my pictures from the hike here: High Uintas Wilderness Photos

View a HD video of this hike on youtube: High Uintas Wilderess 8 Day Solo Hike

  • Location – High Uintas Wilderness, Utah
  • Park Type – National Forest, Wilderness
  • Park Administration – Ashley and Wasatch-Cache National Forests
  • Trailhead – Start & end at East Fork Black’s Fork trailhead
  • Fees & Permits – No fees or permits needed for hiking. Parking pass may be needed depending on the trailhead
  • Length Of Time Hiked – 8 days, 7 nights
  • Trail Type – Loop
  • Miles Hiked – 95+
  • Trail Difficulty – 7.5
  • Solitude – 7.5
  • Scenic Beauty – 9
  • Fires Allowed – Yes, with some restricted areas

 

 

About The High Uintas Wilderness

In 1984, congress set aside 456,000 acres in the Uintas Mountains in northeast Utah to become the High Uintas Wilderness. Along with the Transverse Mountain ranges in California, the Uintas are the only mountain range in the lower 48 that runs east to west, and is certainly the largest of them all. The Uintas contain the tallest peak in Utah, King’s Peak (13.527ft), all of the 13,000ft peaks and half of the 12,000ft peaks in the state. There are over 1,000 lakes in the Uintas wilderness, and about half of them contain trout.

High Uintas Wilderness Maps

map of trailhead locations in the high uintas wilderness

Map of the High Uintas Wilderness with trailheads

map of the highline trail in the uintas mountains, utah

Map of the Highline Trail from Hayden Pass to Leidy Peak

Here’s my Caltopo map, where I created the route:

 

High Uintas Gear List

Osprey Exos 58 pack
Warbonnet Outdoors Riderunner Hammock
Warbonnet Outdoors Superfly Tarp
Warbonnet Outdoors Lynx underquilt – full length 20°F
Hammock Gear Burrow 40 top quilt

Clothing:

Footwear – Inov 8 Roclite 295s
Dirty Girl gaiters
Insulation – REI Rauk jacket
Base – Patagonia Capilene I top and bottom
REI zip off shorts/pants
Nike Dri-fit shirt
Outdoor Research sombrero
Outdoor Research rain jacket and pants

Camera gear:

Sony Nex-7
18-55mm lens
16mm lens
3 batteries
Home made 4.7oz tripod
A couple filters, remote shutter control, extra SD card, etc
GoPro Hero4 Black Edition
6 batteries
Flow-Mow time-lapse panner
Head and chest mounts

Garmin Oregon 450 GPS – It takes 2 AAs… I use Energizer Ultimate lithium batteries and had 4 extras. I usually get about 3-4 days out of a pair.

Cookware – I normally go stoveless, but after catching fish and having no wood for a fire in the Winds last year I decided just to bring the stove so I had a sure fire way to cook fish if I caught them.

Knock-off MSR PocketRocket stove
Propane/Butane mix fuel
Small non stick frying pan

And all the other typical extra stuff… firesteel, headlamp, cordage, first aid kit, toiletries, etc.

I did bring my cell phone but only used it a few times to play music.

Getting There

The Uintas Mountains are in northeast Utah, about 1.5 hours east of Salt Lake City. Highway 150 (Mirror Lake Scenic Byway) runs from the town of Kamas on the westerly end of the wilderness north through Hayden Pass and on into Evanston, Wyoming. FR-58, or “North Slope Road” is the main road that run east and west on the northern slope of the mountain range for access to the north slope trailheads, such as West Fork Black’s Fork, East Fork Black’s Fork, Henry’s Fork, and others.

 

Day 0 – Travel Day

Today I flew in to Salt Lake City, arriving around 8:30pm.  My previous two flights on American Airlines, they lost my luggage. The first time it took them a day and a half to find it, delaying the start of my hike. The second time wasn’t for a hike but still ruined my first day. Between both those flights, I only received a $50 voucher as compensation. Pretty insulting if you ask me. However, this time they delivered my luggage as expected, bringing them up to a laughable 1-for-3 record. Yay. After picking up my bag, I got in my little Toyota Yaris rental car and headed towards the Uintas. I made a quick stop in Park City along the way at their 24 hour Walmart and bought some fuel for my stove, since I can’t bring that on an airplane. That, and a case of water. I ate at Five Guys, a nice big burger for my last hot meal for 8 days. With all that done I continued on to the town of Kamas where I picked up hwy 150 and headed into the Uintas, in the darkness.

The plan for tonight was to drive a ways on hwy 150 and find a place to camp along the road once I got near Hayden Pass, which is over 10,000ft. Since I’m coming from about 500ft elevation, I really need to get one night of sleep in up here before I can think about beginning to hike at this altitude. Normally I give myself a little more time to acclimate, but this time I was trying to squeeze a lot into a limited amount of time.

I went over Hayden Pass and ended up finding a spot shortly after. It was about 11:30 pm at this point. With the car at my disposal, albeit a poor choice for a night’s sleep in the event of rain, I setup the hammock without the tarp overhead and just marveled at the stars above. The new moon is tomorrow so this is about as bright as they’ll be in this area for a while. Ah, I slept great.

Day 1 – Thursday August 13th, 2015

Miles Hiked – 8.5
Route – East Fork Black’s Fork trailhead to 10,400 ft mark in Little East Fork drainage
Day 1 Map

I woke up at 7:45 this morning, in no hurry to get moving. Since I’ve only been up here at altitude since 11pm last night, I figure I’ll wait til at least noon before I begin hiking. Once I got back on hwy 150 north, I had to stop for a heard of sheep just hanging out in the middle of the road. Little did I know that wouldn’t be the last I’d see of sheep. Eventually I hit FR-58, North Slope Rd and headed east. After driving 18 miles or so, I made a right on FR-65 which takes you to East Fork Black’s Fork trailhead and campground. FR-65 is really, really rough. It’s really rocky and has lots of big craters. My little Toyota Yaris rental car made it, but damn was I scared of getting a flat. And it’s painfully slow going. So you can take pretty much any car out here I guess, but have a spare on hand just in case.

I pulled into the trailhead just before noon and started doing the final loading and checking of my backpack. Pack weight was pushing 50 pounds with about 20 pounds of food and a full load of water. I was planning on 2 pounds a day for 9 days, plus some extra stuff. This was in response to losing 15-20 pounds during an 8 day hike in the Wind River Range last year, when I ate all of my 13 pounds of food. I didn’t want to be hungry again. By 12:30 I was on the trail, excited for the adventure that lies ahead. The first step of a journey like this is always profound… I’m excited, anxious and apprehensive about the things I might have forgot to bring or about the possibility of something going wrong along the way. But that’s what I love about doing this… no matter what happens, it’s always an adventure.

heading up east fork black's fork trail

After registering at the trailhead, I proceeded across the foot bridge and made a right, heading into the Little East Fork drainage. Here I saw the only other person I would see today, heading back to the trailhead. Shortly after, the trail crosses several smaller streams and then a few wider ones. After a mile or so, the trail splits off; East Fork Black’s Fork to the right, and Little East Fork to the left. I’m staying to the left the way in, and finishing the loop by taking EFBF back.

little east fork blacks fork creek

Here’s a look at Little East Fork Black’s Fork creek

Now I’m making my way up the Little East Fork drainage. The trail winds through pine forests and some meadows with an occasional stream crossing. None are deep but at least two of them I was not able to hop rocks across, and had to ford. I didn’t see any established campsites the whole day while I was hiking through here. This drainage was not spectacular but had some pretty sections closer to the top. It didn’t look it was very well traveled though.

hiking on little east fork black's fork trail

After hiking 8.5 miles I called it a day. I made it to the 10,400ft mark. I planned a short day here because I know I need more time to acclimatize, and not to push it too hard on the first day. Just in time too, as it was beginning to sprinkle. There really weren’t a whole lot of good spots to hang my new hammock, a Warbonnet Ridgerunner. Either the trees were too small, too close together or too far apart. Eventually I found an area on a bit of a hill that would work. Having set up the hammock in the field only once, and spending two nights in it, I was still learning my way with it. I spent quite a while setting up the tarp, a Warbonnet Superfly. After getting the hang of some knots like the slipped buntline hitch and slipped truckers hitch I had the thing up ready for the rain.

banks of the little east fork blacks fork

I decided to take a nap in the hammock for about 45 minutes until the rain let up. It wasn’t raining hard at all but enough to make me wait it out. Today was a little harder than I expected. I did a really good job staying hydrated all day until I reached camp. When the rain stopped I headed down to Little East Fork creek to filter some water. Mosquitoes were not too bad, only a couple bites occasionally. After getting water and washing up I headed back up to camp. I wasn’t too hungry tonight though. High altitude and exertion seem to suppress my appetite. I made myself eat what I could. I didn’t seem nauseous or physically bad in any way, just no desire to eat. And foods taste more bland.

night one little east fork blacks fork campsite

Camp along Little East Fork Black’s Fork

It still looked stormy when I went to bed at 9:30 tonight. Hope that clears up. The real views start tomorrow.

 

Day 2 – Friday August 14th, 2015

Miles Hiked – 11.1
Route – 10,400 ft mark in Little East Fork drainage to Yellowstone Creek campsite below Anderson Pass

Day 2 Map

view of squaw pass from little east fork blacks fork trail

That’s Squaw Pass in the distance, the saddle on the far left

little east fork blacks fork squaw pass approach

I slept pretty good last night. The sun was shining and the storms had passed, but everything was still pretty wet. I got on the trail around 8am this morning and continued uphill. It wasn’t long before I was nearing the treeline and those big views I’m looking for. As the trees petered out, I caught a glimpse of two large black animals. My first thought was moose, but I didn’t get a good enough look at them. Shortly after I saw another group of animals, 2 black and 2 white, that I think were sheep. They ran off before I could tell for sure. Again, not that last I’d see of sheep this hike.

squaw pass view little east fork blacks fork basin

View of Little East Fork Blacks Fork valley from the top of Squaw Pass

skull on squaw pass overlooking oweep basin

What appears to be a horse skull on top of Squaw Pass, overlooking Oweep Basin

on top of squaw pass

By 9 am I was standing on Squaw Pass with my first “big” view. Once at the top of this pass you are greeted with a cairn as expected as well as the skull of a horse, I believe.  The view to the north where I came from off into Wyoming was impressive, however, the real jaw dropper was the huge open valley below. This is where I’ll be descending in a minute, after a some pictures and a quick break.

squaw pass ridgeline view

Looking northeast past Squaw Pass

The weather looked like it wants to rain eventually, so I made my way down the pass and out of the wind. Squaw Pass isn’t as tough as many of the rest of the passes along this trip, but since I had 3 passes to traverse today I wasn’t complaining! The trail down Squaw Pass heads southwest, but I want to be going northeast, towards Porcupine Pass. Once I dropped some elevation I left the trail and cut across the hillside, taking what I always perceive to be a shortcut; the most direct path. Here in this open valley, it probably did save me a little time even though I didn’t catch up with the trail again til the base of Porcupine Pass.

oweep basin view

Looking southwest into Oweep Basin

view of procupine pass form oweep basin

View of Porcupine Pass from Oweep Basin

upper oweep basin view

Looking southwest from upper Oweep Basin

Hiking through this valley was cool. To the southeast and parallel to my route was a very impressive chain of mountains ranging from 21,100 – 12,800 ft. They are unnamed on my maps, except for Stone Peak.

a view of upper oweep basin while ascending porcupine pass

The view of upper Oweep Basin while ascending Porcupine Pass

hiking the trail up porcupine pass

The trail up Porcupine Pass

view from porcupine pass

On Porcupine Pass

The trail up Porcupine Pass was not visible until you’re right up close to it. On the way up the pass, I came across and area where trail workers had just dug out a good section of trail along the upper stretches of the pass. Shovels and pick axes were left at the turn in one of the switchbacks. I was on top of the pass by 11:15, but the threat of rain loomed. It was windy and sprinkling up here so I didn’t stay too long.

view of alpine lakes in upper garfield basin

Upper Garfield Basin

hiking through garfield basin in the high uintas wilderness, utah

Garfield Basin

panoramic view of garfield basin in the high uintas wilderness, utah

After descending Porcupine Pass and continuing east, the trail winds through Garfield Basin. This area was pretty barren, and somewhat reminiscent of the Wind River Range in that way. Still, it was surprisingly beautiful. It was pretty easy hiking through here, all the way to Tungsten Lake where I stopped for a quick break. I hear this lake is great for fishing, along with Superior and North Star if I remember right. However, I didn’t do any fishing here. I was more focused on getting to camp and beating the rain, which I thought was inevitable. I took my shoes off to air out my feet and ate some food before it started sprinkling again. As soon as I get everything packed up and moving, it stops. Not complaining!

tungsten pass view of garfield basin in the high uintas wilderness, utah

View of Garfield Basin from Tungsten Pass

tungsten pass view into yellowstone basin - high uintas wilderness, utah

Looking out into Yellowstone Basin from Tungsten Pass

Now leaving Tungsten Lake, it’s time to head up Tungsten Pass. Approached from the west as I did, this pass was a joke compared to the others, at about 60ft elevation gain above Tungsten Lake. Nice, since it was my third pass of the day. The colors of the mountains were really cool up here. Not red like you think of when someone mentions Utah, but different.

upper yellowstone basin viewed from tungsten pass in utah's high uintas wilderness

Looking towards King’s Peak and Upper Yellowstone Basin from the Tungsten Pass area

yellowstone basin view of king's peak high uintas wilderness utah

Looking towards Anderson Pass. King’s Peak and South King’s Peak are the two peaks on the right

Descending Tungsten Pass now, a new valley opens up to me. Through here flows Yellowstone Creek. The trail I’m following stays high up in the basin and works it’s way towards Anderson Pass and King’s Peak to the northeast. Starting from a high of 11,400ft at Tungsten Pass, the trail dips as low as about 11,000ft on the way to Anderson Pass, so it does a fairly good job of maintaining elevation through this area.

rain while backpacking through yellowstone basin in the high uintas wilderness, utah

high uintas wilderness, utah view of yellowstone basin

Yellowstone Basin

My intended campsite for today is the last patch of trees before the climb up to Anderson Pass. The satellite view of this area shows trees but it was difficult to tell whether or not they’ll be suitable for hanging. Once I reached the area in question, I could see that hanging the hammock would not be a problem. However, it still took some effort to find a spot to hang from. Setup time was faster today.

hammock hang campsite in yellowstone basin in the high uintas wilderness

Camp for night 2 in Yellowstone Basin

After making camp I set up the GPro to try my hand at a time-lapse. I used my new Flow-Motion time lapse panning device to get that slow, smooth pan during the time lapse. The wind knocked the tripod over halfway through it’s pan though. Since the time lapse mode requires the camera to be on for so long, battery life is the biggest hurdle. I did have 6 batteries for the GoPro, but at least one was for a night lapse later on, and the other 5 for the 8 days of hiking.

It was a pretty decent afternoon despite the constant perceived threat of rain. Fishing was not possible here through due to the size of the creek, which was just a trickle really.

After that I decided to lay down in the hammock while I reviewed my maps for tomorrow. So there I was, just laying there, and all of the sudden the hammock drops about a foot. It turns out that one of the tips snapped off on my trekking pole, which is being used as a spreader bar on the head end of the hammock. This was completely my fault as I would soon learn. For now, I told myself it was a fluke incident and began to look for a way to continue using the pole as a spreader bar. If this doesn’t work, I’m pretty much screwed. First thing though, I had to find the pole tip adapter piece which was nowhere to be found. I eventually found it laying in the dirt more than 20 feet away.

I shaved off the remaining plastic around the end of the broken pole tip, exposing the metal pole’s end. This still fit into the trekking pole tip adapter piece that I was using before, but it was looser than before. With this pole all fixed up, I moved the good pole from the foot end spreader bar over to the head end, and the broken pole over to the foot end. It was only a minute or two before the one remaining good pole had it’s pole tip snap off as well. What the hell?
With both poles broken now, I was forced to take a closer look at what was causing this to happen. After all, everything worked fine the last 2 nights I slept in the hammock using the same setup. The problem ended up being that I made the spreader poles too wide. I measured the existing spreader poles at home, but never made any markings on the trekking poles to indicate the correct length. I really didn’t think it would be an issue if either pole was an inch or two too long or short, but it makes all the difference. I made the poles too wide, which made the angle at which the pole tips sit in the metal brackets on the rigging lines off enough to put a tension on the tips, snapping them off.

I saw a deer grazing a few hundred feet away as I got my fire lit that evening. The sky cleared and the stars were out again as the sun set. I was nervous about my hammock holding up for the night, and the rest of the trip for that matter, as I hopped into bed.

 

Day 3 – Saturday August 15th, 2015

Miles Hiked – 10.3
Route –  Yellowstone Creek campsite below Anderson Pass to Milk Lake

Day 3 Map

My trekking poles held up through the night with no issues, thankfully. When I woke up this morning though, the sky was pretty cloudy and it looked like it was building. Since the weather looked so bad I didn’t want to head off to Anderson Pass and get caught on top during a lightning storm, so I waited. This was really threatening my Summit attempt of King’s Peak as well. Fortunately, the clouds broke some after about an hour and I decided to break camp.

crest of the uintas mountains view in the uintas wilderness

This is basically the crest of the Uintas Mountains, running east and west through the northern end of Upper Yellowstone Basin

panoramic view of yellowstone absin

Immediately after leaving camp the trail heads uphill for a while. I couldn’t believe it to be honest, but the clouds kept dissipating, revitalizing my mood. It wasn’t long before blue skies were the majority. Soon the treeline was below and I was on the final “shelf” leading up to Anderson Pass. Looks like I may be able to summit King’s Peak after all!

anderson pass trail view of upper yellowstone basin

Looking back at upper Yellowstone Basin from the trail up Anderson Pass

hiking up anderson pass

The trail up Anderson Pass from Yellowstone Basin

panoramic view of king's peak and south kings peak in the high uintas wilderness, utah

King’s Peak & South King’s Peak

The trail up Anderson Pass wasn’t visible until I got pretty close to it, then the switchbacks became apparent. The trail itself was in pretty good shape but it was a tough climb. As I approached the top of the pass I could see people up there, and heading up King’s Peak. From the hike up Anderson, I could barely spot King’s Peak. It doesn’t tower above the surrounding ridgeline. You would never know it’s the tallest peak in the state from this vantage point.

Anderson pass in the high uintas wilderness, utah

Anderson Pass

anderson pass route to kings peak summit in the high uintas wilderness, utah

The route up King’s Peak, from Anderson Pass

When I got to the top of the pass I was not alone. There were 7-8 other people up here, with many more headed up the pass from the other side, and many more headed up King’s Peak above me. This was quite the influx of people compared to what I’d seen the first 2 days. I also noticed nobody had more than a small daypack on. I was the only one up here out of about 50 people I saw that had a fully loaded backpack. It turns out many of them were part of two separate large groups camping at Dollar Lake, and it seemed the rest were trail runners that had ran up here from Henry’s Fork Trailhead I believe.

view from anderson pass in the high uintas wilderness, utah

View from Anderson Pass, looking over Yellowstone Basin

Anderson Pass offered some great views. Many of the ridges in this area looked like a plate had been uplifted, and is overhanging the opposite side of the ridgeline. Pretty cool looking. I’m sure there’s a term for this but I don’t know what it is.

kings peak ascent in the high uintas wilderness

Starting the ascent up King’s Peak

henrys fork basin view from kings peak trail

Looking into Henry’s Fork Basin during my ascent of King’s Peak

I took a break for a few minutes after that long climb up here before heading up to King’s Peak. I brought a small compressible backpack (2-3oz I believe) that I used in place of my Osprey pack for the climb up, and left the pack down at Anderson Pass. I set it out of the way a little bit since there were so many people, not that anyone would want to lug that pack around.

view from trail hiking to summit of kings peak, utah

view of painters basin in the high uintas wilderness

Painter’s Basin

kings peak summit - high uintas wilderness

On the summit of King’s Peak

The climb up King’s was not bad. Since I had all that weight off my shoulders it felt like I was flying up there. The terrain was mostly a class 2 with some easy class 3 spots. Great views all the way up. At the top there was consistently about 15 or more people up there at any given time. We had to take turns at the summit block. But at least up here, I had someone to take my picture instead of using my tripod. That can be pretty awkward on thee types of boulders.

kings peak summit view

View from the summit of King’s Peak

kings peak summit block view - high uintas wilderness, ut

Standing on the summit block of King’s Peak

atwood lake and painter basin view from kings peak

View of Painter Basin to the left, and Atwood Lake in the basin on the right

 

I stayed on the top for a while. No rush to leave a view like this. Plus, with the weather constantly changing, so do the photographic opportunities. The clouds grew darker and darker just beyond Anderson Pass, and rain was not far off in the distance.

rain in the high uintas wilderness kings peak area

Rain straddles the ridge in the distance

anderson pass in the high uintas wilderness overlloking a rainstorm

Rain near Anderson Pass

rain storm nears anderson pass

When the weather finally convinced me it was time to go, I made it back down to the pass pretty quick, and without getting wet. People were still headed up to summit King’s as I descended Anderson Pass into Painter Basin. Many of the people camping over at Dollar Lake were taking a shortcut back. Instead of going down Anderson and up Over Gunsight Pass, they headed down a rock chute at the 12,450ft mark on the map about a 1/4 mile northeast of Anderson Pass.

view of painter basin while hiking down from anderson pass

Painter Basin

gunsight pass view from painter basin

Looking towards Gunsight Pass, where I’ll be going tomorrow

I enjoyed the hike coming down into Painter Basin. All around me it seemed to be raining but never actually on me. It was as if there was a clear spot overhead following me around, while anything outside of my radius saw rain. Not complaining! Plus, it allowed for some cool pictures of the rain coming down, without me (and the camera) being in the rain itself.

backpacking through painter basin in the uintas mountains

Hiking through Painter Basin

rain while hiking through painter basin august 2015

The further I hiked into Painter Basin, the larger it looked. It looked like a full day’s hike on the map. Fortunately I was only headed to Milk Lake, which most of the people I spoke with on King’s Peak weren’t familiar with. It’s a little off trail, just below the Crest of the Uintas tucked away out of sight a few miles into the basin. Eager to get to my destination, I decided a shortcut would be the quickest way to get there. I had my doubts about a trail running form the main trail over to Milk Lake once I got near it, and so a direct off trail route didn’t seem like a bad idea.

painter basin backpacking

Hiking through Painter Basin looking for Milk Lake

Bushwhacking my way towards Milk lake wasn’t terrible, but was no walk in the park either. Mostly it was a mix of some random boulder fields and choke points between the shrubbery that cut up my arms and legs a little. But that’s off trail hiking for you. Or, on trail hiking in Arizona, the “Stabby Cactus State”.

view of milk lake in painter basin

Milk Lake

I got my first view of Milk Lake from a small hill above. I could see that finding a good set of trees to hang the hammock from might be a bit of a challenge. Definitely not going to get that near the lake itself which I was hoping for. I had to stay high above the lake on a hill where the trees were, which was a few hundred yard walk down to the lake. My spot wasn’t very aesthetically pleasing, but if I wanted to camp by this lake, this was my best bet.

hammock hang campsite near milk lake in painter basin

Campsite near Milk Lake for night 3

Lots of animal crap around here in this area. Tons of it, really. I could barely find a spot to step without it. Elk and deer crap mostly. I got the hammock up and the tarp secured in place, ready for whatever the weather had in store for me. It still looked like it was going to storm at some point today.

milk lake shoreline - high uintas wilderness painter basin

Down by the shore of Milk Lake

painter basin milk lake panorama view uintas mountains

After getting camp setup, I headed down to Milk Lake to get some water and do some fishing. I could see tons of fish swimming around the shallows, but they weren’t very big. Maybe 6 inchers. These little guys couldn’t resist my Mepps spinner, and I caught 10 or 12 Cutthroats in a half hour or less. I suppose I could have walked around the lake but I figured they were all going to be pretty small in here and abandoned the idea of eating fish tonight.

After fishing I decided to wash up. With nobody around, I stripped down and jumped in the water for a more thorough cleaning than the previous days. Yup, that water is just as cold as you think it would be. But, it’s undeniable how good it feels to rinse all the filth off from a couple of days on the trail.

I was going to cook a tortilla with cheese and pepperoni in the drying pan down by the lake but the weather didn’t look like it was going to hold out any longer, and I headed back to camp. Somehow the rain never came, and I ended up cooking a few hundred feet from camp instead. With no view from my campsite and the gusty winds, I just headed to bed shortly after sunset.

 

 

 

Day 4- Sunday August 16th, 2015

Miles Hiked – 12.9
Route – Milk Lake to Bear Lake

Day 4 Map

Most of the night the stars were shining bright above me, but lightning flashes flickered in the distance. The rain started sometime after 5am and continued for at least 2 hours, with some hail as well. Very windy too. After the weather had passed, I emerged from the hammock around 8am. With everything soaking wet now I packed up and was ready to hit the trail for another day. There was also some strange animal noise pretty close to camp alst night after I got in the hammock. I have no idea what it was, but at times it was really close.

small lake below milk lake uintas mountains utah

Lake 11153, below Milk Lake

milk lake area views

Looking back towards lake 11153 and Milk Lake beyond the trees

painter basin view descending trail from milk lake

View of Painter Basin coming down from Milk Lake

I didn’t feel like hiking the off-trail route I chose yesterday back to the main trail, so I decided to follow a small gully that the overflow from Milk Lake would take downhill. I passed a small lake and then further downhill I came to an open rocky area with a good view. After I descended a short section of boulders, I picked up a trail which was heading towards the main trail.

Walking through the forest on my way back to the main trail I saw two elk scamper away as I approached. I’m always surprised at how little wildlife I see on journeys like this. Do I just make too much noise and they hear me coming? Am I out at the wrong time/place? Maybe I stink and they smell me coming from miles away. Either way, two elk under the belt. Hope to see more.

hiking through painter basin

Hiking through Painter Basin

hiking through painter basin high uintas wilderness august 2015

approaching gunsight pass in the uintas mountains

Following the trail towards Gunsight Pass

cairn in painter basin nearing gunsight pass

Cairn in Painter Basin, nearing Gunsight Pass

Eventually I hit the main trail and headed west towards Gunsight Pass. Even though I hiked through part of this valley yesterday coning down from Anderson Pass, the majority of this morning’s hike will be on a different trail. There was a big open meadow down in the center of the valley that had a couple of nice campsites along the tiny streams that ran through here. Later, I saw a few horses grazing along a lake below me, but no sign of people. Nice hiking through this section.

gunsight pass trail view of painter basin

Hiking up Gunsight Pass, looking back down into Painter Basin

painter basin view from gunsight pass

View of Painter Basin from Gunsight Pass

Next I approached Gunsight Pass, which didn’t appear to be as challenging as Anderson or Porcupine Pass. It sprinkled lightly as I made my way up. All in all it was about 5 miles from Milk Lake to the top of the pass.

gunsight pass trail view

hiking down gunsight pass

Descending Gunsight Pass

There were two horses “parked” up here on the top of Gunsight Pass, a little bit above the area where hikers would walk through. I didn’t stay up here long, just snapped a few quick pictures and headed down into the new valley, Henry’s Fork. This is where those large groups of people were supposed to be camping, so I was expecting a lot of people.

upper henrys fork basin view

Upper Henry’s Fork Basin

unique looking boulder in henrys fork basin

The more and more I descended, the more I liked this area. I managed a few decent pictures through here but the sun washed out a lot of them. This is one area I wish I could have camped, and seen a sunset and sunrise from. But instead, I’m blazing through it, trying to get to Bear Lake. Still, excellent hiking this afternoon coming down from the pass.

hiking through a herd of sheep in henrys fork basin utah

Herd of sheep in Henry’s Fork Basin

henrys fork basin trail looking south

view of the west side of henrys fork basin

View of the west side of Henry’s Fork Basin. Castle Lake is below the ridge in the center

henrys fork basin trail condition

These ruts are the “trail” through Henry’s Fork Basin

A bit further down, I encountered my first herd of sheep on the trail. I could hear them bah-ing from a way away. I continued along my path on the trail and they scampered off as I approached them. There were at least several hundred of them.

henrys fork basin trail above dollar lake

 

view of henrys fork basin in utah's uintas mountains

 

elkhart crossing river ford area

Elkhart Crossing – horse ford area, where I crossed

There were some really nice campsites above Dollar Lake. I passed a few people through this area, as well as a few people earlier while descending Gunsight Pass, but still not seeing the large groups of people I was expecting. After passing Dollar Lake, I was looking for Elkhorn Crossing. I reached an area where the trail came right up to the river and wasn’t going to be cross-able without getting wet. I thought this was odd that Elkhon Crossing, a marked area on the map, didn’t have a footbridge here as I was expecting. After fording the river and walking upstream a bit, I saw a makeshift bridge wade from logs that would have been the actual crossing. Duh, I should have scouted the banks. Oh well, I used the horse crossing.

I had spent most of the afternoon walking downhill, and now had the final 400+ feet to climb for the day over thew next 1.5ish miles. Most of it was in the switchbacks right after crossing Henry’s Fork. This section wasn’t that great for views down in the forest, and so I was haulin’ trying to get to Bear lake.

bear lake view from the north shore

View of Bear Lake from the north shore, looking roughly south/southwest

bear alke east shore view of stream outlet

East shore of Bear lake, where the overflow drains downhill into Sawmill Lake

 

When I reached the lake, I followed the hillside down to the shoreline and followed it around the lake. I settled for a spot near the stream outlet on the east side, where it drains into Sawmill Lake. There was a large boulder that would have been nice to have a fire behind, but instead I thought it would be best used to block the wind from my hammock. There were two trees behind the boulder that were perfect, and as windy as it was right now, this was important!

view of my campsite next to bear lake in the high uintas wilderness, utah

Night 4 campsite by Bear Lake

As I was setting up camp I was feeling a little sluggish. I had been going for a while now and so I took some time to eat a little, chug some water and put on some music. I don’t ever listen to music while hiking, but sometimes I get a song stuck in my head. This trip, it’s been Corrosion of Conformity – Seven Days. So I put that on as I set up the hammock, and along with the food and water, I felt a lot better.

picture of a small brook trout caught in bear lake

Brook trout

view of bear lake's east shore

Looking towards the east shore of Bear Lake

I guy I spoke with up on King’s Peak was telling me to fish the north shore of the lake. The south and east shores didn’t look great so I figured that’s where I’ll start. It was a little deeper over there, and had a couple of areas where you could actually cast from. However, I only caught one fish, maybe 8″.

As soon as the sun went down behind the mountain, the wind died down with it. I finished getting water and washing up and headed back to camp. I was able to have a fire now, and promptly got one going. As soon as the stars came out I was off to bed.

 

Day 5 – Monday August 17th, 2015

Miles Hiked – 11.6
Route – Bear Lake to Lower Red Castle Lake

Day 5 Map

sunrise over bear lake in the uintas

Sunrise at Bear lake

view of bear lake, utah

One last look at Bear Lake

I woke up at 6:45 this morning to catch the sunrise over Bear Lake. It was a pleasant sunrise but not as photo-worthy as I hoped. I went back to camp and finished packing up everything for the day. By 9am I was working my way along Bear lake towards the north shore, where I came in yesterday afternoon. 

flat top mountain trail view of henrys fork

Looking south into Henry’s Fork Basin from the trail up Flat Top Mountain

flat top mountain view

View from Flat Top Mountain into Henry’s Fork Basin

Next up was hiking to the top of Flat Top Mountain. The trail going up was nice, with good views of Henry’s Fork Basin.

flat top mountain hiking

Hiking along Flat Top Mountain

At the top, it’s just like you’d expect from the name; very flat. Pretty cool up here though. Looking back the way I came up, the flat ground looks like it just drops off, with mountain peaks sticking up beyond that.

hiking off-trail on flat top mountain

Off-trail descent of Flat Top Mountain

Now to descend Flat Top Mountain and hook up with the East Fork Smith’s Fork Trail. Eventually the flat open land gave way to forest as it sloped downhill. At first the trail was easy to follow, but after a while it became more elusive. I knew where I should be but the trail I was on was taking me further from it. Eventually I was forced to head down a hillside with a decent slope and laden with fallen trees to take the most direct route to it. This brought my to a marshy lowland area. I worked my way around and up onto slightly higher ground where I was relieved to finally be reunited with the trail.

I walked a short ways before finding a spot to take a break. After this I didn’t take any pictures for several miles. This was one of my least favorite sections of my hike. There just wasn’t anything to see, being in the forest the whole time. The trail was really rocky for a large sections of it. Of course, after hiking in the high country for a few days, everything else looks less impressive. Either way I tried to haul ass through here and get to Red Castle.

Once I finally reached the East Fork Smith’s Fork trail, it was pretty obvious. The trail was now wide enough for a car to drive on, although still pretty rocky in spots. Lots of horse traffic too. They really tear up the trail. All the muddy areas were trashed, and tons of horse crap all over. Ha, so much for “leave no trace”. That goes for the sheep too.

the first view of red castle from a bridge crossing the creek

First view of Red Castle, by the footbridge crossing East Fork Smith’s Fork

The trail was now inclined at the perfect level for me to keep moving without being tired and needing to stop. I covered some good ground through here. At round 10’360′ there’s a bridge that crosses the river. Right here is your first view of Red Castle. Finally, destination in sight. My campsite I ended up picking on the north shore of the lake ended up being about 2.2 miles from here.

red castle seen over the hill on smiths fork trail

hammock hanging by lower red castle lake in the uintas mountains, utah

Campsite by Lower Red Castle Lake for nights 5 & 6

Shortly after the bridge I hit some switchbacks that go up about 300ft. Now the lake is really close. I wasn’t entirely sure where I’d end up camping, but I wanted to try the north side for a nice view of Red Castle. The trail winds around the west side of the lake, so I had to cross the creek again. Fortunately there was a good crossing spot near the mouth with some rocks to hop across on. It was around 2pm when found a good spot a little up hill from the lake to pitch the hammock.

lower red castle lake viewed from the north east shore

After getting everything set up at camp I headed down to Lower Red Castle Lake which was only a few hundred feet away from camp. The shoreline here on the north side near the mouth wasn’t great, kinda soggy, few boulders to step on, shallow water and pretty much no fish. I worked my way around the shoreline clockwise until I found a good spot on the northeast side. There is one area here where a rocky outcrop butts up to the water, and it’s much deeper than everything else. I figured this would be a good spot to fish, or if nothing else, wash up and get water.

I got a couple of bites fishing here but didn’t catch anything. Really though, I didn’t care. It was just so damn nice out, I was content just being here. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the temperature was really nice, in the sun anyways. I just relaxed on this rock by the water for a couple hours. This is what it’s all about, seriously.

I only saw 4 people today. I thought I’d see more by Red Castle, although today is a Monday. I can hear sheep in the distance though, across the lake. I wonder, do they make noise all throughout the night? I guess I’ll find out later tonight.

a view of red castle in the uintas mountains, utah

Sheep grazing below Red Castle

Later on I walked along the lake back towards camp and continued on along the west side of the lake. I talked to a a guy fishing here for a minute. He mentioned Red Castle Lake, next next one up in the chain, is much better for fishing. It’s the largest natural lake in the Uintas Mountains, actually. I explored the shoreline a bit and didn’t see any areas that looked great for fishing, so I turned around and headed back to camp.

Back at camp I decided to cook a quesadilla for dinner… 100% whole wheat tortillas with cheddar cheese and pepperoni, sauteed in my frying pan with butter. Mmm, beats those Mountain House meals any day.

Since the sky was so clear today/tonight, the sunset was a little lackluster compared to what I had imagined before starting the hike. Fortunately I’ll be spending the whole day here tomorrow so I have another chance. I normally don’t take an off day on my hikes in favor of covering ground/seeing more, but this time I thought I’d camp 2 nights somewhere awesome like Red Castle.

No fires allowed near Red Castle although from all the fire pits around, you’d never know that. When the sun went down I went to bed shortly after.

Tonight I planned on trying my hand at a night-lapse using my GoPro. As bright as the stars have been here I figured this would work great. I got up around midnight and set up the GoPro with a full battery on my Flow Motion panning timer and went back to bed. It’s going to use a full battery anyways so I might as well leave it be.

 

Day 6 – Tuesday August 18th, 2015

Miles Hiked – 8+
Route – Day hike from Lower Red Castle Lake to Red Castle Pass

Day 6 Map

lower red castle lake morning in august

I got up at 6:30 this morning for the sunrise. I have no idea how my night-lapse turned out from last night, but now it’s time to try and capture a time-lapse of Red Castle during sunrise. After playing with the cameras for a solid hour I went back to camp and ate breakfast.

After enjoying a relaxing morning I decided to head out at Red Castle Lake and explore. I’ll take my fishing pole, of course. Actually, I took my backpack filled with pretty much everything except the bulk of my food, and my shelter system. Who knows what I’ll get into today!

sheep herd grazing along lower red castle lake in the high uintas wilderness, utah

Herd of sheep grazing along Lower Red Castle Lake

I left camp around 10:30 and headed around the west bank of the lake. The sheep were back today and grazing right along the trail. I headed fright through them as if I didn’t see them and they got out of my way promptly. The sheep dog was staring me down good though. Almost did’t notice him, being white, among all the white sheep. Many of the sheep decided to run along the trail and got forced into a 3 foot wide pathway between some shrubs. It was a sheep traffic jam, as they got backed up behind this bottleneck.

a small alke near red castle alke in the high uintas wilderness

Small lake below Red Castle Lake

After passing the sheep herd, the trail leaves Lowed Red Castle Lake behind and goes through a woodland area. Red Castle towers above some of these trees as the trail passes closer to the mountainside. After climbing about 250ft the trail emerges from the forest. There’s a small lake right before the final push up to the top of the shelf where Red Castle Lake sits that was very photogenic.

hiking to red castle lake with my fishing pole

Red Castle Lake

I made it up to the lake in a little elss than an hour. From here I could see about 3 people spread out around one side of the lake fishing. I decided to let them have the north shore and I took the west. This lake is really big!

I caught a nice sized trout on my first cast. Maybe 12 inches. I threw it back and cast a few more times with some nibbles before moving to the next spot. Caught another one about the same size or larger. At the time I wasn’t sure what kind of fish it was to be honest. They didn’t look like Rainbow, Brook, Brown or Cutthroats. I found out later they are Tiger Trout, a hybrid between the Brook and Brown trout. I threw that back as well since I had proved “proof of concept”… I can come back here later and catch fish for dinner, quickly.

red castle lake shoreline

hiking along the west side of red castle lake

The western side of Red Castle Lake

view of red castle lake

Looking back at Red Castle Lake

Now it was noon or so and I decided to head up higher towards Upper Red Castle Lake. I was mostly curious about going over that “pass”, which was not named on any maps I saw, and because I’d be hiking over it tomorrow. One thing led to another and the next thing I know I was almost at the top! There was actually a decent set of cairns up here up until the final 200+ feet of elevation gain. From this side, it was not bad at all, and I wondered why this isn’t a named and more traveled route.

hiking up red castle pass

Ascending Red Castle Pass

oweep basin viewed from red castle pass

Red Castle Pass, looking down into Oweep Basin

Once at the top I had a view of Upper Oweep Basin. Not far from here is Porcupine Pass and Squaw Pass, which I had already traversed on day 2. The route down looks pretty doable from here as well so I should be good for tomorrow.

red castle pass view of red castle

Looking back down at Red Castle from Red Castle Pass

view of oweep basin from red castle pass

Oweep Basin

It was about a 2 hour hike back to camp from here. It was still pretty early in the afternoon and I had nothing to do later except fish. With an empty agenda I sat down and enjoyed the scenery for a while. Usually when I get to the top of a pass or some other high point, I need to keep moving, or the weather is bad. This time, neither was an issue. It was really nice to just sit up here for a couple hours and gaze out over the vast landscape below.

The rocks up here were mostly sedimentary. The purple in some of these rocks make them stand out quite a bit. I even found a coral fossil up here at 12,000ft! I thought that was pretty cool.

view above upper red castle lake

Upper Red Castle and Red Castle Lakes behind me

After I got my fill of the scenery, I headed back down off the pass. It was about an hour’s hike before I reached the north shore of Red Castle Lake, which was now empty. I accidentally left my GoPro on for about 45 minutes and drained most of the current battery that I had just popped in earlier today. Bummer, only one left after this.

beautiful photo of red castle lake in utah

Red Castle Lake

freshly caught tiger trout

Tiger Trout caught from Red Castle Lake

I went straight to the area I saw a guy catching fish at earlier. Sure enough, I had another fish on the line almost right away. Now I’m saving them for dinner. I figure one more ought to be good. Fished for another 5 minutes max and caught another one. I filleted them with my pocket knife, which is always a bit of a pain. After seeing how much meat I was left with I should have caught a few more, but I didn’t.

cooking trout by red castle lake

Great view for dinner

cooking trout in a frying pan

It was really windy up here by the lake so I had to cook behind a patch of shrubs that offer some protection from the wind. I brought Zatarain’s fish breading mix to coat the fillets with and cooked them up on my frying pan. 1 hour from the lake to my stomach. Can’t get any fresher than that. And fish caught taste better than fish bought! Damn, I wish I had like 5 more of those guys. And I could have, but it was time to head back to camp.

looking back towards red castle lake

another view of red castle

side view of red castle

There were some really nice campsites up high, between Red Castle and Lower Red Castle Lakes. I would definitely consider camping up here instead if and when I ever make it back here.

red castle viewed from stream crossing at sunset

This is the stream I had to cross when I leave my campsite, a few hundred feet from here

beautiful panorama scene by lower red castle lake or red castle at sunset

The sun was going down fast by the time I reached camp. In fact, I got back just in time, because I took most of my best pictures of the Red Castle area tonight just after I returned. I set my backpack down and looked over at Red Castle, and it was illuminated perfectly. I ran down the hill to snap a few pictures while the limited window of optimal lighting still allowed.

After the sun went down I had nothing left to do tonight. I think I was in bed by 9 tonight.

 

Day 7 – Wednesday August 19th, 2015

Miles Hiked – 13.1
Route – Lower Red Castle Lake to Lambert Lake

Day 7 Map

Woke up around 7:15. It was cold last night, and it was 33°F when I picked up my watch in the morning. I left camp by 9am. Since I had been camping in this area for 2 days now I didn’t take too many pictures on the way up to Red Castle Pass. The sheep were gone today and I didn’t need to walk through their herd again. It was another nice day, just blue skies and haze from distant forest fires, although no smoke smell.

sun beams shine down over red castle onto a small lake in the uintas mountains

That same small lake below Red Castle Lake that I mentioned yesterday

red castle lake view hazy

There were no people fishing up at Red Castle Lake today when I got up there. I continued along the west shore of the lake through the boulder fields and started the climb up Red Castle Pass. I made it to the top of the pass by 10:50am, which was about a 4 mile hike. Since I didn’t have my GPS running yesterday I needed to use this number to figure out how many miles I actually hiked. So, about 8 miles yesterday. So much for a zero day! I just can’t contain the urge to explore sometimes, even on my “day off”.

oweep basin with thick haze

Oweep Basin from Red Castle Pass

Man, the haze is thick, and really going to interfere with my pictures. You can actually see the smoke in certain photos. I was pretty bummed about this but it’s just one of those things you need to expect and deal with on hikes like this. Most multi-day hikes are going to have a few days of less than desirable conditions for photography… rain, overcast, forest fire smoke… it’s always something.

red castle pass trail into oweep basin

Descending Red Castle Pass into Oweep Basin

Well, the trail up Red Castle Pass from Red Castle was pretty easy, now to go down the other side, into Oweep Basin. From the top of the pass, your path is blocked in most areas by a 20ft cliff. The northwest part of the pass(to your right if you came up from Red castle) is where you need to be to descend this pass. Here, the cliff is less pronounced and the slope is more gentle. However, it’s not long before you realize you’re on a little hill that looks like it just drops off on all sides. Walking the edge I found a bit of a trail down this thing, albeit pretty steep in spots.

oweep basin looking up to red castle pass

Looking back at Red Castle Pass from Oweep Basin

As I worked my way down from the pass, I could see others coming up and going down Porcupine Pass, which was not all that far away from me now. They could probably see me, and I wondered if they thought “what the hell is that guy doing, coming down from there”? Fortunately the steep section was fairly short and soon enough I was on my way into Oweep Basin, looking for the main trail that runs through it.

oweep basin trail uintas mountains

Hiking west in Oweep Basin

oweep basin view of red castle pass and porcupine pass

Looking back east towards Porcupine Pass and Red Castle Pass

This section of Oweep Basin, between Squaw and Porcupine Passes, was just huge looking. It’s completely wide open and you’re surrounded by some pretty rugged looking peaks and ridgelines. Looks like easy hiking for a while.

 

As I hiked west past Squaw Pass, I was entering uncharted territory for me. When I went over Squaw Pass on day 2, I headed east towards Porcupine Pass. I found that the more I headed west the more I liked this basin.  To my south, the entire time I’ve been hiking in this basin I’ve been paralleling this long, towing ridgeline. It runs pretty straight, and forms an impressive 5+ mile wall. These are all unnamed peaks on the map, extending southwest from Porcupine Pass.

oweep basin hiking the highline trail

highline trail westward through oweep basin

Hiking west on the Highline Trail

The trail was difficult to follow in some spots just past Squaw Pass. It just faded away at times. Although still an easy hike, it was more rolling hills now than the Upper Oweep Basin. That was really flat, and nice to be able to cover ground so fast. Now the basin really opens and mountain peaks dominate the horizon in all directions. This was one of my favorite stretches of non-pass, non-summit hiking of the trip through here. Too bad the haze was so thick, as the pictures didn’t come out great.

highline trail hiking through oweep basin

views along the highline trail in oweep basin

By now, after a few days of such great weather, I had been out in the sun quite a bit. I had been wearing my hat much of the time so my face and neck weren’t bad, but my arms, hands and calves were getting pretty red. I put some sunscreen on my hands and calves for the first time all week.

reflection in the water of an alpine lake in the uintas mountains

This unnamed lake was beautiful

oweep basin panorama view

Looking east, where I just came from

hiking along the highline trail

The trail gains about 200ft as it skirts the end of a ridgeline just before Lambert Lake, my intended campsite for the evening. Great views up here. There was a small lake on the way up that was beautiful. A little higher up along the trail there is a pretty good view of the entire basin. You could see the lake I just passed and everything else I hiked today all the way back to Red Castle Pass.

panoramic view of lambert lake

Lambert Lake

view of lambert alke

After rounding the edge of the ridgeline, I set off on the final push to camp. Lambert Lake is set off the trail a ways, but I figured there would be a pathway leading to it. I never saw anything like that and ended up walking a ways past it, and had to back track. Back at the trail, I just headed straight over to the lake. The view is nice when you first reach the lake, as the northern shoreline has cliffs about 40ft high. There did appear to be a campsite up here. However, I was thinking about having easier access to water, and headed down to check out the shoreline on the other sides of the lake.

lambert lake view from shore

Looking west from the east side of Lambert Lake

I started out on the east side of the lake and walked clockwise around the lake looking for a campsite. I ended up choosing a spot on the northwest side of the lake, below the cliffs and in the trees. The really wasn’t much in the way of good looking campsites around the lake. Much of the shoreline was soggy, and the the water was shallow. Not exactly good for fishing. The east side was a little better in that respect.

lambert lake hammock hang campsite

The hammock setup by Lambert Lake

It was a bout 3:45 now as I began to set up camp. With another day of clear blue skies, I decided to leave the tarp off above the hammock for now. If it looks like rain before bed I can throw it up. Otherwise, I’m sleeping under the stars tonight.

lambert lake campsite

Great fire pit with “comfortable” seating

I was sitting on a log by the fire pit writing in my journal in the early evening when a man on horseback and his dog strolled into camp. The man says, “Sheep”? Ah, so he’s a sheep herder. I told him that I haven’t seen any sheep around here, not since Red Castle. He didn’t speak English at all and so we had some short one or two word exchanges before he kept moving. I should have offered him some of my food since I was going to have so much left. At least I wouldn’t have to carry it any more. But, I didn’t think of that until he was gone.

Next I walked along the shoreline underneath the cliffs to find an area where I could access the water a bit easier. Near camp it was soggy and no rocks to just sit on or put your gear on. Here I found a spot where I was able to get some water and wash up.

Back at camp I got a good fire going, in the best fire pit of any campsite I had in the Uintas. It was out of the wind mostly and had great seating around it. I was a little disappointed in Lambert Lake though. People were talking this place up like crazy but I didn’t think it was worthy of the hype. I would have rather camped either somewhere along the Highline Trail in Oweep Basin where it skirts the treeline or near that small lake at the end of the ridgeline I passed by nearing Lambert Lake, if I had a tent instead of hammock.

I crawled into bed under the stars tonight and hoped it would remain clear all night.

 

Day 8 – Thursday August 20th, 2015

Miles Hiked – 18.6
Route – Lambert Lake to East Fork Black’s Fork trailhead

Day 8 Map

sunrise over lambert lake

Lambert Lake sunrise

Sleeping under the stars went off without a hitch. The weather remains clear although it was very windy last night. The cliffs above me blocked the wind almost completely though which was nice.

hiking near lambert lake

lambert meadows view of mt lovenia

Mt Lovenia viewed from Lambert Meadows

I left camp at 9am. From here I went up the boulders above me instead of walking around the lake again. After a short off trail hike I was back to the main trail. After a couple more good views of the mountains, the trails dips down into the forest for a while after passing Lambert Meadows.

high uintas wilderness lake fork trail

Trail along Lake Fork River heading towards Red Knob Pass

hiking through lake fork basin

Lake Fork Basin

After dropping about 600ft down the switchbacks the trail meets up with the Lake Fork River trail. Now, the trail is following Lake Fork River uphill towards Red Knob Pass. It was a nice walk through here but I was looking forward to the last pass of the trip… supposedly good views from here.

view from upper lake fork basin in the uintas

Upper Lake Fork Basin

alpine lake below red knob pass view

Lake 11287 in Upper Lake Fork Basin

hiking the trail up red knob pass

The trail up Red Knob Pass

Just another mile to go until the base of Red Knob Pass. The pass starts out with switchbacks snaking their way up the mountainside. Not far ahead of me is a couple and their dog, whom I had been gaining ground on since they passed me during my break earlier.

red knob pass views of red knob

Red Knob

red knob pass view of dead horse

Looking towards Dead Horse Lake and Dead Horse Pass

The view from the top was awesome. Really, just incredible. The way Red Knob jets out into the valley like that. The 360° view of mountain peaks. The multitude of colors making up the mountains themselves. This was definitely one of the highlights of the hike.

view from red knob pass

I was sharing the top here with the couple and their dog, so naturally we took turns taking photos of each other. Although I have my tripod this is much easier. We chatted for a while and they moved on, while I hung out and took more pictures. A sheep herder on horseback was also coming up over this pass while we were here. He dropped down into West Fork Black’s Fork basin towards Dead Horse Lake, and I went the other way, towards East Fork Black’s Fork.

red knob pass ridge walk trail

red knob pass trail on the ridgeline

The cool thing about Red Knob Pass is that it’s a ridge-walk as well, not just an up-and-over.  Once you reach the “top” of the pass you still walk along the ridgeline a good ways to get to the area where the trail drops down into the next basin. I really enjoy hiking trails like this, high up on a ridge.

east side of red knob

The backside of Red Knob

colorful view of wasatch peak from red knob pass

Awesome view from Red Knob Pass

hiker on red knob pass

colorful mountains on red knob pass

Look at those colors!

After making my way past peak 12248 the trail runs across the top of a saddle. Great pictures from here. You can see the backside of Red Knob, which actually has a pink look to it. Looking towards Wasatch Peak was really impressive. In the foreground, the rocks and soil are red and a greenish color. Closer to Wasatch Peak and beyond, it was pink and white. I can just imagine this scene at sunset.

red knob pass trial view

Looking back along the Red Knob Pass trail, where I just came from

view of mt lovenia in the high uintas

Mt Lovenia

yellow flowers growing on ridgeline in the mountains

lichen on some rocks

Slowly I kept working my way along the trail, which was still up on Red Knob Pass. I had spent about an hour and a half up here taking pictures and taking it all in. By now it was time to head down and into East Fork Black’s Fork basin below. As I approached the top of the pass, the wind really picked up. More motivation to head down quicker.

east fork basin view

Looking into East Fork Basin from the top of Red Knob Pass

switchbacks on red knob pass trail in east fork basin

Coming down Red Knob Pass into East Fork Basin

hiking through east fork basin

East Fork Basin

Coming down the pass was not bad. Some switchbacks at the top then the trail follows a faint high point downhill through a large, open meadow.

I continued on until I saw the couple I was talking to up on Red Knob Pass hangout out alongside the trail. We ended up talking for a solid half hour. They were from Colorado and had done quite a bit of backpacking themselves. This was their 10th annual summer hike, compared to my 4th summer hiking out west. But great minds think alike! It was nice talking with such cool people out here for once.

east fork basin view

East Fork Basin, before the trail drops down into the forest

view of mountains in east fork basin

It was 3:30 when I moved on. My plan was to grab a campsite high up in the basin, and hike the remainder out in the morning. However, I hiked a bit too far and dropped down into the forest. Here, the trail just went downhill through a bunch of downed trees. Not really where i had in mind for camping. I kept moving, figuring I’d find some decent campsites along the river further downstream.

There was one good spot along the trail that I stopped at for a minute. Honestly it was great, except not much protection from the wind. But really, I was just using that as an excuse to keep moving. I was really toying with the idea of just hauling ass back to the car tonight, and give myself a full day in Salt Lake City tomorrow. After all, I missed the opportunity to camp in the high basin, so I might as well just wrap it up tonight. Unless I find a badass campsite on the way back.

animal bones laying on the ground

Random bones scattered along the trail

So, I kept moving with a renewed sense of purpose. I hadn’t eaten much now in the past few hours, but didn’t want to stop now since I was so close. I actually had a lot of ground to cover, and wanted to get back as soon as possible so I’d have daylight while driving on North Slope Road. At the speed I was moving, I could be back at the trailhead by 7pm.

 

 

campsite along east fork blacks fork

 

soggy trail uintas wilderness east fork

One of many soggy fields the trail passes through

I did find another campsite that would have worked, although probably better for a tent. It was right along the river in a very small patch of trees, but surrounded by a soggy field. I passed and kept moving. However, there were a lot of soggy, muddy fields along the way this afternoon. It became a challenge to find a dry way around, and many times just had to walk right through them. This was the only thing slowing me down at the moment.

ruins of an old log cabin

golden fields in east fork blacks fork valley

Leaving…

I passed the remains of a small log cabin on the way. Further up, I passed a group of people headed out for a horseback ride. They had just seen a moose a ways back by another log cabin. Still no moose for me, but I did see some deer earlier.

east fork ford

I finally came to a water crossing that I was not able to hp rocks or walk logs across. I was getting pretty close now, probably 2 miles or less from the trailhead. I didn’t feel like taking the time to take off my shoes and socks, put on water shoes, cross, dry my feet off, put on the shoes and socks, etc. Instead, I just walked right through the water. Now water was sloshing out of my shoes with every step. However, I’ll be back to the trailhead in a half hour or so.

Now I came to the point where the trail from East fork and Little East Fork valleys comes together. From here on out, it was familiar territory, as I’d hiked this on day 1.

east fork trail horse damage

Good work, horses.

sign warning of an aggressive bird nearby

The trail was really rough the remainder of the way. Lots of rocks and the horses really tore up the ground. I passed a sign that was not posted when I came through here last week about an aggressive Goshawk nearby. A mile up the trail, I was back at the final bridge crossing at the trailhead.

It was about 6:45pm by the time I reached the car. I hiked close to 19 miles today, with about 9 of the being in the last 3 hours. I was a little out of it from pushing it so hard on the way down, but it felt great to be back at the car.

Now it was time for the drive out of the Uintas and back to SLC. I was on the road by around 7pm, and hoped to make it to the paved road (hwy 150) before dark. The road is extremely rough close to East Fork Black’s Fork, but gets better on FR-58 the closer you get to hwy 150. There was a lot of traffic on North Slope Road though. More ATVs than vehicles though.

I made it onto hwy 150 with 20 minutes of remaining daylight. South of North Slope Road, I saw 2 moose off the side of hwy 150. I wish I could have seen some while hiking.

The smoke in the air made for some great sunsets. I stopped on Hayden Pass to take a picture of the pink glow that lingered over the mountains, my final photo for the hike. Now, it’s time to play dodge the deer until I get to Kamas. There were tons of them in and alongside the road when I was driving through here on the way in.

It was a 2.5 hour drive from East Fork Black’s Fork before I had cell phone service, in Kamas. From here it was another 45 minutes to SLC. Once in Salt Lake City area, I stopped at a Wendy’s for triple cheeseburger combo meal and some chicken nuggets to give me some much needed calories. Finally, my appetite is back! I found a hotel in Sandy and headed there for the evening. It was around 1am before I finally hit the sheets. Long day. Another successful hike under the belt.

 

 

Final Thoughts

I really wanted to hike the Highline Trail from hwy 191 to Hayden Pass, which would have been about 95 miles as well. However, without assistance from another person involving a second car, this is not possible as a point-to-point hike. Therefore I was forced to modify my route. This allowed me to see Red Castle, which I would not have seen otherwise.

Highlights of the hike for me were King’s Peak, Red Castle and Red Knob Pass. King’s Peak was an easy climb with a kick ass view. No wonder there were so many people up there!

This was my first major hike with a hammock. Finding the right trees to hang from was a little tougher than I thought but was never a serious problem. I did have some fairly heavy storms for a while on the morning of day 4, and the tarp held up fine. It was a little nerve-racking though because it felt like a giant sail in the wind, and being a newbie to hammock camping, was not sure just how much this thing could withstand. Set up time improved greatly as I got better at tying the knots. Still, setting up and breaking down the tent is much faster. Regardless, the hammock beats the tent for comfort. It still doesn’t come close to my bed at home, but it beats the ground any day.

The whole idea of replacing my hammock’s spreader bars with my trekking poles suffered a serious setback. I’m really surprised the pole tips snapped off like that. My fault for not marking the trekking poles at the correct length. Now I get to buy another set of trekking poles. I’ll likely continue to seek the right poles for replacements to the spreader bars that come with the hammock. I just can’t ignore the weight savings. With trekking poles for spreader bars, the new hammock/tarp/over quilt/under quilt sleep system weighs half a pound less than my tent/sleeping bag/air mattress setup. Using the supplied spreader bars, I’d be adding a few ounces to my tent sleep system.

Physically, I did really well this year. I had no knee issues whatsoever. I think I can attribute that to my training regiment, which was something new for me… hiking! Prior hikes I would do stair climbs with a weighted pack for up to 45 minutes, a little running, and more leg exercises like squats and leg curls. Sometimes I’d have knee pain while hiking and sometimes I wouldn’t. Usually though, a 15 mile day would have me hobbling on my feet in camp at the end of the day. Not so this time. For training this time I hiked with a 45 pound backpack around a nearby river, a loop about 7 miles. Usually I’d do this in about 2 hours, sometimes more or less depending on the route variations I took. I did this 4-5 nights a week for 6 weeks. Tough to find the time after work, but I made time. I’m glad I did, because my knees, legs and feet all felt pretty good at the end of each day. This has eased some of my concerns as to my ability to do a thru hike someday.

As always, questions and comments are welcome!

If you found my trip report useful, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment! Alternatively, if you feel you have any information you’d like to share with others regarding this hike, please feel free to leave that below in a comment as well.

[tcb_comment_count]

 

Like what you see?