Sunday, August 23, 2009

Hikeblogging: King's Peak, High Uintas Wilderness Area

A couple of weeks ago I completed what for local "peakbaggers" is the ultimate Utah hike: Climbing to the top of King's Peak, the highest mountain in the state.

The peak is located smack-dab in the middle of the High Uintas Wilderness Area, a 470,000-acre expanse of high mountains, forests, and lakes. Several trails lead to the top but the most popular by far is the Henry's Fork trailhead.

What makes the King's Peak hike so challenging are two factors: Distance, and elevation. The trail starts at about 9,500 above sea level, reaching 13,528 feet at the top of the peak. But for almost all of the roughly 30-mile hike one is above 10,000 feet in elevation.

Usually most hikers divide the trip up into 3 or 4 days. Some do it in two, while a few hard-core souls can make to the top and back to the trailhead within a single day. I was in the average group, taking three days. The first day I hiked in about 9 miles to my campsite. The trail going in goes through forest, but then opens up into wide alpine meadows. Thankfully, the slope is fairly gentle; had it been steeper I might not have enjoyed myself as much.

Finally I found a good campsite about a mile below Gunsight Pass in a nice meadow with a beautiful view.

The next morning, I got up and started up to Gunsight Pass.

Up close from the east side, King's Peak doesn't look very impressive, just a big pile of large Precambrian metamorphic rocks. From the Yellowstone river side on the west, however, the mountain face is about 4,000 feet high.

From on top, however, you can tell you're up high. Looking down at the Yellowstone drainage.

Looking east at the Uinta River drainage.

Looking south at South King's Peak, which at 13,512 is the second-highest point in the state. For years it was thought to be the highest -- the geographic survey marker for the area is on the top -- but more accurate readings showed it was slightly lower.

Overall, this was a great, if challenging, hike. The co-worker who was going with me pulled out at the last minute, so I completed it by myself. However, because it is so popular there were several people who climbed the peak at the same time I did, so I wasn't completely alone.

Conditioning is a must for this hike. I trained hard and the extra effort showed: I was able to make it to the top without having to take more than a couple of rest stops. Definitely one of the better hikes in Utah.