Kings Peak: The summit that wasn’t

For weeks I had been waiting excitedly for WindChime to join me in Utah.  She was coming out to do Kings Peak with me.  Not only is it the highest point in the Uintas, but it’s also the highest point in Summit County AND in Utah a trifecta.  For a geographic point nerd like myself that’s always an incentive.

We headed up there after work on Thursday and stopped at the USFS Ranger Station on our way out and the Ranger said, “Be off the summit no later than 1300.”  Got it.  We thought we had a good plan going in: set alarm at 0400, on trail no later than 0600, summit by 1200, and then back to camp.  Our plan included a mixture of running and hiking.  In my life things rarely go according to plan and this was no exception.

0400 alarm, indeed, went off.  We lay in the tent trying to figure out what we were going to wear as the weather decided to throw us our first hiccup.  It was cold now, we knew it was going to get hot, but when/if the rain moved in we were going to get cold.  Ah, Mother Nature she is such a fickle Queen.

We actually were on the trail by 0545 which was great, except the trail very quickly turned to mud that was as slick as a bar of soap in the shower.  So much for any thoughts of running.   We were pushing a really fast pace considering the distance that we had to cover taking few breaks.

As we went up and over Gunsight Pass we got excited thinking that we were almost there.  Then we dropped and dropped and dropped.  What the heck??  We checked the map twice.  Nope, we were on the right trail.  We crossed a snow patch and started heading up towards Anderson Pass.  The sky was turning an ominous shade.  We still had another 3-3.5 miles to the summit and we were going to start getting into the gnarly climbing.   We looked at each other and both said, “Well, what do you want to do?”

Neither one of us wanted to quit, but collectively we had enough miles (easily >10k) under our belts to recognize the danger.  Not only were we already above treeline, but we were going to be heading up and not a gentle up either.  We calculated that with the 3-3.5 miles left we’d most likely be on the summit by 1230 at the earliest.  That was cutting it a little too close.  Then not only would we have to beeline down the mountain, but we would have to go up and over Gunsight Pass again.  Oof.  With a heavy heart we made the decision to turn around.

As we crossed the snow field again we ran into a teenager and a chaperone who had decided not to make the summit.    The teenager looked rough.  We stopped and very quickly assessed his electrolytes were way out of whack.  WindChime gave him both Nuun and Tailwind in his bladder and I asked the chaperone if he had anything salty to eat.  There wasn’t much more we could do for them except hope that they made it to their campsite at Dollar Lake.

We started to pick our way back up Gunsight Pass when suddenly rocks started raining down from the pass itself.  Standing on top was a whole group of teenage boys who were chucking rocks down.  Every time a rock came careening over the edge Baby Trail Dog wanted to chase it.  “HEY! STOP THROWING ROCKS!!!”  we shouted up.  The other boys pointed at the offending boy, “Yeah, Carson, stop throwing rocks.”  When we crested the pass there was a group of about 10 boys with 4 adults sitting on the pass.  WindChime and I both highly recommended that they not summit.  We relayed what the ranger had said and the distance they have left to go. The adults in the group looked at us with disdain.  I mean, how could it be possible that two girls could actually know what they were talking about.   We shrugged and moved forward.  What they did was up to them.

Further down the valley trail we crossed paths with two guys that we had seen leaving the night before.  They had a wild dog that was not on leash.  We were surprised to see them heading up the valley so late in the day since they had hiked in the night before.  We passed along the same information that we had passed to the group on Gunsight.  The only difference was these guys had 3 additional miles before they even got to Gunsight. They brushed us off.  OK……

Back down the valley we went, through the muck, and over the river.  We debated back and forth.  Was that the right call?  Could we have made it?  Behind us the sky got darker and darker.  We caught up to group of three Rangers also heading for the trailhead.  When we exchanged our story with them and our decision not to summit they looked relieved.  “Good decision,” they said.  Well that answers that.

With approximately 5 miles left to the trailhead we began to hear the thunder.  We picked up our pace.  At least at this point we were semi-covered by trees.  The closer we got to camp the closer the storm got.  We decided to grab what food we could out of the cooler and dove into the tent just as the skies opened up.

Fourteen hours of sleep later we got up and made breakfast.  Just as we were packing up our campsite we saw the father/son duo that we had seen packing in on Thursday night come back to their truck.  We walked over to them.

“Did you summit?” Windchime inquired.

“Yeah, but boy were we glad we made it off the mountain. We thought about you guys as we were coming down.  Did you guys make it up?”

“No, we made it just shy of Anderson pass, but saw the storm and made the call not to go as we saw the storm rolling in.”

“Good choice!  There were some guys up on the summit when the storm rolled in and they got the crap scared out of them.”

She and I exchanged sideways smirks.  Huh, imagine that.

Even without summiting  we logged over 20 miles and we saw some gorgeous back country.  WindChime had two necklaces made one for her and one for me.  Mine has the latitude and her has the longitude of the peak.  While we may not have made it to the summit, we had an amazing time with tons of memories.

 

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