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Highpointers I had corresponded with had told me this may be the most beautiful of all the state highpoints. With that in mind my brother, Don, and I, planned a leisurely multi-day backcountry loop hike to enjoy the area to the fullest. Click here to see a map of our route. The peak is located in the High Uintas Wilderness area in northeast Utah. This wilderness area includes areas of both the Wasatch and Ashley National Forests.

We spent five days and four nights on the trails and the only backtracking we did was from the base of Anderson Pass to the top of Kings Peak and back, a total of about 5 miles.

The route used by most highpointers to access Kings Peak is contained wholly within one drainage basin, Henrys Fork. Our route, on the other hand, passed through five different basins and provided some breathtaking views as we crested each pass dividing those basins. Another advantage of our route was the fact that on summit day we were camped in the nearest basin to Kings Peak. This made it unnecessary to get up in the wee hours of the morning and hike by headlamp to reach the peak early enough to avoid the threat of afternoon thunderstorms. Also, our summit climb only required about a 2000 foot elevation gain.

We hit the trail on July 21 starting at the East Fork of Blacks Fork trailhead. The elevation there is around 9100 feet. This trailhead is preferred over the nearby Cache Meadow trailhead because there is a bridge over the river. We crossed the bridge and hiked north for about a mile on the East Fork of Blacks Fork Trail [102]. Then we turned east on the Bear River - Smith Fort Trail [091]. This trail immediately started climbing steeply for about a mile or more via switchbacks to Mansfield Meadows to the east. It was good to get this steep ascent out of the way while we were fresh. It was also nice to quickly get into the cooler pleasant air of the high country.

This brought us to another trail junction in the Mansfield Meadows area. We turned right on the Smiths Fork - Bald Mountain Trail [111]. The left fork was supposed to be the North Slope Trail [105] according to our book and map, but that trail is evidently closed, at least at that point. Barriers had been placed over that trail and the path was returning to nature.

Our trail headed south-southeast and steadily up till it passed by the east side of Bald Mountain at an elevation of around 11,400 feet. There were hundreds of domestic sheep grazing in the high meadows in this area. During the week we occasionally passed cowboys and sheep herders hauling supplies into the backcountry.

From Bald Mountain the trail decended back down into the Smiths Fork drainage and headed toward the the dramatic mountain known as Red Castle. Before reaching the Red Castle area we came to an intersection with the East Fork of Smiths Fork Trail. About this time the skies, which had been threatening for several hours, finally cut loose. We quickly set up the tent and relaxed while it rained.

The mountains in the High Uintas are high enough that they create their own weather system. Every day we were there it rained in the middle of the afternoon, sometimes just a barely-noticeable sprinkle, but sometimes an impossible-to-ignore gully washer. We were there to enjoy ourselves, not set any speed records. When the rains set in, we just set up our tent and napped or read. It almost always quit by early evening. We only had one evening meal interrupted by rain. Sometimes we had enough daylight left to get in a few more miles before stopping for the night after the rain quit.

On day two we continued south-southeast on the Smiths Fork Trail till we crested Smiths Fork Pass. At this point we crossed from the north side of the mountain range to the south, from the Wasatch National Forest to the Ashley National Forest, from the Smiths Fork drainage to the Yellowstone Creek drainage, and, even though we stayed on the same trail, the trail name changed from the Smiths Fork Trail [111] to the Smiths Fork Pass Trail [054].

After descending the pass we struck out due east cross-country, headed for the unnamed basin on the southwest side of Anderson Pass and near the foot of Kings Peak. The High Uintas high country is characterized by expansive alpine meadows making cross-country travel very practical and line-of-sight navigation very easy if you have a map with topographic features.

In fact, a good map is essential for anything but a short day-hike. The trails in the High Uintas are unmistakeable, deeply rutted trails one minute, then the next minute the trail disappears completely except for a rock cairn in the distance. We lost the trail briefly a number of times but never had any problems thanks to our excellent map from Trails Unlimited.

We awoke to rain on day three, summit day, so we just rolled over and got some more sleep. Finally the rain quit and we hit the trail with only daypacks at about 8:40 a.m. We crossed some snowfields on the switchbacks on the Highline Trail [025] as we climbed to Anderson Pass. One was in an area that was quite steep and I was glad to have trekking poles along.

We ascended into a cloud and the visibility was only about 50 feet as we started up the boulder scramble leading from Anderson Pass to Kings Peak. Although we saw very few people the rest of the time during our five day trip, we encountered quite a few people on the way up and especially on the way down the ridgeline between Anderson Pass and Kings Peak. Most of these people came from the Henrys Fork Basin, others from Painter Basin, and fewer still from the Yellowstone drainage.

As we approached the summit it looked for a while like the clouds might burn off, but they never did. There were occasional breaks though that gave sufficient views of the the surrounding areas to be able to identify all the nearby basins, peaks and passes. It was chilly on top and since there were no dramatic vistas we hiked all the way back to camp before eating lunch. Then the rain started again so we set tight until it stopped, then we packed up and headed southwest on the Highline Trail. We stopped for the night at a high meadow about half mile east of Tungsten Lake.

Our supper was interrupted by more rain and we had to finish eating inside the tent, which is not something you want to be doing in bear country since the food smell can linger in the tent. During the night a large animal came near our tent and I was afraid my worst fears had been realized but I believe the visitor must have been a moose rather than a bear based on the noise it was making, and based on the fact we lived through the incident.

Day four was a beautiful day, weatherwise, and was the most spectacular day of all, scenery-wise. We continued to follow the Highline Trail, which now headed in a northwesterly direction, across Tungsten Pass and into Garfield Basin.

Crossing Garfield Basin we then climbed Porcupine Pass which topped out at 12,300 feet. The approach was fairly long but not too steep. When we hit the top the view of Oweep Basin on the other side was one of those moments when you feel like you stepped into a page of a Sierra Club calendar. An amazing vista. Check out the panoramic photo below.

The descent on the other side was much steeper and the trail much less well developed. One spot in particular is rather dicey when you are wearing a backpack. Once we hit the bottom we set off cross-country in a westerly direction to Squaw Pass. This cut off about a mile of hiking. Then we ascended Squaw Pass from the east which proved to be our only bad decision of the trip. Near the top this turns into nothing more than a mountain goat trail and is downright dangerous while wearing a backpack. A better idea would be to stay low and pick up the trail that ascends Squaw Pass from the west.

At the top we crossed our third major pass of the day and had a sweeping view of the Little East Fork of Blacks Fork drainage. Descending the other side put us on the Little East Fork Trail [103] and on the home stretch. Down in the basin we camped for the night about five miles from our beginning trailhead.

The next day we polished off the remaining miles by lunchtime. This last trail was one of the most difficult to follow and we ended up bushwhacking on several occasions, sometimes by accident, other times on purpose to avoid unnecessary stream fords.

The cumulative elevation gain for the trip was only about 7,228 but of course the average elevations were in the 10,000 to 12,000 range so the altitude definitely made the uphill grinds that much tougher.

If you plan to visit the area earlier than July you may want to bring trekking poles or an ice axe and instep crampons as there could be a significant amount of snow left. Also bring a mosquito headnet as you will see plenty of those pesky critters, especially at lower elevations.

A good book on the area is High Uintas Trails by Mel Davis and John Veranth. The book and the Trails Unlimited map of the High Uintas Wilderness are available from the Forest Service but it is easier to order from the Flaming Gorge Natural History Association since they will accept credit card orders by phone. You can reach them at 801-885-3305.