Sunday, August 7, 2011

Kings Peak and the Three Peak Challenge!

Kings Peak stands tall at 13,528' above sea level.  It is the 7th highest place in the United States.  But more importantly for me, it was the last peak for me to climb from my Three Peak Challenge.  Big Baldy was climbed in April 2010.  I hiked Mount Timpanogos twice during the summer of 2010.  Kings Peak was the last of the three I challenged myself to hike.

I was really beginning to wonder if we (my brother Gordon and his nephew-in-law, Evan, from his wife's side of the family), were going to be able to hike it this year.  When we went up Timp a little over a week ago, the unusual amounts of snow still in the mountains turned us back.  But after a few calls to the Forest Service and online trip reports of groups making it to the top of Kings, we decided to go.

There are several ways to hike into Kings Peak, but the most common is to approach it from the north side of the Uintas at the Henry's Lake trail head.  This is the most direct approach.  We took off last Wednesday night and stayed at Gordon's sister-in-laws house.  We really appreciated the hospitality in letting us stay the night and sending us off in the morning with a great breakfast!

We got up early on Thursday and drove for about an hour to get to the trail head.  The lot was full of cars so we knew we would have company.  We spent the most of the day backpacking through beautiful country. 
We didn't run into any snow along the way, but we did have to navigate around patches of mud here and there.  We talked to many who had already made it to the summit and were headed back out so we were optimistic about our chances of being able to make it to the top.

Our first glimpse of Kings.  Pointed mountain in the distance.
We had planned on camping at Dollar Lake, which is a little over 8 miles up the trail, but we missed the turnoff to it and hiked about a mile further up the trail before we realized we had gone too far.  But it turned out to be a blessing.  We found a decent campsite that was being vacated and they accommodated us setting up early while they waited for the rest of their party to return from the summit and head out on horseback.  We were pretty much by ourselves and there weren't any Scout troops around for miles.  Being a scoutmaster myself, I enjoy scouts, but only when they are my scouts. :) It was nice and peaceful where we set up.

After hiking with heavy back packs a better part of the day, we were all ready to relax.  It was about mid-afternoon by the time we had set up camp.  We were all ready for a short nap.  After we woke up, I was low on water that I had packed in with me, so we filtered water for our dinner and the next day as well.   Dinner consisted of freeze-dried meals for all of us.  After a day of hard hiking, my lasagna tasted good even though a few of the noodles were still crunchy.  After a cup of cocoa and talking about the day and the day ahead of us tomorrow, we were ready to get a good night's sleep.
Nice little place to camp.
The view from our campsite.  Note the waterfall in the distance.

It rained quite a bit through the night, but the forecast for Friday was clear weather.  I shared a tent with Gordon and after talking for a bit, the conversation slowed as we drifted in and out.  My body was ready for sleep, but I was thinking a lot about how unreal it seemed that we were actually this close to Kings Peak and I was within reach of this last peak to climb.  I pulled out the iPod, put on some music that meant a lot to me and just tried to take it all in.  I had come so far physically and emotionally to reach this point that I am not too ashamed to admit that the tears came rather effortlessly.  This was more than hiking a challenging mountain, I was also meeting a challenge within that had started over two years ago.

We got up early on Friday, eager to get an early start.  Even with a clear forecast, it is not unusual for afternoon thunderstorms in these mountains.  Kings Peak is not a place you want to be on if the weather is bad.  The skies were clear and the air was crisp as we headed out with our day packs.  We climbed up to Gunsight Pass fairly quickly and had the decision to make of dropping down from the pass and take a well established trail that dropped down and then back up as it wound over to Anderson Pass or take a short-cut across a rock field that would save time and distance.  The rock slide is fairly steep so you need to be careful even under ideal conditions, but this time around, there was a snow field across part of the short cut.  We all decided to take the shortcut, but I chose to drop down below the snow field and then hike back up to the short cut.  It took a bit more effort on my part, but I felt more confident taking that route.  We all made it across in good shape and as soon as we got on top of the ridge, we could see Anderson Pass.  We worked our way across a meadow and rock field and got to Anderson Pass in good shape.

Shortcut with the snowfield.

The final climb to the top of Kings starts at Anderson Pass.  The top of Kings is a bunch of huge boulders that you need to scramble up and over to get to the top.  I had heard how hard this last part was, but we just worked our way up amongst the boulders and other hikers and kept a steady pace.
Anderson Pass.  Just before heading up Kings Peak.
Evan made it up a bit before us.  His twenty year youth advantage paid off on this part of the hike.  It didn't take us too much longer though before we saw him waving at us from the top.  There it was!  Before we knew it, we were taking pictures, giving each other high fives and just enjoying the view.  We saw numerous lakes and many beautiful mountains that surrounded us.  But most of all, just reaching the summit filled our souls with happiness that is hard to express.
Pretty darn happy!

Evan's summit pose.
That's my brother!

The Three Mountaineers!

One thing that got us off the mountain a bit quicker than we might have normally was the wind that was constantly blowing.  I estimated between 30 and 40 mph when we first got there.  We found a place out of the wind for a snack and I wanted to go back up top and look around and the wind was blowing even harder.  I couldn't stay there for very long as I tried to take it all in one last time.

We made it back to camp the way we came.  We had put close to another 9 miles behind us on the round trip.  We were happily exhausted by the time we got back to camp.  After the pumping water and dinner routine was over, we were ready for another good night's sleep.

We woke up early again, broke camp and headed out.  We made great time coming back out.  It was such a great trip and we were all happy campers at the end of the trip.

If you read this far, thanks for sticking with me, not only on this entry, but all the support many of you have given me both in person and through the blog.  I count you all as great friends and a great help in me making my Three Peak Challenge!

What's up next?  I am still training for the Hobble Creek Half Marathon coming up on the 20th.  After that?  Probably a good subject for next week!  Hang in there and I will too!


  1. Awesome, awesome, awesome. I am sooooo proud of you dad. YOU did it. I knew you could. Who would have thought that my dad who is 20 years my senior could hike better than I can. My knees were a killin me just hiking down from timp. caves. You truely are my inspiration and I know you will do many more wonderful things. I love you dad. Thanks for being such a great example to me. Keep it up.

  2. You completed your challenge!! I was proud just reading the post. Can't wait to hear what's in store next. Love you.

  3. Sweet! I'm glad you made it. Our plans for that hike this year were crushed because we planned it for July 13th, and there was still way too much snow and water up there. I guess they got the bridge back up at Elk Horn Crossing?

  4. Shane - They rebuilt the bridge about 100 yards down from the original sign. We were glad the Forest Service was able to get it back up.