Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Tuesday Trip Report: Highpoint: Utah. Kings Peak, 13,528 feet. August 3-5, 2013

Our highpointing trip of 2013!

This is the first year we didn't ascend more than one highpoint.  We're running out of peaks...after Utah, all that's left of the "walk-ups" are Idaho's Borah and California's Whitney.  I'm confident about getting those two...after that, it will all depend on whether or not Alex and Sage want to take the next steps in mountaineering.  They already know that I'm fine with continuing on and I'm fine with finishing after highpoint number 45.  If we don't highpoint the "Final Five" (the five that require self-arrest proficiency and glacier travel), then we'll probably hike significant trails in the appropriate states instead.  Wonderland Trail in lieu of Rainier, for example.  We'll see, time will tell.

For now, however...here's our trip report of Utah's Kings Peak.

Part One: Acclimatization

We began in Colorado...Rocky Mountain National Park is a fine place to acclimate.  One can camp at 9400 feet (Longs Peak Campground) and drive higher and higher each day.  For the second year in a row, we acclimated like this:

Day One -- hang out at camp all day (9400 feet)
Day Two -- drive Trail Ridge Road to 10,500 feet, hang out by the side of the road, play cards all day
Day Three -- drive to the Visitors Center (11,400 feet)...stay at that elevation all day
Day Four -- walk up the Tundra World Nature Trail at Rock Cut (12,350 feet), stare at the marmots all day.
By Day Five, we're ready to hike at  high altitude (9000-14,000 feet).

Here are a few photos from our RMNP acclimating days...

Alex makes a seesaw out of rocks and twigs.

Sage plays in the dirt.

At 10,500 feet

Sage makes a friend.

Our campsite at Longs Peak Campground

By the Visitor's Center

12,000+ feet


Bighorn sheep!

Part Two: Highpoint: Utah.  Kings Peak, 13,528 feet.

Day One: Hike to junction just south of Dollar Lake.  8.3 miles.

A quick plug for Country Cabins in Mountain View, Wyoming.  If you don't feel like camping at Henry Fork Campground, then stay here -- this is about 30-40 minutes from the trailhead.  Look for this building as you drive into Mountain View...

Here's one of the cabins...

Now, on with our hike -- we left the trailhead around 8am.

The first 8-ish miles to the camping areas by the lakes are relatively flat and fairly scenic.

I had read that this was the local "Boy Scout mountain."  Meaning, tons of troops come here to fish, camp, etc.  Still...it was extremely odd to run into group after group of boys and men as we headed up.  There must have been well over a hundred males....and ONE female coming off that mountain.  One fellow even stopped and said, "Well, you don't see this every day!"  The girls and I had gone ahead of Hugh, who had stopped for a break and was a few tenths of a mile behind us.  I said, as kindly as I could but feeling a bit exasperated, "Don't women and girls hike out here in the West?"  He said yes, but he's not used to seeing women without at least one man, and he had never seen a mother hiking with girls before.  He wasn't trying to be sexist, he was just stating the situation as it was.  Well, I guess this is why I keep publishing our trip reports -- Ladies, take your girls and get on out there!!!

As we exchanged pleasant goodbyes, I couldn't resist...as he left, I told him if he thought WE were something he didn't see every day, then just wait until he hiked down the trail a bit.  He looked at me with a befuddled expression, but I just told him he'd understand when the time came.  I wonder how much time went by before he crossed paths with Hugh...who was hiking on his fully exposed Cheetahs and carrying a huge pack.  :)

Not long after that encounter, the girls and I reached the first intersection.  We went left for Dollar Lake.  Also saw a group of guys with three goats...the goats were being used as pack animals.  The girls and I agreed we should have thought of that...how cool would it be to have a goat along on your highpointing trip?  One of the guys said they were only $25 a day.

We crossed the shaky bridge, then sat and waited for Hugh.  He was only five minutes behind us.

Onward, up into the massive meadows...the sun was out bigtime, and though the day felt cool, that high-altitude sun completely fried our skin.  Must use sunblock with a rating of 70+ up here!

Kings Peak is that pointed middle one in the background...

We had hoped to camp by Dollar Lake, but somehow we managed to walk right by it.  It was to our left somewhere, but we didn't see the herd path that leads to it.  We reached the second intersection and decided we'd camp in the nearby meadow instead of backtracking.  Camping is allowed wherever up here...we'd seen at least a dozen tents scattered here and there before we reached this spot.

A picture from our camping spot, looking back the way we'd hiked (from the north)

Hugh's tent...

We spent the afternoon lounging about and eating.  Unfortunately, my new bear canister didn't arrive before we left for this trip, so we attempted to hang bear bags.  Note that there are precious few places to properly hang a bear bag up in that meadow...if you have a canister, bring it.  Thankfully, no bears got into our food....but a pesky squirrel did.  It tore a big hole in one of my bags and stole some granola.

Day Two: Summit!

Hugh hadn't planned on hiking to the summit...he told me he was going to hang about at the campsite while we ascended the peak.  Therefore, it was just me, Alex, and Sage heading out the next morning at 3:30.  It was a 16 mile roundtrip hike from our camping spot and I wanted to be up and down before any chance of afternoon thunderstorms.  I must say, the girls were fantastic with the early wake-up.  Neither of them had ever began a hike this early before.  Both were in good spirits...and both were very brave about hiking in the dark.

Though there haven't been any recent sightings or issues with mountain lions, we hiked with Sage (the shortest) in the middle, me in the back (mountain lions apparently like to sneak up behind folks), and Alex in the front. I was so proud of Alex -- she led us well through the darkness...no one else began as early as we did...she navigated the trail and the landscape perfectly.  All Sage and I did was follow her.

We hiked up and over Gunsight Pass and all the way through Painters Basin using headlamps.  The sun came up after we took the right toward Anderson Pass...we'd gone about 4 miles in total darkness.

Headlamps off, almost sunrise...

We took a break after the sun fully rose.  We ate breakfast, applied sunblock, and chugged some liquids.  The girls were proud of themselves for having made it all that way in darkness, and they both said they enjoyed watching the sun rise as they hiked.

Time for sunblock

Almost at Anderson Pass...

At Anderson Pass, looking east...

At Anderson Pass, looking down into the meadows where we'd camped...from here, I can finally find Dollar Lake...

We reached Anderson Pass at 7:30, four hours after leaving our campsite.  Seven miles in four hours at high altitude...and most of those miles in the dark...not bad.  The girls were surprised at our time.  They thought we had been moving slowly.

I looked up at our remaining mile and told them it would probably take us about two hours to reach the summit.  From here, it's a total rock hop.  It is NOT a rock "climb," as some guidebooks would lead you to believe.  New Hampshire hikers, think northern Presidentials.  Lots of loose boulders to step on, and sometimes you need to use your hands (but not often).  The terrain felt familiar to us and the girls didn't have any trouble maneuvering.  Still, a mile of loose boulders plus an altitude of 13,000 + feet = slow moving.

On the way up, looking down toward Anderson Pass...

On the way up, looking down at Painters Basin...

Going Up....

Good times!  We found some cairns here and there, but there really isn't a trail on this part.  Just pick your line and hike on.

The almost-summit is in the middle of the photo below...this picture is take from the side of the main false summit.

Summit!  9:30am.  We were first on the mountain that morning.

After eating our traditional summit chocolate and lounging about for an extraordinary length of time, we started heading down.  We'd had the summit completely to ourselves and we couldn't even see anyone coming up yet.

On the way down the rock-hop, we looked down into Painters Basin and decided to "rock-whack" straight down instead of going back to Anderson Pass before descending the trail.  We're used to rock-hopping and though the angle looked steep, it didn't look too steep.  there were no cliffs to navigate and I didn't think we'd be in danger of starting (and getting caught up in) a rock slide.  The girls thought this was a good idea, so we headed straight down...and about 2/3 down this huge section, something horrible happened.  Sage lost her iPod.

Sage's iPod is her camera -- it contains over a thousand photos, including those she took on the Camino de Santiago.  At some point during our descent, it had slipped out of its holder and fallen.

We climbed back up and searched for about an hour, but we didn't find it.  She'd had it when we'd left the normal route, which meant it was now lost among a mile-high stretch of loose boulders that wasn't part of any particular trail.  We looked and looked, but we didn't find it.  I had to tell Sage that she needed to let it go.
Sage's iPod fell out somewhere among all those loose boulders and rocks,
on the side of Kings Peak summit.

Poor Sage was heartbroken.  She was so upset that I worried she couldn't be careful with her footing.  I felt awful, but I did not think we were going to be able to find it, and we had given the search a real and valiant effort.

Since Sage could no longer take photos, I didn't take any more pictures that day.  I didn't want to remind Sage that Alex and I still had our cameras but she didn't.  Therefore, I don't have any more photos of Kings Peak to share.

Hugh wasn't there when we returned.  Turns out he had woken at 9am and decided to hike toward the summit to see if he could find us on the way down.  We must have passed each other in Painters Basin at some point...have no idea how we missed seeing him.  He went all the way to Anderson Pass, waited, then gave up and headed back down.  He took the "chute," which is a straight-down rockslide that leads right from Anderson Pass to the meadow...quite dangerous and there's no way I'd take the girls on something like that.  He hiked down with two guys from Bosnia he'd met at the Pass.  He said the descent was crazy-fast-and-furious, and he was glad I hadn't gone that way with the girls. 

Day Three -- Hiking Out

Our hike out was uneventful, though Sage was understandably sad for most of the way back.  A tremendous thunderstorm unleashed its fury just as we returned to our rental car, and as the rain fell I thought of Sage's exposed iPod and gave up all hope of ever getting it back.

And then...the unthinkable happened.  A week after our hike, while we were in Telluride attending Hugh's No Barriers conference, I received an email from someone I'll call "Mr. H."  Mr. H had miraculously found Sage's iPod while descending straight down the summit (as we did).  He refused to take any payment for mailing it to us -- it arrived at our house one day after we returned from our trip.  It works perfectly.   I don't know how Mr. H managed to find the iPod...that was like finding a needle in a haystack...and I don't know why it still works just fine after having been rained on for at least a day, but it's here, it works, and Sage is thrilled to have it back.

Thank you, Mr. H.  We are more grateful than we can properly express.

So...number 43 is in the bag.  Two more walk-up highpoints to go, then...maybe we'll go for the final five and maybe we won't.  Can't predict how the girls will feel two years from now.


Marcy said...

What an amazing achievement! Loved the photos. And I can't believe Sage got her iPod back--holy cow!

unstrung said...

So proud of everyone for doing the alpine start! What a wonderful reward, to have the sunrise to yourselves up there. Awesome and unthinkable about the ipod too!

Patricia Ellis Herr, Alexandra Herr, and Sage Herr said...

Thanks -- it was a good trip -- the girls and I had a wonderful time (except for the part where Sage lost her iPod).

There are positive and amazing people in this world. "Mr. H" is one of them. :)