UHT Day 4: another approach

August 22, 2021

Miles hiked: 17.7

Passes: Gabbro @ 11,698 ft

Vertical: +2,500

Campsite elevation: 10, 835 ft

PM temp: 44F

So after three days of not hiking and watching the weather, I found a six day window of clear skies in which to try hiking the Uinta Highline Trail again. This time I was hoping to get a seat on one of the shuttles, but they had booked up, so I had to figure out another way.

I would need to be self sufficient in my transportation. I did not want to try hitching such a far and complicated distance even though that would have been an option, it could turn into more of an adventure than I really want. I also did not want to start at Hayden TH again, re-hiking the first 30 miles, only to have to yo-yo that, making it three passes in the same section. So, I came up with another approach.

I drove to where my food cache was at McKee Draw (Eastern Terminus) and fortunately it was right where I left it, yay! I rummaged through my food and found that water had somehow gotten inside my enclosed bear can. Indeed, that must have been a lot of rain. I organized my now 6 days food supply from the back of my car, and then drove to the Leidy Peak TH, totaling about 5 hours of driving from where I was resting up in Evanston, WY.

My food cache intact!
My updated 6 day food supply

The Plan: I will be starting at Leidy Peak now heading Westbound. I decided that rather than start at McKee Draw, it saves me two days or 50 miles of forest hiking (it’s 25 miles each way, so it would be 50 for me out and back). Most people report that section to be sorta “mech” and there are apparently a lot of rock ladden dirt roads you have to walk, and there’s no water. Basically, it’s not in any way comparable to other sections of the UHT that attracts people to travel far distances to hike it. Not a problem then for me to have skipped that part and save some lost time.

I drive up to the Leidy Peak TH after my food is organized, about a 2 hr drive. Once you turn off Hwy 191 it’s a 1 hour drive on a well maintained dirt road, about 20 miles to get there, but a really beautiful drive, climbing higher and higher into the alpine air from the hazy pastel desert.

I arrive at the TH where it’s really windy, so decide to drop down the hill to Hacking Lake. I find a lovely little spot nestled in the trees, then take a walk around the Lake. With the high winds and forecast for T-storms, I opt to enjoy another night of luxurious car camping. Indeed it rains like crazy starting just after dark. It absolutely pours down, there is lightening, thunder, the whole bit. I drift off to sleep with the sound of a steady rain.

Hacking Lake near the TH
Good Morning!!

This morning it is wet and cold. I just can’t seem to get myself organized fast enough for an early start. I woke up feeling anxious, and then drank coffee. I am normally not an anxious person at all, so I decided to sit with it and be present with what I was feeling. I think basically, I just need to not be in any hurry, no pressure!

I get on trail at 10:04 am and it’s still only 46F by my thermometer. As soon as I start walking, a great feeling of elation washes over me. Actually it feels like relief, and joy, to both be back on trail and to be moving my body across and with the land again.

Within minutes, I need to tuck my head down to face the wind. I walk with layers on, my hood up, gloves on and my compression socks which keep my lower legs warm when I am in shorts. Truly, it could have been a good day to wear pants, but I just prefer hiking in shorts.

The TH at Leidy Peak

The first several miles of trail lead one around the South side of Leidy Peak and then over some high alpine tundra that is really rocky and really exposed. Now above tree line, the wind prevails, and I trudge on, feeling awkward, off balance and like what happened to my trail legs? The silver lining in this is a definite sense of expansiveness, remoteness and like you are walking on the top of the world, or maybe the Scottish Highlands?

The trail is mainly marked with giant cairns, and well, some of them not so giant so I really have to look far and wide. Sometimes the trail is faint and you can follow a line, and then it will suddenly disappear.

Before long I find the distance to Gabbro Pass closing in. I know I’m about to climb, so I tuck in behind a stunted pine tree to have a quick snack, then I rally to head up. The pass itself (or saddle) is a little bit of a mystery to me as I’m not even sure when I’m on it, but soon the terrain levels out to a broad saddle and there is no more up.

Wild Friends nut butters are amazing!
Gabbro Pass just above the snow field
If this were the pass, I’d stand on it like this

On the descent, I cross paths with a couple of hunters, the guys have such heavy packs and are very fatigued, taking the opportunity to stop and kneel down while we converse. They ask me if I had seen any Mule deer. Nope sorry guys.

Around mile nine I stop for lunch at Whiterocks Lake, glad to be back down at treeline and get out if that incessant wind. I sit on a grassy slope under a cluster of trees, taking in the views while I eat a tortilla with cheese & mustard, along with some Cape Cod brand potato chips, yum!

The trail now meanders along the edges of the lake, then enters a denser conifer forest and it feels really good to be in the trees. They give me so much comfort, they are my protectors.

Around mile 10, the trail gets pretty boggy in places and there is just no way to keep the feet dry. By the time I reach Chepeta Lake it’ 4:45ish and my Strava App says I’ve hiked 14 miles. I feel like it was a long 14 miles, but I’m feeling glad to have made this first small goal of Chepeta Lake. Fortunately, after that the trail tread smooths out a bit and I feel like I could enjoy looking at the scenery and find more of a flow in my movements.

Made it to Chepeta Lake!
Water level is shockingly low
Beautiful but boggy

In and out from forest to meadow now, and back to forest, there are some lovely sections that afford more expansive views of the surrounding geology. The meadows have little burbling brooks providing the background music to the dramatic landscape, and sunlight glitters on it’s moving surface. Magic is making its way to me now.

Soon, the light begins to transition, the golden hour is upon me, my favorite time to hike! My spirit lifts and I start to wonder if I can hike up almost to North Pole Pass this evening.

Around 6:15pm, I pass by a group of three men in a really nice camp by a creek and compliment their selection of campsites. We exchange brief pleasantries and I push on to get a little closer to the pass.

Within about a mile, I am thinking how glad I am that I haven’t had to ford any creeks today. No sooner do I have that thought, I come upon a creek that I am forced to ford. The irony! Be careful what you think!

Looking toward North Pole Pass, this is the end of day creek ford

I search around looking for shallow places to ford safely, but can’t really tell that any one place is better than another. It doesn’t seem too deep but the milky quality of the water makes it difficult to guage the depth and where the rocks are. Instead of removing my shoes and socks, I am lazy and decide to just plunge right through. This had become the norm on the PCT and AZT, where your feet dry out so easily in all that sun, but tonight this was clearly not the case.

The water greets my feet and legs with a chill that surprises me. Well, glacial runoff, what did I expect? Still, I cross with no issue, stepping onto the banks of the creek with squishy, bubbling shoes. Now with sopping wet socks and compression socks too, I suddenly regret my decision, I wish I would have taken the time to keep my shoes dry!

Taking the plunge!

The trail becomes a bit confusing after this and maybe it’s because I am getting cold and tired. Right after the ford, there are lots of tall grasses and more boggy areas. I look around for a cairn and don’t spot one, and then a little shiver washes over me. I keep moving in the direction of the pass, and finally rejoin with the trail. I start to feel like maybe I shouldn’t keep hiking that much farther. The sunlight has gone now and that feeling of impending night time is casting shadows over the basin.

I press on until I realize how close I am to treeline. My feet are just freezing now. Im wanting to be done. I had passed by a little camp nested in the trees shortly after that creek ford, and decided to retreat to there, settling on less miles afterall, but a good, solid place to sleep the night away.

I quicky pitch my tent and set up camp, filter water, get it boiling and soon I’m enjoying a hot meal of black beans with curry couscous, coconut oil and sriracha sauce. Oh my goodness does this ever hit the spot, it warms me to my core!

I hang my socks on tree branches, and now have no shoes in which to walk around camp, they are just a wet soggy mess. I need to hang my food in a tree however, so I have to walk around barefoot. No surprise here, my feet get ice cold again. It takes several tries to throw the rock attached to the rope over the branch, the rope keeps getting tangled on smaller branches, it’s now dark, and I feel super awkward and unskilled but finally make it work.

The solution to freezing feet is to make a mug of hot tea and then wrap your feet around that mug. What a dream! It’s the little things you appreciate so very much out on these adventures!

Miracle cure for frozen feet!

Tucked in to bed now I am beat. The terrain here is not easy on the body. Looking back on the day, there were hardly any sections that you can just cruise on easy trail tread. It seems like I was constantly navigating uneven, even jagged terrain, which just takes more out of the body. I suppose the alititude might also take more? I tend to forget I am constantly above 10,000 ft.

I am having a little bit of a tough time wrapping my head around the reality that I will have to do this all over again on the way back. But never mind that, for now I am ready to flip over and rest! There are little spits of rain tapping on mt tent here and there, and every once in a while the wind picks up high in the trees. I am warm and comfortable, my feet have thawed now. I am so ready to sleep and so happy to be here now.

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