Kings Peak: Higher than anything else in Utah. Including South Kings Peak
Distance: 27ish Miles (plus or minus 3 miles)
Elevation: 13528 ft / 4123 m
Technical moves: No rope required
Regrets: Bad communication, heavy tent!
King’s Peak is the first of the fifty states that I was able to summit! I have wanted to hike Kings Peak for 2 years and have never been able to convince myself to just do it! I kid you not, it took make-up to finally get this rolling. In July, MAC did a free lipstick giveaway. Two friends and I waited in line for hours. After we got our lipsticks we explored the mall and stared at backpacking backpacks at the outdoors store. There the plan to backpack King’s peak was born!
Before the adventure to King’s peak we did a couple test runs. Of our group of 5 only 2 of us had been backpacking before and we wanted to run out all of the kinks.
My husband and I did a trial in the middle of Idaho to a place called Clear Lake. It was about 10 steep miles. I wore a backpack my husband did not. We were hiking with a large group of family members. I actually volunteered to carry everyone’s water and snacks just to get some extra weight! Surprisingly no one complained! I was exhausted from this one hike. My ankle was so sore I could barely navigate the campsite that night. And I had bruises on my hip bones from the backpack!
The following week we planned to backpack Mt Nebo the highest peak in the Wasatch Front with the team. We had some scheduling issues so we made the 8 mile trip into a day hike. Out of the 5 of us, 4 made it to this training. Everyone wore all of our gear (except my husband who I had not convinced to go with us yet. He just had a day pack). Once again my ankle was killing me by the end of the day and I had bruises my hips. However, the view was unbelievable! I thought the hike was about 1,500% better than a hike up Timpanogus. I would do it again in a heartbeat!
After these two trainings we made our way to Henry’s Fork Trailhead just 6 days after our Mt. Nebo training.
My phone does not have internet. Before we left we downloaded google maps, and put Henry’s Fork Trail Head in. We followed these directions and our phone never missguided us! It was pretty accurate. We also were driving in the daylight which was nice because the last part has a lot of dirt roads that branch off every which way. We left Provo at 7 am, and were starting our hike at 10:30 am.
Like it was mentioned above, the last little bit of the drive is on dirt roads. The first part is ran by the County, the second part is ran by the National Forest Service. The county roads were in awesome condition! They were wide enough that two cars could pass each other going opposite ways, and smooth! There was only the occasional pothole. Without such good directions from Google we would have gotten lost. There were hardly any signs pointing to Henry’s Fork Trailhead for those wanting to wing-it.
The National Service roads had a lot more potholes, but were definitely manageable. We drove our 2-wheel drive, 2005 Honda Civic no problem!
Here is a link to my map!
My one regret to this is communication. We took two cars down to the trailhead because even though 5 would fit in one car, our bags could not. Three of the people left very late Friday night to camp at the trailhead. My husband and I left early Saturday morning to avoid an extra day of camping. The plan was to meet at Dollar Lake (or so I thought!). The other team thought we were meeting at a GPS coordinate texted to us from a Verizon phone when our Sprint phones had no signal. We never met up!
The summarized plan:
Day 1: Meet up at Dollar Lake about 8 miles in. Then hike a few more miles closer to Gunnison Pass. Relax for an early start the next day!
Day 2: Wake up at 5am and leave camp by 6am to beat any afternoon storms in the Uintas. Summit, and come back to camp.
Day 3: Pack up camp and make our way home.
The Detailed Adventure:
Pulling into the parking lot to Henry’s Fork Trailhead I turned the volume down on my CD (no radio signal) so I could see better. It was Labor Day weekend, but after the last few miles we had only seen a few cars. Pulling in the parking lot I realized where all the cars had been. Parked right here!
Slowly we we navigated the mess of cars to find a spot. Although the roads had been good so far, there were some largish potholes to avoid.
Eventually we found a good spot in the horse lot. I grabbed my map and set it on top of the car. I hefted my bag onto my back and left my map copies on the car. My husband and I started walking the short distance to the trail head.
As we were walking a Ranger in a large white truck stopped us. “Do you guys know what Leave No Trace means?”
“Yes, sir!” We replied.
Not giving up the ranger stared us down and asked a new question, “So what does it mean?”
“Essentially, if you pack it in pack it out.”
Exasperatedly the Ranger reached over to the other seat and handed us a paper flyer. “If I give this to you do you promise to read it?”
Once the Ranger drove off we were able to get started in earnest. I walked up to the start and put my name down in the book with our estimated leaving date. Quickly I scanned through to see if my friends had signed up. I didn’t see them, so I included them in my “party” size.
The hike was initially really easy. Starting out at 10:30am it was very warm, no jackets were required! It was perfect weather to be comfortable. Even though the trail was heading uphill it was a very gentle slope. I am a wimp on hills, and I barely felt it. There were some muddy parts, and some small streams to cross. For the most part there were some really good bridges until Alligator Lake.
Alligator Lake was our first landmark. To be honest we never saw it. All we saw were some forest trees. I was expecting it to be visible from the path, but it was really a small hike away from the path and trees were blocking it. We thought we were close so we asked a hiker on their way back to their car. They told us it was half a mile behind us! With that sad news we pulled over to the side and ate our lunch without a lake to look at. This was about 1.5 hours into the hike
At this point I took out the “Leave No Trace” flyer and remembered my paper maps that are floating around at the trailhead. Ironic, right? Thinking back it made sense why the ranger was glaring at us. They did manage to stay near the car so we picked them up on our way out! Also, later on I heard that he was that way with everyone though.
Our next landmark was ElkHorn Crossing about 3ish miles past Alligator Lake. It took us 1.5 hours to get to this spot from the assumed location of Alligator Lake. At ElkHorn Crossing turn right to view some Alpine lakes and add some miles on to the hike. We stayed left. Less lakes, but less miles! Until ElkHorn Crossing it was a pretty boring view, just some trees and gentle hills. At ElkHorn Crossing there is a nice meadow and the peaks are visible in the distance. It is a spectacular view the rest of the way!
Just pass the ElkHorn Crossing sign, there is a river to cross. Someone (I blame you National Forest Service!) built a bridge. This is awesome because the river is pretty deep. Thank you National Forest Service! ❤
From ElkHorn Crossing it took about 1 hour to go these two miles to Dollar Lake. We took a couple of breaks to apply moleskin as needed! We almost missed Dollar Lake like we missed Alligator Lake! Along the trail there is a sign that says something about no open fires within ¼ a mile of the lake. Then a little later you can see the same sign the other way. We realized we passed the lake! We went back and found it. We then sat on the shore for a bit waiting for our other group. Although it is a great source of water, we were glad we camped a little further up because this area was a party!
After relaxing a bit we got up and asked some helpful hikers if they had seen a group with a similar description as our missing friends. Eventually one helpful stranger told us there were two tents just beyond the corner by a small pond. There was a group of people there that matched the description! Very excited we hurried off to find them!
After an estimated 2 miles a lot of elevation gain we realized what “around the corner” meant. We were super tired. We made it to the pond that was just short of Gunnison Pass. It was an excellent location to camp. Even though there were 2 tents there, they were not our friends. 😦 At that point we were too tired to hike back and look some more, so we set up camp right there.
I had explicitly told my friends my plans to leave at 6 am so we were sure we would run into them the next day. Since we were an hour ahead of Dollar Lake, we planned to leave at 7 am and wait for them on the trail. It was a little chilly in the morning, especially if you are just sitting on the side of the trail. I’m guessing it was 40s. We got our day back out and hid our bags in the bushes at the base of Gunnison Pass. At 8 am we decided we slept in too late and missed them so we make our way up Gunnison Pass.
At this point there are a lot of “short cuts”. Some seem worth taking, others do not.
To get up Gunnison Pass we took some switchbacks on the right side up to the top! This is where it really gets steep! The switch backs were well made and it was very gentle. Some people choose to hike straight up the middle of the pass on a very steep slope. I personally felt fine taking the switchbacks, but other hikers thought it was a waste of distance!
At the top of Gunnison Pass is where the real list of shortcuts begin. There are 2 that I know. At the very top of Gunnison pass there is a side trail that stays at the same elevation as the top of Gunnison pass. This can be found by turning right as soon as the hiker gets to the top of the pass.
The main trail takes you down the pass so far down it makes you want to cry. About 800 feet of elevation is lost! Along this trail is where a second shortcut is found. This shortcut is called Anderson’s Pass. I honestly never saw it, but I heard stories about it.
We decided to go right at the top of the pass. It is quite a bit of scrambling. The hill to go up is very steep. Watching people ahead of us we thought we might have to climb, but luckily it wasn’t quite that steep. There were quite a lot of cairns along the way, the path was very rocky. We had to pay special attention to our feet.
On that trail we came up on the wrong side of the valley to King’s Peak. Crazy enough though, someone called it home and setup camp on some hard rocks, despite the limited water supply and traffic. We had to hike around this rock field until we made it back to the main trail. Overall I think we saved ourselves distance, not energy. It was really hard to make it through this way.
The last part of the trail is a scramble with a lot of false tops. The last little big of trail ends here where the arrow is pointing.
After that it is a scramble with many false tops! We would think that we would be close and someone would say, “Yeah, you have about 45 minutes left.”
Eventually, after many breaks (one realizes how much time is spent at sea level while on such trips), we made it to the top! Even though we started hiking around 8am, with those stops we made it to the top at 12pm.
We stayed up there about ½ an hour and ate lunch and took pictures. At this point I was really stressed that I couldn’t find my friends. I thought for sure we would run into each other despite the shortcut. With our eyes peeled we worked our way down. About 1:30 we still had no visuals and decided to take our “shortcut” back. As we made our way down the valley (where that camper was) we found some small water holes. Some were really swampy, but we found one that was pretty clear. We put some iodine tablets in it and left the way back to Gunnison Pass.
The way back was pretty uneventful. We made it back the same we came in. We stopped at the other side of Gunnison pass to grab our bags and made our way down to Dollar Lake constantly looking for our friends. On the way we noticed an afternoon storm brewing over the peaks we were just at. Worried we would get caught in a storm we went as far as we could go. For me that was to ElkHorn Crossing. We set up camp just off the trail where someone would go if they were going the extra distance/alpine lake view.
Since my husband doesn’t sleep well on the ground we had an early start. We were hiking out around 7am in the morning. At 8am when the warm sun came out we stopped for breakfast. We were back to the car by 10:30am!
I honestly had no idea what their car looked like. I didn’t see what I thought was there car. We assumed they had gone out early for some reason.
We made it back to Provo around 3:30 on Monday. Once I had signal I gave everyone a call and realized they must be hiking still since they all went straight to voicemail! I knew we had an early start so I tried not to worry.
Around 9pm I started to really worry! At 11pm I got a text from the group. They just made it to the trail head. They actually did not get started hiking until much later later in the day. I believe they left at 5pm from Dollar Lake!
That was the end to our crazy adventure to the tallest peak in Utah!
**As a side note, I did buy an ankle brace and it did wonders compared to my training hikes!
When did/will you hike King’s Peak? For us the weather was perfect at that first weekend in September. 😀