Kings Peak

Elevation: 13,528
Location: Uinta Range, Utah

Kings Peak is the highest point in my home state, thus, it was an obvious choice to climb in 1995. Most of my climbs are of the one day variety, and with the route up Kings being some 30 miles roundtrip, this one was one of the few that would require camping out. Allen and I headed for the Uintas for this climb just a few weeks after being denied on Colorado's Mount Elbert in a lightning storm.

Kings Peak (middle) from campsite in Henry's Fork We elected to take the most common route up Kings Peak, that being the trail up Henry's Fork. After a lengthy drive through Evanston and then back down to Utah to get to the trailhead, we started the hike towards our camp at about noon. The Uintas are one of those mountain areas where afternoon thunderstorms are very common, and anyone going in there should be prepared for them. We were unusually lucky in that all three days we were in the mountains it didn't rain once.

The hike into our camp was tedious. It was eight miles of hiking with heavy, awkward packs (we were not the most well-prepared backpackers). I'm not sure what looked worse...the cooler we were carrying up there, or the long box of "Donut Sticks" sticking out of an opening in my pack. Nevertheless, the rangers on horseback gave us some strange looks. The hike up was very pretty, almost entirely wooded and always offering shade. After a couple of miles the point of Kings Peak (not very prominent) was visible to the east. A few more miles and we passed Dollar Lake, and proceeded to camp just a bit further up the trail. Now the point of Kings Peak was more obvious through a dip in a closer ridge.

Gunsight Pass, looking back to Henry's Fork We started bright and early the next morning after a nite of no rain, but steady winds. Quickly we encountered a pair of moose on the trail, and we opted to detour off and around them. Before long we ascended the switchbacks up to Gunsight Pass. From here we had the choice of ascending the rocky ridge more directly to the hidden Anderson Pass and Kings Peak, or taking the trail down into Painter Basin, then re-ascending to Anderson Pass on trail. We opted for the longer, but trailed route. This meant dropping a few hundred feet into the lush bowl of Painter Basin with Mt. Emmons (Utah's 3rd highest) visible to the south. The trail looped around the valley and seemed longer than it needed to be, but I puffed my way to Anderson Pass at 12,600 feet. Allen was further behind now, and I waited for him to catch up. Some horses were coming up the steep and narrow switchbacks of Yellowstone Creek to the pass, and I wondered if I'd have the nerve to sit on a horse on a narrow ridge like that.

A convoy of climbers were going up and down the peak from here. One guy had even climbed the peak and was heading back on the same day. Allen arrived and said he was too tired to go on. I started up the last 900 feet of rocks. The south drops off sharply into Yellowstone Creek, a longer and less popular route to the peak. The climb to the peak didn't take too long, but darker clouds to the southeast made me nervous, especially after the close call on Mount Elbert a month earlier. I arrived on the summit and much to my surprise nobody else was there.

Summit plaque, looking to the west From the summit was a grand view in all directions. A plaque gave the explanation of the peak being named after Clarence King, a survey leader. This was one of the few peaks I've ever climbed where there was zero sign of civilization, nothing but wilderness. I could see our campsite far below in Henry's Fork, with Utah's second highest peak, Gilbert Peak above to the north (very bland, plain-looking peak). Red Castle Peak was visible through some ridges to the west. Further west were Lovenia and Tokewanna peaks. Nearby "South Kings Peak", just 15-20 feet lower sat with Emmons further down the ridge. The greens of the grass, the red and browns of the rock, and the whites of the snow made the view a classic.

The trip down wasn't difficult, except for the bad idea of short-cutting through Painter Basin (a virtual swamp). We arrived back at our campsite exhausted after 13 miles of climbing on saturday, after 8 miles on friday. We cooked up some hamburger meat and made use of the ketchup, salt and pepper packets we'd gotten from McDonalds in Evanston. Too bad we left the hamburger buns in the car! The following morning we hiked out the long eight miles, anxious to get home and get a shower. The horrible setup I had with my pack made my shoulders ache, and I vowed to change that in the future. We arrived back home in Salt Lake around 5pm on sunday with a successful ascent of the state's highest peak. Total mileage for our climb was 29.5 miles, with a climb of about 5,500 feet (extra 1,000 feet of up's and down's by going through Painter Basin - if I returned I'd probably opt for the direct ridge climb). A wonderful climb.