Uinta Highline Trail

Our starting point on the Uinta Highline TrailI went on my first backpacking trip this past weekend. Chris invited me to hike a portion of the Uinta Highline Trail with him, along which were more than 150 geocaches, and most of them hadn’t yet been found. We didn’t start making plans until Wednesday evening, and by Thursday night I was all ready to go. My pack weighed in at a little over 40 pounds, and that included a little extra water and some food for Torrey. Chris and I met in Duchesne on Friday morning at 8:00AM, then went about setting up a car shuttle. We dropped Chris’ car off at the Chepeta Lake parking lot, and although it was only 13 miles as the crow flies from there to the starting point of the hike, it took 89 road miles to get there. There aren’t many roads that get close enough to the higher elevations in the eastern Uintas. We parked my truck and started the hike at 1:30PM at the first geocache in the series, located near Summit Park, about four miles east-northeast of Leidy Peak.
Meadow amid the pine treesIt took us a while to find the first geocache, and it made me worry that many of the remaining caches would be difficult to find. My worries were unfounded though, since most of them were hidden in such a manner as to be obvious when we got within 20 or 30 feet. Most often the containers were hidden against either a large rock or the base of a tree, with small rocks stacked over the geocache container. The caches closest to each trailhead had already been found, but in the middle of the trail there were a lot that nobody had touched since being placed last year. Chris and I worked our way west, getting the hang of finding the caches and hoping to make good time. It didn’t take long before I realized that I wouldn’t make it the entire distance with my pack. I bought my backpack many years ago, and it was dirt cheap–now I know why. It was ill-fitting, but I’d never tried it with weight over any significant distance. Not only is Chris in much better shape than me, but his pack fit him well, so he volunteered to carry my sleeping bag and tent, which lightened my load by almost 10 pounds. After that it was merely uncomfortable for me, but bearable. He really saved my ass by carrying some of my stuff.
Friday night's campWe continued west, hoping to make it to the treeline, but knowing that above the treeline there likely wouldn’t be water. We found a nice level spot just below the treeline at about 11,000 feet to set up camp. There was a small stream running nearby, and Chris used his water pump/filter and we refilled our hydration packs and water bottles. We ate dinner and killed some time before turning in a bit early. I slept poorly, waking often and tossing and turning. I was wide awake at 6:10 on Saturday morning, and eventually I crawled out of the warmth of my sleeping bag and wandered the area around camp. Chris got up and we made breakfast, pumped more water to replenish our supply, then packed up and started up toward Leidy Peak. The trail crossed over a stream of water flowing directly out of a snow drift just before we reached the final steep ridge leading to the peak. Leidy Peak is a typical Uinta peak–steep, with mixed rocky and grassy sections. It reminded me a lot of Marsh Peak. At the top of the peak, we removed our packs and rested for a bit, enjoying the view of the western Uintas where we could see several peaks, including King’s Peak.
Leidy PeakFrom Leidy Peak, we continued west and lost several hundred feet of elevation on the way to Mt. Untermann. We stopped for lunch in the saddle between Leidy and Untermann, and the wind was howling there. We took refuge behind a large boulder while we ate. After lunch we started climbing up to Gabbro Pass, and as we approached the pass we noticed that the trail went right through a huge snow drift. We’d earlier seen a group of hikers when we were closer to Leidy Peak who were heading the same direction but were about a mile ahead of us. Now, we watched them drop down to Lake Wilde, then climb up a steep slope and eventually cross the snow drift near its thickest point. We weren’t about to lose and then regain a lot of elevation, so we stuck to the trail and hoped the drift would be crossable when we reached it. As we approached the drift, we saw three mountain goats above us crossing a band of snow. The snow turned out to be pretty stable. Instead of crossing the drift right where the trail intersected it, we scrambled up the slope above the trail and crossed the drift where it was thinner. Chris went first and kicked in some footholds, and I followed in his footsteps while Torrey just made her own path and made it look easy.
Across the snowOnce up to Gabbro Pass, I was pretty beat. We rested again there, and decided to split up–Chris hiked up and back down Mt. Untermann and found a few geocaches on the way, and I stayed at about the same elevation and started finding the caches farther along our route. Chris caught up to me and we talked about how to proceed. We had been hoping to make it to his car at Chepeta Lake that day, but I really didn’t think I had it in me to push that hard and hike that much distance. After some thought, however, I said, “Fuck it, let’s just go.” And that we did. I didn’t care if we had to hike in the dark, I just wanted to put some real distance behind us. Up until that point the physical demands had put me in a worsening mood–I kept wondering what I’d gotten myself into–but as we hiked along, I started feeling better.
Approaching Chepeta Lake in the darkWe made good time across the relatively flat section across the ridge north of Lightning Park, then descended toward Whiterocks Lake. Past the lake we had several miles of forest with intermittent meadows, and a lot of the open areas were marshy. In the largest meadow that we crossed there was a herd of about 30 elk, and they initially had their backs to us so we were able to just sit and watch them for a while. Finally one cow spotted us and alerted the rest of the herd, and they galloped off over the next rise. We stopped nearby to rest one last time, then donned our packs again and made a big push to get to Chepeta. There were several stream crossings, and although my shoes were waterproof, I got my feet wet a couple of times when the water was deep enough to go over the tops. It got dark enough that we had to use headlamps, and by the time we entered the last clearing about a mile away from Chepeta Lake, we were both exhausted and feeling stupid-silly. We reached the parking lot, set up our tents and enjoyed a small campfire while we fixed dinner. I conked out and slept through the night, not even waking when Chris was slapping the side of his tent to scare off the deer grazing just outside.
Chepeta LakeI was really sore and stiff Sunday morning, but I worked my joints loose by walking down the road and gathering some firewood (since the area around the parking lot was picked clean). We ate breakfast and refilled our water from the stream running out of the reservoir. Torrey’s left-rear foot was bothering her enough that she was reluctant to put any weight on it. Two weeks earlier she got what looked like a spider bite–it was a large, swollen area just above her paw with a crater-like hole in the middle. Though it was very slowly getting better before the backpacking trip, I think the long distance and swampy water from the day before aggravated it. Her paw was badly swollen, and I knew she wouldn’t be able to continue the geocache trail up to Eccentric Peak and back down. I wasn’t sure I could make it myself, but despite the slight urge to, I couldn’t give up. I decided to leave Torrey in the tent while we hiked the eight miles round-trip to Eccentric Peak. I was reluctant to do so, not just because I was worried it would get hot inside, but also because I feared that somebody would come along and decide she needed to be let out.
Bouldery route below Eccentric PeakI pushed myself pretty hard going to Eccentric–I wanted it to be done, and I wanted to get back to Torrey as quickly as possible. There was 1,700′ of elevation gain to the peak, but the first mile and a half was pretty level, so the elevation gain was definitely not gradual closer to the peak. We passed Moccasin Lake and skirted around the north end of Papoose Lake where we did a lot of boulder hopping and bushwhacking. From that point to the peak it was steep and more steep. I took a lot of small rest breaks, and the rest of the time I trudged higher and higher. Almost to the top of the peak the ground levels out for a few hundred yards, and it was a relief to be moving quickly and not gaining elevation. We spent a while at the peak reading the logs in the geocache and the summit register. We marched quickly downhill after that. This was the first time on the trip that we’d covered the same ground twice, and since we’d already found all the geocaches on the way up, there were no stops going down. I had a small mishap at Papoose Lake. We’d walked along the muddy shore and started the mandatory boulder hopping section when I found out that muddy shoes and boulder hopping were a bad mix. I slipped off a boulder and headed face-first toward the wet ground below. I tried catching myself on a tall boulder beside me but I only managed to get a large scrape and bruise on my forearm. I landed on both hands and one knee, hurting one of my palms. My adrenaline was pumping though, and suddenly the pain in my right knee that had been bothering me the entire descent was gone. Once I took a minute and realized that I was ok, I decided to take advantage of the adrenaline and make really good time back to camp. When I arrived, my GPS said I’d hiked 26.1 miles in the past 48 hours. I was relieved that it was over, and elated that I’d done it.
GPS stats and end of hikeChris and I packed up camp and loaded our gear into his car, then made the long drive back to where my truck was parked. We parted ways there, with him heading home a different way than we’d come and me retracing the same roads to home. I got home after dark, and I was wishing I’d have also taken Monday off just to have a chance to recover before going back to work. I took Torrey to the vet on Monday afternoon and the doctor decided to open up her wound and let it drain, and put a drain tube in it. They kept her overnight, and boy was she happy to see me the next morning. She’ll be grounded for the next week while her foot heals, but the swelling in her paw has already completely disappeared and she’s walking better on it. I’ve also recovered well, with the sore muscles and joints no longer bothering me. This weekend is the annual Potter’s Ponds geocaching campout, and I’m planning on hiking a couple of easy peaks just to keep this momentum going.

Photo Gallery: Uinta Highline Trail
GPS Track and Photo Waypoints:
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1 thought on “Uinta Highline Trail

  1. Hi there,
    This is kind of a long shot, but I’ve searching blogs for recent hikes in Utah in the area you have been in, please read this and forward it on to any friends you have who may have seen my Uncle Eric, any snippet of information may be vital to the search. This is absolutely not spam and you may have even heard about him in your local news and been in touch already.
    ‘Missing Hiker on Highline Trail, Uintas, Utah
    My good friend, 63 year old Eric Robinson from Australia, set off to thru hike the Highline Trail 7.28.11. He was scheduled to finish Sunday 8.7.11. He is now 2 days overdue. No word has been heard from him or of him. Please Call Sherriff Mitchell at 435.738.2015 or Julia Geisler 415.695.4502 if you are available for the next few days to join the search or have any info.’
    Beth Parry.

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