Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Check-mark on the Bucket List

Many years ago, my brother told a tale of when he and our dad drove up to the Uintas in his old VW bus, and they went backpacking in to Utah's highest peak ~ King's.  That was way back when, when I was still in high school and dreamed of exploring the mountains of Utah.  My brother bagged the peak, as my dad suffered from the effects of the altitude and waited down at Anderson Pass.  I believe my brother's old golden retriever, Copper, was along for the adventure as well (he may have hung out with our dad at the pass while my brother bagged the peak).

I've always wanted to get that peak, to check it off of my bucket list of "things to do before I can't do them anymore".

In recent years, as I've seen trail running grow and become popular (and myself being an enthusiast), I've heard more and more stories about people bagging the peak in one day.  It's about a 30 mile route if you take the "traditional route" from the Henry's Fork trailhead up to Gunsight Pass, drop into Painter Basin, and then proceed up to Anderson Pass and continue up to the peak.  The elevation gain for the trip is about 5,000 feet, which doesn't seem to be all that bad, but when you factor in that the majority of the route is above 11,000 feet, where the air is "thin", you start to realize just how big the undertaking is to get the route done in a day.

The fastest known time (FKT) was logged yesterday, on the same day that I got my first and possibly only day trip to King's Peak ~ the route was done in about 5 hours.  Also, the first "double" King's was completed, to the top of King's Peak and back to Henry's trailhead then turn around and do it all over again, in 19 hours 44 minutes and change.  My total time fell somewhere in between those two ~ total running time about 10 hours and factoring in time to chill out at the peak, at Gunsight Pass, and to talk with folks along the way it came to just under 11 hours.

I definitely felt the altitude, and suffered from a pounding headache for most of the day.  I was pleased that my left hip, which has been off-and-on bothering me for almost a year now, did not seize up, and that my stomach tolerated solid food and fluids well the entire time (after pre-medicating with anti-nausea medication) and I didn't throw up. 

Indeed throughout the day, I let my little aches and pains be known to my running partner, Sue.  She countered my whining with the response, "Whose idea was this, anyway?"  To which I had no choice but to reply that the idea was my own.  Towards the end of the day, with about two miles left, I felt a sharp twinge through one Achilles tendon and knew that although I would finish the adventure today, I wondered how my Achilles would hold up over the next few weeks leading up to the Wasatch 100 and at the big dance on September 9th and 10th.  About a mile after I felt my Achilles give me a little grief, Sue twisted her ankle hard but toughed it out and walked her injury off as well, finishing strong.

The views from atop the peak were fabulous.  Let me reiterate:  the views the entire day were  incredible.  The wildflowers were magnificent and we must have seen at least five varieties of Columbine alone along with the seldom-seen Sky Pilot.  Rosey finches hopped along beside us on the snowfields at 13,000 feet, looking for bugs to eat.  The people we met along the way and at the top were some of the nicest I've had the pleasure to meet in a very long time.

Would I do it again?  28.5 miles, 5,280 feet of elevation gain, and 10 hours of continuous forward motion on foot... I'm not sure.  Let's give it a while for the memories of discomfort to fade and the positive memories to come to the forefront.  For now, I'm happy with making a check-mark on my bucket list.
at the trailhead at o'dark-stupid o'clock. can you tell i'm excited for this next adventure?  yeah, just a little

sunrise hits the peaks in upper Henry's Fork basin

Sue negotiates the footbridge at Elkhorn crossing

another early morning view of upper Henry's Fork basin

view of Painter Basin from Gunsight Pass
seldom-seen Sky Pilot
me, approaching on of the false-summits of King's Peak.  it felt like a never-ending rock pile

Sue approaching the peak
Sue and me on the peak ~ elevation 13,528
view of Painter Basin and Lake Atwood in the distance
view of the High Uinta mountains to the west
Sneezeweed on the east slope
Me and Sue at the finish.  one more adventure is in the books.  were we tired?  yes, we were very tired.
You can view the "movie trailer" that Sue made of our journey here.  Cheers!


  1. For the record, Copper Dog did bag the peak with me. Dad and i also took the three day approach as well, not 11 hrs. Good on ya!

  2. wow, that Copper Dog was one amazing pooch! not easy climbing over all of those rocks. he was quite a canine.