Thursday, May 17, 2018

Uinta Misadventures

My son and I have thought about skiing Kings Peak all season.  We figured we'd wait until the road was melted out and then give it a shot.  Then, work, weather, and other factors conspired to prevent us from doing it, until yesterday.

Our plan was to do it as an overnighter, skiing in, setting up camp at about 11,000 feet, summiting, spending the night, and then skiing out on frozen snow the next morning.

There were, however, two major problems with this plan.  First, there was very little snow.  Second, it was exceptionally warm.

The trailhead sits at 9400 feet.  Bone dry. 

That was somewhat expected since the road was open, and we naively thought we would hit snow shortly up the trail, but alas, that wasn't to be.  Instead it was 3 or 4 miles of hauling overnight packs with an additional 12-14 pounds of AT gear up the trail. 

In addition, the Kings Peak trail is nearly pan flat.  So you don't get an abrupt transition from no snow to snow.  Instead, one gets miles of patchy snow.  To ski or not to ski that is the question we asked for some time.  Further, the snow was totally rotten, with postholling aplenty.  This led to rat-maze-like routes on snow patches, frequent ski removal, and lots of skinning across grass, mud, and rocks.

Did I mention swimming?  Well, none of that was done, but it was plenty boggy in many places.  Did I mention collapsable snow?  Plenty of that, even with skis on. 

This continued for some time, but we were hopeful that when we reached Elkhorn Crossing at 10,500 feet, things would surely improve.

Sadly, they didn't.  Look at all that bare ground!

We had hopes that perhaps the western side along the trees would be better, so we crossed the bridge, which thankfully was there as fording the stream here would have been impossible.

We then tried a few options.  One was working our way through the woods above the trail, which proved extremely difficult due to the limited snow cover, downed trees, bare spots, and the like.  We then dropped down to nearer the trail and moseyed along some more, but finally shortly after this photo was taken, we realized we were well behind schedule. 

At that point, we had a few of options.  Reaching the summit that day seemed nearly impossible.  Our pace was much slower than we expected.  If we were to make it, it would be late and we'd be exhausted.  At 25, I would have surely given it a shot, but at 50, it seemed like a recipe for disaster.  Further, at this point we had seen absolutely nobody.  It seemed a foolish move.

Another option was to go a bit further, camp for the night, and summit in the morning on firmer snow.  That seemed doable, but the exit out then would be a painful one involving the same sorts of travel conditions we'd experienced so far.  Two days of this wasn't looking like fun.

Ultimately, we decided it wasn't our day and to pack it in.  We then trudged 6-7 miles back to the trailhead, taking a few photos above the crossing for memories.

Over the past couple of weeks, I had tracked the snowpack at SNOTEL stations in the Uintas.  Several were at zero prior to our trip, but others had 10-15 inches.  I found it hard to believe that there was zero snow along the Kings Peak Route, and really, there wasn't.  There just wasn't enough to piece together a reasonable approach.  Confirmation bias and wishful thinking led me to conclude that there would be more snow than there was. 

Lessons learned: Kings Peak is really meant for light weight backcountry gear on a healthy snowpack.  A time machine to take me back to my 20s might also be helpful!


  1. Kudos for giving it a shot. The intermittent snow/mud slogging can really wear on you! Definitely the type of ski route that skimo racing gear is perfect for.

    1. Indeed. Good skis really optional, except perhaps for the summit.

      We saw two skiers heading in about 2 miles from the trailhead as we were exiting. I am hoping that they will be able to do it. They were far younger and stronger than I :-).


  2. Replies
    1. UDOT still lists it as closed. Road closure info available at I was told it is open to Trial Lake, but don't know for sure if that is the case.

      UDOT cams at Bald Mountain Pass shows perhaps a foot of snow on the ground, but also that the road is clear.


  3. I did it a few years ago in random race gear and it was still really hard. We did it late March.

  4. I would,ve gone in from the north (Henry's Fork). The road is plowed because of oil and gas wells. Also, because its north facing there would have been more snow.

  5. Great photos though...I can actually smell the melting conditions!

  6. Killer snowpack field report!