Monday - August 15, 2016
Despite going to bed with relatively clear skies the night before, we awoke to overcast skies with some threatening looking patches at various points along the surrounding horizon. It was looking very probable that we'd already be encountering some rain this day.
Breakfast was made, camp was broke, and we set off for our mid-day destination, Kidney Lakes. At one point on our way, the trail faded away into a soggy, muddy marshy flat. We did our best to keep to hard ground through it all while staying the course, but to no avail, my shoes and feet got good and wet.
Not long after that occurrence, we settled along a stream to filter some water. While there, the clouds broke for a brief time giving us some blue skies and sunshine, but it did not last for very long. I'd also leave my trekking poles there and wouldn't realize it until after about a quarter mile of hiking away. It would not be the only time on this trip I'd leave something at a rest site and have to run back to retrieve it.
Looking westward not far from Fox Lake. Val Benchmark and Kings ridge line in the distance.
Trail junction along Highline Trail
Looking across the landscape
On schedule and right on time for lunch, we pulled out at Kidney Lakes. On the way in we passed by what appeared to be some old foundations of a couple structures no longer standing.
Crumbling cabin foundation
The only info I could find about what these were is found here where a book on south slope land management of the Ashley National Forest states that a series of cabins had been built throughout the area in the early 1900's before being removed in 1967 leaving only the foundations.
A few more steps and we were at the shore of east Kidney Lake. We found ourselves a nice little rocky outcropping overlooking the lake and perched ourselves up on top for lunch. After filling up with food, I was interested in checking out west Kidney Lake. Adam and Steve opted to keep resting and relaxing. I found my way over to the other lake and was well rewarded with the sight of a moose standing in the middle of the lake having some lunch itself. I didn't think to try and capture any stills of it and instead went right into shooting some video. To see it, the video at the end of this post will need to be viewed.
East Kidney Lake
West Kidney Lake
I did not find Kidney Lakes to be quite as scenic as I would have imagined them to be from looking at maps, but they were very calm and peaceful, nonetheless. I returned to Adam and Steve at the east lake and we loaded on up to continue back out on the Highline. As we departed the lakes, a group of fishermen on horseback pulled in. We exchanged greetings and a bit of trail chat then set sail for our final destination for the day, Painter Basin.
North Fork Park Trail Junction
Staying the course toward Anderson Pass
For the rest of the afternoon, we'd spend a majority of the time under treeline hiking through dense forest with only an occasional break from the trees that would allow for some nice views. Living and hiking in Utah and the Rocky Mountain region at large, it's easy to get spoiled with the abundant views present along so many of the trails that it was actually a pleasant change to have such long stretches of denser forest to hike through. There was also comfort in knowing we were in a safer zone should any lightning start flashing.
Rain actually began to hit us early on, and remained at a consistent drizzle through the course of the afternoon, but fortunately, it never became too heavy. Even more fortunately, no thunder was ever heard and no lightning was ever seen. There were several stream crossings as well, yet all were easy enough with the aid of boulders or logs. With them being wet from the rain though, extra careful footing was required.
Peering westward across Uinta River Valley toward Trail Rider Pass and Painter Peak
Looking southward across Uinta River Valley to Val Benchmark
We also encountered quite a number of other Highline section and thru-hikers along the way going eastward. Some solo, others in groups of two, three, and four. Some were aiming to finish at Chapeta Lake while others, if I remember right, were looking to continue on to Leidy Peak and Hacking Lake. Some had hoped to bag Kings Peak that same morning, which is only a little over a half mile from where the Highline Trail crosses over Anderson Pass, but the weather that morning had kept them off of it. Kings Peak stands as the highest point in Utah at 13, 528 feet above sea level and it was on our own agenda for the next day.
Going eastward is not the normal way for most that hike the Highline because it is the western end that puts you closer to the more populous civilization of the Wasatch Front and the Salt Lake metropolis, where most people want to be when they finish. Not to mention the shuttle logistics, the scenery also gets less dramatic to the east, so going westward is like saving the best for last if you believe that hiking under, along, and over more rugged massifs creates more adventure and breathtaking views. So, needless to say, it was quite surprising to see so many hiking the Highline in the opposite direction. It turns out that this was also the only day where we actually encountered more than a couple hikers en route of hiking at least a majority of the Highline, another surprise given all the days we had left to do on the trail.
In due time, we arrived at the edges of Painter Basin. There we saw the camp of another older couple out doing some exploring that we had encountered further back on the trail. The trees thinned out and quickly gave way to some wide open meadows and flats offering up some of the better panoramic views of the day, despite the gloomy sky. Kings Peak and its ridge line graced the horizon.
Entering Painter Basin with Kings Peak in the distance (left) and Dome Peak (middle)
Panorama of lower Painter Basin
We paused once more at a small stream to rest a moment and filter out some more water.
Stream along lower edge of Painter Basin
From there the trail faded out again for stretches but it was easy going just following a series of cairns. The Highline has several stretches like this where the trail becomes faint to non-existent and it becomes a series of cairns that mark the way. Along the way, we passed by another camp of horse-packers a fair distance from the trail.
One of the many cairns marking the route
The clouds also began to crack and once again, we were privileged to some blue skies and sunshine to end our day.
Gunsight Pass (far left), Gunsight Peak (left), East Gunsight Peak (middle) from across Painter Basin
It was now late afternoon and after about a mile from the stream we had last filtered at, we began to look around for a suitable campsite. I scouted out the other side of a hill only to find a massive flock of sheep parading along a stream. B-a-a-a, B-a-a-a!
Sheep parade with Val Benchmark above
Sheep parade. Trail Rider Peak (left), Painter Peak (middle), and 2nd Gemini (right) above.
Panorama of Sheep Parade
Nothing looked promising on that side of the hill that would be worth the effort to get to, so I returned back to the other side and enjoyed another gorgeous view looking up and down Painter Basin.
Painter Basin with Dome Peak (far left), Gunsight Pass (left), Gunsight Peak (middle) and East Gunsight Peak (right)
Painter Basin, left to right: Kings Peak, Anderson Pass, Dome Peak, Gunsight Pass, Gunsight Peak
We ended up settling into a cozy site Adam and Steve had found that was well secluded a couple hundred yards off the trail and well sheltered within some trees.
Day 2 camp
After getting camp all set up and retrieving a bit of firewood for the evening, I went back out across the trail a little ways to watch the sunset. Glorious!
Sunset over Kings Peak (left), Dome Peak (middle), Gunsight Peak (right)
Looking eastward at where we had hiked from
Sunset from Painter Basin over Kings Peak (left), Dome Peak (middle), Gunsight Peak (right)
Kings Peak (left), Anderson Pass (middle), and Dome Peak (right)
And you know what they say...Red at night, sailor's delight! It was looking like skies would likely be clear come morning and we'd be able to tag the summit of Kings Peak without much of a threat from weather. Until then, it was time for a hearty dinner and a good night's rest.