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Uinta Highline Trail Trip - Intro

J Blog - Solo Highline Trail Trip - Intro

On July, 17th, 2010, my wife dropped me off alone on the easternmost boundary of the High Uinta mountains. 7 days later, I walked out of the west end having traveled more than 80 miles, crossed over 9 mountain passes, climbed to the summits of 4 peaks over 13,000' in elevation, lost 8 pounds, and dined on some tasty high country brook trout. It was an experience that will forever be on the tip of my tongue. I tasted heaven and experienced hell. In retrospect, I think that going solo may have enriched the overall experience. After returning home, I felt a responsibility to document my epic experience. It would be a shame to let such a memory fade into the past without putting it to paper. I also realize that some visitors to this site might be planning a Highline Trail trip of their own. Subsequently, I've made a point to include information that might be of use to readers who are preparing such a trip. Following is an account of my epic traverse of the highest mountain range in Utah.

I started considering a Highline Trail trip around 1998 or 1999, after my friend Stevie and I did a 3 day backpacking trip to Upper Middle Basin from the Highline Trailhead. We backpacked up over the ridge that accesses Hayden Peak, and descended into Middle Basin, where we fished Ryder and McPheter lakes for the weekend. Stevie was from Colorado, where for some time he worked as an outfitter guiding clients through the Colorado backcountry. Thus, he knew of some good locations in Utah as well, and had the skills to make it a good time. At the end of the trip, we met a group at the trailhead who had just completed a full traverse of the High Uintas via the Highline Trail. Listening to their account of the experience was the first time I conceived the idea of doing it myself.

The Uinta mountain range is the only range in the Rocky Mountains that runs east to west. Its primary east-west ridge has numerous perpendicular spur ridges that run north and south, which create the various basins and drainages. All other ranges within the Rockies from Mexico to Canada follow a north-south formation. The Uinta range is segregated into three areas- the Eastern Uintas (otherwise known as the “Bolies”), the High Uintas, and the Western Uintas. Reviewing a map of the Uintas, one would observe the High Uinta wilderness as the area including all of the peaks higher than 12,000’, and some peaks over 13,000’ above sea level. As the highest region in the state of Utah, the High Uinta wilderness is a sanctuary for people like me who find consolation from disappearing into the backcountry where the land is rugged and harsh, yet somehow comforting and energizing at the same time. Over 1,000 lakes, most of which contain native brook or cutthroat trout, spot the Uinta range. Natural springs are so abundant that it would be difficult to walk for an hour without crossing one. Moose, elk, deer, black bear, mountain goats and other wildlife roam the basins, which are choked with pines and aspens. The Highline Trail runs continuously from the western most boundary to the eastern most boundary of the High Uintas, following its east-west spine. True to its name, the Highline Trail primarily stays near the highest feasible elevations for over 80 miles as it crosses the range. Often above timberline, it tops out at 12,700’ at Anderson Pass, just below Kings Peak, the highest peak in Utah. Its lowest point is roughly 10,000’, within 1 day’s hike of the western trailhead.

Satellite image of the state of Utah with the Uinta Range circled.

Satellite image of the state of Utah with the Uinta Range circled.

Summary map of the Highline Trail route with camps and summits.

Summary map of the Highline Trail route with camps and summits that I climbed. Click the photo for a close up.

As I continued to make trips into the High Uintas, often solo, I continued to consider the lofty goal of traversing the High Uintas via the Highline Trial. My trips would often require parking at its trailhead, but taking different routes. Several years passed, and I found myself committed to college, attending summer semester every summer to “keep the ball rolling.” The years added up, and I finally graduated from the University of Utah with a double major in Finance and Business Information Systems in the summer of 2009, 80 pounds heavier than I was when I first conceived the possibility of hiking the Highline Trail. I had a vendetta for getting back in shape, and I started a regular running, mountain biking, and weightlifting routine. I also cleaned up my diet. While in college I had developed an Excel workbook to track my food intake, which I used to keep strict tabs on my food consumption. As I returned to fitness, the Highline Trail became a goal rather than a dream that I talked about with people who would never don a backpack. It became reality on Saturday, July 17th, 2010, when my infinitely supportive wife, Nicole, dropped me off on the eastern trailhead, outside of Vernal, Utah.