Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

September 27, 2013

Kings Peak Summit Attempt

Day 3:  Wind on the 13ers and Scree Slopes

Today was the big day of the hike where we would attempt to summit King's Peak, at over 13,500 feet.   First we had to keep climbing alongside Lake Atwood and reach the top of Trailrider Pass.  From there we had two options, to go down into the swamps of Painter Basin and take the long way around to the backside of Kings Peak, or to surf the ridgetops....figuratively speaking, I suppose. But first we got to see our first elk of the trip....a flash of color and then it disappeared into the bushes.

In the end, we choose to summit first and traverse the ridgeline.  The wind was rather low but gusty, and we hoped that it wouldn't get too bad on the peaks.  The slope on trailrider pass didn't start too badly...we were able to progress up towards the nameless peak towering above us until it seemed to get quite close.  Then, somehow all progress came to a slow grind, as we slowly crawled up precarious boulders to the summit.  It ended up taking a couple of hours to make the ascent.   It was 1 pm when we teetered on the last boulder to reach the summit at something over 13,000 feet.  Amazingly enough, another guy appeared out of the blue sky, on a day hike to peakbag a few 13ers.

The wind, which had only caressed our faces so far, turned into a full-on howling gale at the summit, sweeping up from the southwest to almost sweep us off our feet.  And between us and Kings Peak were 4 more peaks over 13,000 feet and very rock ridge line traverses.   Almost immedately, it became a matter of surviving the wind, cold, and elevation and finding a way back down to the valley, rather than attempting to get all the way to the highest peak in Utah.

However, survival meant heading north for the moment, as we were unwilling to descend on the boulder field we had just ascended, because it just didn't sound like any fun.  So we leaned into the wind, and rock-hopped across the ridgeline for what seemed like a couple more hours.  Even the ridge was hard going, especially when we came to the knife-edge before South Kings Peak.   Rob was on his last legs by then, and by studying the map I found a descent line to the East just below the south summit.   It didn't look too bad, so we chanced it and headed down to the lake below the peaks.  It was better terrain than we had ascended, if not by much!

Finally we got down to a grassy, if rocky slope, and thought we were home free to get all the way down to Painter Basin.  Not so fast!   Suddenly the ground fell away from us and we found ourselves looking over a cliff that was at least a couple hundred feet high!   Whoops.   I had to study the map for quite a while to make sure we could backtrack a little and work our way around and down.

Painter Basin was a mess of wet swamps all running full from recent rains.  I navigated a high line through them towards the distant tree line...our safety line to get out of the howling wind.  Rob was on his lowest energy on the trip now as the light was failing.  His best effort was a slow trudge and balked at getting his feet wet across a river which had no dry safe place to cross.   After the tough day we both wanted to lay down and sleep, but lower, sheltered locations were worth getting to first.   With a few minutes of daylight left, we did reach treeline and it was blessedly full of places to camp.  We picked almost the first one we found, glancing worriedly at the sky as well to see a dark cloud approaching.  Raindrops start falling almost as soon as we saw it, and the tent went up about as quick as possible.   We crawled into the tent, got warm and dry, and then were treated to one of the coolest thunderstorms either of us had ever heard.  They are much nicer from inside the tent than outside!

Kings Peak in the (center) distance still looks a long ways away.  

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