UT – High Uintas Wilderness, Rock Creek Trailhead (09/22)

It was time for another J&J adventure but it was Labor Day weekend. We both had the Uintas on our list and it was about an equal distance drive for us so with quick research we found a less popular trailhead.

In our haste we neglected to use our Gaia fire overlay. Thankfully Joan thought to call the ranger station as well as stop by where she learned that our intended trail was burned in 2020 and part of our route included trail which hadn’t been cleared of down trees. We quickly revised our plans from a loop to an out-and-back option.

The red splotches represent the fire boundaries whereas the red line was our route.

The trail initially parallels the shore of Upper Stillwater Reservoir.

We were quickly reminded what burn means, as in missing signs at trail junctions.

Burned bridges with exposed nails making us glad we were current with out tetanus vaccine.

The flowers cheered us onward and brightened the black hillsides.

Fireweed was doing its job as a fire follower.

We could see features normally hidden by the trees.

Without shade, we were thrilled to find plentiful water where we implement cooling strategies.

Given that we were fording streams in September, we could only imagine the depth in early summer.

We met the one and only remaining trail crew who was able to confirm which trails were clear of down trees. The Squaw Basin trail was still officially closed, although the ones we were using were also on the closure order posted at the trailhead. Due to insufficient staffing, postings aren’t being updated and closures aren’t posted at junctions such as this.

This trail was filled with rocks of every size and type. It was slow tedious work. Try as we might, we couldn’t make it out of the burn zone for our first night. Joan put her umbrella to good use in the beating sun.

We were on a bit of a bluff with four waterfalls below us. It was a treat to remove all the ash from our bodies before bed. This was a filthy hike!

It was nearly impossible to abide by these rules in this burn area. This is the first time I’ve seen mention of not camping within 200′ of another campsite. This is a new favorite rule especially after hearing about a friend who had a stranger set up a tent within a few feet of hers when there was plenty of room elsewhere.

We were thrilled to have a couple of living trees nearby and hopeful the winds would stay calm and the standing trees would stay standing.

Early the next morning we reached found above treeline goodness.

Goal #1 was Dead Horse Pass. Why? Because we really wanted to see what was on the other side.

The trail started out reasonably. We were now on the Uintas Highline Trail, although possibly the most popular trail in this wilderness it’s still nothing like the PCT freeway. The only 3 hikers we saw during our four days were on the Highline.

Little did I know Joan was scheming a way to cross-country our descent.

The higher we climbed the worst the trail conditions. It was that slippery loose soil and rocks much easier to ascend than descend.

Type 2 fun – sketchy sketchy, not for those with height exposure issues.

The views at the top were everything we’d hoped to find including Dead Horse Lake.

The Uintas Highline Trail continues down the other side of the pass and alongside the lake. We saw one tiny yellow tent.

The Highline Trail then continues through the valley and up to Red Knob Pass (the obvious feature). The dead trees are from beetles not burn. As an aside, the Highline Trail is not noted on any signs as it’s really a route following several existing trails and in fact the one below is the West Fork Blacks Fork Trail. On my National Geographic map, the Highline is labeled as the 025 trail but it’s not to be found on any signage we saw.

We couldn’t resist exploring the ridge at the pass, while Joan was mapping out of descent.

The textures and colors of the rocks were interesting and had us wondering about the geologic history of these mountains. We need to add that layer to our Gaia maps.

We loved our time at Dead Horse Pass but after a long break it was time to head down and find our next destination.

Joan says lets go down this. Come on Jan it’ll be fun. I say Type 2 fun! But okay I’ll test it and see if it’s better or worse than the trail.

The rocks held firm and we found a safe path down. It indeed turned out to be FUN of the FUN kind, and way more safe than the slippery trail.

Looking back to where we’d come down from the pass.

Once we made it to this bench, we were super excited to go find a swimming lake.

Success! What a wonderful treat at over 11,000′ and all ours.

We wandered a bit more of the Highline Trail finding more bodies of water, and yes more burn.

And ultimately our turnaround spot where we could consider another swim.

When we weren’t swimming we might have been foraging for the few remaining berries.

We were glad to find a place to camp free of rocks, with some live green trees and a nearby lake where we could enjoy sunset.

Joan noticed these orchids near the shoreline and though they were Lady Tresses. Another friend agreed with the name.

The grasses were blooming and happy to share their seeds.

The next day we headed back down the burned trail and noticed more fall colors. Our lowest overnight temperature was 38F.

This butterfly was taking a rest break on this rock.

We found a little stream near out last campsite where there was tons of plant and aquatic life.

This was another nice campsite where we could pretend like the burned forest didn’t exist.

I had a view of this creek from my tent. Notice the yellow leaves in the distance.

A few aspen where beginning the change. A goal for this fall is to wander through colorful aspen forests.

I was super happy to find sections of trails that were made of slab rocks or kind duff dirt, but instead it’s 70-80% rocks, much of it like walking up a creek bed. It was challenging for me to exert constant control while being careful.

As if the ground rocks weren’t enough . . .

From Upper Stillwater Reservoir, we could look back to where we’d been.

This was a 37-mile, 3,600′ elevation gain/loss out-and-back hike.

Every adventure with Joan is time spent well. We walked away with even more appreciation of healthy forests, left with lots of unanswered questions, and made more memories to keep us sane until our next reunion. We saw a total of 6 people over our 4-day holiday weekend, and enjoyed our introduction to the High Uintas.


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