Friday, April 1, 2011

High Uintas, Days 6 and 7

Day 6: Brook Lake to Lodgepole Island (Kabell Meadows) (8 miles)

Order was restored this morning. Once again I was the first one up, though not by much and not particularly early. While I went to get water for coffee, Kevin spent time rearranging the fire pit to take the water pot. I got the first round of coffee water going on the stove, and Kevin started a fire to heat more water in the big pot.

As he had done at Kidney Lakes, Oliver decreed that this would be an oatmeal-free morning. Blueberry pancakes would be on the menu. The first round of pancakes were frying-pan sized, cooked one at a time, each one to perfection. It was a slow business, but rewarding for the one MountainGuy whose pancake-turn had arrived. Served with a bit of butter and some honey or jam, the pancakes were both delicious and satisfying. The second round of pancakes was cooked three to the pan. They did not cook as well, but the wait was less, and more folk could get in on the action at one time. In between rounds, guys would disappear to take care of morning business, like putting away tents, packing bags and packs, and taking care of morning business. The morning had a nice slow rhythm to it, with plenty of time for a second cup of coffee or a chance to stretch sore legs and tired backs. 

Despite the slow pace, the MountainGuys were on the trail by 9:45 a.m., which the discerning reader will notice is no different from the mornings when the pace was seemingly less subdued. From the first, the trail eluded us, even though it theoretically passed within 150 feet of our camp. But by now, there was no panic, just a generalized feeling of annoyance that finding the trail should be so difficult. Overall, we had a pretty good idea of the direction we wanted to go, and while a trail would have been a convenience, the lack of trail had not stopped us so far.

The morning hike was really quite pleasant. The weather was cool, and clouds were streaming across the sky. The winds were brisk from the very first, and it looked as though we might once again see some nasty weather. After hiking for about half an hour through fairly dense forest, we found ourselves crossing open meadows about half a mile above Fox Lake, which was now clearly visible to the west. The meadows were a bit soggy, and no doubt would have been a really messy affair had we been hiking earlier in the season. We climbed up a small rise on the far side of the meadow, and there, finally, was a trail.

Knowing that we wanted to hike away from Fox Lake, we turned to the right and started up the trail. Something, however, was not right. We could see the pass we wanted to climb to the north, and this trail was taking us east, back up toward Brook Lake and North Pole Pass. Eureka! We had found the trail. Too late to be of any use, but we had found it nonetheless. After a brief discussion, utilizing our unerring MountainGuy sense of direction, we turned around and started back toward Fox Lake. Dan, Kevin, and Rick decided that this was a waste of time, and quickly decided to go cross-country up to the trail leading to the pass. Oliver and I, anxious to complete the full “butterfly wing” loop trail, opted to continue down to Fox Lake and pick up the trail to the pass from there. 

 Fox Lake.

Oliver and I met up with the free-wheeling contingent about 30 minutes later and about a mile up the trail from Fox Lake. Setting out cross country, they had found the trail in about 15 minutes, and so had time to take off their packs, eat a few snacks, break out the easy chairs, and generally rest up for the final push to the pass.

The hike up to Divide Pass went pretty quickly, or at least it went pretty quickly for most of us. Kevin had established early in the trip that he liked hiking at the back of the line, as it allowed him the opportunity to stop frequently and study the flora, fauna, and geology of the land we were hiking through. By the time Oliver and I reached the pass, Rick and Dan were right behind us, but Kevin was about five minutes behind. We could see him, but he looked really small. Now, normally, a pass is an invitation to stop, take off the packs and wait for everyone to catch up, but the wind was howling over the pass and it was really cold. So we continued on with the intention of stopping once we found a good place to rest out of the wind.

We were easily half way down from the pass to Island Lake before we found a stopping place. Rick and Dan were right behind us when they alerted us to the presence of a moose cow only 100 yards down the trail. Fortunately, she ran off when confronted by the four of us in the full bloom of manly odors, but this seemed as good a spot as any to stop and wait for Kevin. Kevin was bitterly disappointed to learn that he had missed the moose, and he immediately deployed his camera for instantaneous action. But while Kevin might have been happy to sneak up on the moose, the rest of us were happy to alert the moose to our presence and give her the chance to run off. We never did see that moose again, as the sneak-up sect was simply overwhelmed by the loud, manly odor sect.

Just about the time that we reached Island Lake, we looked backed and noticed two hunters on horses were right behind us. In retrospect, this raised some interesting questions. All of the hunters we met kept coming up from behind us, and were aware of us before we were aware of them. Could it be because they were on horses and so traveled faster than we? Or could it be something more sinister—like we would be dead meat if it had been MountainGuy hunting season? In any case, one of the guys was the one we had met at Kidney Lake a couple of days before, and the other one had seen us crossing the meadow on our way down to Kidney Lakes from Davis Lake. They were friendly, and told us about the big bull moose that patrolled the forest between Island Lake and the pass, and also wanted to know if we were the ones they had heard up at Brook Lake the night before. We told them that we had seen the bull on the way in, and that yes, it was us they heard up at Brook Lake. Like I said, it’s a good thing that it wasn’t MountainGuy hunting season. They bid us goodbye as they set off for Round Lake in search of their still-elusive elk. We never did see them again, though they may have seen us.

Island Lake was a couple feet down from its high water mark, and as a result, there was a fine little beach on the east end of the lake where the creek flowed into the lake from the pass. We reached the lake about noon, and since we had been hiking for almost two hours, it was clearly time for lunch. This was the sixth day of our seven-day trip, provisions were getting a bit light; we were down to our last 25 pounds of food. In fact, there was barely enough cheese and sausage for each of us to have two large tortilla sandwiches, dried fruit, trail mix, peanut butter, cookies, and chocolate. Despite the short rations, we were in such good humor that Kevin dubbed the event a beach party, making it the Second Annual MountainGuy Big Beach Bash. Sadly, our itinerary required that we pack up and move on before the party really got into full swing, but it was still a welcome respite from the unrelenting rigors of the trail.

Our plan for the day was to hike to Kabell Lake, which was about four miles from the Hoop Lake trailhead. That way, we get one more night in the backcountry, and then a short hike back to the cars. This was a good plan, but one that required a climb up to the lake. In the event, we took a short break at Kabell Meadows, decided that we didn’t want to hike uphill to Kabell Lake, and then continued down the trail for about half a mile before finding a good camping spot.

The trail skirted the edge of a series of meadows for about a mile or so below Kabell Meadows proper. Though there were many flat spots along the trail, none of them offered anything magical enough for a last-night campsite. We didn’t want to go too far, because the trail eventually veered up and over a small ridge, away from the meadows and water, and we didn’t want to end up back at Hoop Lake. Nice as it was, one night was enough. But just as we were nearing the end of the meadow trail, we found an island of trees out in the middle of the meadow near where the stream flowed through. Lodgepole Island proved the perfect spot. There was a well-developed fire ring, good seating, and lots of flat spots covered with comfy forest duff. The stream was just crying out to be fished, and the meadow was large enough to accommodate an 18-hole Frisbee golf course. The perfect last-night spot.

 Lodgepole Island.

Throughout the afternoon the weather had deteriorated, and while we hadn’t seen any rain, it was looking increasingly likely. The wind was still very brisk, and the clouds were building in the south and west. We arrived at Lodgepole Island about 4:00 p.m. Camp was quickly arranged, firewood was collected, the hanging tree was set up, and the rain tarp was fully deployed. On the menu for the night was our famous Mountain Jambalaya, and fresh trout was an ingredient I was hoping to add.

With camp set up, I went down to the stream to fish. Dan and Kevin joined me for a time, which was especially welcome since they showed up right about the time I pulled out my first fish. I caught three, all small cutthroats ineligible for jambalaya status, but even so, it’s good to have observers around when you are catching fish so that your credibility is higher when you are not and have to lie. Oliver and Rick set about making the Frisbee golf course that Oliver had been hoping for from the beginning of the trip. The course took them all over the meadow, and every once in a while, we would hear the telltale vocalizing that accompanies both successful and unsuccessful moments in golf.

With the exception of the beef stew, Oliver had done all of the cooking on this trip. I was itching to cook—though I refrained from scratching while cooking—so I begged Oliver for the opportunity to make the jambalaya. He pondered for a moment, and then graciously agreed. As the shopper-in-chief for the trip, I know it was difficult for Oliver to let go—I am sure he had a fine recipe already planned. But I had been shamelessly begging for the chance to make this from the end of the Flat Tops trip, and the weight of a full year of pathetic pandering finally wore him down. Though the weather may also have had something to do with it.

 Fine kitchen facilities.

Just about the time the onions and chicken and sausage hit the olive oil to be lightly browned, the first wave of rain blew through. I huddled in my rain gear, trying to protect the flame from the wind and rain, while the rest of the MountainGuys lounged comfortably under the tarp and out of the rain, snacking on snacks. The rain did not last long, however, and by the time I was adding the salmon to the pot, the rain was already gone. Kevin took the opportunity to start a fire. The flames quickly drew everyone out from under the tarp, at least until the next little squall went through. And so it was throughout the night. The wind would suddenly pick up, rain would fall for five to ten minutes, and then both the rain and the wind would subside. One or more of us would emerge from under the tarp, stoke the fire, and like moths, the other guys would emerge. The wind and rain would return, and we would scurry back under the tarp.

With the chicken and onions lightly browned and the salmon heated through, I added spices (curry, mesquite seasoning, oregano, thyme, hot mustard, pepper, and salt) and tomato paste, and fried on high heat for about three minutes. When the tomato paste started sticking to the bottom of the pan, I added the reconstituted freeze-dried vegetables, including the water, and a dash of soy sauce. This was simmered for as long as we could stand it (maybe ten minutes, max), and then added the sauce to the five cups of cooked rice. Altogether the mixture filled our one-gallon pot to within half an inch of the top. It was all gone in no more than ten minutes.

One nice thing about cooking the jambalaya on the last night was that we could add pretty much all of the remaining dinner-type food to the mix—a true jambalaya. Dinner done, Dan offered to clean the pots, pans, dishes, and utensils, a role he had taken on from about day three. On this particular night, he deserved combat pay, as he ended up doing the dishes in the rain while the rest of us threw a bunch of wood on the fire and then retreated under the tarp to stay dry.

Dessert was a fine blend of scotch and dark chocolates. Cookies would have been nice, or a fine, fresh fruit compote, or perhaps tortillas fried in butter and dusted with sugar and cinnamon. We did have sugar and cinnamon. We had butter. We had plenty of isobutane to do the cooking. But fruit, tortillas, and cookies. . .all gone. Alas. Time for bed. One by one we retired to the snug warmth of our tents and sleeping bags. Rick and Kevin stayed up late around the fire—till maybe 9:30 p.m.—but then they too called it a night.

Day 7: Kabell Meadows to Hoop Lake (3 miles), and Hoop Lake to Sills Café, Mountain View, WY (22 miles)

The wind continued throughout the night, and squalls passed through periodically, but by morning the weather had settled down a bit. With our routine now firmly established, I was up first to get the coffee water started and to retrieve the food, while Kevin was up shortly thereafter to start the fire.

With rations down to the barest of minimums, breakfast was a barren affair of fresh coffee, hot chocolate, oatmeal, cold out bran (okay, that part was barren), and bacon and eggs. Dan offered to make the eggs, and though the project started out well enough, once past the fried bacon part, the egg part turned out to be less than stellar. Lest the sensitive reader feel these comments too harsh, be advised that this correspondent did not eat any of the eggs and confined his efforts to oatmeal—the assessment came from none other than Dan, who concluded that they were “the worst eggs ever.” Oliver tried to be diplomatic, but he too eventually agreed that the eggs were not “wholly tantalizing.” Nonetheless, there were none left to feed the fire.

Even though we were not in a big hurry, camp was packed and packs were hoisted by 9:45 a.m. By 11:30 a.m., we were at Hoop Lake, mugging for the end of trip picture. 

 End of trip picture.

It was a quick trip out, but a great hike. There were a few ups and downs, but the trail was mostly gently graded, winding through thick pine forests and occasional groves of aspens. The aspens had been green just the week before as we were hiking in, but many had started to turn yellow, and there were even a few shaded red. As Kevin noted, “We hiked in during summer, we hiked out in the fall.”

It is always with a mixture of relief and sadness that the cars are unlocked, the packs tucked inside, and the backcountry clothes exchanged for clean clothes not imbued with the scent of the mighty MountainGuy (or should I say the mighty scent of the MountainGuy). However, the sadness was brief. It felt good to put on clean clothes, and the cold beer (or in Kevin’s case, the cold root beer) in the coolers did a lot to lighten the moment. There was but one thing left to do: the end of trip luncheon.

While driving in, Rick had the presence of mind to notice that a small café we passed was jammed with cars, and took this to mean that it was popular, and perhaps, popular because it had good food. A leap of faith to be sure, as this was Mountain View, WY, but in this case faith was rewarded. Not instantly, or even in short order, but eventually. After driving for 40 minutes and sitting in traffic for fifteen minutes while a bunch of guys in hardhats drove heavy machinery back and forth along a recently paved stretch of road, we had the good fortune to arrive at Sills Café. This local icon did indeed have good food. The cheeseburger was great. The chicken sandwich was excellent. The fritters were homemade and amazing. Although each of the three fritters we ordered was the size of a dinner plate, there was none left at the end. The cherry fritter was great. The apple fritter was excellent. The raspberry fritter was amazing. [Menu idea: fritters would make a great dessert in the backcountry, and wouldn’t be hard to make.]

The fritters gone, it was time to go. The Ninth Annual MountainGuy Rendezvous and Gasfest was officially over outside Sills Café. It was another great trip, perhaps one of the best. The hiking was great, the campsites fine, and the variable weather both challenging and fun. The food was excellent. Even the fishing had been pretty good. With a last round of handshakes the California contingent headed west, and the Colorado contingent headed east. It was a bittersweet moment, but the planning has already started for next year. On the agenda: the Grand Tetons!  The Weminuche Wilderness! The Marble Mountains! Bring out the maps—let the full-contact planning begin!


  1. Sounds like another excellent hike! I can't stand Utah and had little desire to read about this excursion because of it, but I am glad I did. maybe one day I will head out that way. Am I right in thinking that the high point of Utah is in the same general area? Cabin Fever has us leaving the house tomorrow to check for morels and maybe scout out some early season hiking. Hope it all is going well for you.

  2. I don't know where the high point in Utah is. I think Kings Peak is between 12,500 and 13,000. The Uintas are really nice. If they were closer I'd go back. But if I have to drive that far, I want to see someplace new.