Ascent of Kings Peak on 2013-09-03

Climber: David Odenwalder

Others in Party:Brent Odenwalder
Scott Odenwalder
Kevin Odenwalder
Date:Tuesday, September 3, 2013
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Kings Peak
    Elevation:13528 ft / 4123 m

Ascent Trip Report

As we were just getting ready to set out, we encountered a lady just finishing the same ascent. Her one-word comment about the trip to the top: “daunting!”. I would agree with that statement, and perhaps add the words: “grueling” or at least “rigorous”. For someone in extremely good shape, or someone that backpacks frequently, the access probably isn’t too bad. But for someone that hasn’t done a lengthy backpack trip since teenage years, this was no small feat.
There were four of us: my brother, his two sons, and myself. All reached the summit: I was the straggler (at nearly age 62). The various websites and entries indicate the mileage from the Henry’s Fork trailhead as anywhere from 24 to 32 miles. I was optimistic that it would actually be in the high 20’s. I’m now sticking with the 32-mile number – at least! (We took the route over Gunsight Pass and into Painter’s Basin. I think we may have found the alleged shortcut on the way to the peak, but weren’t able to retrace the same route back. At any rate, we were down nearly into the Painter Basin meadows both coming and going, so we probably took the most round-about possible approach from the north.)
Within minutes of reaching the summit, I was joined by two other solo hikers. One, Fred, from the eastern US, was on his 44th state high point. He said this was the most difficult so far, and also one of the most gorgeous from the top. My summit time was about 2 PM, MDT.
We had relatively decent weather conditions (day after Labor Day, so early Sept). One group we met en route had reached the top the previous day, and complained that it had been alternately shrouded in clouds and rainy – completely obscuring the beautiful panoramas. It was about 30-50% cloudy for us, but reasonably fair when we reached the summit –and the views were spectacular. Shortly after the other two climbers joined me at the summit, however, I noticed rainstorms to the west. The better part of valor dictated an immediate descent. The storm hit about a third of the way down. I stayed off the ridge line, and ducked under some large boulders until the fury ended – about 15 minutes or so – wind, light rain, pea-shot hail, and a little thunder. As my Dad says about the Uintas, if you don’t like the weather, wait a few minutes.

On the more recent, successful trip, we also met a fellow that was one of those exercise-types, who claimed he could summit and return to Henry’s Fork Basin in 4 hours – only 20 minutes from Anderson Pass to the top. Crazy if you ask me. Our round-trip day hike to the top (through Painter’s Basin, as noted) took the better part of 8-10 hours from base camp – and I was thoroughly exhausted and dehydrated upon our return.
Comments and recommendations:
1- Forget setting up base camp at Dollar Lake. The area has a bunch of restrictions, it’s not obvious to find from the trail, and isn’t far enough along the trail. Get as close as possible to Gunsight Pass for a base camp, unless you want a really long and brutal day hiking to the summit.
2- There is water near Gunsight Pass. There is a small lake (100’ across) just off the trail (with a little bushwhacking) almost at the start of the switchbacks. There was a small flowing stream coming down right at the base of Gunsight, too – since this was early Sept, I have to assume water is likely available year round. Evidence of a lot of sheep grazing in the area, so don’t forget your filter/purification apparatus.
3- Alternatively, set up base camp a little before Gunsight Pass, in the upper end of the basin. That is what we did, with night fast approaching. Maybe half a mile before the start of the switchbacks are a couple of distinct stone ledges cutting across the trail – from the distance, they almost look as if they are stone fences made by human hands. Perhaps 200 – 300 yards before reaching these ledges/walls, we decided to head for the nearest water source – a stream or small lake visible about half mile down the gently sloping grassy floor of the basin. Partway down, just as the grass gives way to small shrubs, near a small stand of conifers, we found a great camping spot - and a small spring coming right out of the ground nearby. Again, at this late point in the season, one might conclude that the source is available year-round.
4- Evidently, the so-called “avalanche chute” or “toilet bowl” is scalable up and down. We didn’t attempt that route, but my marathon-running acquaintance apparently did. This would make almost the entire ascent one of boulder-hopping. The chute is an “alluvial fan” of loose boulders that appears to have fallen over time from Anderson Pass toward the floor of Henry’s Basin. In fact, from the center of the basin, it almost appears that the debris comes right off the “shark’s tooth” – Kings Peak - itself. This route probably involves cutting off from the standard route and heading instead towards Henry’s Fork Lake – you bypass Gunsight Pass altogether.
5- If you go the Painters Basin route, look for the short-cut right after the switchbacks on the backside of Gunsight. There is an obvious “Y” in the trail, but no markers. That should save some mileage – and perhaps a little of the elevation loss that you just have to climb again. I’m not sure this is the trail we took – but it ought to be better than dropping into the basin. No advice on how to find the shortcut on the return trip.
6- There was water available from time to time along the Painters Basin trail – even flowing water near the top of Anderson Pass from a snow field. Given that I was totally dehydrated upon return to base camp, I’d carry at least one filter per hiking group, and plan to get extra water en route. I had 2 liters with me at the start of summit day, and it wasn’t particularly hot weather. Had to drink sparingly on the return trip, and was totally out by Gunsight Pass.
7- The hike is not technical in any way – but hopping boulders to the top requires some agility. My ankles and knees – prone to soreness – made descent slow. I slipped a couple of times – it would be easy to twist an ankle or break a leg on the loose boulders. The north ridge line of the peak is supposed to be the best way up from Anderson Pass. There is only occasional evidence of a trail, and a few cairns. Most of the time it’s choose your own path. Note that there are sharp drop-offs on the west side of the ridge line. The shark’s tooth is actually serrated with a number of ledges or false peaks. These give a welcome alternation from the steady uphill climb. You are approaching the summit when you see a large ledge that seems almost impassable (it’s really not too bad – stay to the east, away from the sharp drops). To give some idea of the boulder size, I saw a couple that looked the size and shape of a cello case, and a couple others (morbid thought) that reminded me of coffins.
8- From HF Basin, and especially from P Basin (as you walk along the east flank of Kings Peak), the mountain looks ominous. Steep, lots of loose rock, and absolutely frightening. Don’t give up hope. The path up to Anderson Pass is long and fatiguing, but anyone in halfway decent physical condition can eventually make it. I have moderate acrophobia, but had no difficulty with the final ascent (just stay to east of the ridgeline a few yards, and take the climb one boulder at a time). Some folks carried poles or hiking sticks, but for me it was just my feet, and occasionally my hands in the scramble. From Anderson Pass to the top – figure about one hour, more or less; comparable amount of time descending. Consider that I am reasonably healthy, but not used to this type of activity. If you’re really in shape, you’d probably make it in less time.
Summary Total Data
    Quality:7 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Unmaintained Trail, Scramble
    Nights Spent:2 nights away from roads
    Weather:Thunderstorm, Breezy, Partly Cloudy
Partly cloudly and cool. A thunderstorm with light hail hit while scrambling down from the top.
Ascent Statistics
    Time Up:1 Days 4 Hours 
Descent Statistics
    Time Down:1 Days 4 Hours 

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