Utah--my beloved land of the red rocks, crazy canyons, incredible deserts---and lovely high country. I returned for a nice loop backpack solo trip and an overnighter to a lovely lake at the head of an old glacial cirque in the High Uintas Wilderness near the Wyoming Utah border.
I started out car camping at a nice small camp area at the East Fork of the Black Forks River. The next morning threw on the pack and started out crossing a bridge over said river and cutting back on a blazed trail through the forest to pick up the main trail as it ascended steeply on switchbacks, over 2K feet in less than 4 miles. On top I cut over on the Bald Mtn trail, which would soon take me above tree line, skirting Bald Mtn, 11,700K feet approx. It was hotter than I liked and I was not feeling good, just taking it slow and taking pictures. I met two forest service folks on beautiful horses, they gave me some trail tips and wished me well. I ate a candy bar, and promptly lost it on the side of the trail. Ok, no eating. I felt better and kept on walking, on the alpine tundra moon like terrain, no trees, just wide open with rocks and grass and a few snow patches still present in August, and big views of some distant mountains.
I descended on the trail back into a wonderland of light woodlands and streams. I was on my way to my first night at Red Castle area and it's lakes, about 10 miles. Soon, I couldn't keep any water down either. At the confluence of the Bald Mtn and East Fork trails I took my pack off and laid on the ground, I felt like I would just like to roll over and die. I was hot and dizzy. Not the best start to a trip. I stuck my hat in a stream every chance I could to cool my head off. I was not far from the lower Red Castle lake. I got back up and walked on; it was challenging now just to put one foot in front of another. I came to the first likely looking campsite and literally collapsed there. I managed to set up my tent, inflate my pad and I sacked out for two hours under the tree.
I woke up in time for sunset at the lake and the rock monolith called the Red Castle. I managed to keep dinner down and went to bed early. I would evaluate how I was the next day.
The next day instead of continuing my trip I decided to stay a day in this area, explore all the lakes and take it easy. I felt ok just tired. I took cameras and water and walked up toward the other two lakes in the area. This area is very popular but I was the only one on this side of the Castle this day. As I walked again leaving the woodlands for the rocky tundra terrain of the upper lakes I met a large singular bull moose coming down the trail near the waterfall that flowed from the main Red Castle lake. We saw each other in plenty of time and he moved off the trail and I took my pics using the telephoto, not wanting to get much closer. I kept on up the trail and got to the expansive rock and grass terrain forming an apron around the huge Red Castle lake, at 168 acres the largest natural lake in the Uintas. An informal cairned trail took off through the large talus pile on the northwest side of the lake to the upper Red Castle lake. Here I found delightful flower displays in the greenery supplied by snowmelt in between talus piles. Thousands of flowers, predominantly Indian Paint brush, some daisys, purple flowers fading , and others. I had a blast trying to take photos in here, a lot did not come out. In the talus piles were many spider webs, some full of gnats and mosquitos. The brownish spiders either vibrated their webs as I approached or took a dive bomb into the many cracks, I am sure attached by a sturdy strand.
I made it to the upper lake, small but beautiful surrounded by the huge cliffs. Lots of flowers here too. I rested here on the rock, and looked at the blue sky, and the small puffs of clouds here and there and thought of nothing but the beauty around me.
Later I made my journey back, traversing to get closer to the waterfall, the follow the outlet stream back down toward camp, a lot of rock hopping and mosquito dodging here. I had to employ my headnet once, and some deet.
I rested in my tent and took a nap. Sunset was even better with some clouds turning firey red and making the waters look like they were bleeding from the red reflections from the cliffs. About 7 pm some backpackers came by, disappointed I had the first good camp spot, they continued on down the lake and I did not hear them later on.
The next day I was good to go. Up early, backtracked a little to the bridge over the outlet stream, then up the other side of the Red Castle, toward the Smith Forks Pass. The trail climbed gently in heavy woods again, then just before breaking out of treeline again, I had one of "those" moments. Special ones that make any trip. A small grass lined beautiful little lake was just off the trail, it's outlet stream crossing the trail and making a run down the hill. From the outlet down at least 50 feet the little gully was lined with purple monkey flower. I mean 2-4 foot wide carpet of green and purple about a foot high. Solid. I just stood there with my mouth open. The intensity of the bloom was amazing. The hill flowed wth color. Then by the lake the perfect reflection, and a small open grassy knoll with views of the cliffs. This is my campspot the next trip in this area.
More waterfalls, one right off the trail. The trail climbed gently to the pass, at the large Smith's Fork Pass lake I saw two fishermen, they had stealthed their camp well, I had not seen it. They seemed amazed when I told them I had the Red Castle lakes to myself the day before.
Up and over the Pass, the weather was cloudy and overcast, still pretty warm. I had a great view down into the Yellowstone drainage, and glimpsed Kings' Peak --the Utah highpoint, although it was hidden behind south Kings' Peak most of the walk down. Again, in the Alpine tundra above treeline, lots of snowbanks clinging to hillsides, and little lakes and boggy meadows and steams everywhere. Since these trails are only snow free approx 3 months a year, in some places you follow large cairns as the trail on the ground hasn't received enough traffic to be followable. But due to the open terrain it is quite easy to orient with a map.
In the middle of the basin still above the trees I met the highline trail, and took that toward Tungsten lake and pass. You are borderline with the trees, the leave them entirely once over the subtle Tungsten pass. Now in the Garfield basin, looking up toward Porcupine Pass, at over 12K one of the highest passes in the Uintas. The weather was deteriorating, light rain, a little wind, it looked more like a winter storm than any monsoon, just gray quilted clouds and socked in. I met some more backpackers who had come over the pass, they were encouraging but I knew it would take me a while, and I also wanted to get better weather for photos the next day, so I decided to camp early above North Star lake. I found a small circle of stunted pines, wind and weather knarled. It was obviously a used camp area, so I snugged my tent in there and tied it off to the small trees in case of high wind.
It rained harder and no wind so I settled in with my book and got out of the tent and roamed around between rain bouts. The sun set in a sullen sky, and as I woke at times in the night saw stars, at other times just a moonless gray-black night.
The next day no rain but clouds and gray. Oh well, I was up and to the pass early. Stunning views down into the Oweep basin of the Lakes Forks area. Unbelievable from the top of this precipitous pass. The basin is all green grass and little streams and lakes again, the forest making a return at the far end of the basin. I would descend then go up another pass all the while above treeline. It is a unique and different feel, this alpine tundra. Sort of like a different kind of desert. Here huge 1500 foot cliffs are almost level with you from the top of the pass. The pass descent was loose and steep, but I've been on lots worse. A slide had taken out about 4 feet of the trail, the rocks were still unstable. Someone had taken a horse or mule over this trail--I was very impressed with that.
The walk in the basin to the next pass seemed so simple from the top, it took a surprising amount of time and distance. The next pass was Squaw pass at about 11,800 feet over into the upper Little East Fork of Black Fork basin, the route back to the car, leaving this section of the highline trail. I left the trail and cut over by the Squaw lake, getting wet feet in a boggy area. The route up the pass ascended steadily again, and soon I was on top but a little tired here. Another nice view. Heard a rock fall in the basin but couldn't locate it, hoped it was not from someone on Porcupine pass. Two times I also heard sharp "barks", the last time on Squaw pass saw a marmot who apparently had just snagged a flower, he ducked into a rock with the flower appearing to be sitting on his nose. Cute.
Looking down into the Little East Fork was like looking into a little paradise. A small stream wound like a snake in bright green grass in an open area fringed with spruce like trees, then the whole area stepped up to cliffs. I descended what felt like forever until I was into the Christmas tree village, as I called it. It was delightful hiking in the mix of large old trees, open areas and meadows adorned with spreads of flowers, and the sound of the stream growing with strength and volume. I was hiking easily now and at a good pace, felt like my old self. Came the first of three crossings of the Little East Fork, forget keeping feet dry. The trail had some boggy areas where springs and outlet streams from some hidden lakes and snow melt traveled. Gore tex high gaitors and boots are the ticket here. The little streams and meadows drew me and my camera off the trail several times. Emerald green jewels with dots of yellow and red depending on the flowers.
Once more it started to rain lightly, I finally gave up and covered my pack and donned my jacket. It was pleasant not broiling under the sun. I feel I short changed the Little East Fork because I could have camped, but elected to go on to the vehicle. It made for a long day of about 16-17 miles but I was at a comfortable pace and did not feel tired to stop and camp. I arrived at my car camp about 3:30 and it was good to get the pack off my back. The sun tried to come out as I moved the Toyota from the TH parking to the camp area. I settled in to clean up and think about "what next"--I still had time to do some dayhiking or another short trip before my drive back. The loop was approximately 43 miles--adding in about 6 miles with the trekking at Red Castle Lakes, in 4 days.