High In Utah: Kings Peak
This blog is part of a series that documents my personal goal to summit all of the high county peaks in Utah.
ELEVATION: 13,534 feet
UTAH HIGH COUNTY PEAK RANK: 1 of 26
RANGE: Uinta Mountains
SUMMITED ON: July 23, 2007; July 27, 2013; August 15, 2015
GETTING TO THE TRAILHEAD: “Drive east from Evanston, Wyoming, on I-80 for 35 miles, then take exit 39 south onto Highway 414. Drive south on Highway 414 for 6 miles to the town of Mountain View, where you must turn right on Highway 410 towards the farming village of Robertson. 6.8 miles from Mountain View, just before you reach Robertson, you will come to a junction where Highway 410 makes an abrupt bend to the west and a wide gravel road continues straight ahead to south. Continue south at this point on the gravel road. 12.3 miles after leaving the highway you will come to a major fork in the road. The right fork leads to China Meadows while the left fort leads to Henrys Fork Trailhead. Bear left at this point and continue for another 10.7 miles, following the signs to the Henrys Fork Trailhead.” (From Utah’s Incredible Backcountry Trails by David Day).
NOTES: Kings Peak is named after Clarence King who oversaw the U.S. Geological Exploration of the 40th parallel that began in 1867. As part of that exploration, the High Uinta Mountains were mapped by S.F. Emmons, in 1869 and 1871. For most of its recorded history, Kings Peak was not recognized as the tallest peak in Utah. Inaccurate news stories in the early 20th century designated Emmons Peak (also in the Uintas) as the highest, and then Kings Peak neighbor, South Kings Peak, before the true high summit was officially recognized by the U.S. Forest Service in the 1970’s.
I have now had the opportunity to climb Kings three different times. Each was done via the Henrys Fork Trail which gently guides backpackers into the rolling, stunningly beautiful Henrys Fork Basin. Once in the basin there are a lot of hiking options, though the most efficient method I have found is to aim for Dollar Lake to set up camp the first day.
Approaching Kings Peak from Dollar Lake offers two options. The first is to make for the sheer wall of the Anderson Pass (with Kings Peak towering above it). I took this route up and back on my 2007 trip, and up again on my 2013 trip. It is difficult and dangerous, but it does offer the fastest access from the basin. The longer route sticks to the the trail near Dollar Lake that gradually makes its way up and over Gunsight Pass and into the Painter Basin. Taking the rambling long way around the Painter Basin adds extra mileage to the trip, but the scenery is well worth the extra effort. Hikers have created a shortcut near the top of Gunsight Pass that follows a ridge line that works its way above the Painter Basin (and keeps you out of the basin altogether). On my 2015 trip, Sarah and I took the longer route up Kings after failing to find the shortcut access at Gunsight Pass. We had better luck on the way down and it was fairly obvious once we were able to see it from a different perspective.
Regardless of how you access it, all roads end at the base of Kings Peak. From there it is a rock-hopping, boulder-jumping slog across the final ridge and up to the summit. There are numerous false summits along the way, which can get super frustrating, particularly as the air starts to thin out at high elevation. The summit itself is well fortified with wind breaks and rock shelters and the panorama features panoramic views of other 13,000’-ers, lakes, and more rugged High Uinta basin drainage’s. On all three of my trips clouds rolled in at some point, either on top of (or coming down) the peak. Weather moves fast and the sound of rolling thunder takes on particularly ominous tones at high elevation. Luckily I never felt compelled to use the Anderson Pass as a quick emergency exit strategy to get back to camp, as it seems much sketchier going down than coming up.
A Kings Peak trip really highlights everything that makes backpacking and peak bagging in the Uinta’s so worthwhile. It can get heavily trafficked, so would-be adventurer’s should aim for off time’s whenever possible. Also, based on past experiences I would recommend taking three days for the trip. On the 2007 trip I did it in two, packing up camp and heading out after the climb was complete. However, doing so robs you of the opportunity to sit in camp, revel in the scenery of Dollar Lake, and reflect on the accomplishment of making to the top of Utah.