This blog is part of a series that documents my personal goal to summit all of the high county peaks in Utah.
ELEVATION: 13,442 feet
UTAH HIGH COUNTY PEAK RANK: 2 of 26
RANGE: Uinta Mountains
SUMMITED ON: August 14, 2009
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 nearby neighbor, Gilbert Peak is Utah’s third highest summit and the high county peak for Summit County. Like Kings, the mountain is named after a nineteenth century geologist. In this case the honor goes to one Grove Karl Gilbert (1843-1918) who served as a geologist for both the George Wheeler survey of 1871 and the John Wesley Powell survey of 1874. In addition to publishing on the geology of the Henry Mountains he also served as senior geologist of the USGS after its creation in 1879.
The access to Gilbert Peak comes via the same Henry Fork Basin route that is most commonly used for Kings Peak. You can even camp in the same spot after your first day of trekking, alongside the relentlessly gorgeous banks of Dollar Lake.
When I summited Gilbert Peak in 2009, I was joined by my sista-from-another-mista/longtime hiking bestie, Reina. We had previously made it up Kings and Gilbert seemed like a worthy adventure. We backpacked in and set up camp near the aforementioned Dollar Lake with the intention of waking up early and bushwhacking our way to the top of the mountain.
Unlike the well-worn trail(s) up to Kings Peak, the “route” up Gilbert is scant to non-existent. Most of the available literature advises the intrepid hiker to start pushing up the ridge east of Dollar Lake and into a cirque that will provide access to the broad plateau that serves as gateway to Gilbert. As we learned, this is much easier said than done. It requires stumbling through trees and brush in a general direction until you get high enough above timberline to get your bearings and hope that you didn’t overshoot your intended target. We managed to make it up but that is when clouds began to ominously roll in…
Being the brave adventuring types, Reina and I decided to level up into the warm gear we had packed along and hope for the best. I had read in advance that it is strongly encouraged that you pack a compass along on Gilbert as (again) there are no real discernible trails up the mountain to speak of. With a general sense of the summits direction (and loads of misguided bravery) we pressed on, even as the clouds continued to press in all around us. Eventually we made our way to the scree field at the foot of the summit and hight-tailed it up to the top just as the clouds broke and we were greeted to a flash winter storm at 13,000 feet.
With no real visibility and nowhere to go until the clouds passed and gave us a window to plan out escape, Reina and I hunkered down in a rock shelter that had been crudely constructed on the summit and tried to simultaneously keep warm and keep our spirits up. As often happens in the high Uinta’s, the storm clouds increasingly began to give way providing awesome (cloudy) views from the summit. After snapping some photos we decided it best not to tempt fate further and begin a quick descent.
Alas, our brief good fortune with the weather gods quickly turned again as not far from the summit new clouds began to roll in. Even better, these brought with them the horrifying booms of thunder. Thunderstorms are pretty fun when you have a safe place to ride them out. Exposed on big-ass mountain is not such a place and I recall few moments of being more genuinely terrified than I was at that moment. To make matters even worse, the cloud cover pouring in with this new storm front was much thicker than what we had seen on the summit and it wasn’t long before both Reina and I were fairly disoriented and unsure of our exact route down into the relatively safer confines of low(er) elevation.
Mercifully we had a compass that kept us pointed in (generally) the right direction and we were able to stumble along until the storm broke long enough for us to see the distinctive cirque that had given us access to the summit from Dollar Lake. As we made our way out of cloud cover both of us were surprised to see that the landscape had dramatically changed in our hours long adventure up the mountain. We had started out from camp on a slightly muggy, bug-filled August morning and had returned to a winter wonderland. Not really knowing what else to do Reina and I hugged, high-fived, and thanked whatever mountain gods exist that they had provided safe passage down.
The whole experience was simultaneously humbling and SUPER metal. It informed a lot of the caution I now carry with me when I trespass these high places (pearls of wisdom, like “well, if we don’t make it we can always try again…the mountain isn’t going anywhere,” and “it only counts if you make it down"). Ten years later, and I might be willing to give Gilbert another shot…