Tcope and I decided to head up to the Uinta Mountains this weekend for what is likely to be a final backpack of the season for us. I'm tied up through the end of the month, and from late September on it can snow a foot or more up there at any time. I also had some new gear to start testing, including a new sleeping bag (Sierra Designs Zissou 30 Lite DriDown), a new water purifier (Camelbak AllClear) and even new backpacking coffee (Grower's Cup). I'd bring my lab Jake along for the exercise.
I didn't start destination planning until Saturday morning. Whenever possible I like to venture into an area of the Uintas that I haven't previously visited. This time we settled on some lakes in the Naturalist Basin, within the High Uintas Wilderness Area about six miles in from the road. We'd camp near Morat Lakes. AmyZ wanted to hike but didn't feel like overnighting, so she decided to venture in with us and turn around when the day got late.
We parked at Hayden Pass and headed southeast on the Highline Trail. On paper it should've been an easy hike. Just under six miles with only around 1,000 feet of total elevation gain, however, doesn't tell the whole story. This is one incredibly rocky trail in places. It also has a high point on each end with a drop of elevation in the middle, so both ways you're in for a climb at the end of the hike: a short but very steep shot heading in, and a long gradual ascent on the way out.
But it's well worth the effort. Naturalist Basin is perhaps one of the prettiest areas I've visited in the Uintas, and I hope to explore it a bit further in the future as we barely reached its western end on this trip. We somehow didn't see a single cloud all weekend. We didn't hit the trail until a little after 2 p.m., and AmyZ turned back around 4:15 near the halfway mark. The western section of the Highline Trail is heavily forested and largely featureless, but occasionally we'd reach an alpine meadow with stunning views, perfect for a rest break.
Highline Trail sees a fair amount of traffic which is dispersed as you head further east and folks split off on side trails. We bore left on the Naturalist Basin trail and found ourselves sharing the path with four bow hunters out for elk and deer. They split off on the Blue Lake trail as we did as well, but we lost them in the meadow below the final pitch.
That final stretch was steep enough to be defeating. I paused with Jake at the top to wait for Tcope before setting out in search of a campsite. We wanted one that would be legal for a campfire as temperatures were forecast to drop precipitously. I didn't check the time, but I'm guessing it was around 6 p.m. when we reached the Morat Lakes.
We found a good spot, but not before some debate about who's was better. I lost. I pitched my tent near the edge of the ledge for views that stretched to the horizon, while Tcope picked a spot in the trees.
It was a good decision, for we were still setting up camp as the temperature began to drop. I walked to Lower Morat Lake to draw some water, then cooked Thai shrimp with noodles for dinner. We huddled close to the campfire, for even with a down jacket I got a chill the minute I moved away from it, and nearly froze as I walked the quarter mile to the site of our bear bag to tie the food up for the night.
We were beat, and called it a night at 9 p.m. The sky was moonless and filled with stars, and the air didn't have even a breath of wind. I felt a hot spot on my left heel as I removed my boot but thought little else of it as I settled in for a restless sleep as temperatures dipped into the 30s. I normally sleep well in the field, but I must've awakened a good 20 times throughout the night as I couldn't find a comfortable position. The sound of deer hooves could be heard marching through our camp in the middle of the night. Jake tolerated the temperatures well, and I was jealous of his sound sleep.
I got up at 8:45 just as the sun's warmth was starting to do its thing. Tcope was still sleeping, so I headed off to retrieve the bear bag and snap some photos in the morning light.
By the time I returned he was awake, and I brewed some coffee and made a bowl of oatmeal to warm up and for nourishment for the hike out.
Tcope found out the hard way what happens when you forget a zip-lock baggie of beef jerky in your backpack overnight.
Jake had new found energy and was intent on getting us to throw sticks in camp. When little ones didn't get our attention he graduated to bigger versions.
We had everything cleaned and packed in time to shove off by 10:30 a.m. without any trace of our presence there the night before. What I had first noticed when I went to bed, however, turned out to be a large blister on my left heel, something that my boots have never given me before. I cut some moleskin that moderated the pain at first, but I knew it wouldn't last.
Sure enough, halfway back to the trailhead the pain became more accentuated, to the point where every step was agonizing by the time we got back to the car. I couldn't wait to get that boot off. We stopped in Kamas for the requisite hot meal at Dick's Drive-In, and continued home. The hot tub's going to feel good with a shot of whiskey tonight!