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Kings Peak

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Climbing Facts

State Utah
Highest Peak Kings Peak
Elevation 13,528 feet (4,123 metres)
First climbed ?  
Vertical Elevation Henrys Fork Trailhead 4098 feet (1249m)
Total Distance (Oneway) Henrys Fork Trailhead 12.5miles (20km)
Estimated hiking time 2-3 days 8.5hrs up/7hrs down
Difficulty Medium
Required Maps Utah & Wyoming roadmap + Topographic Maps (Kings Peak & Mount Powell - NIMA 3965 SW Series V897)
Date climbed July 2010


Utah - Kings Peak

| About Kings Peak|

This description covers climbing Kings Peak from the North (Henry Forks Campground). This is the most common climbing route.

We'd managed to drive to Henrys Fork Campground in pretty reasonable time, just under three hours from Salt Lake City. It certainly would have helped if we'd purchased a road map of Utah/Wyoming to help us on our travels. Our GPS got us as far as Mountain View (WY), however from there, although you head toward Robertson, you need to turn off beforehand and head due south. This turn-off occurs a couple of miles (two) prior to hitting Robertson and occurs when the main bitumen roads takes a 90 degree turn to the right. At this same point as dirt road continues south. It's not so well sign-posted and I've included a photo of what this turn-off looks like.

Reaching Henrys Fork from this point can still pose a few challenges, as there are a couple of unnamed dirt roads that head off in different directions. Nevertheless we managed to reach campground with plenty of daylight to spare (it didn't get dark until about 9pm). The campground and start of the hike is at the very end of the road.

The camp ground has about a dozen campsites, each with a fireplace and a picnic table. A couple of pit toilets are also available. There is no water at the campsite, although there is a river if you want to puritab or boil water.

The hike from the campground to the summit and back to the car took us two days. Most climbers complete the walk in a single day, and while we were walking up on the first day, we met a runner who was on his way back to the carpark (ie completing carpark to summit in a day). I'd suggest 2-3 days as the ideal.

The break-down of times is as follows:

Day 1

Day 1 Time Hours
Henrys Fork Campground to Elkhorn Crossing 9.15am - 12pm 2.45hrs
Elkorn Crossing to Dollar Lake 12pm-1.20pm 1.2hrs
Dollar Lake to Gunsight Pass 1.30pm - 3.20pm 1.5hrs
Gunsight Pass to campsite 3.20pm - 4pm 0.4hrs
Total   6hrs 15min
Day 2    
Campsite to summit 7am to 9.20am 2.2hrs
Summit to base of mountain 9.50am to 10.50am 1hr
Base to campsite 10.50am to 11.20am 0.5hr
Campsite to Dollar Lake 11.45am to 2pm 2.15hr
Dollar Lake to Car 2pm to 5.20pm 3.2hrs
Total   9hrs 25min

| Kings Peak Trail |

Given we were on holidays, we were hardly busting a gut to get going early in the morning. Infact, we'd yet to pack all the food and gear we'd picked up in Salt Lake City by the time we got up at about 8am.

Our food consisted an array of tins, biscuits and fruit we'd picked up in SLC. We were picking our supplies straight after we'd eaten, so I was pretty laidback as to what we picked. "You want this?", Angus would ask. "Yep". I'd repond. "How bout this?". "Yep". We ended up buying a bunch of stuff I didn't really like and didn't end up eating. On top of this, we'd bought what we thought we'd need for three days (we weren't sure how long we'd be climbing). In the end it took us another week to get through all the food we bought (and carried up and back down off the mountain). At the same supermarket, we picked up our tent - $19.95. You can imagine the high quality gear were carrying. When we finally set it up, it had no fly. No wonder it was so cheap. Lucky for us though, the weather was pretty good. Any rain or wind and the whole tent probably would have blown away or collapsed.

So we stuffed our gear into our packs, while swatting the billion mosquitos which buzzed around us. A note of warning. During the entire walk, we were constantly re-applying Deet to keep the insects away. There were thousands and thousands of the things. No flies, just mosquitos.

Day 1

Finally at 9.15am we were off. It was a fine sunny day and we made quicky time, despite our overflowing packs, serious lack of fitness, and increasing altitude affects.

The first 5.5 miles of trail to Elkhorn Crossing generally follows the river on the left. Most of this part of the walk is wooded, a nice respite from the blazing sun. We passed a bunch of guys on horseback coming back down the mountain. Unfortunately, they'd lost a couple horses the night before and were hoping we'd passed them on the way up. No luck. Infact, despite these horses, we didn't actually see any other animals the entire walk, other than the zillion mosquitos which had obviously chased all the animals away. Either that or simply sucked all the blood out everything alive.

Just on midday we reached Elkhorn Crossing (2.15hrs into the walk). The bridge at the crossing had been washed away and we thought we were going to have to wade across the river. We walked a little further on, to the ford, where infact a makeshift log bridge had been constructed. Crossing this bridge we had our first view of the mountains far in the distance. This is pretty spectactular countryside. I could just imagine the early cowbows crossing these mountain passes hundreds of years ago.

Soon after walking again we broke free of the forest cover and now followed our path as it meandered across grassy planes. I kep spotting mountains which I thought was Kings Peak. It wasn't until much later that we finally did spot our destination, almost hidden between two other peaks.

Recent rain and a creek had turned a patch of scrub into a muddy bog. Horses had further turned up the muck and we spent some time navigating our way through this area. Drier weather and further downhill on the way back down, meant we avoided most of the mud on our return journey.

Just over an hour later, at 1.20pm we reached Dollar Lake. The lake itself can't be seen from the trail, unless you really look carefully through the trees. Had we not asked some other walkers on the way back, we may have infact missed the lake altogether. Nevertheless, we dumped our packs and walked to the lakeshore. The best camping certainly looked to be on the far side of the lake, although we didn't walk over there. We had originally planned to camp by the lake (as this seems what most of hikers do), however being it was still early and neither of us were particularly hungry or tired, we decided to press on. More walking today, meant less tomorrow right?

So after a 10 minute break we were off again, Gunsight Pass now in our site. Although it would still be another hour and a half before we'd finally climb onto the crest of the pass. It's worth noting that when we reached the base of the pass proper, we couldn't see any path, so we simply headed straight up through the rocks toward the pass. We were fooled by what looked like a path(s) and thought we were on the right trail. Instead, it just turned out to be hard work. In reality, there is a path on the right which switch-backs and provides a more gentle and easier climb up the pass (we found it on the way back). The way to find it (other than looking) is there is a row of stones in front of you (looks kinda like a drainage channel). The actual path is immediately before this on the right. This is right at the base of the rocks beneath the path.

As we plonked ourselves down by the cairne, which marks the summit, we got to talking to a couple of other climbers on their way back. They confirmed my research that there is a short-cut to the summit which can be taken from the pass. Instead of heading back down into the valley, you can stick high on the slope and cut over the hillside and end up almost beneath Kings Peak. When looking out to the right, what you see is about as bad as it gets. Once you climb over the ridge, it's pretty easy going on the other side. Apparently this short-cut, cuts out about 1-2 hours. We weren't in a rush, had big packs on, and the rocks looked pretty nasty, so decided to stick to our original plan and climb down in the valley (it's also pretty exposed on the other side, so there wouldn't have been alot of camping).

As we dropped off the far side of Gunsight Pass, the entire valley opened up before us. Pretty spectacular. This is really wilderness country. As though welcoming our arrival, we also climbed over our first patch of snow.

We then skirted around the base of the cliffs on our right, wondering where we were supposed to climb up. (Note, the topographic maps of this area show the trail actually heading further into the valley before cutting back. We found that there was a pretty clear trail right along the base of the cliffs). So long as you stickvto the right, you can't really go too far wrong.

Forty minutes later and we arrived at a small grove of trees. This is the best place to camp, as it's reasonably protected, there is some wood to burn and water to drink. Of course there are also a million mosquitos. Unfortunately the campstove fuel I had brought would not burn (it was turps...oops), so we had to boil water over the fire. Yum Yum. Apart from the ashes that constantly fell in the boiling water, it also tasted like smoke. But at least it kept us occupied for a few hours. We still spent a few hours twiddling our thumbs waiting for it to get dark (again about 9.30pm). We were also completely and utterly stuffed. The altitude, lack of water, mild sun stroke and general lack of fitness had both of us suffering killer headaches. Angus said he felt like puking most of the night.

Fortunately by 7am the next morning we were feeling a whole lot better and ready to conquer our mountain.

Day 2

I elbowed Angus in the ribs at 6.30am waking him up. Our killer headaches of the night before had gone. We were clearly acclimatizing to these extreme heights. After eating a few slices of mountain bread and gulping down a few mouthfulls of smokey water we were off.

Just beyond our campsite, we followed a creek bank up the slope (staying on the right of the creek). I think this was a shortcut as the trail wasn't particularly clear, however once on the rise we found a well marked trail leading upward. We now also had our first real glimpse of Kings Peak. It was certainly high, but the smooth rounded crest gave the impression that it wasn't the highest mountain around. But who am I to argue with the US Geological Society right?

It took us about an hour and we were on a wide flat valley, Kings Peak on our left and XXX on our right (this is where we would have ended up, had we taken the short-cut from Gunsight Pass). As we slowly circled the base of Kings Peak, we kept looking up the slope for a good place to start climbing. Our topographic map did not show any path/trail to the summit. While there was a clear spur/ridgeline marked on the map, we thought we'd take a short-cut and just climb straight up the face.

In reality, this turned out to be a mistake. Climbing up the steep face meant we were boulder-hoping up a pretty steep face. Halfway up, we decided it would have been much faster to walk further round the base and follow the spur up (we subsequently learnt that there is also a trail up this route). Nevertheless, we puffed and panted as we made our way up. We ended making a change in our climbing and back-tracked slightly to get onto the spur. Once we had the climbing was much easier.

It was now on two hours and we could finally the summit proper (after a few false summits). We thought we were still another hour away, but the distance was playing tricks. 20 minutes later and we climbed onto the highest rock in all of Utah.

The views are pretty awesome. The peak sits on the precipice of a steep cliff, opening up on a huge valley. Far off to the north (the way we'd come) we could see a wind farm, but in all other directions we could see nothing but wilderness.

It looked like there was once a plaque on one of the summit rocks, but just a few bits concrete remains (who would have thought a vandal would climb all the way up a mountain?).

We spent about half an hour on the summit before heading down. We again decided that it would be faster to just head straight down. So instead of following the ridge back down, we 'incorrectly' thought it would be faster straight down. Just like climbing up, we slowly made ourway through the rocks. Tthe way straight down is also surprisingly long. I'm sure it would have been faster (or at least easier) following the ridge back down.

Once off the mountain, and it was short half hour walk back to our tent and stashed packs. We still weren't sure whether we were going to camp at Dollar Lake or try to get all the way back to the car. But once we were walking, we decided to head back to the car. Of course, when you have a goal to reach, it just seems like hours to get there. The 3.5 hours from Dollar Lake back to the car seemed to take forever.

By the time we were back at the car, we could have driven back to Salt Lake City, but paying for a hotel or sleeping in a tent...the tent won out.

Kings Peak is certainly the highest of my 50 peaks climbs so far. While not technically difficult, this is a great walk spent over a few days.

| The Weather |

Being the middle of summer, we had fantastic weather. Warm days and mild nights. It was light before we woke up :) and still light until 9.30pm. Everyone told us to be weary of the thunderstorms which can whip up very suddenly, however we had no such issues.

In winter, I'd imagine this would be a pretty hard climb. Covered in snow, the ridge up the mountain would be pretty hard-going, icy and probably require crampons.

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Avg. High 30° 34° 36° 44° 52° 64° 71° 68° 60° 50° 37° 30°
Avg. Low 12° 18° 28° 36° 44° 42° 35° 26° 16°
Mean 18° 21° 25° 32° 41° 50° 58° 56° 48° 38° 27° 20°
Avg. Precip. 4.9 in 4.8 in 5.3 in 4.5 in 3.0 in 1.8 in 1.7 in 1.9 in 2.6 in 3.4 in 4.9 in 4.9 in

(weather measured at Park City)

On this adventure: Angus & Roland