M Trekking the High Uintas Wilderness: Circumnavigation of the Rock Creek Shelf

by Ryan Jordan

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Article Summary:

Last week I returned from a trek in the High Uintas Wilderness of northern Utah with three friends, and my son Chase. Our objective was to complete a circumnavigation of the Rock Creek Divide primarily via a "high route" that avoided trails where it made sense, allowed us to camp and and trek by more remote locations, and enjoy a diversity of scenery by crossing high divides between a number of drainages.

Our final route was about 55 miles in length, and we crossed divides at Cleveland Pass, the west ridge of Explorer Peak, Red Knob Pass, Dead Horse Pass, and Rocky Sea Pass. Our pace was not intense (8 trekking days with 1 layover day = 9 total trip days), giving us plenty of time to lounge around in the mornings, and fish lakes where we were camped and lakes that we passed by while trekking.

Our route included about 16 miles of off-trail travel, most of it on easy tundra benches and ledges above 11,000 feet. Toes of major buttresses came with a bit of metasedimentary quartzite-talus-hopping in order to stay high and avoid bushwhacking through the deadfall and sparse talus below the treeline. The exception was our traverse across the west ridge of Explorer Peak, which involved a rather nerve-wracking late-evening Class 4 descent of steep loose shale scree through quartzite-and-shale cliff band ledges.

We established seven camps along the route:

Our exploration of the fisheries in this region resulted in great rewards! Healthy and fat brook trout at Helen, Margie, and Dean Lakes; large cutthroat at Continent and Ejod Lakes; and Tiger Trout at Dead Horse Lake were some of the highlights. I'll leave the rest to your own exploration.

In addition to this introduction, I've included my complete journal from this trip. My journals were published live, and daily to my blog (see Uintas 2014 at ryanjordan.com) with low-resolution photographs sent via a satellite phone, a data router, and iPod Touch (see the end of this article for a description of that system). Here, I've included more photos to help tell the story.

At the end, I'll present some gear notes from the trip, in the style of Backpacking Light's old "Notes from the Field" reports from yesteryear, highlighting the main gear systems I used on this trek as well as some of the processes.

Having made several trips in the Uintas through the years, including two complete traverses of the entire range via two different "Uinta High Routes" (approx. 100 miles ea.) and circumnavigations of virtually every major drainage, the Rock Creek trek described in this article remains one of my all-time favorites, and perhaps - may be the one trek I'd recommend if you could only make one trip to the Uintas in your lifetime.

I hope you enjoy reading about, and learning from, our experience in the Uintas!

ARTICLE OUTLINE

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