A Journey On The Highline Trail: Day 1

This post marks the official beginning of my journey along the Highline Trail. I’d arrived in Salt Lake City, Utah the day before I was to depart. This was in hopes that I could get into the mountain as quickly as possible, and hopefully get an early start, or at least not too late a start. I got my gear and supplies ready that night. It’s been my philosophy to have everything ready when you get to the trail head. I don’t see any reason why a backpacker should be messing around with their gear just before departing, they should be ready to go.

I needed a driver to help me out. My mom would do it. I would drop off one vehicle at the end point of the trail, and then get driven to my starting point. The plan was simple. Get a good night’s rest in Salt Lake. Wake up at 5:30 AM, depart by 6:30 AM, hopefully arriving at the Highline trail head by 8:00 AM. Drop my departure vehicle off there, then have my driver take me around to the other end of the mountain, to Chepeta Lake. This would be approximately five hours. So I was hoping to be at the Chepeta trail head by 1:00 PM. I figured 2:00 PM at the latest. Turns out I was wrong, very wrong. Everything went smoothly in dropping of the departure vehicle, but getting to the starting point was a disaster. To make a long story short, after a busted radiator cap and a flat tire, I arrived at the Chepeta trail head at 4:30 PM. More than three hours later than I had hoped for. I wasn’t too worried, though. I figured I’d just make it as far as I could, and camp for the night.

Therein was one of my major mistakes on the trip. I never had any set itinerary. I knew where I was starting, I knew where I was ending, but I had no specific plans as to where I’d be camping. I had a map, and I figured I’d just makes plans each day as to where might be a good camping spot. Lakes were my best bet, I knew that, and I had a guide book which had information about all the lakes, stating where to find camping spots around them and so forth.

Ready to depart.

With such a late departure, my intention was to get to a place called Reader Lake, it was about five miles in, I figured I could easily make it there and set up camp before nightfall. Unfortunately I lost the trail right away. The east end of the range isn’t as popular, and for that reason the trails are not well maintained. I wasn’t too concerned about that, I knew to head in a generally westward direction. Which I did, and I figured if I got too far off course, I’d use my GPS.

I’m glad I had a GPS unit, too. Let me tell you, that first day I was constantly pulling it out to check where I was, and where the trail should be, and how far away Reader Lake was. Eventually I found the trail again, and a sign that said, “Reader Lakes”, but on my map there were three lakes in the region, and my goal was to reach the northwestern-most one. So I started wandering in a northwestern direction. This proved to pit me in the middle of a large wooded area, where I really couldn’t see any landmarks, and the terrain was very difficult to navigate.

I basically found myself being eaten by bugs, and checking my GPS only to see that I wasn’t anywhere near where I thought I was. So I headed back south, hoping to pick up the trail again, which I did, and I figured I just follow it further to the west until I found a decent camping spot. After a few hours I found myself ascending North Pole Pass, where I finally got above the treeline, and could actually see some landmarks. Indeed, I could see Reader Lake then, but I was so far past it, that I didn’t want to go back. I thought maybe I could make it over North Pole Pass, and camp on the other side, so I continued going up. It was getting late, though, almost 8:00 PM, the air was getting cooler, and the sky was growing dim. I made it about half way up the pass, when I could see another major lake to the south, Taylor Lake. It didn’t look so far away, and I knew I needed to set up camp, so I hightailed it down the pass, and around to the lake.

My first camp.

I never really wanted to stay at Taylor Lake, mostly because it wasn’t mentioned in the guide book that I had, and I didn’t know if there were any good camping spots. I still don’t know if there are any good camping spots, because the one that I found wasn’t so great. I often try to find a camping spot that has been previously used, in hopes that the person that came before me knew what they were doing. I did manage to find what looked like a previous used spot, and it was getting much darker, so I set up camp.

I knew that I should have purified water for the next day, but I was so tired that I just wanted to get to bed. I did make some dinner, ramen noodles, and some hot cocoa. To my dissatisfaction, however, I didn’t have much of an appetite, and when I sipped the hot cocoa it burned my mouth. Not a very good dinner.

Feeling discouraged for the day, I climbed into the tent, and bundled up in my sleeping bag. I knew then that it wasn’t going to be a very comfortable night. The ground didn’t seem very flat, and I realized that I had been badly bruised. You see, I had been wearing a pair of shorts with a belt, and the waistband of my backpack had been rubbing against the belt, pressing it into my waist, and had caused some serious bruising on my hips. I saw these bruises when I climbed into bed. Nevertheless, I tried to sleep.

The Journey Continues on Day 2.

My progress so far. The yellow highlighted sections indicates the Highline trail. The red portion indicates the day’s travels. It doesn’t look like I went very far, and I didn’t.