A Journey On The Highline Trail: Introduction

From July 24, 2010 to July 29, 2010 I journeyed along the Highline Trail in the High Uintas wilderness region. I will be chronicling each day of that journey in my blog. This first post serves as an introduction to the region and my personal experiences with backpacking. The actual journey will be chronicled in my next post.

As far as I’m concerned the only way to go camping, or even take a vacation, is by backpacking. Okay, it’s not the only way, but it’s the best way.

As a child camping with my family consisted of staying at KOA Kampgrounds. Sure, I had fun doing that, but I always felt that there was more to camping than setting up a tent in a designated spot, with neighbors and their tent a few feet yards away.

I was also in the Boy Scouts of America, so I did have other wilderness experiences. Overnight camps were at least in secluded locations (albeit accessible by vehicle) and felt more like camping, but food was prepared over large grills, and was almost as good as fine restaurants (okay, that’s an overstatement, but it was still good and hearty). There were also week camps, which involved staying at a designated camping sites, and doing Boy Scout related activities with other troops. We only had one backpacking experience, where we went one or two miles into the wilderness, camped, and left. Anyone could have easily walked out at any moment.

This was all well and good, but I always felt the call of the wild. I didn’t want outdoor latrines or the comfort of shower stalls to bathe in. No, I wanted to be in the wilderness, with all the danger and excitement that comes with it.

I bought my first backpack at a yard sale for fifteen dollars when I was twelve years old. It was a piece of junk. Most of the straps buckles were rusted (it had metal buckles, which might give you an idea of how old it was). It was one of those external frame backpacks, it was green, but not dark green like an army backpack. It could actually hold quite a bit, but it was extremely uncomfortable. Still, I loved it, because I knew someday I wanted to go backpacking. I never went backpacking in that backpack, at least not really. I did bring it with me on all my limited camping experiences (including the one mile “backpacking” trip previously mentioned), but I never used it for any camping trips that lasted for more than one night. As an adult, however, my dreams have been realized. I have much better equipment than that first backpack, more experience, and much better physical conditioning.

Well, come this year I wanted to do a challenging, yet rewarding sojourn. I was looking to spend at least five nights, and cover a lot of distance. In searching for such, I discovered the Highline Trail in the High Uinta Mountain range. I’d been backpacking in the Uintas before, so I knew at least something about the region, but my previous excursion there had only taken me about fifteen miles in, to King’s Peak, the highest summit in the range (and the highest point in the state of Utah, for that matter), and then back out. It had basically been a walk in the park. Still, I knew the area was good for backpacking.

The High Uinta Mountains are the only mountain range in the lower 48 states that runs east to west. The Highline Trail runs almost the full length of the range. It follows the ridgeline, mostly along the southern slope, but crosses over to the north side for about four miles.

In searching the internet about the trail, I found a blog by some guy named Davy Crockett who had done a trail run through the area in 2007. He had started at the Chepeta Lake Trail Head, on the east end of the range, and ended at the Highline Trail Head, at the west end. He’d made the run in less than thirty hours, and estimated it was about seventy miles long. I figured that I could easily do it in six days. Technically the trail ends a little further to the east of Chepeta Lake, maybe another ten to fifteen miles, but as I understood it, Chepeta Lake was one of the more popular starting points. So I planned on starting my route there.

I figured I’d be going alone. Most of my friends don’t backpack at all, and it seems to be that with those that do, it is just too difficult to make arrangements to go at the same time as them. For that reason I have adopted the philosophy of Thoreau when it comes to backpacking, “The man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready, and it may be a long time before they get off.” I did invite some of my friends, but with the date approaching and no one expressing any real interest, I knew it would be a solitary journey. That didn’t bother me at all. Most of my experience in the wilderness has been alone. Many of my friends did express their fears that I would die out there. All I could tell them, was that I, myself, wasn’t afraid. Most of their fears seemed to be that I would be attacked by a bear, but as you read this chronicle, you’ll realize that bears were the least of my worries.

In retrospect, it was probably best that I went alone. The trail turned out to be a lot tougher than I expected, much longer than I imagined, and far more taxing than I had anticipated. If I had had travel companions that were less experienced than me, I’m sure they would have demanded to bail out early, or go at a slower pace. My goal was to spend five nights out there, and that’s what I did. Most people, I imagine, would want to spend at least eight nights, if not two weeks doing the same trail.

I did make several mistakes along the way, both in my preparations, and in my journey. Luckily none were too serious, and most were easily remedied. Hopefully this chronicle can somehow benefit anyone planning to backpack through the High Uintas, or any other region, for that matter. The chronicle begins on Day 1.

A full map of the Highline Trail. Click it for a high definition view.