Wednesday, October 3, 2018

A Summer in the High Uintas

My Summer was full of unexpected surprises.  I’ve driven bus for my employer for seven summers now.  Some of them have been spent hauling girls to Girl’s Camp.  Others have been spent hauling Chinese Tourists to Yellowstone.  Other’s have been spent shuttling river runners to the Put In and hauling them back from the Take Out.

This summer was different.  This summer I hauled backpackers from Hayden Pass near Mirror Lake in the Western reaches of the High Uinta Mountains, to one of four locations toward the East where they’d chosen to begin their trek.  Some started at McKee Park near Highway 191, having 106 miles to traverse along the Highline Trail to get back to their vehicles.  Other’s started at Leidy Peak, shortening the trek to 83 miles.  Still others began at Chepeta Lake making their distance closer to 65 miles.  And, most recently, I shuttle a couple to the trailhead at Henry’s Fork (the most popular approach to King’s Peak, Utah’s highest point). They’re intention to climb King’s Peak and then finish their journey by hiking on to Hayden Pass.  I haven’t calculated the distance, but this one is considerably shorter yet.

It has been fun to spend my days high in these locals, though all of my approaches have been by van, being forced to leave the hiking to my passengers.  I have backpacked a lot with the Boy Scouts and once with my good friend Randy Merrell, when we did 60 miles in six days in the Grand Canyon, but that is for another tale.  Having done so though, I at least had a bit on common with my guests and also was somewhat conversant with the lingo and more popular destinations among avid practitioners of the sport.  Also, my personal acquaintance with one of the founders of Merrell Boots was of interest to most who often were wearing a pair of Merrell's.  For me, though, the biggest delight of the summer was just getting acquainted with all of the wonderful people who trusted me to drive them over those roads to their long awaited trip!

The variety of folks was really quite stunning!  There were three women, who did the trek solo!  This was quite alarming to me, but each of them made the trek just fine and my worries were completely unfounded.  There were several men who soloed the trail as well.  We had one large group and several groups of just two or three.

Eric was the first of the season.  I had shuttled him last year as well.  Both times he started at MeKee Draw, thinking it cheating if one didn't do the whole thing.  Last year he twisted an ankle near Leidy Peak and decided it best to abort, rather than get into potential trouble.  This year he made it the whole way and proudly called to report his success!  He was from the midwest and worked as a school teacher.  An academically accomplished and curious fellow, we had some great conversation on both trips.

Another couple of fellows who did the whole trail, shared the ride.  They were not acquainted with each other at all, and were both quite shy.  It took a while to get them talking, but when I did I discovered that they were both single, 30-somethings, they were both LDS and both returned from Spanish Speaking Missions.  One was a horticulturist who was running the greenhouse for Red Butte Gardens, who had also run greenhouses in Guam and Alaska and the other was an Arabic Interpreter in the National Guard who been deployed to Iraq and couple of times.  They both lived on the Wastach Front.  A great couple of guys, who invited each other to travel together on their 106 mile trek.  Our conversations were all over the place!  One of the women did the whole distance.  To save money, she'd ridden the Greyhound bus to Vernal and I just took her up to McKee Draw.  She told of several amazing hikes she'd done mostly in Southern Utah and in so doing instilled in me, the confidence to leave her up there alone to wander off into the wilderness.  Something that was hard to do. 

I took a nice young couple to Chepeta.  They were from North Carolina.  They seemed ill prepared and I worried about the altitude.  Chepeta is the most expensive shuttle because of the road.  Just the dirt part takes an hour and a half each way.  It is pretty rough as well, with little road base and lots of rocks.  That trip had two inches of hail added to the mix as we climbed the face of the mountain.  The young people reassured and reassured one another all the way to the top.  Chepeta is set way back from the front of the fairly flat topped mountain, away behind the head of White Rocks Canyon.  By the time we got to the lake the road was dry and the sky was clear.  But, when he got out in immediately took of huff on his Asthma Inhaler, I got concerned.  I hung around for an hour after they started hiking, in case they changed their minds and came back.  Turns out they did just fine.

Another group I took to Chepeta started at one of their homes in Kamas.  They wanted to leave the house at 5:00 AM.  I stayed in Heber the night before, so I wouldn't have to leave Vernal at 1:00!  We went over Wolf Creek as that is certainly the shortest route.  It was very dark so I was taking it easy.  I heard someone complain that I was going so slow that they'd never get on the trail.  Just then I came around a bend and hit a moose!  Thankfully, I was going slow and had managed to nearly stop before I bumped him.  With only one small dent just below the headlight, we carried on, this time with no more complaining!  On that route, we go through Hanna, Tabiona, Utahn, Altamont, Bluebell, Neola and White Rocks before beginning the climb up the mountain.  They were an experienced crew, some young some old, who planned on doing it in four or five days.  Pretty ambitious if you ask me!

Early in the season I took a group of men from the Salt Lake Airport to McKee Draw.  There were seven of them, sponsored by Z-Packs.  Joe Valesco, CEO was with them.  He's done the Triple Crown!  Pretty impressive to me to me a man who has hiked the Appalachian Trail (AT) the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) and the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).  These were all done in single expeditions, no peacemeal as some do.  The PCT is 2650 miles, the AT 2180 and the CDT is 3100 miles!  The other fellows were no slackers either.  Many of them were a film crew and the intent was to do a full length feature film of the trail.  A fellow named Red Beard was among them.  He's a pretty famous backpacker in his how right.  They even filmed a bit of me driving and telling a tale and have more recently asked if they might include that segment in the film.  15 seconds of fame for me!

The Highline Trail is no joke!  Much of it is above 12,000 feet!  The Z-Packs group took ten days to make the trek.  During that time, one became incapacitated by blisters upon blisters,  and Joe came down with Pulmonary Edema and both of them left the trail at Chepeta.  This is no disgrace to either of them.  Long experience and great conditioning are no guarantee that things won't occasionally go south in such remote, extreme and wild circumstances.

I also picked up this group at Hayden Pass to take them back to the airport.  Having read Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods, I knew that getting back to civilization meant only one thing to these guys - FOOD!  It was all they talked about and all they did once of the trail!  They were all tremendous guys that I am happy to have met.  I can't wait for the film to come out!


Saturday, February 14, 2015

Book Review - As A Man Thinketh by James Allen

Here is a book I intend to re-read each year for the balance of my life, a routine I wish I had begun in my teens.  It is simple, concise, direct and worthwhile.

Unlike so many positive thinking-type books that are so prevalent these days, this one admonishes some personal responsibility in the process and is not based on a motivation of greed.  I loved it.  That's all!
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