My up-and-down relationship with Kings Peak, Utah’s highest point at 13,534 feet, began when I was eleven. Somehow, my dad convinced me to join him on a journey to its top at that early age. Now, having experienced Kings Peak a couple more times in my life, I realize that I must have been a pretty determined or stupid kid. On that note, I must be a pretty determined or stupid adult. Here are the details of my most recent trek to the top of Utah.
The hail and rain left behind a surplus of water.
In early July, my dad mentioned a desire to hike Kings Peak again, an undertaking no one in my family had pursued for 15 years or so. Next thing I knew, Jason and I were preparing backpacks and buying new gear for this expedition. Then, we were getting up at 4:30 AM, after only two hours and 20 minutes of sleep, to drive out to the High Uintas.
We were about five miles in here and still soggy but, somehow, we were smiling.
Not familiar with Kings Peak? Well, here’s what reaching it entails. The Henry’s Fork Trail, the shortest route to Kings, requires just over 27 miles of hiking roundtrip. Across those nearly 30 miles, 5,436 feet of elevation are gained and lost again. The trek takes most people at least three days: one day to backpack about seven or eight miles to Dollar Lake or Henry’s Fork Lake and set up a basecamp, another day to reach the summit and make it back to basecamp, and one final day to descend back out of the High Uintas. Kings Peak is rated a Class 2, strenuous hike by Don Holmes, a classification that is only surpassed by the highest points in six other states. Its apex has 40% less oxygen than sea level.
Jason is a pleasant hiker even when he’s dripping and drained.
Our group, which consisted of seven members, included two senior citizens and two young teenagers. Yup, not exactly what one might call the fittest of scoundrels. Yet, with a little gumption, a bit of positive peer pressure, and a few Weird Al songs, you’d be surprised what the human spirit and human foot are capable of.
Within an hour of commencing our hike, the weather seriously dampened some of those humans’ spirits. It started raining and thunder and lightning began filling the heavens with a thumping light show. Then, all hail broke loose. We spread out along the edge of the trail near the patchy cover of conifers for about half an hour while hail whacked and bounced off us like rubbery gravel and rain soaked into our clothes without regard to our rain jackets and ponchos. After that quenching, the youngest member of our group, Miles, seemed to lose his thirst for the adventure. Yet, with some encouragement and coaxing, we eventually made it to Dollar Lake, our destination for the day. We were able to find enough dry wood to light a fire and dehydrate our sopping shoes until they were just damp.
Some of the best moments in the mountains happen around a campfire.
The next day, we got up at 6:30 AM and began the toughest part of our expedition. From Dollar Lake, it’s about 13 miles to the top of Kings Peak and back. Several shortcuts exist but some of them take longer than the established route due to tricky terrain. For the regular path, you first climb to Gunsight Pass, which is higher than Mount Timpanogos at an elevation of 11,888 feet. Next, you dip down 600 feet into Painter Basin. Although Painter Basin is bypassed by all of Kings’ shortcuts, it’s one of the prettiest parts of the hike in my opinion. You emerge from Painter Basin with a steady climb to Anderson Pass, Kings’ saddle, which tops out around 12,700 feet. Nothing but small alpine grasses and mosses grow past Painter Basin; the terrain is mostly rock and prolific fingers of flowing water at that point. Beyond Anderson Pass, Kings Peak stares sharply down from another 800 feet up, a giant mass of immense stone slabs where no marked trail exists and sudden cliffs plunge around every turn.
After trekking for hours in soggy shoes, this fire was an indispensable dehumidifier.
All of our group made it to Anderson Pass. However, only three of us journeyed further. Ryan and Benson were experiencing a mix of exhaustion and elevation by then and the results were not good nor speedy. While others in our group waited on them, Miles, Jason, and I started our ascent to the summit.
We look peppy here. It didn’t last.
Miles did remarkably well, especially considering his age. He complained a bit but kept on climbing. However, being responsible for a young teenager made me a bit nervous; Jason and I kept him between us the whole time. Around 13,000 feet, we all started suffering from elevation sickness. I began feeling lightheaded, dizzy, and sick to my stomach. The others experienced similar problems with Miles exhibiting a severe headache. Dizziness and cliffs aren’t a particularly good pairing but we took frequent breaks to mitigate the misery.
Painter Basin is often skipped by those heading to Kings but, in my opinion, it’s one of the most picturesque sections of the hike.
Several false peaks veil the length of the climb to Kings’ crown. Believing we were nearly to the top a few times only to discover that we couldn’t actually even see the top yet was a little disheartening but we eventually made it to the one-and-only true summit. There, we enjoyed Whatchamacallits to celebrate our challenging victory.
From saddle to summit, Kings Peak is an 800-foot-high pile of stone chunks.
I mentioned that shortcuts to Kings Peak exist. One cuts off two miles of the journey by skipping Gunsight Pass via a 1,300-foot rockslide. This rockslide is “by far the most dangerous place on the trail” according to some experts. And no, I am not quoting myself as an expert here. As we have on all past hikes to Kings, my family took this rockslide on our descent to save some time. Every time I do this slide I am reminded that I hate doing this slide. It’s crazy steep and each step taken produces the fear of slinging rocks onto the people below you, a reasonable concern since that is the most dangerous thing about the slide. On this occasion, a recent mudslide was still churning out water, boulders, and mid-shin-deep mud on one side of the slide, just another layer added to our chute apprehension. Still, we made it back to camp before nightfall without incident.
Our triumph earned us each a candy bar.
Although we lucked out weather-wise on our summiting day, no lightning or precipitation, we got rained on again the next day as we were backpacking back to civilization. Fortunately, it was drizzle compared to the first day because the storm didn’t really let loose until we were back in our vehicles. Less rain = better spirits = faster hiking. What took us six hours on the way in only took us four hours to backpack out.
The abruptness of Kings’ rockslide is hard to depict via picture. Those dots, my family members, are about 1,000 vertical feet below me.
On a side note, I’d like to point out a personal obstacle I encountered during the execution of this outing. Backpacking poses a dilemma for planners. Planners like to plan for everything; yup, that’s where the name comes from… you are smart. I am a planner. I’m the one that remembers to pack everything everyone else forgets. But, backpacking necessitates only bringing the most needed essentials. I had a tough time shrinking my list of supplies to backpacking size.
While we were refilling our canteens in a stream near Dollar Lake, we happened upon this trio of moose.
Kings Peak was an absolutely amazing and utterly exhausting experience. The delicate wildflowers and harsh highlands were stunning. I missed my bathroom. I’ve hiked to Kings Peak during every decade of my life so I’m good for another ten years or so, right?
After leaving my family members, Jason and I and drove up the coast from Newport to Astoria, making a couple quick stops to check out the Devil’s Punchbowl and Rockaway Beach. You may remember Astoria from the 80s flick The Goonies. If not, you may be too ancient or juvenile to remember anything memorable.
The Astoria Column was built in 1926 and rises 125 feet from Coxcomb Hill.
On our first day in Astoria, we visited the Columbia River Maritime Museum and the US Coast Guard lightship Columbia. (Yes, a lightship is exactly what it sounds like, a mobile lighthouse.) The museum recommended allowing two full hours to peruse its collections; we spent over five there and still missed a third of the exhibits. I like to read and process everything at museums so you should avoid going to one with me unless you are an atypically patient person. Learning about the Graveyard of the Pacific, as the mouth of the Columbia River is called, was intriguing. Did you know that over 2,000 ships have gone down in that region? I didn’t either.
In 1906, the Peter Iredale was run ashore by a nasty northwest squall.
We also climbed the 164 steps circling through the Astoria Column to get a peek of the Columbia and Young Rivers and peaks like Mount St. Helens and Mount Rainier. It was bitingly windy at the top of the Column so the temperature degrees kept us from thoroughly enjoying the view degrees.
The Peter Iredale was left to bleach and rust on Clatsop Spit.
Keeping with our maritime-misfortunes theme, we spent the majority of our evening at the wreck of the Peter Iredale, a 285-foot sailing ship that ran ashore about 110 years ago. Her barnacled bones are reachable at low tide and are a fabulous place to take way too many pictures… which we did.
Flavel House was built in 1865 by one of Astoria’s earliest millionaires.
We began our last full day in Oregon with a trip through Flavel House, a Victorian mansion worthy of its “mansion” title with 14-foot ceilings and 11,600 square feet. Be still my bygone heart! We’ve toured a number of historic homes but this was one of the best we’ve visited.
Haystack Rock may be 15 million years old but it feels like the 80s to me.
After Flavel, we spent the afternoon in Cannon Beach, a cute, crowded, uppity seaside town. Although the sand and sunshine seekers swarmed, it was a fun place to spend a few hours. (Really people, you came to Oregon for sun?) We strolled the shore near Haystack Rock of Goonies fame and ambled around Hug Point, a beach with a waterfall and multiple caves. Yup, sounds like a place One-Eyed Willy might still be lurking.
Hug Point features caves, waterfalls, and adventures.
Our Oregon outing was a pleasant mix of relaxation and exploration. That shoreline was windier than I remember but sunnier than I expected. (The last time I was on the Oregon coast, I don’t think I experienced more than a few stolen moments of sunshine.) The seafood sure was tasty but, thanks to gorging, I did OD on it a bit. By the last day of our trip, I couldn’t coax myself into ingesting even one more bite of sea bounty. With how much my family members enjoyed themselves, “magical” was the term they used, Oregon could definitely become a tradition.
Our hotel offered excellent views of the Columbia River and all its watery traffic.
On a random closing note, Oregon must be an impish land because all of the Devil’s stuff is there from his punchbowl to his elbow. I found the number of deviled names strewn about the shore pretty amusing.
For Christmas, Jason and I gave my sister and parents lodgings for four nights in Oregon, one of their favorite places to visit in summer. It may sound generous of us but, actually, it was a self-serving excuse to rent a beach house.
Rivendell? No, Multnomah.
Since we flew into Portland, we spent the afternoon in that city eating treats at Blue Star Donuts and shopping at Powell’s City of Books. The donuts were probably the best I’ve ever had and that bookstore was overwhelming enormous but really cool.
Climbing a sea-tossed trunk caused an unexpected torrent of giggles.
Upon heading out of Portland, we took a 45-minute detour to Multnomah Falls, a gorgeous 627-foot waterfall completely overrun by tourists. Silly sightseers, don’t you know that nature isn’t meant to be experienced in throngs? Of course, it is meant to be experienced by me.
A few hours later, we made it to Yachats, our beach destination. Yachats (pronounced ya-hots) is a tiny town near Cape Perpetua. For its small size, it has a significant number of tasty places to eat but not a significant amount of anything else. Our beach house, as the name implies, was directly above the beach. It was an excellent spot from which to take runs along the shore, relax on the patio with a warm jacket, or survey the waves and whales. We did all repeatedly.
The beach was just a hop and skip away from our rented home; no jump was required to reach it.
On our second day, we explored Thor’s Well at Cape Perpetua, a mesmerizing ocean sinkhole shaped like a toilet bowl (according to Jason). At high tide, we watched water explode out of its opening and then drain quickly, only to burst out again. Frankly, I could have watched its splashy cycle for hours; it was that captivating.
We discovered more than just whales on the Discovery.
We visited the same shoreline that evening to catch the daily tide-pool show. With starfish, green anemones, purple sea urchins, mussels, barnacles, chitons, and other coastline critters exposed, low tide at Cape Perpetua did not disappoint. (For the best tide pools near Thor’s Well, walk in the direction of Yachats.)
We came across about 50 starfish in one tide pool visit.
The following day, we went out on a whale watching excursion from Newport on the Discovery. Poseidon blessed our voyage; the weather stayed clear and the whales were plentiful. We saw some whale tail and met Scarback, a female gray whale that regularly resides in Newport. She got her name from the huge scar on her right dorsal hump, the result of being hit by an exploding harpoon back in mid 80s.
Later, we stopped at Yaquina Bay Lighthouse, a quaint edifice built in 1871 with a reputation for ghostly goings-on. We speculated about the building’s alleged specters but didn’t see any.
Heceta Head Lighthouse is over 120 years old but is still illuminating.
Like chips, one lighthouse is never enough, right? That evening, we hiked up to Heceta Head Lighthouse, which was built in 1892. My sister and I toughed out the penetrating wind for way too long to get some sunset pictures of this stalwart structure atop its picturesque bluff.
Beautiful about covers it.
The next day, the girls and Jason headed to the farmers market while the rest of the group visited Yachats Brewery. Berries, veggies, jewelry, and knickknacks were bought by some while others got pints. Everyone got happy.
Heceta Head’s light is the strongest on the Oregon coast. It can be seen 21 miles from the shore.
In the afternoon, we explored Cape Perpetua’s Whispering Spruce and St. Perpetua Trails. These required a little over a mile of hiking, more than nothing but less than something. The views were incredible and the towering forest trees were stunningly dressed in lacey moss and delicate mist.
When the tide went out that evening, we investigated the tide pools at Cape Perpetua again. We hit the starfish motherlode this time! Not only did we see the typical tide poolers, we also encountered about 50 starfish ranging in color from purple to orange. I believe they were all of the ochre variety. Pretty stellar.
On the Whispering Spruce Trail, massive trees drifted in and out of a foggy realm.
We had just enough daylight left to walk to a 185-foot 500-year-old Sitka spruce tree. I’ve got a squishy spot in my cardiovascular system for quiet giants.
On our last day with my family, we went back to Newport to visit one more lighthouse, Yaquina Head. This structure was built in 1873 and is still operating today in an area known for its foul weather. (Yeah, I’d classify 100-MPH winds as foul.) Her solid construction and five-foot walls hide graceful Victorian details like marble floors and ornate railings. We were able to twirl around all the way to her crown. Toughness, style, and efficiency- that sounds like one fine lady to me.
The Yaquina Head Lighthouse has been guiding ships to safety for over 140 years.
After heading out of Yaquina Head, Jason and I left the rest of the gang to spend a few days by ourselves in Astoria, which I will ramble about next week.
On a closing note, Jason and I really enjoyed the time spent with my family members in Yachats. We played Phase 10 in the evenings and fought over who was buying dinner. (Everyone insisted on paying.) My sister painted all the ladies’ nails “Oceanside” blue. Those days were filled with plenty of saline moments with some of the people I treasure most.
It is a commonly-acknowledged fact that all the cool kids have birthdays during the summer. Since Jason and I hang with all the cool kids and are super cool ourselves, this time of the year is a little hectic for us but we usually manage to celebrate successfully.
Jason, being a particularly amazing sort of husband, always makes my birthdays more fun than a barrel of manatees. This year, he planned three or four consecutive days of birthday bashing. My pre-birthday activities included a hike to the Lower Falls in Bells Canyon, a spot we had never been before. Although this canyon claims hikers’ lives every year, besides one particularly grueling hill and some wickedly-slick and tilted rocks around the waterfall, it seemed fairly typical to us.
Bells Canyon is just beyond Salt Lake Valley’s mass of civilization.
On my actual birthday, I received “Birthday Breakfast by Jason,” which consisted of French toast panini with grilled bananas that Jason burned just enough to set our smoke alarms off a couple times. He also decorated our kitchen and surprised me with flowers. He did not burn the flowers.
Deaths occur regularly at the falls in Bells Canyon due to slippery stones and rock chutes. So, I sacrificed getting a better picture for staying alive.
During the afternoon, we consumed Indian food and gobbled shaved ice at Bahama Buck’s. This was followed by dinner at my sister’s, after a quick but cooling break at Tibble Fork Reservoir.
Tibble Fork Reservoir is a little too popular for my own good. Finding a quiet place in its shade required some meandering.
We decided to keep gatherings with friends kind of low-keyed this year. So, Jason arranged for a laidback evening of waffles, barbecue, and breakouts for my party. We charmed our way out of a Harry-Potter-themed room at Alcatraz Escape Games with a small collection of our chums. I got to cast a spell; it was awesome!
Have you seen these wizards?
School assignments and trips made coordinating Jason’s birthday offerings a bit difficult for me. I actually had to wrap his presents on his birthday! Nooooooooooo! I avoid last-minute devising more than chard-flavored goat milk but my rushed preparations still provided pretty good results. I cooked Jason cinnamon waffles with a cinnamon cream sauce and a dash of the dark side for breakfast using our Darth Vader waffle iron. We saw Spiderman: Homecoming in the afternoon, which turned out to be our favorite Spiderman film yet, and finished the evening with a meal at Bombay House with my family.
I’ve golfed just enough to almost look like I know what I’m doing.
Since I can never get enough of my fine man, the next day I took Jason out to dinner at Log Haven, one of our favorite spots to feast in the summer. You can’t go wrong with fine food, a fine man, and fresh mountain air.
I don’t know if our swings were good enough for Topgolf. Is there a Middlegolf?
I also arranged for a compact group of friends to join us for a get together at Topgolf in honor of Jason. The driving games and grub were supplied by me and the entertainment was supplied by… everyone. It was a raucous and amusing evening.
Happy birthday to us… and all you other cool summer kids.
These days, you may be as likely to find Jason and me in period attire than in jeans and t-shirts. Somehow, our antiquated appearances seem to be escalating. In June, we attended and assisted with the Edwardian Ball hosted by Old Glory Vintage Dancers.
Jason was the bee’s knees in his linen suit.
We demonstrated dances and guided unsure steppers while dressed in beaded couture and fine white linens. It was an enchanting evening reeling with rock steps and crossover turns.
In the 1920s, women abandoned corsets. Thank goodness!
Incidentally, Jason always looks hotsy-totsy in his 20s menswear. Anytime he wants to skip the t-shirt and go straight for the tweed that’s fine with me.