Monday, September 30, 2013

Utah's 'King' of Peaks

  Above: Top photograph shows the actual summit of Kings Peak. Lower picture highlights some of the rugged, steep cliffs around Kings Peak and looking into Henry's Fork Basin.

RISING royally some 80 miles due east of Salt Lake City is Utah’s king of Peaks – appropriately named Kings Peak.
Welcome to the roof of Utah, where rarified, thin air, with only 60 percent the oxygen content of sea level exists. 

This almost unearthly landscape is mostly devoid of trees and bushes, yet offers sweeping, open and telescopic views of wilderness areas from seemingly endless boulder fields.
This is an alpine eden, where naked rocks and jagged shapes rule and also  well above the mosquito and swamp level of the wet, grassy valleys below.

Above: The former metal plaque that used to sit on Kings Peak until it mysteriously disappeared in the early 21st Century.

Among high points of the 50 individual states, Utah's Kings Peak ranks sixth in total elevation. Best hiked in July through September, it is rated as a "Class 2" climb, according to Don W. Holmes, author of "Highpoints of the United States."
This means ascending Kings Peak requires "Rough cross country travel . . . boulder hopping and use of hands for balance." It is almost a 30-mile round-trip hike from the (Henry’s Fork) trailhead parking lot to Kings and back.

--Also, there's this legend I've heard about Sir Edmund 

Hillary, one of the first two men to conquer Mt. Everest in 

1953, that he also climbed Kings Peak.

This is true, but it was in the summer of 1978 when Sears and 

Kellwood (an outdoor equipment manufacturer), was testing 

camping gear in the Yellowstone drainage of the High Uintas.

Hillary, age 59 then, was said to have had little trouble hiking 

Kings Peak and the Uintas.

Hillary had also floated the Green River in Utah during 1969, 

as part of the centennial commemoration of John Wesley 

Powell's 1869 original exploration of the area. So, he spent  

time in the Beehive State, if only because the Kellwood 

company had an office in St. George, Utah.

(This is according to "Camping With Ed: From the Field Test 

Journals" book by

William N. Kelley, with a forward by Hillary himself.)

                      Above: Kings Peak as it appears looking north from near South Kings Peak.

 Above: The High Uintas view from atop Kings Peak, looking southward.

Not a legend though is that today's Kings Peak was undiscovered until the mid-1960s. Prior to satellite measurements, the U.S. Geological Survey pegged today's South Kings Peak as Utah's tallest. Any hikers going to Kings Peak prior to 1966 would have scaled the state's second-tallest peak instead.
Well above timber line, the Kings Peak terrain features endless rock slabs or boulder fields across the horizon. No motorized vehicles are allowed here. This is federally protected wilderness (although grandfathered sheep grazing rights still exist in the Henry’s Fork Valley below).

                         Kings Peak reflection from Henry's Fork Basin.

Kings Peak, almost 1.8 miles higher in elevation than Salt Lake's Temple Square, was named for Clarence King, director of the first U.S. Geological Survey team that came through Utah in 1867-71.
Ironically, King himself was never aware of Utah's tallest point, since it went undiscovered until 25 years ago. Initial measurements erroneously pegged South Kings Peak, near today's Kings Peak, as tallest.

  Above: Scott Wesemann scales the rock slide shortcut on the way to Kings Peak.

Each summer, thousands of hikers make the trek to “bag” Kings Peak, mostly in July through September. The most popular starting points are from Henrys Fork or China Meadows, but it's a strenuous 14-mile (one way) hike, usually best performed during a camping trip of three or more days.
The final half-mile (gaining 828 feet in altitude) from Andersons Pass is a scramble, requiring the use of handholds over loose rock slabs.

          Looking back at the south side of Kings Peak.

But today most hikers take the steep rockslide shortcut and climb up a chute of rocky debris almost 2,000 feet from the valley below to Andersons Pass.
Hearty snowshoers and cross county skiers sometimes reach Kings Peak even in winter.
 Above: Roger Arave and Scott Wesemann climb the rock slide shortcut out of Henry's Fork.

The dizzy view from the top of the rockslide shortcut, near Anderson's Pass/

 Above: Ravell Call in the rockslide. Some years there is still some snow in the rockslide in mid-summer.

(--Distilled from various Deseret News stories and hikes to Kings Peak, between 1990 and 2003.)

-Photos by Lynn Arave, Roger Arave and Ravell Call.


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