Thursday, August 5, 2010

Red Castle Backpacking Trip

So, I’m being super efficient, and not procrastinating blogging about our recent backpacking adventure. Mostly because I took over a thousand pictures, and my husband made me go through them so he could have copies of his faves to share online. There are quite a few really spectacular shots, and I’m rather excited to share them as well. So, even though I have 2 months worth of blogging to catch up on, I’m doing this post first :)

*Click on any of the pictures to see them full sized.*
*They're totally awesome!*

Day 1: We made our way up into the High Uintas Wilderness area in northeast Utah. It was me, my husband, Luke, and my father-in-law, Sam. After a 4 hour car ride through Utah, then out into Wyoming, then back into Utah, we arrive at the trailhead, near China Meadows. We started out on the East Fork Smiths Fork Trail.

Approximate pack weight:
Stephanie: 35 lbs
Sam: 50 lbs
Luke: 75 lbs

Yikes! That’s a lot of junk! My poor hubby may have bit off more than he could chew with all our gear on his back. Usually, I’m the one struggling up the side of a mountain, whining and wheezing, while my husband patiently tries not to whistle and tap his foot. While this hike definitely wasn’t easy (my legs didn’t uncramp for days!), I know I had it much easier than Luke did. But he stuck it out, and we’ve learned a very valuable lesson for future trips!
This first hour or so was just us trudging along, making our way along the muddy path. We were passed by some porters on horses, but didn’t see much of anything or anyone else for awhile. Then, around the second hour, we were bombarded by a high school cross country team. Dang, those kids had energy. I don’t think I had that kind of stamina even when I was in high school! Anyway, there were close to a hundred of them. And there goes our peaceful retreat, we thought.

Our first glimpse of Red Castle

The next couple of hours were rather uneventful. Lots of mosquitoes, quite a bit of rain, even a little hail, and general disgruntlement all around. We did have a nice stop at the bridge, a couple miles from our destination. It was here that we got our first view of Red Castle Mountain. It was breathtaking! Encouraging as well, as I was starting to feel like we’d never get there.
Thankfully, b/c of the rain, the cross country team decided to cut their jog short, and we passed them on their way back out again.

Is that rain or sweat all over you?

Resting on the bridge

Luke thought I was really morbid for wanting to take a picture of this. There were random legs flung all over the meadow here. I just wanted to document it for posterity.

Here, have a nice pretty flower picture to get that previous image out of your head :)

We also met up with a herd of goats! Man, I wish we'd had these guys carry our stuff too!

The last couple of hours were probably the hardest. The rain started up again, as well as a bit of thunder and lightning. We had to climb some super-tough switchbacks, and by the end of that, I think my husband had just about had it. We hurried as fast as we could through the meadows that ensued, ducking to attempt to avoid the lightning crashing all around us. Then, before I knew it, we were there. The trail split, and we decided to go up into the forest to find a good campsite.

Approximate hike-in time: 7 hours

We were all more than a little cold/wet/hungry/tired, and it took awhile to find a suitable site to set up camp. But we found the perfect place, and proceeded to stretch the tarps out over the tent sites, so we had something to get under and dry out a bit. We then spent the next 20 minutes shivering as we huddled around the propane stove, taking turns warming our hands on the pot we used to heat water for cocoa and tea. We also talked a lot about getting a fire started. But we had to wait for the rain to let up. That took awhile longer. And, even though it was raining, the mosquitoes did not let up! They were horrible! We ended up using a whole bottle of bug spray in the 4 days we were here.

Time to make some fire!

The men used quite a few matches on that first fire. Thankfully my husband is a pyromaniac, and he wouldn’t give up until he got the fire started. We also didn’t have to use matches the rest of the trip. We just restarted the fire from what was left over from the night before (and when I say “we” I am, of course, referring to my amazing husband!).

Thanks to the fire, we were warm and mostly dry within an hour. We got camp set up, gathered lots of wood to keep the fire roaring, and made us some dinner (see my food blog for a detailed report on what we ate on our trip). We also headed over to the nearby stream to pump some water. The bugs were overwhelming though, so we didn’t stay long. We discovered that the only thing that kept the bugs mostly at bay was the fire, so we kept it going for a few hours, until we were ready for bed.

Day 2: We stiffly got up, had breakfast, then made our way to the main Red Castle Lake, passing the lower lake on the way. Even without packs, this was a bit of a strenuous hike, in my opinion. Having hiked almost 11 miles the day before probably had something to do with it. But it was beautiful! We kept an eye out, but there was no sign of moose.

On our way up to the lake

There were probably close to 40 other people at the lake, which my husband tells me is the deepest of all the lakes in the Uintas. It’s a pretty big lake though, so it didn’t feel too crowded. The guys found a good spot to fish in, and I got my camera out and wandered around a bit.

I have this annoying habit when out in the wilderness. I have to photograph every wildflower I see! Sure, I get some great shots out of it, but mostly, I end up with several hundred flower pictures that I have to sort through. Lately, on hikes we’ve done this summer, Luke’s taken to being the photographer, just because I’m so slow that he has to stop and wait for me anyway, and would rather not stop and wait for me to take pictures as well (even though I think a photo op is a great excuse to stop and rest a bit). However, since our last hike, when he had the camera, and most of the flower pictures weren’t quite in focus, I think I might relieve him of this duty.

Anyway, so I took lots of pictures of the flowers, of the lake, of my fisherman. I tried my hand at a few panoramic shots as well. Some of them turned out pretty good.

Sam, catching some z's. Doesn't he look comfy?

After an hour or so, it started raining, so I headed back to where the fishing was happening, and hid under my poncho, reading a book. The rain cleared up after a bit, and we ate some lunch, then headed over to the other side of the lake, to see about some better fishing.

Cute little guy. Too bad he'd only make half a meal...

The fishing was a bit discouraging. Luke was pulling in a fish every half hour or so, but all the fish were too small to keep. We saw lots of people with fish they’d caught, so we knew there were bigger ones in there. Luke even caught one, but it got away, along with his last spinner. The biggest problem was that Luke didn’t have enough gear (he hasn’t been fishing in at least 10 years), and after a few hours, all his spinners were gone.

No fishing lootz for dinner tonight :(

It ended up not being a very fruitful day, but we all had fun. We headed back down to the camp, trying to beat the storm that was rolling in behind us. We made it just in time, and eventually got some dinner started. The rain cleared up again, and we sat around the campfire for awhile, talking until bedtime.

Day 3: Our bodies were still feeling pretty worn out, so we decided to take it easy this day.

A few shots of the wildlife around the stream where we got our water

A fire a day keeps the mosquitoes away!

About mid-morning, we hiked a mile or so back the trail, so I could photograph this beautiful waterfall we’d passed on the way in, as well as stopping to get some good group shots.

As well as a few funny shots as we waited for Luke to run back to set the timer on the camera.

Just hanging out

I really wanted to go swimming, because the bugs were surprisingly absent at the falls, but we hadn’t brought snacks or water with us, and were all getting kind of hungry.

So, we made our way back up to camp, where we ate lunch, and then lounged for awhile. We took a nap in the tent, and it rained a bit on us.

Ginormous waspish bug that tried to kill Luke!

After our nap, we headed down to the Lower Red Castle Lake, to see if we could do any more fishing.

The bugs were even worse than usual at the lake, and my husband’s attention span does not do well with bait-and-wait fishing, so after about an hour, we headed back to camp. Ate some food, sat around and talked, watched the stars come out through the trees, then turned in for the night.

Day 4: Got up earlier this morning, so we could head down to the meadow to look for moose. We’d read a trip report from the beginning of this month where some backpackers reported 12 moose sightings in a week! I was determined to catch a glimpse of one, and this was my last chance.

Beautiful sunrise!

Sadly, this was the best shot I got:

I totally thought I saw a moose, until I zoomed in on it. Dang my bad eyes!

After about a half hour, we trudged back up to camp, ate some breakfast, then packed everything up.

We hit the trail just after 8:00 AM. The hike back out wasn’t nearly as strenuous, it just felt long. Lots of photo ops, and the weather much nicer to us on our way out.

Goodbye Red Castle

Are we there yet??

We stopped for a bite to eat at the fence, just past the halfway mark. Then we hit the trail again.

Yep, that pack is still heavy

Loooooooong way to go!

About 3 miles from the car, I FINALLY GOT TO SEE A MOOSE! And not just one! First, we came up on a mom and baby moose just off the trail. They got spooked before we could get a shot, even though Luke (carefully) chased them with the camera.
Then, not 5 minutes later, we caught sight of another mother with her baby relaxing in a meadow. They were nice enough to hold still so we could get a few shots!

I was so excited! I felt rejuvenated. The rest of the hike seemed to go by much easier for me, although I don’t think everybody felt the same way...

Wild strawberries! Awesome!

We finally made it to the trailhead

Approximate hike-out time: 4 1/2 hours
Total mileage: About 35 miles hiked
Photos taken: 1129
Bug bites acquired by Stephanie: 32

Whew, that was one wild ride! Carrabba’s never sounded so good! In the future, we both agree that if we’re packing in our stuff, we need at least 5 days total to camp, so we can have more time to recuperate and hike around. There were lots of places Luke wanted to explore, but we were all just too tired to do so. We also plan on packing much, much lighter next time! Our plan for the future is to either invest (even more!!) in more lightweight camp gear, made specifically for lightweight backpacking, or to look into using a packhorse to haul our gear in for us. We’ll probably end up doing both eventually, as I’m sure we’ll end up doing this hike many more times. We’ve also learned how to be much smarter with our food :P

We definitely needed the day after to clean up and unwind before the upcoming week. I also really appreciated the day we took off on Tuesday to get everything packed and ready. Overall, it was an amazing trip, and we’re both so excited to go again!

Check out my food blog for a detailed report on what we ate, and what I would recommend for future hikes, as well as tips for gluten free hiking.
Also, take a look at Luke’s report of the trip on his hiking blog.


Kari said...

Wow! That sounds like quite the camping trip! I love all the flower pictures.

Barb @ 1SentenceDiary said...

Great photos! I've done lots and lots of camping, but lately only car camping (with the kids, the dogs, etc.) so there I wasn't concerned about the weight. Very impressive!

backpacking advise said...

Everyone seems to enjoy the excitement of backpacking. So as to be certain that you have all of the required equipment and safety equipment, advanced preparation is necessary.

backpacking advise