Kings Peak Run

In lieu of doing more races this fall, we decided instead to do a lot of fun runs that have been on our ‘tick list’. So far, we have had a great late summer of runs with the Ruby Mt Traverse and Highline Trail. Last weekend we both paced friends at Wasatch 100 and had a great time (as usual) taking in the race scene. With a wet week and a grim forecast for the weekend, we had a hard time making the decision if it would be wise to head out into the high Uintas. After numerous emails, Christian Johnson, Tom Diegel, Emily Sullivan, Emily and I were all game for a wet run through the Uintas. We all agreed it would be a ‘social pace’ and to be smart and not get summit fever so that if it looked like lightening, we would turn around. We all packed a few extra cloths ‘just in case’ we ended up with a Uinta Epic (I have had many).

The crew arrived at our house at 4AM Saturday morning and we were on the road with full cups of coffee a few minutes later. We arrived at the trailhead just after 6:30 and quickly got our shoes on in the chilly morning air (41 F according to the car thermometer).

Kings Peak 14Sep13

Christian, Tom, Emily B, Emily S, and Chad at the Henry’s Fork Trailhead

We enjoyed the cool, rain free morning as we ran along Henry’s Fork River and to the meadow and past Dollar Lake. My only other summer Kings Peak summit had been as part of the Highline Trail many years ago. After 4 trips to Kings in the winter, it was fun to see the trail in the summer. We kept to our ‘social pace’ with several breaks and good conversation. The clouds were low and we were unsure of what our summit weather would be and even if we would be able to summit.

Kings Peak 14Sep13

Low clouds in the meadow before Dollar Lake

Kings Peak 14Sep13

Approaching Gunsight Pass (Emily S and Christian)

We passed a few other hikers on our way up to Gunsight Pass. We dropped down from Gunsight Pass into Painter Basin and began the climb up to Anderson Pass. This was the area that Emily and I had completely botched on our Highline Trail run. Actually being on the trail, made this climb significantly easier and much more enjoyable. We topped off water in one of the numerous fast flowing creeks and continued to the pass.

Kings Peak 14Sep13

Water fill

We had discussed the scramble from Anderson Pass to the Summit unsure of how slippery the rocks would be for the ~1mile scramble. Our weather had been good to this point, but as we left the pass, the rain started and eventually turned to snow. We were all excited to be in our first snow of the year (it snows all year in the Uintas, but this was all of our first snow of the season).

Kings Peak 14Sep13

Climbing up from Anderson Pass to the Summit

We continued to climb, still unsure of the weather, but we could see a few patches of sun in the distance.

Kings Peak 14Sep13

Taking an opportunity to play in the snow

Kings Peak 14Sep13

Being one with the clouds

Kings Peak 14Sep13

Super Hero or Summit Poser

Kings Peak 14Sep13

Summit Picnic

We were treated to a break in the weather at the summit, enjoyed a little food, then headed down. The photos stopped at the summit because shortly after leaving the summit we were in the rain again which turned to hail. By the time were just below Anderson Pass, it was a torrential down pour. By the time we reached Painter Basin, we were all soaked to the core and getting cold. I commented to Christian that at least it hadn’t gotten cold (yet). We all kept to ourselves just moving at whatever pace we could to keep warm. By the time we reached Gunsight Pass, the temperature had dropped. I think we were all not far from being in a bad place, but we all kept moving and laughing about how it is a little odd when we all considered being cold, soaking wet, tromping through the mud with altitude headaches to be fun. By the time we were across the meadow and back into the trees the rain had pretty much stopped and we were able to start warming up and drying out. We were able to pick up our pace and start to eat and drink again now that we could move our fingers. By the time we reached the trailhead, the sun was out and we were ready to get out of our wet cloths.

We had estimated that it would take 6-7 hours and it had taken 8.5 hours round trip for the ~29 miles and 5,000′ of climbing. Part of the longer time was our socializing, but the wet rocks on the summit scramble (which is 2 miles round trip) and being so cold really slowed us down. In addition to a great run, for the second time, I got to take Tom on his ‘longest run ever’. Four of us had commitments at 7PM and it was after 3:30 and we had a 2.5 hour drive so we quickly enjoyed a post summit beer and some snacks then hit the road again. We were back to summit park by 6:05, almost exactly 14 hours after leaving and all having enjoyed a day of epic Uinta weather.

Double FKT on the Uinta Highline Trail

The Uintas are one of the only ranges to run east/west in the US and contain the highest peaks in Utah. I have always had an affinity for the Uinta Mountains for many reasons. Over the years I have had many summer and winter great trips and epics in the Uintas. The western edge is only an hour from home so it is a shame that I don’t go there more often. The Highline Trail is an ~78 mile trail that runs east/west across the Uinta Mountains in eastern Utah (although most of us who have run it have come up with distances of around 81-83 miles). The trail is predominantly above 10,000′ and travels from pass to pass and lake to lake crossing through high elevation meadows in between. The entire trail is around 100 miles and 15,000′ of ascent, but the eastern section has been turned into ATV trails and is not really considered worth running. When I ran the Highline Trail in 2010, I had set a fastest known time of 28:16. I always felt that this was very slow and that the record should easily be down around 24 hours. My record was broken twice this summer and the current fastest known time (FKT) for the Highline Trail was 27:41 hours set by Stephen Jones in July.

When Emily and I were contemplating what we should do over Labor Day weekend, I mentioned maybe she should attempt a women’s FKT for the Highline Trail since there was currently not a recorded women’s speed record. She thought this sounded like a great idea, so we started putting our plans together. We weren’t sure if it was a good idea to be going for a speed attempt a week after the Ruby Traverse, but we didn’t care too much as our main goal was to just do the run together as opposed to getting caught up in chasing the existing FKT (not always an easy thing for me to do). We did hope to finish in 27 hours as we felt that would be an achievable time if we had good weather and good navigation. Emily had not been on the Highline Trail since we backpacked it many years ago so she was excited to get back on the trail. Having learned a hard lesson in Uinta weather in 2010, I updated my gear list to include an extra running jacket, better lights, and a full handheld GPS.

We spent the week getting a few odds and ends together as well as getting the mapping dialed in (well, I thought it was dialed in a lot more than it was). On Friday we shuttled a car up to Hayden Pass (the western trailhead) and convinced our friend Meghan into driving us to the Leidy Peak Trailhead on Saturday morning (a 4 hour 1 way drive).

2013 Highline Trail FKT Run

Chad’s gear for the run (Emily’s gear was similar). 6,400 calories, good lights, warm weather gear, minimal first aid all crammed into the great CAMP Trail Vest Light

The weather was looking perfect (which rarely happens in the Uintas) and we were on the trail at 10:32.


Perfect Uinta Weather Forecast

Our packs were heavy with food and emergency gear. My pack was just under 14 lbs and Emily’s was just over 12 lbs (with water). After my struggles in 2010, I knew it was worth the weight for the full size GPS and BD Icon headlamp (both were the most essential gear we had). At 10:32 we were off at a leisurely pace and were enjoying the great weather, beautiful mountains, and technical trail running. The miles clicked away and we were settling into our routine for navigation, treating water, and eating.

Around 4 PM, the first storm moved in. As we were getting higher and higher on North Pole Pass, we had lightening and thunder on 3 sides of us. We kept moving as fast as possible and dropped down the other side of the pass to the protection of the trees around Brook Lake. We were making great time all through this and were quite a bit ahead of my 2010 split times (around 40 minutes at North Pole Pass). We were lucky that the weather parted without any rain.

It got dark when we were in Painter Basin on the east side of Kings Peak and it only took 10 minutes of darkness before we were off trail. We were following the GPS closely and we would be on trail, then back off trail just as quickly. After struggling with this for some time, we made the critical mistake of deciding to just scramble straight up through the scree to Anderson Pass. This cost us at least 30 minutes of extra time and took a ton of extra energy as we took two steps up and slid one step back.

We continued to have good weather, but also continued to struggle with navigation. After getting off trail a couple more times in Garfield Basin, we decided that we needed to take a slower pace as anytime we started to run through the meadows, we would lose the trail. We figured that if we just followed the GPS route and did a fast walk, we would actually save time. As morning came and we were climbing Red Knob Pass Emily’s stomach was not doing well. We were right on my 2010 splits and I knew that I had lost at least 1 hour being lost between Dead Horse Pass and Rock Creek in 2010. I felt that if we kept pushing on, we could still finish in around 27 hours. We ran down to Dead Horse Lake and worked our way up the steep (but short) trail to the pass. At the pass, I knew that to break 27 hours we would have to move fast. We had not moved fast all night, so I was quite surprised we were still this close to a 27 hour finish.

Emily wanted me to move ahead (due to her stomach issues), but I was worried she would not be able to stay on the trail. We finally decided to part ways around Ledge Lake and I would leave arrows or 3 small rocks at any trail junction so that at least if I got off trail, we would end up at the same place. She continued to have stomach issues until Rocky See Pass. After Rock Creek, my back flared up causing excruciating sciatica in my right leg. Once at Rocky Sea Pass, even though my back and feet were killing me I thought that 26:30 might be possible. I was enjoying the final 8+ mile of running finding I could keep my back pain down by contracting the muscles of my lower back. I reached the trailhead sign at 1:14PM setting a new FKT at 26:38 and was completely wrecked. My feet hurt, my back hurt, I was starving, and I was tired. I was surprised when our friend Ron drove into the parking lost 2 minutes after I finished on a start to his own adventure. It was nice to have someone to visit with for a few minutes.

I figured Emily would be 30-40 minutes behind me since I had seen her at the bottom of Rocky Sea Pass when I was at the top. I got some dry cloths on, had a Recoverite, then grabbed the camera, a beer and tortilla chips and walked a little down the trail to wait. She showed up just about on cue and finished in 1:56 exclaiming that it was the run was harder than any 100 she had ever done. She was as wrecked as I was. She got some dry cloths on and we had the obligatory trailhead finish photo and headed home.

In cleaning out our packs, we still had heavy packs at the end (Chad – 7.5 lbs, Emily 7.3 lbs without water). We were trying to decide what to leave behind while still having what I consider are some of the essentials to be in such a remote place for so long (at most times you are 10-15 miles from a trailhead if you need rescue) and I really couldn’t think of anything except some food that could be left behind (I started with 6,400 calories and finished with 800 calories left over).

It’s awesome that I can be married to a person that I can go out and do such amazing adventures with.


If I return to the Highline Trail, it will only be to prove to myself that I can run the entire trail without having navigation issues. I know this would make it much more enjoyable both from a running perspective as well as from feeling like being a good navigator through the night.


Comparison of 2010 and 2013 Splits


Chad’s food eaten

  • 10 Gels
  • 2 packaged Hammer Nutrition Perpetuem
  • 3 Justin’s Almond Maple Butter
  • 3 packages Stinger Chews
  • 2 Stinger Waffles
  • 4 small Snickers
  • 1 small Pro Bar
  • Small baggie of trail mix
  • Small baggie of beef jerky
  • 2 Amy’s frozen burritos
  • Small baggie of chocolate covered coffee beans
  • 1 5 Hour Energy

Gear I wouldn’t have left at home

  • Full GPS
  • Really good headlamps (BD Icon for the head ad BD Storm for the waste)
  • Good rain jacket
  • Light rain pants
  • Warm cloth
  • Spot Messenger (just in case)
  • BD Ultralight Poles

Gear that worked well

  • CAMP Trail Light Vest
  • CW-X Revolution tights
  • New Balance MT1210 shoes
  • Dry Max Socks
  • Hoorag head band
  • Smith PivLock Sunglasses