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).
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