A ski descent of Kings Peak is something that has eluded on 2 other occasions, but I was finally able to tackle the beast. My first attempt was in February 2005. Chip, Audrey, Andy H, Emily, and I packed for a 3 day trip. We had full heavy touring gear (heavy tele boots, tele skis, non-free pivot bindings, etc) and were planning to camp for 2 nights. We had a great trip, but were turned away at Anderson Pass due to weather.
February 2005 Attempt
In March 2008 as part of our training for Elk Mountain Grand Traverse (EMGT), Chip, Audrey, Andrea S, and I attempted the summit in a single push. For this attempt, rather than camp in the cold, we decided to leave Summit Park at 1 AM so we would be skiing by 4:30 AM. We had hope do summit and return to the car in around 13 hours. Since we would be doing the EMGT on Nordic gear, we decided to use the same gear for Kings Peak since the distance was approximately the same and the vert a couple thousand feet less. We arrived at the trailhead to a lot of fresh snow and started breaking trail while it continued to snow. The weather continued to get worse. The picture below is the high winds we had on Gunsight Pass. We had a turn around time of 1PM, we continued to push this back until finally at 4PM and just a few hundred feet below the summit we knew we had to turn around. It had stormed enough that we had to break trail all the way back to the trailhead and finally arrived at the car after an 18 hour push and we still had a 3 hour drive home. We arrived home sometime after 2AM making it a solid 25 hour round trip sufferfest.
March 2008 Attempt
After a second failure, I was wondering if Kings Peak had it out for me. I had thought a lot about the peak since 2008, but just hadn’t found time to go back. After taking up skimo racing this winter and having a successful Power of Four race, this seemed like the year to do it. I had the right gear and a had already done a 26 mile skimo race. The Utah snow pack was quite low so I figured this would be good and bad. It would be good as we would hopefully be able to drive closer to the trailhead (previous attempts had us parked 3 miles from the summer trailhead since they don’t plow the road), but it would be bad as it would likely mean quite a bit of walking since there would not be consistent snow at lower elevations. I sent out the email to some of local skimo racers and Eric (my partner from Power of Four) was in for a day of suffering. We worked out the logistics and decided to drive to the trailhead on Friday night to camp in his Sportmobile and attempt the summit on race gear (race skis, boots, bindings, poles, and speed suits), but larger packs that would accommodate crampons, a stove & fuel, full shovel, probe, a down jacket, a few spare parts, a small first aid kit, and an emergency bivy. Expecting hard snow up high, I also decided to throw in my ice ax. As we expected, we were able to drive just over a mile closer to the trailhead. We camped for the night and were treated to single digit temperatures in the morning. Our goal was 10 hours round trip and we wanted to be skinning by 6:30. Our start was delayed since it was so cold that it took a little longer to get our boots thawed and on. We left the van moving fast to keep warm. At 10 miles in (Dollar Lake), we were averaging 3 miles per hour with stops and numerous sections of walking (note – we made the mistake of taking the summer trail instead of following the creek, this cost us probably 45-60 minutes). Our feet were both killing us at this time from extremely sticky snow on the flat trail (we had only climbed 1,450’ in 10 miles) so we had to stop to tape our feet. We knew the weather was going to be good so we left our stove, Coke, and Red Bull along the trail and continued on with slightly lighter packs. From Dollar Lake we finally started climbing up to Gunsight Pass. Things were going very good and we were at the pass in 4.5 hours. Definitely not blazing speed, but we were happy and figured we could make the summit in another 1.5 hours. We were able to get a nice long traverse through the rocks off of Gunsight Pass to the approach to Anderson Pass. We made the decision to stay on the face of the summit instead of going up to the pass and spending a significant amount of time on rocks. After having spend most of the last month at close to sea level in San Jose, CA for work, by the time we got to 12,500’ I was really feeling the effects of the altitude and I was moving slowly. The snow on the summit ascent was perfect. We were able to skin to about 13,000’ and then kick steps in without crampons the rest of the way. We finally made the summit in 6:17 after a difficult last couple hundred feet through rotten snow and rocks. The weather at the summit was sunny and calm. We put on a down jacket and enjoyed a sandwich with views from the roof top of Utah. We had a few hundred feet of good snow on the descent followed by a variety of breakable crusts and sastrugi. We opted to cut the descent short and traverse as much of the distance back to Gunsight Pass instead of skiing all the way down to Painter Basin. A short skin and we were back to the pass and on the descent back to our caffeine stash. We enjoyed a quick shot of caffeine and started and 10 mile skate through soft snow back to the trailhead. We were able to make good time back to the trailhead getting a little bit of glide on our skate and following the creek instead of the summer trail. We crossed the creek over 30 times on snow bridges (most of which held) and had over a dozen spots where we had to walk across rocks and dirt. We reached the van 9:45 after starting. Thirsty, hungry, tired, but by no means destroyed. I definitely had not eaten or drank enough the entire day. My water was frozen for the first 3 hours so I didn’t eat or drink during that time. I drank just over 1.5L of water (plus a Red Bull) and only ate 1800 calories.