J & I hit our 37th high point, King’s Peak in Utah, at 13,528 feet!!
I’m ecstatic for 2 reasons. Number one, this is the highest I’ve been since my pulmonary embolism in 2013. I have always struggled at altitude, but ever since my PE, my lungs struggle just a little bit more, sadly.
We made sure to acclimatize as best we could. We slept at the trailhead at ~9,400 feet, then camped at Dollar Lake at ~10,800 feet, then summited the next day, leaving base camp set up at Dollar Lake. And I just took it slow, very slow. J served as my sherpa, so I only had to carry my tiniest day pack of water and snacks. It was hard. But, I did it. I am certainly jealous of my husband’s seemingly bionic lungs, as I huff and puff with a racing heart to send adequate blood flow to my oxygen-starved tissues. I also had a bout of nausea to go along with the heavy panting, but I think the worst part is how it feels like my heart is going to leap out of my chest just from taking a single step!
The other part about King’s Peak, though, was that it was an awesome and beautiful 26-mile backpacking trip! We’ve done a lot of hiking and camping in southern Utah, but northern Utah offers a whole new landscape. King’s Peak is located in the High Unitas Wilderness of the Wasatch National Forest.
We approached from Henry’s Fork Campground Trailhead (The Wanderer also got his workout on the 25 miles of gravel roads). The first 8 miles gradually climbs through forested trail and opens up to a grand meadow surrounded by a wall of sedimentary peaks.
There are a ton of established campsites between Dollar Lake and Henry’s Fork Lake, so no need to worry about space, as this area is quite crowded with peak baggers and general outdoor enthusiasts.
From Dollar Lake, the trail climbs a little more steeply to Gunsight Pass at 11,888 feet. From here, you have 2 options. Drop 600 feet into the mosquito-infested Painter’s Basin (which truly looks like a colorful painting under a blue sky), or take a sketchy shortcut over to Anderson Pass. I heard mixed reviews about the shortcut being hard to follow and steep, but there were cairns and a pretty distinguished path. In my opinion, take the shortcut.
We then met up with the other trail from Painter’s Basin and this is where the trail virtually disappears. There are occasionally cairns, but you mainly pick your way up in a breathless scramble over boulders for the last 2 miles up to the peak. I am irrationally fearful of rockslides, but this was, thankfully, cake walk for me compared with Idaho’s Borah Peak (#31) or Mt. Rintoul in New Zealand’s Richmond Range.