I realized we had quite a crew with us when we spilled out of the trucks at the Kamas grocery store. Jared, Callista, Erica, Matt, Dave, Kristy, three crazy dogs and I were all headed to the Uintas for a group backpacking trip. I headed inside the store and emerged with a maple bar (for those of you who haven’t had a maple bar, it’s a rectangular glazed donut topped with maple icing…disgusting and beautiful at the same time). I downed it as we pulled out and headed up the Mirror Lake Highway. Less than an hour later we arrived at the Highline Trail parking lot.
As we were gearing up a ranger arrived at the trailhead. He jumped out of his truck and started snapping pictures of the crowded parking lot.
“You folks heading in today?” I told him we sure were. “Looks like it’s about an 80 percent chance of rain. I don’t want to be downer but the mosquitos just hatched, too. Pretty brutal if you’re heading to a lake.”
We were indeed heading to a lake…Scuddar Lake. I had passed it on a previous trip to Naturalist Basin. Scuddar is small but the trees come right up to its banks and there are plenty of prime campsites. The group was finally ready to go and we started out on the rocky trail to our destination.
As I mentioned, the parking lot was packed, but it seemed like there was a good number of folks on their way out. We passed no less than 20 people, all in groups of varying size and makeup. Four fisherman here, 6 kids and an adult there. The scenery was fantastic: lodgepole pines gave way to open meadows as trickling streams intermittently flowed over the trail. I was just hitting my stride when we saw the sign for Scuddar Lake. It was a short trip; Scuddar isn’t much more than 2 miles from the trailhead, but since our group was large and not everyone was a seasoned packer the short trip made sense.
Our first campsite didn’t work out (thanks for the discarded toilet paper you gross pricks) so we hiked around the lake a bit and found a great spot. Soon the packs were opened, gear dumped out and tents started going up. Seems like everyone had taken advantage of the short hike and brought plenty of booze. Beers were cracked and whiskey started to flow. Some of the crew explored around the premises while I struggled to hang a bear bag in the distance. My para cord was tangled (hadn’t used my own bear bag since two seasons ago) and took quite a while to straighten out. Finally I returned to camp just in time to pack up for a dayhike.
We debated on attempting a summit of Mount Agassiz, but with the threat of thunderstorms we opted to head for Packard Lake. Down the trail and about a mile later we came to the spur. A rocky descent led us to the inviting shores of Wilder Lake. The dogs splashed around in the water while the humans enjoyed the million dollar view of Agassiz towering over the lake. After a bit we returned to the trail to find the next lake, but were thwarted when the path petered out in thick forest. People were getting thirsty again, and everyone decided to head back to camp. Everyone save for me. I really wanted to see the two other lakes in the area, so I told Jared I would return to camp by five o’clock. I had two hours to explore the area.
I pulled out my map and tried to figure out where we went wrong. A quick study revealed that I was headed down a steep slope towards a river. Instead of following the group I opted to go cross country, hoping to run into the proper trail. That didn’t happen, so after 15 minutes of crashing around the bush I headed toward Wilder Lake. Back at the shore I retraced the main trail and found were we went wrong: the trail turned and headed up a small ridgeline just feet from where we headed to shore. Always funny how just a few feet can make such a huge difference in backcountry navigation. I followed the trail up the hill, and down the other side. An open meadow gave way to the tip of Wyman Lake.
Wyman was the largest of the lakes in the area, and it was deserted. Fresh boot tracks in the mud betrayed the solitude; someone must have been here recently. I snapped a couple photos of the idyllic scene before heading towards Packard Lake.
Just a half mile later I arrived at Packard Lake. It too was empty. Not a soul in site as I scanned the lake and enjoyed the views. If you’re looking for solitude, Packard Lake would be a good bet. I didn’t spot any campsites but the far side of the lake looked like it could be a winner. Might be a return trip to the area in the future. I followed the outlet stream from Packard a couple hundred feet to an amazing site. I heard the distinctive sound of water falling over rocks, and my eyes got huge as I walked to the edge of a cliff wall. One thousand feet below me the East Fork Duschesne River weaved its way through the forest. I could see for miles up and down the river from my vantage point on the cliffs. I wished I had someone else with me to share the view, but I soaked it in nonetheless. Wow. It is sights like this, the unexpected beauty and grandeur of the wild, that keeps me coming back. I paused here for a bit before turning back to camp.
I made good time on the return trip and arrived before my cutoff time. “22 minutes until we came looking for you,” shouted Matt as I shuffled in. The rest of the crew had a good fire going and had beers in hand. I stashed my gear and joined in the fun. The rest of the night was spent near the fire, as the mosquitos became increasingly vicious. We drank, ate, shared stories and jokes and enjoyed the pleasant cool of the Uintas night air. The weather, which seemed dicey at the start, had held through the entire day. It was only in the middle of the night that I heard a steady downpour beating on my tent fly.
I woke to the sounds of dogs and people rustling about camp. When I emerged to brew my coffee it was a ghost town. The other guys had headed out to filter water at a nearby stream and the girls were still sleeping soundly. I made a stout cup of coffee and cracked open my standard backcountry meal of PopTarts. Mmm Mmm good! The waterboys returned and we all enjoyed breakfast and java. An hour later we had camp packed up and were back on the trail. Once again I was just settling into my hiking cadence when we arrived back at the parking lot…probably the shortest hike out I’ve ever had, and that’s not a bad thing.
We had one last stop to make. Just before Kamas the trucks turned down a dirt road to The Notch, a good old burger and beer joint just outside of the Uinta National Forest. Pitchers of delicious malted hops arrived with cooked tri tip beef right behind them. It was the perfect way to end another great trip to the Uintas.