King’s Peak has been on my bucket list for a while. We’ve been trying to do it for a couple years, so this year we finally just said, “Let’s put it on the calendar and make it happen!” Little did I know what I’d signed up for. We left after work and school on Friday. Ben drove with Colton and I, and my dad and sister took another car. We drove north toward Wyoming to make a stop in Evanston for our typical road trip dinner of Subway sandwiches. After Evanston, we decided to ignore my phone’s navigation, which was telling us to take I-80 basically to the trail head, and instead we went some skiwampus way through the boonies.
We ended up going less distance, but it was mostly on a dirt road so we drove slower than we would have liked, especially since we were behind schedule to start hiking. It was rather pretty though. There were endless rolling hills of sage brush. On the GPS it showed our road between I-80 and King’s Peak, and there were no other roads going off from it and no houses or structures anywhere. Okay, there was a ghost town and these weird beehive-like structures, but no structures where living beings resided. There were a bunch of cows and hawks, and we saw a few other cars, but I seriously have no idea why that road was there. We finally made it to the Henry’s Fork trail head, used the last toilet we’d see for a few days, and started off.
We hiked quickly because darkness was descending. I really need to get in better shape. I was definitely the slowest hiker, but everyone was nice and waited for me. This was the longest backpacking trip I’ve ever done, and the pack wore down my shoulder muscles and hips. It was an eight mile hike to base camp, and it was a very LONG eight miles. The last few miles were in the dark, so we stumbled around with a few flashlights. I had to concentrate really hard to keep up our pace and not trip over every rock that came in sight. The temperature was perfect the whole time, which was great considering all my other discomforts. We paused a few times for water and snacks, but finally Colton called a halt at what he thought was a good spot to make camp. (He was the only one who’d been up there before.) We set up our tents amidst some tall pine trees, boiled some water for freeze-dried dinners, then watched the stars for a while. I didn’t get much sleep that night. I felt like I was going to roll onto Ben because our tent was slightly tilted and I just couldn’t get comfortable with my make-shift pillow of whatever-I-could-find. It’s times like these that I really don’t think I’m cut out to go backpacking and camping all the time, even though I always say I want to. Needless to say the next morning I was more tired than I wanted to be as we were hiking another eight miles and several thousand feet in elevation. The morning view of our campsite boosted my mood a bit, however. We were on the edge of giant pine trees, sheltering us from the sunlight. Many other hikers were going past us either up or down the mountain. We even saw some people with nothing but a water bottle trail-running up the hill. The weather was amazing and there was a no-rain forecast, which is incredibly rare for King’s Peak, so we took our time getting started. The views as we hiked toward Gunsight pass were fantastic. It was wonderful to breathe the mountain air and hear the birds twittering away. It was so warm we barely needed jackets.
So, since these pictures I’ve been working on my posture a lot haha. After we started up Gunsight Pass, the rest of the ascension went downhill for me. We were up like 11,000 ft, but it wasn’t even my lungs that were tired, it was my legs. My quads were not ready for what we had to do, even with my meager hundred-plus squats a night I started doing a month before this trip. Ben went ahead because we were being too slow and he’s in major good shape. I started getting so hungry, and I was so sick of trail mix and dried mangos from Costco. Colton kept telling me to eat so I would have energy. So I told him to shut up or I would eat him.
And then we rounded the corner and saw King’s Peak. And it was positively the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen. It was a giant boulder field. Close up, the rocks looked pretty from all the lichen (see the picture above), but seriously, we came all this way and I was going to hike THAT? This was basically the last smiling picture I took until I was going back down. There were two false summits while we climbed the final peak. The boulders were unsteady and I kept imagining finding a loose one and tumbling down to my death. I had to keep telling myself that many people climb King’s Peak each year and no one had died. That I know of. I don’t really watch the news. I stopped so many times on the way up. It became a routine of climb fifty feet, stop for one minute, climb another fifty, stop for five minutes. It was very slow-going and I was pretty miserable. I kept getting hungrier but I didn’t want to eat anything (part of that was a result of the elevation; you never feel quite as hungry as you would be at lower elevation). I kept looking back at how far we’d come and thinking, “I have to freaking hike back that entire way.”
Then I was getting mad at myself for continuing the climb and not just turning around when I could. And I was mad that I wasn’t in better shape. And I was mad that the trail mix in my bag wasn’t turkey and mashed potatoes. Then, finally, I reached the top. And I was still angry and wanted to push everyone off the mountain for being so happy. Ben had been taking a nap at the top for like an hour because I was so slow.
Everyone was happy. Then there was me.Oh, you didn’t catch it? Let me zoom in.Colton thought it was wildly funny that I was so furious. He said it was the angriest he’d ever seen me. He made me a tuna sandwich, which made me feel slightly better, but I was definitely the angriest, tallest person in Utah there ever was. Several other groups arrived as we rested at the top. Someone was even able to make a call to their mom. The view was pretty great. My sister found a box that someone had placed under some rocks. (I pity the person who had to carry that up the mountain.) Inside was a sign with the elevation and a visitor’s log of sorts. Okay, I smiled for one picture. But only for one. And it was forced. At last we started going down. Then I was mad that I was so angry at the top. And that we still had so far to go. And the boulders kept moving and I started freaking myself out and hyperventilating because I was afraid I was going to fall. I had to suppress tears for a while. Then I was mad that I was almost crying. I had just done something that most of the people I know will never do. And I was going to die before I finished. I told myself I would rather do the Tough Mudder and Spartan again than this.
Clearly, I didn’t die. But I basically wanted to. The further down the mountain I got, though, the happier my mood became. The valley really was quite pretty, making up for the ugliest peak in the world. I even threw in some real smiles the closer we got to camp.
By the time we’d gotten back to camp, it was six o’clock. We’d started around nine or ten that morning. It was a darn good thing the weather was so perfect because I never would have made it to the top otherwise. Usually people have to make it up and down by noon before the thunderclouds roll in. As a result of the nice weather though, everyone got a little sunburned. We didn’t bring sunscreen because we thought it would be cloudy! Everyone we met was so surprised at how sunny it was. Colton and Ben got REALLY sunburned. Ben from napping at the summit due to my slowness. Colton from… being so white? Back at camp, we had a few hours to make dinner, relax, and, for me, stop being so angry and realize what I’d just accomplished. I don’t think it really hit me until a couple days later. It is good to know that I can push myself so hard, and that I can do whatever I put my mind to. With King’s Peak checked off my bucket list, I never have to go back! The second night I got even less sleep. Colton slept soundly on one side of me and on the other Ben wasn’t sleeping either because we were both tossing and turning. And despite all that, I didn’t want to go home the next day. I was definitely ready to, because I was exhausted and a toilet was sounding really good. But our campsite was in such a peaceful, beautiful grove of trees. It’s times like THESE that I realize I do love camping. I do like putting myself through hard things, to see how far I can push myself. I do love sleeping under the stars and being away from people, technology, and crowds. And, above all, I do love that I have a spouse who does all these things with me. I have someone who will put up with my slow-hikerness and feed me when I’m grouchy. I have someone who I can take on all my adventures.
The hike down was another eight miles. But it was a pretty fast eight miles, as it was all downhill. We’d hiked half of it in the dark going up, so at first the views were totally brand new to us. On the way down I thought about what I’d done. My personal goal for this trip was to not complain as much as I could because I was putting myself through this, no one forced me to go. While I was super angry and grouchy and hungry and tired for parts of it, I feel like I did internalize a lot of my complaining, although I still voiced some of it. I need to remember when I do things like this, and in general, that there are people who would die to be able to use their arms and legs, to be able to climb the tallest mountains, to be able to see the views that I do, to be able to hear the birds singing and chipmunks chasing each other. And that I am fortunate to have the life and body that I do. We took I-80 home, which was much faster. I fell asleep for a lot of it while Colton and Ben talked. We stopped at Pizza Hut in Evanston on the way home because we all wanted something greasy and fatty after eating nothing but granola bars and freeze-dried food for three days. (I’ll be honest though, I could probably eat Mountain House freeze-dried food for meals at home, because they are so good.) Evanston had been our stop both times because there is a natural gas station for our CNG Honda Civics. It was cheaper to drive two cars than it was for us to all fit into a Land Cruiser.
I might never go back. But there was one picture I had in mind that I didn’t take at the top, due to my angriness. So I might just have to go back to get that one picture. Or maybe I’ll get myself helicoptored up.
Tips for King’s Peak
- The weather usually changes on a whim. Bring layers!
- Bring good hiking shoes, and maybe more than one pair. I hiked up with my hiking boots but ended up summiting with my running shoes.
- Bring stuff for blisters!
- There are plenty of lakes and streams, so bring some sort of water filter.
- If you’re considering summiting, be prepared for how hard it is. If you’re in incredibly good shape, still be prepared for how hard it will be. Then if it’s easy it’ll be a pleasant surprise.
- Sunscreen and bugspray!