The Uinta Highline

By Erik Barrus

My daughter is 2 years old and has already figured out how much I cherish being in the backcountry. Whenever I am not at home and she is wondering where I am, my wife will often tell her, “Daddy is at work”, and without hesitation my daughter will stomp her foot and with all authority state, “No, Daddy hike!”

 I have always found deep solace and serenity in the mountains. I was blessed to grow up in Montana where the mountains were always just out the back door. I have always loved hiking because it allowed me to be more in tune with nature and find places that were unique and awe-inspiring. I believe the word “awesome” has lost so much of its impact due to it being commonplace in our vernacular and used so flippantly. The Uinta Highline put me in jaw-dropping awe more times than I can count.

I had wanted to hike the Uinta Highline Trail for probably three or four years before this last summer; since I had first moved to Utah. So, finally this year in January my buddy and I decided it was time to do it! We bought some maps and started to figure out how many days we would take to hike it along with all of the other nitty gritty details. My initial suggestion was quite ambitious. “Let’s do it in five days”, I told my buddy. His counter was 10 days, to which I said, “Hell no”. We eventually settled on seven days.

Fast forward through six months of arduous planning and we were out on the trail. We started our hike the last few days of July to give ourselves the best chance at decent weather. Most of the Uinta Highline is above 10,000 ft and thus subject to some pretty insane weather, not to mention that the trail is only free of snow for 4-6 weeks out of the year. As a side note, there was another group that started just a couple weeks after we finished the Highline that had to eject early due to heavy snowfall…in August!

So we started out on our sojourn through the wilderness. The first 20-mile section of the hike starts in an infamously “dry section”. There is basically no water in this section so you need to start with what you will need for the entire first day of hiking. We planned out how much we would need and everything went absolutely according to plan. That would have been really awesome if that were the case. Something about the best laid plans comes to mind. By the end of the day we were drinking water out of a mud puddle that we happened upon that was laden with all sorts of protozoa that wanted nothing more than to give our merry band of men the screaming shits. Luckily in our months of planning we decided water filters would be a good thing to bring.

That first day saw 18+ miles hiked, litters of whiz water consumed, and setting up camp in the rain. Little did we know that we were in for a week of rain. Good thing my name isn’t Gizmo or we would have had some problems.

Time on the trail gives one a multitude of opportunities to reflect on things other than hiking through never-ending boulder fields. I thought of my family, I thought of dreams and aspirations, I processed deeply-seated traumas, I laughed with my friends, I cried my eyes out, I cursed the heavens, I experienced communion with unseen forces. I felt the wrath of God in what was the scariest storm I have ever experienced while being outdoors. Our second night camping there was a lightning storm that rolled in and shook the earth. While the storm moved directly over our heads I literally had to place my hands on my tent poles to keep my tent from succumbing to the intense winds that were rolling off the mountain side. For a solid hour and a half I sat there rethinking all of my life choices. Luckily, I was able to go back to sleep and woke to the most picturesque fog-laden lake.

The coming days we hiked 115+ miles, climbed over 20,000+ feet of elevation, summited Utah’s highest point, gazed upon the most pulchritudinous peaks and valleys, completed eight mountain passes, covered countless marshes, and accrued almost zero injuries save a few blisters and just a teensy hairline fracture in someone’s foot. My favorite trail encounter was definitely when I went skinny dipping with a salty ol’ curmudgeon from Australia who flew to the States just to hike the Highline which tells you a little something of how amazing this hike truly is.

I highly encourage anyone who thinks that they might be capable of doing a long distance hike to take the plunge. It is a great way to challenge yourself and experience something that few people are able to. The outdoors are not there for us to conquer but they are for us to experience. Go experience the unmatched difficulty, beauty and peace that only Mother Gaia can provide.

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