Ascent to Mount Emmons-Swift Creek Basin on 1994-07-14

Climber: Greg Slayden

Other People:Solo Ascent
Date:Thursday, July 14, 1994
Ascent Type:Unsuccessful - Turned Back
Point Reached:Mount Emmons - Swift Creek Basin
    Elevation:11500 ft / 3505 m
    Remaining Elevation:1940 ft / 591 m (36% left to go)

Ascent Trip Report

Thursday, July 14:

I got up at 5:45 AM, moved my car from the campground spot a few yards over to the trailhead parking at the Swift Creek road-end area, and then shouldered up my full pack as I set off up the trail to start a planned two-day backpacking trip into the Uinta Mountains of Utah. My goals were twofold: to haul a heavy pack uphill at high altitude as conditioning for Mt. Rainier; and to climb Mt. Emmons, at 13,440 feet the third highest peak in Utah. I had climbed Kings Peak, highest in Utah, in May, 1989, and also thought I might take a stab at making a second ascent, since it was also pretty close.

I hiked up the Swift Creek trail for several hours, toiling up steep uphill with my heavy pack, having to wade across the raging stream once up into the main valley, and finally hike along through endless forest before finally emerging into the huge, wide above-timberline Swift Creek Basin, ringed by steep, ugly talus slopes on three sides and dotted with lakes and meadows. After a long search I found a good campsite, at 11,000 feet in a narrow meadow sheltered by trees on the far side of the huge, ugly rocky dam of East Timothy Lake that I assumed was a vestige of earlier mining. I was happy to have hauled my heavy pack up 3,000 feet in five hours, good training for what I was facing on Rainier in a few days.

Once my tent was set up I set off to see if I could climb Mt. Emmons, but I wasn't optimistic. It was very overcast out, threatening rain, and Emmons was a big, ugly, round mound of talus presenting only steep, 2,000 foot slopes of loose rock to the basin I was in. I made towards it anyway, without trail, and after quite a bit of farting around and climbing up the talus a few hundred feet, I decided to bag it, since the it was still very cloudy, and I didn't want to be caught up high in a thunderstorm, nor did I relish descending crummy rock once it was wet. Even when not wet it was no fun. I certainly could have gone up Emmons, but somehow I just wasn't in to it. Also, I realized that I had no film in my camera--I thought I had a new roll, but it was an empty canister instead.

Since it was still early, I decided to cruise around and explore the massive Swift Creek Basin a bit. From below Emmons I hugged the east walls of the basin up towards its head, where I saw a ramp of sorts that appeared to give easy access to the surrounding ridges. I thought I'd climb the ramp, but now it was getting late, and although still overcast, I knew in my heart that rain was very unlikely, but with both Emmons and Kings peak far from the ramp anyway, I blew it off, too.

I took a direct but scenic route back to my tent, passing Upper Carroll Lake and crossing several boggy areas. Back at my tent I filtered some water as it sprinkled very lightly, took a nap, and then tried to cook up some dinner, failing when I couldn't get my stove started. I gave up, and after close examination, realized that I was forgetting to put the flame spreader on. It worked much better now, and I cooked up some beef and potatoes. It was still light out, but, with nothing to do, I lay down in my tent and soon drifted off to sleep as darkness fell.

I hadn't seen another person all day, which I found incredible, especially in mid-July. As I contemplated this while falling asleep, I realized that the only other calendar day in my life when I hadn't seen another living person had been May 19, 1989, the day I had climbed Kings Peak (I hadn't seen other people on April 25, 1989, the day I climbed Mt. Elbert, but I did hear cars going by on a road a few yards away). The Uinta Mountains and solitude seemed to go together whenever I was there. The only problem was one I had noticed back in 1989: an awful lot of jet airplane noise, probably from all the air traffic headed for Salt Lake City.

Friday, July 15:

It was a beautiful, clear morning in Swift Creek Basin in the Uinta Mountains of Utah, and I thought I'd try again to climb Mt. Emmons or Kings Peak, but I decided not to. Although I would have loved to hang out and explore the Uintas for a few days, I really had to get going. I had promised my brother Glenn that I would arrive at his place near Seattle on Sunday for our climb of Mt. Rainier, and didn't want to postpone that--he was eager to go, and I felt bad about holding him up any longer than I already had.

So I packed up my tent and hiked back down the Swift Creek trail to my car, a long, hot, dusty hike, mainly through open forest, with the only real obstacle the stream crossing where I had to wade. There were no good sticks to use for support, and I almost fell over walking through the cold water in my bare feet. The first other people I saw were some trail crew workers coming the other way--I asked them if they were going to build a bridge, but they weren't. On the final downhill my right ankle began to hurt a bit, a troubling development, but it was just a very dull ache. When I was within sight of the parking area I saw a horse party heading up the Yellowstone Creek trail, off of which the Swift Creek Trail split only a hundred yards from my car.

Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:3380 ft / 1030 m
    Trailhead:8120 ft / 2474 m
    Quality:3 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Open Country, Stream Ford
    Gear Used:
Tent Camp
    Nights Spent:1 nights away from roads
    Weather:Hot, Breezy, Overcast

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