Sunday, September 27, 2015

island lake

It had been just over a year since we were last in the Uintas: we just never made it out there to go camping this summer and now, with a busy October ahead of us and then ski season, we have just run out of time for camping, unfortunately.  So when we were thinking of a hike to do this past weekend, we thought a drive out to Mirror Lake Highway would be in order; there are so many day and overnight hikes out in Utah's High Uintas and we've scarcely done any.  We consulted our book, checked a blog or two, and came up with Island Lake.
A perfect reflecting pool 

We got a fairly early start, leaving the house at 7 a.m.  It takes a while to get out there, past Park City, past Kamas and twenty-seven miles down the Mirror Lake Highway, plus we had to stop a couple of times to wait for the range cattle and herds of deer to get off the road.  By the time we got to the Crystal Lake trailhead parking lot, it was pretty full and we ended up parking down the road a piece, at the horse trailer parking lot.  Since the High Uintas are not a population watershed, horses and dogs are allowed and, judging from the size of the horse parking lot, the Crystal Lake area is quite popular with trail riders.

Hiking horses

Our book said that this would be a seven mile out-and-back of moderate difficulty, with a steep section at the start and then another steep section right before Island Lake.  The hike ended up being quite a bit longer than that but was on the easy side of moderate and, compared with what H and I have hiked in the past, there is nothing on this trail that can be classified as "steep."  The trails are well-marked with wonderful cut-out metal signs.  Underfoot, the terrain ranged from sandy to hard-packed dirt to rocky, and sprinkled with horse apples from time to time.

H at Long Lake

There are hundreds of lakes in the Uintas - amazing, given how dry Utah is - and we walked by a whole bunch of them on this hike: tiny, still reflecting pools and nameless meadow potholes, as well as many named bodies of water:  Washington Lake, Weir Lake, Duck Lake, Long Lake, Long Pond, Pot Lake, Fire Lake.  

Glimpse of Long Pond

The fall colors were lovely, red and gold and pale yellows and the temperature was ideal, with a light breeze blowing depending on which side of a ridge we were on.  The glaciers must have carved out all the features - lakes, ponds, rocky ridges, cliffs - and moved on, leaving fields full of large, irregular cobbles and slabs of smooth rock behind.  It really felt like we were in the middle of nowhere.

The island of Island Lake

Despite how full the parking lot had been at the trailhead, we saw very few people.  As we went in, we met three small groups of backpackers who had spent the night at Island Lake; we spied about six people on the other side of Island Lake; and we came across several parties, most with dogs, coming in as we were going back out.  Surprisingly, we only saw two trail riders.  It would have been a lovely day for a trail ride - it was certainly a lovely day for a hike.

Nice colors

Hike stats:  10.02 miles (including the .6 mile x2 between where we parked and the trailhead); 3:49 hiking time, 4:20 trip time; average speed 2.6 m.p.h.; 1,200 feet climbed, but it was all up and down in small gains and losses.

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