Kings Peak is the highest peak in Utah. I again attempted to do a Kings Peak Triple (three consecutive summits from the trailhead, 78 miles), but again I came up short. I think this is one of the mentally toughest running accomplishments that I have attempted. I just couldn’t push myself to go out again for that long third trip. But wow! I had an incredible adventure.
This time, I started earlier so both summits #1 and #2 would be accomplished in the daylight. Then, I could take my sweet time on summit #3 during the night. It was a good plan and I stayed right to my schedule.
Trip #1, career summit #13
I reached the trialhead at Henrys Fork on Thursday evening, got everything ready and then camped in my tent. I started my triple attempt at about 3 a.m. For me, running up the Henry Fork trail in the dark is no problem, I have done it many times. I reach Elkhorn crossing at the 1:19 point, a leisurely, but good pace. As dawn approached below Gunsight Pass, the cold wind made me stop for a few minutes to warm up behind some rocks. I soon pushed on and reached Gunsight Pass at 2:27. I next made my way up through the cutoff to Andersen Basin. I love running through that basin in the early morning light. I had it all to myself. As I made the summit push which involves about a mile of boulder hopping, I fell twice, once cutting and bruising a forearm, the other time gashing a shin. But I picked myself up and kept going. I reached the summit in 4:28.
On my return trip I met several dozen groups making their way toward the Peak. They were surprised to see me running down and several asked if I had already been to the top. The run down felt great, the legs seemed fresh. I reached the trailhead in 7:58, right on schedule. I next spent 30 minutes at my car, resting my feet, restocking my food, and drinking plenty as the day was getting warm.
Trip #2, career summit #14
Heading back up, my legs really enjoyed the uphill running. For some reason on this rugged trail, my legs do better going uphill then down. Downhill is tougher because there are so many boulder obstacles in the trail. It really takes its toll on the legs and feet. As I ran up through the forest, I passed many backpacking groups who I had run by on the way down. They were all surprised to see me again. A couple of them asked what I was doing. I was tempted to say I left my wallet on the summit and needed to go back up.
As I ran on, I reached into my pocket for some S-caps and was alarmed to discovered that I had dropped the bag somewhere behind me on the trail. I knew I would suffer on this trip without enough electrolytes. I reached Elkhorn crossing in 1:33. Once past Dollar Lake, I started to run into day hikers coming back from their Kings Peak summit. I had to explain to some that I was running it again. This would always result in puzzled looks.
About a mile from Gunsight Pass, I could see two runners coming toward me with that ultrarunner look. Then I recognized them. It was Craig Lloyd and Jennilyn Eaton. Jennilyn ran by and Craig stopped for a minute to talk. Jennilyn was finishing up her triple crown run (three highest peaks in one run). She would be the first female to accomplish it. I explained I was running a triple Kings. I was still feeling great and very determined. I reached Gunsight Pass at 3:08, more than 30 minutes slower than trip #1 but still solid.
I kept watching the sky. I knew I would likely run into a storm but so far the clouds above were tame. When I reached Andersen Basin the temperature had dropped, the wind kicked up, and sleet was falling. I stopped to put on a garbage bag and gloves making me feel much warmer. As I ran on the Highline Trail, I ran into late groups coming down from their summit. One group recognized me and knew what I was doing. They were very complementary and encouraged me on.
When I reached Andersen Pass, I now had a view to the west. What I saw looked terrifying. There were huge, dark thunder storms. One of them was pounding the Porcupine Pass area to the west. Should I still try for the summit? Three other guys we were heading up. Could I make it in time? I decided to give it a try and pushed very hard up toward the summit. I stayed on the east side of the ridge to get out of the wind but occasionally I peeked over at the storms. They were still coming and getting closer. I reached the summit in 5:03. The wind at the top had some gusts of about 40 mph. One of the guys was also at the summit. I asked how he was doing and he said OK but could be better. He was taking his time with his gear. I tagged the summit and very quickly turned around.
On the way up, I had found several boulder caves where I could hunker down if needed, but my preparedness was terrible. I was in shorts, short sleeves, and only had a garbage bag. If I needed to hunker down, I would be in bad shape waiting out the storms. I decided that my only option was to get down as fast as possible and try to outrun the storms. I passed by the two other guys still making their way to the top and warned them that it was getting bad at the summit.
My run down the boulder ridge was fast and amazingly I did not fall. When would the storm really hit? Lightning and thunder were close. Could I make it across this next exposed area? Yes I did. Sleet started to fall again and the wind kicked up, but so far I was outrunning it. I looked up and the storm was hitting the summit. Where were those other guys? No one was following me. I don’t think they could run down as fast as I was going. Finally I was off the peak and at Andersen Pass. There was another bad storm to the north. I was caught between two massive storms that were heading east. Could I outrun them? I did my best to try.
As I ran across Andersen Pass, the wind and sleet pounded my back, pushing me on, but so far I was staying ahead of the worst. I looked up to Kings Peak but could not see those other guys on the ridge. They must have all hunkered down. I hoped that they would be OK. It looked like they were all dressed well. I wasn’t, so I ran like crazy.
As I ran across the shelf on the cutoff route toward Gunsight Pass, an edge of the storm hit me. The wind was terrifying. Sleet and snow blew sideways and they stung my exposed skin. It even got worse and soon I was running in a true blizzard with the wind surely more than 50 mph. I was in a very exposed area with no place to hide. My garbage bag was becoming useless, blowing all over. If I could just make it to the descent, I could get some wind protection. I pushed hard through the storm and finally started to descend through the rough path that scrambles down some steep slopes. Finally I had some protection. The sleet turned to snow. I watched the horizontal snow blowing at speeds I had never run in before. Should I hunker down? I found a good spot and stopped for a few minutes but decided that the safest thing was to push through the storm and get over Gunsight Pass, down into Henrys fork where I would find tents and help if needed.
I looked down and could see a scout troop coming up Painters Basin. They were all dressed well but moving slowly. I reached the defined trail to the pass and was slipping and sliding all over. When I reached the pass, I took a bad fall on some slippery boulders and a young scout there came over and offered me help. He was even kind enough to offer me food for my run down. I reached Gunsight in 6:12. My pace since the summit had been very fast even with my stops. I looked to the south and saw a huge, dark, massive storm pounding South Kings Peak. It was headed this direction. I hoped that the scouts would be OK and I wondered about those three guys who had now been pounded by storms for more than an hour.
I ran down into Henrys Fork and felt much safer. I passed the group I had met in the Andersen Basin and they offered me anything I needed. I said I would just try to run fast for my car. I had already decided I wasn’t going to do a third trip. It would just be too slippery and dangerous to attempt another summit during the night.
As I ran on, I kept looking back and watched that massive storm go over Gunsight Pass into Henry’s fork. Wow, it was really dropping a lot of rain. Could I keep outrunning it? The wind pounded my back with sprinkling ran. As I would run faster, the rain at my back would decrease. So far it was working. If I could make it to the forest, I would have plenty of protection. But as I reached Elkhorn Crossing (7:30) the storm had changed direction. I had indeed outrun it. For the last six miles I took my sweet time. The sun went down and the skies cleared. I reached the trailhead at dark. Trip #2 had taken me 9:33.
In my mind, I went through the list of excuses for not going up a third time. It was a nice long list, but still excuses. I was ready to go home. Basically getting caught in those storms had been scary and draining. I had lost focus on the goal and had didn’t drink and eat as I should.
On the bright side, my double Kings Peak time including all my stops was 18:05, about an hour faster than my two previous doubles. Also, I had summited Kings Peak four times in the past eight days. Surely no one else had ever done that before. No one else has ever accomplished a double and I have now done that three times. I have now summited Kings Peak 14 times.
I reached home at 1 a.m. and felt pretty thrashed, much more than I usually do for a 50-miler.