Descending from the peak into Painter Basin, we skirt the banks of Yellowstone Creek in a huge bowl filled with stunted pines and rushing blue water, our horizon ringed by tiered ridges. The sun sizzles our skin while the breeze simultaneously cools it. We can’t help but take another long pause, this time to yak, snack, and scratch ourselves lazily in a state of high-road aboriginalism.
The next morning, in Oweep Basin at mile 52, thick frost makes the bouldery trail around Mt. Lovenia a slick-footed struggle. Atop the broad saddle of Red Knob Pass, beneath the talus slopes of Tokewanna Peak, we gawk at the shattered tooth of 12,516-foot Mt. Beulah rearing across the gorge. Our next destination, Dead Horse Lake, shines like a milky turquoise mirror at the head of the valley. Immediately beneath us, a large elk herd grazes on an alpine shelf. Three small calves play on a snowbank, spinning and bucking like rodeo bulls. We watch for an hour, then descend to camp. Feeding trout spread rings across the calm water, and Pete heads off with his rod. I scout the wealth of five-star sunset vantage points. Like every camp so far, this one seems finer than the last.
At mile 62, we reach a junction and a choice: take the official Highline Trail and drop into forest to quickly reach the trailhead (mile 73.4), or extend our vista trek by detouring on the Head of Rock Creek Trail. Duh. We loop north another five miles to stay in the alpine zone. When faced with a quandary, always take the high road.
The way Though this trail is within striking distance of Salt Lake, you’ll need to add one day to your itinerary for the 224-mile (one way) shuttle. Go to backpacker.com/highline for complete directions.
Season July through September. Pack an ice axe for early-season. Mosquitoes are fierce around lakes in July and early August.
Map Trails Illustrated High Uintas Wilderness ($12, natgeomaps.com)
Contact (801) 789-1181; fs.fed.us/r4/ashley