HIGH UINTAS OPENING......disaster in the making for 2015

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UPDATE:  April 22, 2015  
The Forest Service in Duchesne & Kamas still talk about nothing new until mid-May, although I suspect that it will be sooner--especially up Hades Canyon at the Grandview Trailhead, The Gateway to the Grandaddies, where no snow was visible 2 weeks ago. I will keep an eye on it and advise....and hope to be behind the snow plows when the Mirror Lake Scenic Byway opens....presently there are 32.8  inches of snow on Bald Mt. Pass.  Snow melt is now averaging about 1.5 inches/day at which rate it might all be gone by mid-May.  

April 6, 2015
This is a critical problem for Utah as 90% of all of our water comes from the High Uinta Mountain range.
 On the northwestern end of the range the Bear River flows north into Wyoming, then swings through Idaho and makes a U-turn south flowing back into Utah and the Great Salt Lake, its 500 mile length making it the longest river in the hemisphere that doesn't empty into an ocean.
All the other streams on the North Slope (Blacks, Smiths, and Henry Forks, and others, are tributaries of the Green River that forms Flaming Gorge Reservoir, then joins the Colorado flowing south to Lake Powell and further south to Lake Mead--all of it a critical system for the West.

On the Northwestern end also flows the Weber River emptying into the Great Salt Lake, as does the Provo River on the southwestern end of the range.  The other rivers and creeks on the South Slope  flow into the Green River, after providing water for the farms and communities in the Uintah Basin.

So, for Utah, and for lovers of the outdoors, like us backpackers, and others, the snow pack that accumulates in the winter, and then thaws, is crucial to keep our eyes on.

The measuring stick that tells us how the backpacking season is going to be, and when it will start, are the two paved highways that cross the northwestern and the southwestern portion.  These "measuring sticks," their openings after a long winter of being closed, tell the tale.  A road map of the western Uintas as seen below highlights the two, which are:  (1.) From Kamas, State Highway 150, called the Mirror Lake Scenic Byway, which heads east and then swings to the north over 10,759 ft. high Bald Mountain Pass, and continues north to Evanston, Wyoming;  (2.)  State Highway 35 that takes off 2 miles south of Kamas, at Francis, and climbs east over 9,485 ft. high  Wolf Creek Pass, then goes down to the North Fork of the Duchesne River, and Hanna, Tabiona, then continuing on to Duchesne.

Early this week--March 30th to April 4th, I was shocked to learn from my buddy, Ted Packard, that the Wolf Creek Pass was reported open in the Salt Lake Tribune, opening on  Monday, March 30th!   I got organized and spent my Saturday checking that out, as well as the North Fork of the Duchesne River, Hades Canyon--GATEWAY TO THE GRANDADDIES, and then back over to Kamas and the Mirror Lake Scenic Byway.  Of course I took a few photographs which I'll share with you now, as well as showing the snowfall and opening history of the two areas from  past years.

We begin climbing the hill from Highway 40, north of Heber,  up above Jordanelle Reservoir which we see is very low, with basically no run-off coming into it from the Provo River.

 From there we look east over dry, snow-free hills and see the High Uintas looming in the background, with some snow, but not very much.
I'll insert the map again, below, showing the first lap of the exploration on the southern side, heading from Francis east on Highway 35 towards Wolf Creek Pass the distance being 20 miles.

Twelve miles from Francis you come to a large parking lot and rest area with restrooms, called Nobletts Trailhead, and find the sign you see below.

On the northern slopes there is snow.  The southern slopes are most bare.

Nearby are the signs to Tabiona and Duchesne.

We are coming to the pass where a dirt road takes off to the south, but of course snowed in still.

Yes, there is still snow, but remember we are talking about April 4th, easily the earliest opening of the highway in memory.

Now we begin comparing with previous years, dates inserted in the photos.

Remember we will be comparing these previous totals with April 4th, 2015.  The above photo nearly 3 months later. Of course on April 4, 2011, I would have only been able to get to this spot using a snowmobile. For correct comparisons I will try this year to get photographs of the spots on this report on the same dates.  The difference will be incredible.

The above photograph was taken about two weeks earlier than the previous one, with basically no snow left, so each year obviously varies some, but never as extreme as it will be this year.  So below is the view on April 4, 2015...last Saturday, 2 to 3 months earlier than  the previous two pictures.

I of course had company, including quite a few cyclists you see approaching in the background.

Now we will head down to the east towards Hanna.

I insert the map again so you can remember where we are heading....with a new arrow pointing to our next destination, the North Fork of the Duchesne River.

We begin to really get concerned after dropping down 3,000 ft. and ready to cross the river and turn to the left up the canyon...."concerned" because the mountain sides are bare of snow and dry!

Before heading up the canyon, here's a view of the ranching country just a mile or so down the road toward Hanna (5 miles distant).  The High Uintas are seen rising up, again with little snow until you get to the very highest peaks in the future runoff in the next couple of months will be very little, if any at all.

Above we see the North Fork of the Duchesne River on April 4, 2015....last Saturday!.  If you didn't know any better, you maybe wouldn't be concerned, but look below how the river was nearly 3 months later in 2011 when there was a runoff--which I must add was a record runoff. 

Below is a shot of the river 9 weeks after the April 4th view I'll insert again below so you can compare.

The river is obviously very low already, with basically no runoff pending, so it can be expected to get lower as the summer arrives.

Now we continue up the canyon, the paved road now behind us and approaching Defa's Dude Ranch.  Once again, almost no snow is visible.

From the same spot of the canyon photograph, we look east, now approaching Hades Canyon you see in the photograph below.

For those who aren't familiar with the area, Hades Canyon leads to the Grandaddy Basin, one of the cherished destinations of many who love the Uintas.  Back in 1952 we had to begin our hike at the bottom and hike 10 miles to Hades Pass.  Now there is a road that takes you to the Grandview Trailhead, from which it is only 4 miles to Grandaddy Lake, and the Basin that has 26 lakes, some remote and off-trail, all full of feisty Native cutthroat,and  Eastern brook trout, and Arctic grayling.

Zooming in just a bit we see the road cut going up the side of the canyon with the lookout on the top left where you can look down on the trail climbing Lightning Ridge....some of my sweat and blood maybe still staining the trail from from my first backpack in 1952 when we hiked all night to get to the Grandaddies for the Fish Opener on the 1st Saturday in July.  Today, there is  basically no snow, and  I began getting excited thinking that the road would incredibly be open and on April 4th I could be at the Trailhead!

We soon drive by Defa's Dude Ranch, but all is quiet and not open yet.

So, apparently the well-known Saloon isn't jumping yet on the weekends as it is during the summer season.  It probably won't be too long before they warm things up.

A little further up the road we come to the turn-off to the Grandview Trailhead, and turn off, heart pounding hoping the gate will be open.

Of course, no such luck.  Just around the turn I could see the gate closed.

But, the way things are looking, I bet the road will be open and it will be possible to do my first backpack of the season into the Granddaddies in early May....which has never happened in my experience.  

UPDATING:  The Duchesne Forest Service Ranger Station just reported that by April 20th there will be an updating of accessibility to the Grandview Trailhead up Hades Canyon.

So back down the canyon to the highway and we'll now backtrack up over the pass, and down to Francis and on to Kamas and get on the Mirror Lake Scenic Byway .

Once again, to remind us, here's the map.....showing that we'll head for Kamas and explore Highway 150.

We are now about 10 miles east of Kamas, and climbing into the mountains that are so far mostly bare of snow.  Below we are 14 miles up the highway where usually the gate is closed during the winter......

......and it says it is closed, but the gate is open and the road clear, with signs that cars have kept climbing towards Bald Mountain off I go too.

Soon  spotty patches of snow are on the highway....obviously a lot of traffic packing it down. 

We come to the end of the passable road, with vehicles loaded with snowmobiles parked or loading up...........  

There was a spot carved out so vehicles with trailers could turn around.  To this point it is about 20.5 miles from Kamas, approximately about half-way to Bald Mountain Pass and the Mirror Lake area, as indicated below on the map.

I suspect that soon, at least by the end of April,  the road will be open all the way.  I'll call the Forest Service in Kamas to check on this, and insert here what I learn....but it will be incredibly early.
UPDATING: Monday, April 6, 2015.  I just talked to the Forest Service in Kamas and they report that no firm date has yet been set for the opening of the Byway.  I will keep in touch with them and report any decisions....and I hope to be behind the snowplows as they clear the highway over Bald Mt. Pass and on to Wyoming....of course coming from Wyoming the road is open all winter to the turn-off to the North Slope Road just past the Bear River Resort.

Looking to the east, we see through the trees the western facing slopes that have little snow.  Those facing south have none.

Below, looking down at the Provo River that shows no run-off, just like a small creek.

Following are photographs up on Bald Mountain Pass, and down towards Mirror lake, indicating when in those years the road was open to traffic.  Like I say, I suspect it will be open before the end of April.  Last year, 2014, it was open on May 28th.

As I have said, later on the dates indicated I will do my best to get to these areas and take photographs so we can compare one year against another, and have a better idea what to expect during the summer of 2015.

I'll be in touch, and of course be working out daily with 40 pounds on my back--one day my new weighted vest, then alternate with my  backpack--with weight distribution a bit different -- so that in my 80th year, the summer of 2015, I'll begin what I expect to be the best backpacking season of my life.....
......the 1st trip projected to be 5-7 days in the Grandadday Basin--fishing in & photographing 16 alpine lakes--catching native cutthroat trout , eastern brook trout & arctic grayling.  A couple of the lakes off-trail  never visited before, a few not visited in 60 years and never photographed, and others  just because of their incredible beauty and the love affair I have had with them and the High Uintas Wilderness for more than half a century.  Then I will proceed with some crucial backpacks to exotic and remote areas crucial to bring my High Uintas Wilderness Project to a close.

Soon I will post on this website my photo/essay explaining what I do to keep moving as in two weeks I will be into my 80th year.  It will reveal all my secrets in a writing I'm entitling:

A Fun Filled, Humorous,  Sometimes Tough, yet Wonderful Journey