The Ultra Experience

Here's to the adventures of my life which are usually ultra marathon trail running or fly fishing but may include other trips, experiences, thoughts, opinions, or pretty much whatever I want. As co-founder of Altra Footwear my life and adventures seemingly revolve more around developing and promoting the best footwear in the world...and I love it!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Uintah Highline Trail Run

For those who don't know what the Highline Trail is, it is a 70 mile stretch of designated wilderness in the High Uintah Mtns of North Eastern Utah. It has some of the most remote primitive and unknown mountains in America. Having wanted to do this trail for years, I concocted a plan this summer to fastpack it. Including my sleeping bag, water, food, and clothing, my total pack was 15 lbs! (For a full list of items I took on this ludicrous journey e-mail me). My excursion took place on the 16th-17th of August 2007. With the record on this trail being just under 30 hours I hoped to possible even set a new record. Getting to the trailhead was more of a journey than I thought as my 8:16 am start shows or my dad will tell you. Once at the trailhead I quickly started my journey. The first section of trail went by easily. I felt great and the trail was comparibly smooth. In fact the whole day was like that. It was one of the best running/hiking days of my life. My pace was little more than a power walk but I knew I had a long way to go. The only problem I had all day was going up Anderson Pass when I started feeling a little dizzy, probably due to the rapid gain of elevation which had quickly risen to over 12,000 ft, so I laid down for 30 minutes. My favorite section of trail was in the late afternoon. From Tunsten Pass over Porupine Pass was incredible. With the sun setting I quickened the pace in attempts to cover as much ground as possible while it was still light and I felt amazing. Once it was dark my pace slowed down drastically. The trail became increasingly difficult to follow and I even got lost for about 20-25 minutes. At one point in a meadow full of willows I spooked a pair of moose that must have been 20-30 ft from me. They luckily ran quickly in the opposite direction as my heart rate SLOWLY came down. Luckily the trail was pretty good and with my trusty headlamp I kept trudging along. I knew that if I had any chance of setting the record I would have to continue though most of the night. Sadly, after running for over two hours in the dark and approaching Red Nob Pass the trail became extremely difficult to follow and I was at tree line. Up to this time it had only sprinkled on me for 10 minutes earlier in the day but with lightening in the distance, hardly a trail to follow, with few trees up ahead, and a serious pass to get over I made the cautious choice by stopping and waiting until it got light. At 2:00 am the storm hit with full force put I was tucked under a pine tree wrapped in my sleeping bag and tarp. My watch alarm was set for 4:45 am since it started to get light around 5:15 am. Unfortunately I didn't hear it and at 5:30 am I awoke suddenly, looked at my watch, and scampered up to get going. The day didn't continue much better. It was raining as it would for most of the day and I had a long way to go. Red Knob Pass and Dead Horse Pass were incredible beautiful and I made pretty good time through that section but heading through Rock Creek Drainage with 12-15 miles to go my feet got angry. The miles added up especially those past few hours in the rain. I powered on but the weather had different ideas. Nearing Rocky Sea Pass a sudden lightening storm hit. With lightening striking all around me I huddled under a small grove of pine trees. At this point with the length of the night stop, the weather and my feet the speed record was gone but during a pause in the storm I hurried over the last major pass. From here is was merely 9 miles to the finish. With heavy legs and sore feet I kept moving...that is until the next lightening storm hit me. This one was something fierce. It was one of the most incredible displays of lightening I had ever seen. Unfortunately, I was too wet, tired, and scared to enjoy it. It wasn't all that scary until, when in lightening position huddled under a pine tree, lightening struck merely 30-40 yds away. I literally was knocked to the ground immediately and with one painfully ringing ear I sat for another 20 minutes. By this point the trail was all puddles and mud. With 4 miles left my blisters had experienced enough and ripped open. With some help from my friends moleskin and athletic tape I arrived to the trailhead tired and in pain. I'd acquired some mean blisters and a multiple personality but we did it! It took me 31 hours and 59 minutes but I was done. My wife was there to greet me and take me to get a burger. Will I ever do this again? Maybe...maybe not. Maybe in 6 days. Yes, that sounds much more enjoyable. However, if I were to go for the record it would have to be like the current record holders; in one fell swoop with a GPS. If I hadn't stopped for 6 hours at night or spent over an hour huddled under trees during lighting storms I very easily believe that I could have set the record. Now racing this, and going all out some ultra runner might even be able to break 24 hours! It would be very difficult though. Below are my splits for all of you aspiring record holders and/or if you are just interested. Happy trails!

Start/Chepeta Lake: 0:00.00 8:16 AM
Kidney Lake 3:59.38 12:15 PM
Anderson Pass 8:48.55 5:04 PM
Tungsten Pass 10:35.59 6:51 PM
Porcupine Pass 11:43.35 7:58 PM
Camp/Upper Lake Fork River 14:59.44 11:14 PM
Red Rob Pass 21:34.52 5:51 AM
Dead Horse Pass 24:19.19 8:35AM
Rocky Sea Pass 28:38.53 12:54PM
Hayden Pass/Finish 31:59:02 4:15PM


Lese Holzapfel said...

Great job!

Fast Eddy said...


Nice job! My friend and I did the Highline trail on August 2nd this year, ironically 1 day before Davey Crockett. Although we started at Leidy peak, another 18 miles to the east. Leidy peak is where the trail really begins. We covered the 78 miles (Leidy peak to Butterfly lake)in 46 hours walking only. I've done Hard Rock 2 times and Wasatch 3 times and have to say that the Highline is tougher than Wasatch and comparable to Hard Rock.

Congrats again!
Scott Jaime

Anonymous said...

Brian -

Is there a reason you did not start your Uinta run from the west side at Mirror Lake?

Mike Fowler

Anonymous said...

Actually, the Highline Trail runs from Leidy Peak Trailhead to Hayden Pass on the Mirror Lake Highway. Chepeta Lake cuts off about 17 miles of the eastern end of the trail. Crocket claims that Chepeta to Hayden is about 70 miles. Huh, my gps said 53.

Certainly fast paces for the trail, and congrats on doing it so fast. Crockett's account would be better if not for his self-congratulatory tone. Besides, I know ultrarunners like Creighton King and Rob Landis did this trail in a day back in the 1980s, and didn't bother to record their 'records', so the idea of a record-holder is amusing.

The hike/run generally goes from east to west because the scenery crescendos in that direction, and it's better to do your sketchy TH work before, rather than after, your journey, to avoid disaster with no time cushion.

Great trip. Nice pics too. Empathy about the lightning, this place can rawk.

mojan said...

Congrats! This seems like a trail and a half. I am looking into doing it but over 3 days. Everyone thinks that is ridiculous but I have gained more hope now that I have seen others do it quicker. I would like to see what your packing list was and see if you have any tips for camping sites if I am trying to camp only 2 nights. Thanks for your help and I wish you the best.

Davy said...

Highline trail is calling me back. I might try it again this weekend, perhaps starting at Leidy. Storms could be similar to your adventure.