Read about my complete Uinta Highline Trail experience, including prep, gear, logistics, and post-hike impressions.
There are two aspects of logistics that I want to talk about—getting my gear to Utah, and getting to/from the trail.
Getting my gear to/from Salt Lake City
This is my first time to fly with my gear. As my map will show, I usually drive on my adventures. I’ve mailed my gear across the country, but I’ve never actually checked it as luggage. The last time I mailed my gear, it arrived with my trekking poles exposed for all the world to see. By the time I got home, the box was more tape than cardboard. I’ve invested a lot of money in my gear, and I want it to make it to my destination in good condition.
Some people just tighten all the straps on their packs and hope for the best. I don’t trust airline employees nearly enough for that. Between the straps, zippers, and mesh pouches, something is going to get snagged on the conveyor belt. So I opted instead to buy some cheap duffel bags on Amazon just to keep my kit dialed in. Plus, I had to figure out a way to check my trekking poles and other pieces of gear that aren’t allowed in the cabin of the airplane.
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The duffel bag folds into its own internal pocket when not in use. If you look at the photo above, you’ll see a fully packed 55-liter backpack and 5 days’ worth of food in an odor-proof Opsack. Everything fit pretty well inside the duffel. I’d rather it be snug than loose. We plan to use these bags to transport our gear to Utah and then hold our other belongings in the trunk of the rental car while we’re out on our hike. After the hike, we’ll swap our regular clothes and accessories back to our day packs and stow our overnight gear back in the duffels.
I don’t even care whether or not these bags survive the trip. I just need them to transport our gear safely from place to place and then they can be retired. I’d rather them last, but at $15 per bag, who really cares?
Getting to/from the trail
The Unita Highline Trail (UHT) is one of the few east-west mountain ranges in the USA. Being so close to Salt Lake City, it makes sense that you would hike it east to west and end your hike back in the city. The whole trail is around 105 miles long, but there are several trailheads to break the trail into shorter sections. As I’ve explained before, I’m only doing the 65 westernmost and highest miles of the trail. It starts in the High Sierra (over 10,000 feet) and tops out at 13,527 feet at King’s Peak, the highest point in Utah.
When I hiked the John Muir Trail (JMT) last year, I started in Yosemite. Fortunately, there were options for public transportation. There are no such options in the High Uintas. I put out a listing for a shuttle driver on several digital platforms. I will have a rental car and am planning to leave that car at Hayden Pass, the eastern trailhead. I offered to pay $250 for someone to meet me at Hayden Pass and drive my girlfriend and me to Chepeta Lake. The drive is 157 miles (around 4.5 hours). So if someone if from Salt Lake City, they would be in the car all day.
When I was in college, I would have jumped at the chance to earn $250 to basically sit in a car and listen to music all day. I received zero responses. So I scheduled a ride with a charter bus line out of Vernal, Utah, for $400. It’s a steep price, but what can you do? I don’t know anyone in the area and it seems that $25 per hour is an insultingly low wage for a driver.
Update 2019: Wilkins Bus Line is no longer in business.
We’re planning to get a big breakfast and then drive the 2 hours from Salt Lake City to Hayden Pass. On the way there, we’re stopping at a gas station in Kamas (Chevron, 2 N Main St, Kamas, UT 84036) to purchase a parking pass ($12) for the trailhead. I’ve been informed that any car left overnight without a pass will be ticketed.
The shuttle driver will meet us at our car at Hayden Pass drive take us the remaining 4½ hours to the Highline Trail junction at Chepeta Lake. I asked and they will provide USB chargers in the bus. I get very anxious about tech charging in the wilderness and want to start my hike at full power on all of my devices.
We’re hoping to crank out 7 or 8 miles on the first afternoon and then do around 12 miles or more per day over the next 5 days. Then we’ll get back to the car and drive the 2 hours back to Salt Lake where we have an AirBnB in a mixed-use development downtown with a washer/dryer in the unit, an exercise facility, and a pool/hot tub. Then we’ll feast like every meal is our last meal before flying back home.
The shuttle ride was exactly what I thought it would be like. The driver was very nice and talked the whole way. The ride lasted over 6 hours, but we went very slowly up the mountain to Chepeta Lake in order to let a hailstorm blow over. We didn’t experience any trouble leaving the rental car at the trailhead. I learned that the rangers regularly patrol the lots looking for permits and deterring theft/vandalism. I should add that there’s a privy in the lot, so you’ll have that going for you if you have to spend a long time waiting for your ride.
The duffel bags worked perfectly. They easily held my 52-liter pack with 5½ days’ worth of food. I unloaded some things from my backpack into the duffel to keep the load balanced, but I mostly left the backpack trail-ready. The most important thing I did was fold a bandana over and over and use a rubber band (from my lightweight cook kit) to blunt the tips of my trekking poles. I wanted to prevent a puncture. While we were out on the trail, these duffel bags held all of our other clothing safely in the trunk of the rental car. I would absolutely buy these bags again.
Next: Meal Planning