Hiking A1 Peak in the Uinta Mountains
Summer may be drawing to a close, but there is still time to collect one last snow-free summit. A1 Peak in the Uinta Mountains checks in at 12,377′; certainly a worthy elevation to top off your season with. The easiest summit route is from Hell Hole Basin, an oft-forgotten area that is usually devoid of crowds. The Main Fork Stillwater Trail off the Mirror Lake Highway will get you to the basin, and there are two ways to make the approach.
Approach #1: From the town of Kamas, drive northeast on Mirror Lake Highway until you reach the signed turnoff for Gold Hill Road. A few parking spots are available just off the main road. Cross the road and head due east on the Main Fork Stillwater Trail. Just a few hundred feet from the trailhead hikers will wade across the Hayden Fork River (though here it’s more of a deep stream). Just beyond the river crossing some industrious beavers have created a swampy pond area that can be avoided with some creative route finding. After this the trail becomes more obvious, though faintly traveled. Continue heading east first through open meadows before the trail becomes wooded. Hikers will eventually see an out of place sight: a sign states that a “Heavy Equipment Crossing” is just ahead, and it’s not referring to your pack. The trail ends at a maintained road that just so happens to be part of the second approach.
Approach #2: Instead of parking at Gold Hill Road, continue driving up Mirror Lake Highway and turn east at the sign for Stillwater Campground. Follow road #0057 and turn right at road #0306A. This road is an oil company exploration route and is maintained and suitable for any vehicle in dry conditions. Follow the road south for approximately 6 miles until the bridge over the Main Fork River is reached. Park on the shoulder of the road and locate the Main Fork Stillwater Trail (it’s just before the bridge on the south side and is marked with a small “Trail” sign). This approach sure beats hoofing it with a pack on the oil road, and will eliminate a lot of miles that are somewhat lacking in scenery.
You’re finally on the trail! From the bridge the hike immediately plunges into classic Uintas hiking: lodgepole pines and Engleman Spruce keep the path nice and shady as it hugs the Main Fork River. The forest is broken up by the occasional meadow, and there is little elevation gain until the climb up to Hell Hole Basin. The trail becomes rocky and steep for several hundred feet until topping out at Hell Hole Lake. The area is a gem: a high alpine lake with healthy forests on all sides, and plenty of small, clear streams to filter water from. Suitable camping spots are abundant, but remember to camp at least 200 feet from the shore.
Now to the summit! Head due south from Hell Hole Lake and ascend to the upper reaches of the basin. Aim for the obvious shoulder between A1 (southeast) and Kletting (southwest) Peaks. The terrain is a mixed bag of boulders, loose rock and grassy areas. Yes, it’s damn steep, but no special equipment outside of a good pair of boots is needed. When you arrive on the ridgeline turn east and negotiate the boulders that lead to the summit. The climb is a modest Class 3, but the views are out of this world. The summit commands spectacular vistas in all directions…pull out your map and play “name that peak” before heading back the way you came. Approach #1 is approximately a 16 mile round trip while Approach #2 is more in the 10 mile range. Whichever you choose, rest assured that A1 lives up to its name, and is a hell of a fine way to close out your summer peakbagging season.
Getting There: Both approaches begin in the town of Kamas, UT.
Maps: National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map #711: High Uintas Wilderness
Dogs: Trails and waterways are all dog friendly on this hike.