How do you know if something is possible? You try it!
It’s easy to plan, guess and speculate from the computer, but there’s really only one way to KNOW and that’s to GO. There were many doubts and ways this wouldn’t work out, but a strong desire to explore this route on skis may have blinded me to the fact that winter might be over in Utah. So, we decided to try it and see, the worst case being we would learn something and make it more feasible for the future.
The plan was to do the 70 miles of Highline trail from Leidy to Mirror Lake. We shuttled a snowmobile up to Mirror Lake, locked it up to a gate, marked it on the GPS and doubled back on one sled. This stashed sled would be our ride out after coming over from the east side. The snowpack looked thin in many spots, but it looked like we could link it together. With snow levels around 9K the big concern was what will we find outside of Vernal. Only one way to find out, so we drove around the next morning.
We arrived in Vernal around 8am and drove up Dry Fork to the gate. Our hope was that we could get around the gate, or that it might be open and we could drive up to snow line. The gate was closed and so we turned around and went to the Forest Service ranger station. The receptionist put us through to a ranger who was really freaked out about our idea.
“You want to do the highline traverse NOW?!”
“Have you ever done anything like this before?”
“Do you have skis and tents?”
He had never heard of a winter attempt and he didn’t recommend it. However, he informed us of an alternate route to get the car and snowmobile up to the snow. We drove out of town and past a bunch of “soft” road closures and he met us at a gate. He saw that we were serious about this and Andrew talked to him enough to instill some faith that we sort of knew what we were getting into.
We sat and looked at the snow and did the math on mileage. We had a long ways to go just to get to the trailhead and the soggy snow was less than inviting for overland travel. With a limited timeframe and much less than ideal temps and snow quality, we decided to pull the plug. The ranger came around and was very helpful and had some great ideas on how to pull it off more efficiently.
I was really bummed to have spent a good chunk of time and effort putting this together. Andrew tried to make me feel better by mentioning that it took him 3 attempts at skiing The Grand Teton before succeeding. We did learn a ton and we have some really good ideas to see it through next season.