Thursday, July 31, 2014

When Kings Peak wasn’t Utah’s ‘tallest’

                               The view from the southeast side of Kings Peak.

By Lynn Arave

Kings Peak, High Uintas, hasn’t always been recognized as the highest point in Utah.
An April 15, 1911 Ogden Standard-Examiner article stated that Emmons Peak in the Uintas, at 13,694 feet above sea level, was tallest. That was the general belief of that year.
(In reality, Emmons is today’s 4th tallest in the Utah at 13,440 feet.)
However, just two years later, the Vernal Express newspaper on Jan. 23, 1913 stated that South Kings Peak was the state’s tallest summit at 13,498 feet. North Kings was second at 13,496 feet.
It stated that a "South Baldy" and a "North Baldy" were previously thought to be Utah's tallest summits at 12,210 and 12,680 feet above sea level.
-Back in 1881, it was even more sketchy. According to the Salt Lake Tribune of Aug. 18, 1881, Gilbert's Peak was believed to be Utah's tallest at 13,687 feet above sea level. Kings Peak was not even mentioned back then.
-In 1903, it wasn't much more accurate. A Salt Lake Tribune article from Dec. 8, 1903 reported that Uintah County surveyors were claiming that Emmons Peak was tallest in the state at 14,449 feet above sea level. (They were just 1,009 feet off the mark!)
-The Richfield Reaper newspaper of April 5, 1906 reported that a Mount Hodges had supposedly been name by U.S. surveyor Clarence King in the 1800s, but that now no one seems to know where that peak actually is. The newspaper called it "the largest unlocated peak in Utah." Could that have been today's South Kings Peak? Perhaps.
-The Salt Lake Tribune of April 10, 1914 finally got its somewhat right: it had Kings Peak as tallest at 13, 498, followed by Mount Emmons, 13,428 and Gilbert Peak, 13, 422.
(Lacking satellite measurements, North Kings would not be correctly named highest in the state until 19666.)
-The Roosevelt Standard newspaper reported on Aug. 20, 1924 that members of Salt Lake’s Wasatch Mountain Club had hiked Kings Peak (today's South Kings Peak). On top, they “salted the peak,” by placing a bottle o briny water from the Great Salt Lake on its lofty summit.
The water bottle also had the signatures of Utah Governor Charles R. Mabey and others on it.

A 1940s map pegged Kings Peak as the state's tallest at 13,498 feet above sea level.

A Jan. 30, 1947 article in the Vernal Express newspaper stated that in the mid-1940s, two men climbed North Kings Peak and constructed a two-foot high monument on the highest part of the summit.
Then, one of the men proclaimed, "There, that makes them even."
Other newspapers of the era referred to the "twin Kings Peaks."
For 53 years, that was the accepted belief, that South Kings, was tallest in the Beehive State. So, anyone hiking Utah’s tallest in that time period went to the southern peak, missing or passing by the actual tallest peak – (North) Kings Peak at 13,528 feet.
In June of 1961, a helicopter crash landed on Kings Peak. The crewmen walked away unharmed, but this crash took place on today's South Kings Peak. (Good thing too, as South Kings has a lot more usable space on top. If they would have crashed on today's Kings Peak, the copter likely would have slid down hundreds of feet on one side or the other.)
It wasn’t until 1966 that new measurements by satellite proclaimed the north Kings as highest and re-measured South Kings Peak to be second-highest at 13,512 feet.
(Ironically the U.S. Forest Service had placed the first official plaque on Kings Peak one year earlier in 1965. Back then, it estimated that only 30 people a year hiked on average to the summit.)

          The view looking down from Anderson's Pass to Heny's Fork,west of Kings Peak.

Kings Peak, Duchesne County, though it is the king of Utah peaks, is actually named for Clarence King of the U.S. Geological Survey, who explored the Uinta Mountains from 1968-1871. He was later the director of the Geological Survey.
By the 1970s, the Forest Service had a metal plaque on the correct tallest Kings Peak. However, that plaque vanished in the late 1990s, presumably by vandals, who either took it, or cast it off nearby cliffs.
 There's also a legend about Sir Edmund Hillary, one of the first two men to conquer Mt. Everest in 1953, that he also climbed Kings Peak.
This is actually a true story, but it happened in the summer of 1978 when Sears and Kellwood (an outdoor equipment manufacturer), was testing camping gear in the Yellowstone drainage of the High Uintas.
Hillary, age 59 then, was said to have had little trouble hiking Kings Peak and the Uintas.
(No stranger to Utah, Hillary had also floated the Green River during 1969, as part of the centennial commemoration of John Wesley Powell's 1869 original exploration of the area.)
Dozens a day each summer are likely hiking to Kings Peak in the 21st Century.
Most popular starting point is the Henry’s Fork trailhead, accessed by seven miles of paved road and almost 20 miles of dirt road from Mountain View, Wyo.
Roundtrip hike distance is 30 miles, with a 4,128-foot elevation gain. The last mile is a scramble over large, loose slabs of rock.

               The author atop South Kings Peak, with Kings Peak in the background.

By the 1990s, some hikers began taking a steep, rock slide "shortcut," that directly accesses Anderson's Pass, instead of taking the traditional path over Gunsight Pass.
Kings Peak can be hiking in one, long extreme day, but most do conquer it in a two, or three-day backbacking trip and camping over at places like Dollar Lake.
At least one Salt Lake group snowshoes or cross country skis to Kings Peak each winter.
Not surprisingly, though Kings Peak is remote and almost 30 air miles from the nearest town, there is pretty good cell phone reception there (though in the surrounding valleys it is almost non-existent).
Danger from lightning storms is the key danger atop Kings Peak.
-Finally, a helicopter crashed on Kings Peak on June 16, 1961. This "Kings Peak" back then was actually today's South Kings Peak, state's second tallest. The crew was able to walk away and eventually met a rescue party. The copter was repaired and all traces of it were removed. (-From the Uintah Basin Standard Newspaper of June 22, 1961.)

(-Some material originally published by Lynn Arave in the Ogden Standard-Examiner on July 25, 2014.) 

-NOTE: The author, Lynn Arave, is available to speak to groups, clubs, classes or other organizations about Utah history at no charge. He can be contacted by email at:  

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