The 50-Mile Hike

The Boy Scouting program was active and successful in Troop 3 sponsored by the Vernal 3rd Ward.  However, the Explorer program always seemed to struggle.  Scouting had much more structure, as most scouts were involved in earning merit badges and working toward achieving the Eagle rank.  Some continued to work toward their Eagle award in Exploring, but most had either already received it or had lost interest.

A vibrant Explorer Post requires having a leader that can positively direct the interests of 16-18 year olds who were now most interested in their new found freedoms of driving and dating.  In 1964 our Post got a new leader, Brother Tonks.  After a few months of unsuccessfully trying to keep us interested in reviewing various career options, he knew that he was losing the battle to keep us focused.  To peak our interest he suggested that the Post work toward earning the 50-Miler, a scouting award that required, as the name implies, a hike of at least 50 miles.

Living, as we did, at the foot of the Uinta Mountains , we had many potential hiking sites: Ashley National Forest , Dinosaur National Monument , the Book Cliffs and the High Uintas.  As we discussed the possibilities for our hike, it soon became apparent that the group preferred hiking through what would later be designated the High Uinta Wilderness Area.  The high Uinta Mountains were virtually unspoiled wilderness with a large number of peaks towering over 12,000 feet.  Primitive trails led to dozens of mountain lakes.

So we began to make plans for a 50-mile hike.  Dates had to be set.  Transportation to starting point and from the ending point had to be arranged. Maps had to be obtained and a route selected.  Camping and hiking gear had to be gathered and in some cases purchased. Menus had to be decided upon and a shopping list created.   Individuals were given various tasks.  Expecting us to take more responsibility than we had as Scouts, Brother Tonks took a backseat and relied on the Explorers to make the plans and carry them out.  He and Larry Larsen would accompany us on the hike but have little other involvement.

I was assigned to get maps.  Bob Westwood volunteered to get a pack horse to carry the general camp and cooking supplies.  Daryl Nelson was assigned to make the menus and buy the food.  Another Explorer was to make a list of supplies that each Explorer should bring.  Craig Hammond was to arrange for transportation.  Someone else was to make a schedule and set the dates and times.

In the weeks proceeding our hike, each Explorer meeting was consumed by our planning and discussion of the hike.  Maps were reviewed and a route of approximately 53 miles was selected.  A date was set – late enough in the summer that most of the trails would be free of snow and the many small lakes along the trail would have thawed.  Menus were discussed and the decision made to eat as a group in order to reduce the need for multiple sets of cooking equipment.  We discussed proper hiking boots, rain gear and good backpacks. Supply lists were passed out.  Fishing licenses were obtained.

Before we knew it, the date had arrived.  We met at the church at 6 am on a Monday morning to check packs and divide up the food supplies, so that each Explorer carried his fair share of the communal food.  The packs seemed very heavy but not as heavy as they would later that day. There were eight Explorers and two leaders.

A few of the parents had agreed to transport us to the jumping off point at the border of the wilderness area.  No motorized vehicles were allowed in the wilderness area.  We arrived at our starting point about 10 am .  Our schedule called for hiking about 11 miles the first day. 

Our progress was much slower than we had anticipated.  New boots soon caused blisters on many feet, requiring numerous stops to attend to the wounds.  Some of the group found the steepness of the trail and hiking with a heavy pack beyond their level of conditioning and frequent rest stops were also required.  On a few occasions the trails were not well marked and we had to spend time reviewing our maps to avoid getting lost.

Finally, after what seem like an eternity and well past dark, we arrived at our planned camping spot on the shores of a small lake.  We pitched our tents in the dark, ate a light dinner around a roaring fire and retired for much needed rest.

The next morning we tried our luck at fishing in the small lake.  We soon found that small, cold mountain lakes produce very small fish.  We only kept two fish each about 6 inches long.

As we gathered our food supplies to make breakfast, it became apparent that a normal breakfast would consume almost all of our breakfast supplies.  Something in our planning had gone wrong.  We then decided it was prudent to look at our lunch and dinner supplies as well.  We had a significant problem – not enough food.  Daryl Nelson had purchased the food for the menu we had created together. His only mistake was not multiplying the amount needed by the number of hikers.  We had enough food for one person for five days or for five people for one day but not enough for 10 people for 5 days.  Luckily, we had not eaten much for dinner and Daryl had been generous in buying for one person. 

After considerable discussion, we decided to continue our hike.  If we turned back, there would be no one to pick us up and none of us knew how far we would have to hike to get to a phone.  So we would go ahead, but on a greatly reduced diet.  We would intensify our fishing hoping to supplement our otherwise meager foodstuffs.  Try as we might, we could not create a menu that would last beyond Thursday night.  That would leave us all day Friday and Saturday morning without any food after three days of highly reduced caloric intake.

As we broke camp and started up the trail toward our next planned camp, we were not a happy group.  But the beauty of the mountains around us soon lifted our spirits.  We only hiked about 6 miles this second day, so we arrived at our next camp early in the afternoon.  The area was heavily wooded and the lake very small.  There were three other lakes nearby and we spent the afternoon either fishing or resting.  We were more successful at resting than at fishing.  The few fish that were caught were added to a kind of mulligan stew we made that evening. 

We arose late on Wednesday and hiked only about five miles to our next camping spot.  We passed two small lakes.  Brief attempts at fishing these lakes were not fruitful.  We did see a moose and her calf across the second lake.

Our third camp was on the edge of a beautiful meadow covered with wildflowers and mountain grasses.  A clear blue lake, the most beautiful we had yet seen, spread out to the east.  We made camp, hobbled our pack horse in the meadow so that it could graze to its heart’s content and headed to the lake for the increasingly important fishing. 

Having four or more hours to fish did not improve our catch significantly.  We ended the day with six small fish.  There was another lake less than a mile to the east.  So the plan was to try our luck at this lake early the next morning.

After a less than satisfactory dinner, we sat around the campfire telling tall tales until after midnight and finally retired to our tents. At sunrise a few of the group headed for the new lake.  Bob Westwood and I when out to the meadow to check on the pack horse before heading to the second lake to fish. 

The early morning sunrays spread out across the meadow causes a light haze to rise from the warming grasses.  We would have enjoyed our visit to the meadow if we had found the horse there, but we did not.  We rushed back to camp to get help locating our pack horse.  Only two others remained in camp; the others having gone fishing.  We headed off in pairs in search of the runaway horse.  By noon we returned to camp empty handed.  Those that had gone fishing had returned and over a very meager lunch we began to plan our search operation.  Just as we were finishing, we heard horses approaching from the south along the trail.  Much to our surprise not one but two horses emerged from the trees.  The first had a rider holding the reins to our missing pack horse. 

“This your horse?” the rider asked.

“Yes.” We answered in unison and with much delight.

“Well, I guess she wanted to go home.  She was three miles down the trail.”

We never did find the hobble or learn how the horse got it off.  For the rest of the trip, we tied her to a tree each night.

Now well after noon , we still had to hike over the summit and to our next camping spot.  Luckily it was another relatively short hike of five or so miles.  A mile or so up the trail we crossed the tree line, the altitude above which trees no longer grow.  The views became spectacular but the trail was more difficult as it crossed a large outcropping of gray shale.  At the summit we could clearly see Kings Peak to the west, the highest mountain in Utah at 13,528 feet.  To the south we could see the high mountain desert extending to the Book Cliffs and the Green River .  To east we could see numerous peaks in the Uinta Mountain Range, the highest and most significant mountain range running east and west in the continental United States .  As we began to descend the other side of the summit, we took comfort in knowing that most of the remaining hike would be downhill.

Not far below the summit was another small lake where we would spend Thursday night.  Here we caught no fish.  Our Thursday dinner was to be our last full meal of the trip and we were going to make the most of it.  We had conserved as much food as possible and using as much creativity in cooking as 16-18 year-old boys have, we fixed our feast.  We carefully divided up the results of our efforts onto ten plates.

David Schafermeyer anxiously took his plate and went looking for a place to sit down.  As he crossed the campsite he tripped on a hidden root and dropped his plate which promptly landed face down in the dirt.  Not to be denied, David removed the plate, took his fork and ate this last meal right off of the ground.

Friday’s hike would be our longest at just over fourteen miles.  Luckily the weather was cool and the trail most downhill, but by late afternoon each of us was mighty hungry.  We camped on a relatively large lake that proved to be the best fishing lake we had found.  The thirteen fish we caught, fried in salt and butter, provided our only meal that day and one of the best tasting meals we had ever had or would ever have or so it seemed at the time.

Saturday dawned with dark clouds on the horizon and we knew that our rain gear would come in handy on our ten mile hike to the pickup point.  As we broke camp we placed every morsel of food we had on a single plate.  There was one cube of butter, a cup of sugar and a small box of raisins. We divided the butter into four portions, the sugar into four portions and the small box of raisins into two portions. We then drew numbers and selected one of the portions by the order of the numbers we had drawn.  I drew number 2 and chose the last portion of raisins.  Those drawing the last four numbers had no option but to choose a quarter cube of butter.  Each of us ate our prize and headed down the trail.

Empty stomachs and soaking rain made the last few miles the most unpleasant of the trip.  However, we were so anxious to have the ordeal over that some of us arrived at the pickup point more than a half hour before the designated time.  As we waited for our rides and as the last hikers straggled in, we reflected on our experience.  Never again would Daryl Nelson be in charge of our food.  Never again would we trust a horse’s hobble. Future hikes would be much shorter. Maybe we would go back to studying career choices.