Last year, John and I spent a beautiful fall weekend camping in the Uintahs. It was so perfect that this week, we went on almost the exact same trip. Cholula obsessively chased the same feisty squirrels the whole time. We camped right next to the Duchesne River again, under swaying pines. We hiked over Hades Pass to Heart Lake for fishing and a picnic, just like last year. And I made another batch of smoky camp chili and jalapeno cornbread for a cozy post-hike feast.
But, there were a few differences this time. We stayed at a campground about a mile up the road from last year’s camp. We were a few weeks later in the year, which translated to more bare aspen trees and much lower temperatures. The first night, we grilled burgers instead of salmon. And let’s just say I wasn’t on my game while packing for the trip (more on that later).
The first indication that something was “off” about this trip was when Cholula discovered a fresh pile of manure to bathe herself in, not three minutes after our arrival to Hades Campground site #10. Luckily, the river being close made for easy(ish) clean-up. As we set up camp, I put together some happy hour snacks and realized I forgot the block of cheddar cheese. I improvised using sliced provolone (that was meant for the next day’s lunch).
John did a little bit of fly-fishing before starting a warm fire. For dinner, we grilled burgers and seasoned sweet potato wedges. I was happy we had a juicy fresh tomato because I’d forgotten ketchup or mayonnaise. We dined outside, because as chilly as it was, it was quiet and beautiful with just the sound of the river (and the angry squirrels). After time by the fire, we retired for the evening. It was about then that I realized I’d forgotten pajamas, which was not ideal in below-freezing weather. John leant me his long johns and we snuggled in under the thick sleeping bags that John had thankfully reminded me to bring.
I could see my breath in frigid clouds in front of me when we woke up. The insides of Betty’s windows were coated in frosty fog. Thank God I didn’t forget the coffee. There’s nothing better than a steaming cup of French-press coffee on a chilly camping morning! My warm-blooded husband ventured out into the cold to start us a morning fire. I cleaned up and got dressed in the warmth of the trailer, realizing with a shrug that I’d forgotten to pack deodorant. We sipped our coffee and munched on maple-pumpkin granola by the fire in gloves and winter hats. The morning sun illuminated the few aspens that still fluttered golden leaves. A herd of horses surprised us by strolling nonchalantly through camp, over a bridge, and to the river for a drink.
Today, we’d spend hours on a rocky trail toward Hades Pass. I made some turkey-pesto wraps (minus provolone) and packed up our lunch. I was happy that I’d packed cold-weather hiking gear; it wasn’t warming up very quickly. As we drove up toward Grand View Trailhead, we spotted patches of snow in the hills. As we started our hike, we realized we’d be trekking through it, too.
The hike was as gorgeous as I remembered, if only a little less colorful. Last year’s yellow aspens were now bare so our shade came from the pines. I kept my wool hat on for much of the hike; it stayed chilly with snow around us! I took photos along the way, very similar to last September’s. We spied a male elk with a big rack scurrying across the trail ahead of us, his hooves leaving big prints in the mud. We knew what he didn’t: he had one day left of true freedom before rifle season would begin the next day.
We made it over the pass (over 10,600 feet) and down the other side, looking out toward King’s Peak into Granddaddy Basin. A few lakes dotted the landscape; we headed toward the closest one. We set up shop in the same spot as last year, soaking in the high altitude sunshine and the warmth of the rocks. We ate lunch while gazing at the snow-covered mountains and John set up his fly fishing gear. Cholula and I explored the other side of the lake while John stalked trout. We might as well have been the only people on the planet.
The hike back out was mostly downhill, but our legs were tired. We didn’t talk much in the last mile. John cracked a beer and I had a little wine, cheers-ing to our lovely day on the trail. The afternoon light in the valley was magical!
Back at camp, I got to work on a pot of spicy chili. Cholula got to work on squirrel stalking. John got to work on the fire. I was halfway through making dinner when I realized we had no can opener for the beans and tomatoes. Thankfully, John opened the cans with a knife and we rolled our eyes at all of the things I’d forgotten this trip. We charred the cornbread I’d baked earlier in the week on the grill. There’s nothing like a comforting, hot bowl of chili in the woods after a long hike. We slept hard that night, in between jockeying for space in bed with Cholula.
The sky was bright when we woke the next morning. We decided to pack up camp before the hunters arrived; we’d already heard gun shots that morning. We headed toward the Mirror Lake Diner, hoping they served breakfast late. It was as delicious and satisfying as it was during our last visit, and a perfect end to our get-away.
We may have forgotten a few necessities, but we made do. The most important parts of the trip didn’t require packing: a happy dog, time together in the wilderness, a warm bed, and a peaceful heart.
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