While perusing the Wasatch Peak Baggers page I came across an invitation to join Tom McCabe on a two night yurt adventure in the High Uintah Wilderness. I have stayed in a yurt only one time before, but never skied into one. I couldn’t pass on this opportunity. I reached out to him to see if he was still in need of company and he said he was. He had room for four individuals so we both went hunting among contacts to track down another individual or two to join us. I finally convinced Golden to join us out on this. He wasn’t able to leave until Tuesday evening. Tom decided to head up Tuesday morning and meet us up there.
I packed up my pack. It was the heaviest I have had in a long time. My pack weighed in at 38lbs total weight. I was overwhelmed since my pack weight usually hovers around 20lbs for a couple night outing, and really not much more for a week. All of the backcountry gear and extra layers indeed did increase the weight of my pack.
We left Golden’s home at 7pm on Tuesday night and took the 2+ hour drive up past Evanston into the north end of the Mirror Lake Highway at the East Fork of the Bear River turnoff. We arrived at the trailhead around 9:30. There we parked and got our boots, skis and packs on and off we went. We hit the trail at 10:06pm. It was probably single digits at the trailhead. Not a warm start. We had about 6.5 miles to get to our final destination at Boundary Creek Yurt. We felt that we could cover this distance in 3-4 hours and be in bed by 2am.
The moon was up and the sky was clear with a lot of stars out. Unfortunately I do not yet have a fancy camera that could capture the landscape, but it was amazing! The moon was a Waning Gibbous at about 90%. We had headlamps on, but quickly realized that we did not need them. We ended up only using them about 10% of the time, mostly to look at maps and trail signs. We were able to traverse the entire way by moonlight. After about 10 minutes we were pretty toasty warm skinning along the trail.
The first part of the trail goes through a recreational ski area then heads into the backcountry and across a cool bridge over the East Fork of the Bear River. We continued to follow the trail farther into the backcountry. Every view was amazing. We could see the distant peaks gleaming in the moonlight. Orion and Taurus stood out in the night sky. It was amazing how bright it was.
The first two miles of our trek went really well with a nice groomed track. We tacked off those miles relatively quickly. We then turned off on a left fork to traverse along the north side of the ridge. We knew there was a trail there, both by GPS and maps along the trail. We were confident that we would not need to do any major route finding. We felt good about this decision. While down in the valley there was an occasional breeze that would send shivers up the spine. After following this track along the north side of the ridge for another half hour we started making our way up towards the ridge. We came to a trail that forked off up towards the ridge and over in the direction of Lily Lake. As we studied the map we felt confident that this was the right fork to take. As we headed up the tracks ended about 100 feet up the slope. Now what? We decided to turn around and push forward on the fire road that we were just on and see if there was a trail up farther that headed up the ridge. No luck. The tracks on it ended as well. Now what? We felt that apparently we got off the more beaten path a while back and didn’t feel like we should back track the mile or so. We then headed up the ridge trail and had to break trail from that Lily Lake turnoff on.
We were hopeful that we would get on top of the ridge and meet up with another trail and have some groomed track into the yurt. Well, the top of the ridge came and there was no tracks. We knew that we were on a trail. There were definite depressions in the snow, but the fresh storm from Saturday/Sunday had laid down about a foot of fresh powder that no one had tracked out. Since we were on the no snowmobile trails we were following powder covered ski/snowshoe tracks. It was a slog fest for the next 3 miles or so. It took us nearly four hours to get to the Ridge Yurt (a 4.5 mile trek that we covered in 6 miles). From here we had 2 miles to go, but we had been out for over 4.5 hours.
Due to exhaustion and fatigue we ended up staying at the Ridge Yurt. Thankfully it was vacant for a night. We arrived at 2:37am. We felt that it was unsafe to continue going with how tired we were. We hurried and stoked up a fire, got our bags out and got ready for bed. It was not a great night’s sleep. I kept waking up checking on the fire and tossing and turning. We didn’t have a lot of time to warm up the yurt and it was a 12 man yurt with 2 people so it did not stay super warm. Certainly warmer than huddling up in a bivy outdoors. The yurt was well stocked with firewood, pots, pans, mugs, plates, toilet paper and even some card games. We didn’t enjoy too much of the amenities since we were just here to sleep and move on.
Wednesday morning we broke out of Ridge Yurt at 8:25am. We cleaned it up, took out the ashes, restocked the firewood and closed the door on that brief night’s sleep for another day of adventure. Walking around the yurt that morning we found the track that we should have headed up. There was a snowmobile track up the entire south side of the ridge.
I would advise for anyone looking to come into these backcountry yurts to know their threshold for adventure. If you don’t mind cutting trail and prefer fresh tracks then take the route we took. It was a really gorgeous route. No snowmobiles are allowed. You will see some great terrain. You will certainly work for it. If you like groomed track and want an easier time headed up then take the turn on down the Sage Draw trail to the Wolverine Trail. You will have easy going on groomed track the entire way up to the Ridge Yurt. (see the map at the bottom)
The trail from the Ridge Yurt to the Boundary Creek Yurt does not get groomed out, but thankfully it was decently tracked out for us as you can see in the image above. The 2 mile traverse from yurt to yurt did not take us too long. We certainly enjoyed the views of the mountains around us and miles of untouched snow. We arrived at the Boundary Creek Yurt at 9:45am to hollers from Tom. He was excited to see that we made it through the night. The yurt was nice and toasty and he was prepped to make us up some pancakes and eggs to fill our bellies with some much needed calories after our journey. It was great to know that we had made it.
Right outside of the yurt was a mountain that rose to nearly 11,000 feet. The yurt sits at about 9,600 feet. This provides 1500 feet of skiable terrain right out the front door. I would recommend a multiple day trip for sure. Unfortunately, Golden and I were so wiped out that all we wanted to do was eat and sleep when we got there. Tom took off to take in a few turns on the mountain while we grabbed a 3 hour nap.
After our nap it was now time to get out and do some playing! We were lucky enough to have Tom’s tracks to follow as we skinned up the mountain.
I can’t believe how tired my legs were. Golden and I hoofed it up the mountain a ways behind Tom. We finally made it to the top, shredded our skins and headed down in some fresh, untouched, sick powder!
Loved having this great ski hill right out our front door. We were blessed to get in some great fresh powder turns. Thankfully the group before us were snowshoers so they left the mountain alone for our enjoyment. Golden had some fun barreling down in powder for the first time ever on skis. He may want to consider using a split board next time.
After one run we were pretty spent. We sat down to an awesome dinner and enjoyed some great time hanging out in the yurt. We were all in bed by about 7pm. Golden and I then crashed for about 12 hours. Tom got up at midnight to get some full moon turns in, but the moon wasn’t up yet so he got up again at 3am. He said he had a great time under a full moon. I should have gotten up to go, but I was so exhausted from the lack of sleep the night before and the work put in to get out there.
Thursday morning we got up and took it slow as we ate breakfast, cleaned up the yurt and put down the fire. We parted out of there at just before 10am. Tom went up on the hill to get in one more run while Golden and I headed back down the trail. We left the yurt at 9:53am to head home.
It was a lot more fun heading out then it was heading in. We glided our way back to the Ridge Yurt in under an hour and then shedded our skins at the cat track. We then took off skiing our way down to Lily Lake. It was a lot of fun to cruise down that section.
We had to work through the flat at Lily Lake, but it was much better than plowing through a foot of powder.
We were able to keep the skins off until we reached the Mirror Lake Highway. We opted to head down the highway on the snowmobile track instead of going through the trees. We then put the skins on for the final mile to the cars. We then finished just before 1pm on Thursday and headed home.
Such a great time in the High Uintah Wilderness. Loved the opportunity to stay in a yurt and get some backcountry turns in. I love the outdoors and any time that I can get out on an adventure is a good one.
- Skis & Bindings: Black Diamond Verdict Skis with Fritschi Pro Bindings
- Ski Boots: Black Diamond Factor 110
- Pack: Osprey Kode 22+10
- Shells: Marmot Spire Pant & Marmot Spire Jacket
- Hiking Boots: Altra Lone Peak Mid NeoShell prototype
- Puffy Layer: Patagonia Nano Puff
- Beacon: Pieps DSP Sport
- Shovel & Probe: Black Diamond
- Sleeping Bag: Big Agnes Bellyache Mountain 17
- Gloves: Black Diamond Super Rambla
- Goggles: Julbo Aerospace Goggles
- Sunglasses: Julbo Dust
- Headlamp: Petzl Tikka RXP
- Essentials: Goal Zero Nomad 7, Goal Zero Flip 10, GoPro, Voile Straps