Backpacking to Grandaddy Lake in the Uintas

Grandaddy Lake, located in the Uinta Mountains, might be the perfect weekend backpacking trip. After a short hike over Hades Pass, the view of the basin below filled with alpine lakes is unforgettable. And once you reach the shoreline of Grandaddy Lake, you will get to choose from a nearly unlimited number of areas to camp for the weekend. And having gone up there on the Labor Day weekend, which I thought would be busy, turned out to be completely empty, making it the perfect weekend of backpacking.

The roundtrip hike to Grandaddy Lake, via the Grandview Trail, is a 7.2 mile hike with only 1,300 feet of vertical to climb. Not difficult by most hike or backpacking standards, but this trail starts at 9,730feet and goes up to 10,645feet in elevation. The air is thin and the trail is steep, making it shockingly more difficult than I expected, especially with a heavy backpack on. But the adventure starts long before the trailhead, because once you turn off main road, there is 6.2 miles of bumpy dirt road that has to climb up over 2,000 feet.

The plan for our backpacking trip was to head up Saturday morning, spend two nights, then return home on Monday morning. We brought with us our dog, fly fishing rods, and most importantly, our Kokopelli Packrafts! And as we left the trailhead, heading uphill, we felt ever ounce of weight we were bringing with us for a weekend of adventure and fun. Luckily, the approach hike was beautiful and went by rather quickly. We left the valley behind us, passing other backpackers and day-hikers using the trail. And once we climbed up to the top of Hades pass, we could see we were going to be in for one incredible weekend.

From the pass, we could see the entire basin below, filled with alpine lakes surrounded by 10,000foot mountain peaks. The most stunning of these, of course, would be the largest lake in the Uintas, Grandaddy Lake. And we cruised on down to the water’s edge to see it up close and personal, and of course to find a campsite for the weekend. The lake was bigger, and more stunning than we could have ever imagined, and the best part was it was completely empty! So after we found a flat spot, with a fire ring, 200feet away from the water, we setup our camp! Starting with getting our heavy packs off our shoulders, followed by setting up our 10 year old 2-person backpacking tent. To which, we broke the zipper in the progress.

We didn’t let that slow our weekend down! The rest of that evening and the following day were spent perfectly slow. We inflated the packrafts and paddled out onto that empty lake with the dog in tow. We explored a few of the island on the lake, paddling from one to the other, getting off to hike around and imagine camping on one of them one day. The water was calm, soothing, and blue! Contrasting perfectly with the green pines that surrounded the lake’s edge and below the tan and white rocky ridge lines above.

We took our shot at fly fishing at the bank of the lake, with not much luck. Because even when we don’t catch anything, we still love to cast the fly into the water. Courtney had at least some luck with her choices of flies, getting the fish to hit, but not much luck getting them to bite anything. Maybe we’ll have to switch over to bait casting, because other fishermen we passed on the trail in had caught.   A ton of fish they sustained on for the entire weekend. It didn’t matter, we still had fun.

Each night ended the same way, with a mountain house meal, cooked with our JetBoil camp stove. We ate them sitting on rocks at the lakeside, as we watched the setting sun crest over the mountains to the West. The orange and red light beamed off the mountains above, reflecting off the water below. And with the setting sun, came the dropping of temperatures, plummeting from the warm 70s of the day, down to the cold, upper 30s throughout the night. I was not packed for those temps, foolishly I had only brought shorts and didn’t pack anything warmer than a mid-layer! Regretting that decision when I awoke with frozen toes, but at least Gregor seemed to get a great night’s sleep between us in that small 2-person tent.

The last morning, we woke to the view of a glassy lake surface, almost as reflective as a mirror. It almost made us forget how heavy the backpacks were when we put them back on for our hike out. But luckily, the hike uphill was short to the top of the pass, then it was all downhill back to the trailhead. On the way down, we reminisced about drinking the beers at camp that we had chilled by sitting in the stream that ran through camp. We talked about how the stars shined bright in the cloudless night’s sky. And how perfect of the Labor Day Weekend hiking to Grandaddy Lake was. And like every beautiful, destination in Utah we’ve been to, I can’t wait to go back.

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Best Mountain Biking: Mag7 -Gold Bar Rim – Portal | Moab, Utah

For years I’ve starred up at the canyon wall that surround the town of Moab, wondering what exactly is up there any how could I get there. Well, a few weekends ago, I found out exactly how, and it was followed by one of the best days on a mountain bike I’ve ever had. I’m talking about the classic trail link-up of Mag7 to Gold Bar to Portal. Each of these three trails is unique and incredibly challenging for drastically different reasons. And 5 1/2 hours later, my two friends and I were back at the truck, exhausted, and ready for a beer to cap off an incredible day on the bikes.

What exactly is the Mag 7 – Portal Finish trail in Moab? Well, it’s a 21 mile trail that starts on top of the Plateau where Canyonlands National Park is located in Moab. From the trailhead, the route descends down both flowing and technical slickrock for 10 miles. The first half descent tracks down Getaway (Blue), Bull Run (Black), and Arth’s Corner (Blue). Following the first half, starts the difficult section of this trail. Once you cross Gemini Bridges Road, it’s a gnarly, steep, and punchy climb up 1,700ft of desert riding on the Gold Bar Rim Trail and Gold Bar Road. After you successfully navigate the climb to the top of the cliff’s edge, the fun has just begun. A technical traverse along a cliff with a 1000 feet of nothing over the edge on the Gold Bar Rim Trail, followed by one of the most technically demanding and challenging trail, called Portal.

TrailForks Mag7 to Portal Route

The ride isn’t a normal start and finish from the trailhead, unfortunately, there’s a bit more logistics to go into it. You need to shuttle to the top, leaving a vehicle at the bottom for the finish. After that, my two friends Nate and Tyler dropped into the trail for our epic ride ahead of us. Even though the ride is primarily downhill (3,800 feet of descending), in the desert, even when you’re going downhill, it’s still filled with punchy climbs that are exhausting. But that didn’t get in the way of riding some of the most fun trails at the Mag7 area. We took turns leading out down some of the technical features and flowy sections of Bull Run, regrouping after each section to share the stoke. And the first half descent was capped off with my favorite trail in Moab, called Arth’s Corner. This trail is packed filled with rock drops, huge sweeping slickrock sections, and tons of difficult step-ups that require all of your focus and energy to navigate.

Upper Mag7 has amazing views of the LaSalle Mountains

Gold Bar Jeep Road Climb (Mile 10.5)

After the first half descent is done, it’s onto the uphill section. See, in the desert, the trails are made up of either soft or slickrock. Slickrock, which is the infamous orange and red sandstone of Moab, is a mountain biker’s dream terrain choice. Unlike back in the day, when horses and wagon wheels couldn’t gain traction on the rock, which is how it got its name, mountain bike tires grip to slickrock like velcro! This is absolutely required to accomplish some of the difficult, back-to-back sections of climbing up steep 1 to 3 feet step-up climbs. You’re able to crawl up the steepest rocks and never loose traction, well, as long as your legs can keep pushing. And that is required to climb up the Gold Bar Road, which is normally only tackled by modified Jeeps and off-roaders with big engines. And we struggled up this hill, very, very slowly, with very high heart rates.

Example of the average steep, step-up climbs in the desert

Gold Bar Rim (Mile 14.7)

Once you climb up, you treated to one of the most incredible views of the Moab area below. Arches off to the east, Moab to the south, Canyonlands and the Colorado River to the West, and of course, the snow capped LaSalle Mountains off in the distance. And after eating a few snacks, to help replenish our energy that was quickly draining, we headed down on the double black diamond rated Gold Bar Rim singletrack. This trail was wild! Starting off with very steep and technical features that slot between narrow rock sections, spitting you out onto huge slickrock slabs. Each descent was followed by a quick climb up to the next feature, and repeat. All while you skirt the edge of the rim, following the trail that goes ever-so close to the void below. On this section, Nate somehow blew the crank off his bike on a climb, which had us trying to do some trailside repairs to keep riding. Eventually, we were able to get the crankset with it’s damaged splines back onto the bottom bracket with some critical input from Tyler coming up with the solution and we were back riding to the end of the Gold Bar Rim trail, which meant the fun was about to begin on Portal.

“Don’t Look Down!”

Portal Trail (Mile 18.4)

The proline rated (harder than double black diamond) Portal trail, is a Moab classic for the extreme riders out there. Broken up into two sections (Top Half and Bottom Half) will have your nerves, and tires, on edge the entire time. The first half is the iconic portion of the trail where you are quite literally riding on a two foot wide sliver of trail on the middle of a sandstone rockface. As in, hundreds of feet of rock to the right side above you, and hundreds of feet of nothing on your left side. The trail isn’t too technically demanding (relative to the second half), but does feature a few sections that you absolutely must walk your bike, because even the slightest miscalculation will result in certain death. But that doesn’t stop the fun to be had flying along the trail, clearing rocky steps, floating down the chunky drop sections. But once you clear the first half, you are treated to the most difficult riding I’ve ever done. Not so much the steepest trail, but sections of technical rocky features that your tires need to hit the perfect line, maybe only an inch or two wide, in order to have a chance of navigating successfully. I say a chance, because each feature flows immediately into the next, requiring you to maintain your wits about you, looking ahead at the next feature, while your tires are still navigating the one you’re on. The sections of trail can twist, turn 180 on a dime, and drop 10 feet, all within a few yards of trail. And of course, throughout the trail, are sections where the rocks are so unevenly spaced, that the slightest error will result in your front wheel getting stuck and you flying over the handlebars like superman into a less than soft landing. 

Steep exposure along with very technical lines

With that being said, nearly every section of Portal trail can be walked down if you’ve gotten in over your head. Which we definitely did on some of the switchback features. There was no way we were able to control our bikes enough to navigate a hard chunky section at full speed, stop on a dime, then flip the bike around 180 degree, and down a 6ft slab. Just wasn’t going to happen. So it begs the question, can you only say you’ve ridden the Portal trail if you clean every feature? Or is there an acceptable percentage that you can walk? Either way, it was some of the most fun I’ve ever had on a mountain bike! Will I do it again? You bet! But hopefully I’ll be in better shape next time, so once I get to the top of one of the most difficult trails in Moab, I’ll have all my strength and energy to really rip down that trail! And somehow, all three of us reached the truck without any major crashes, and in good enough shape to head into town for some beers at Moab Brewery!

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Appreciating Fall and the Ski Town Shoulder Season

The other week, before the first October snow fell, I was out on a run at my local trail system that I can hit on my lunch break. The area is called Round Valley, and it sits right in the center of Park City and boasts panoramic views of the Wasatch mountains. And on this casual run, I began to grow more and more of an appreciate of this time a year. In ski towns, we call it the Shoulder Season, which is the time between our popular tourism seasons of Winter and Summer. And the longer I live here, …

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Mountain Biking Gooseberry Mesa | Bucket List Riding

The mountain biking at Gooseberry Mesa (Trailforks Link) is unlike anything else in the world. The landscape is completely unique, even among the already diverse Utah riding styles we have in the mountains and the deserts. But how could a mesa, with only 100 feet of elevation gain from trailhead to point, have nearly 700 feet of climbing on the average ride? Well the answer to that is short, steep, and out-of-the-saddle punchy climbs that highlight the entire trail system, that’s how. And though that might sound like most riders’ nightmare, I’m here to explain why the slickrock trails at …

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The Eden Epic | A Truly INSANE Mountain Bike Race

7 Hours in the saddle. 8,000 vertical feet of climbing. 3 miles of hike-a-bike. Oh, and of course a rain-storm that came in just as the racers were on the 9,500′ ridgeline dropping the temps to a finger-numbing 40 degrees. That’s just a part of the sufferfest that is known as the Eden Epic mountain bike race. Mixed in, during the 45 mile perpetual slog, was actually a stunning landscape that wrapped around high above the Eden valley. Check the course out on The race course was a mix of forest roads that were rocky, muddy, and steep, as …

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Is Bend, Oregon the Best Mountain Town?

I honestly cannot believe after going to Bend, Oregon every summer for the past three years, that I haven’t written more about it. The reason I say this, is because, quite literally, Bend is my wife and I’s favorite mountain town we’ve ever been to. Which makes more sense why we’ve made the 12 hour drive here every year, without ever being disappointed. Quite frankly, the mountain town vibe, the endless River activities, the incredible breweries scene, and of course the amazing mountain biking are just the tip of the iceberg of reasons why Bend is the best mountain town …

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Trail Running With Your Dog and Developing a Bond

My adventure dog Gregor and I head out most mornings from the house in the dark, cold, quiet, mountain air. Headlamps and light-up collars sending us off into the dark on the dirt roads, up and down along the contours of the mountainside we live on. My dog, living his best life, runs ahead by about 10 feet smelling all the scents along the way. As cars come, I call him back, waiting for the neighbor to pass by. Deer scramble from the open areas, into the wooded sections, upon the first sight of us. Sometimes my dog will try …

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First Time Rafting the Snake River in Jackson, Wyoming

Fourth of July in Jackson, Wyoming, finally getting to raft the Snake River for the first time, could it get much better than that? Well I’ll spoil the rest of the story for you, minus getting our campsite stolen by another couple, no, it doesn’t get much better than floating down a glacial fed river through the Teton Valley in the peak of summer. And with three days off work, we were able to get on two different sections of the river, each having incredible experiences tied to them. The plan was to float the mellow sections of river from …

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First Experience Rafting the Moab Daily (Without a Guide)

We’ve been living in the West for almost 5 years now, seeing people going on incredible adventures in the big mountains, through the vast deserts, and of course down the stunning rivers. And though we’ve been on a river trip here and there, my wife and I wouldn’t consider ourselves river folk, which is a totally different breed of mountain living. That is, until, we finally dipped our toe into the rafting life, when we bought our first big whitewater raft, a STAR Outlaw! And with little to no whitewater experience, we decided to just go for it, and headed …

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Backpacking the Escalante River Trail with Dogs

First off, I had no idea a backpacking route like this could ever exist here in the Utah desert! A trail that snakes below the steep walls of the desert plateau along a winding river. And over the Memorial Day weekend, a group of us decided to do an overnight backpacking trip down the Escalante River trail, and it couldn’t have been a more adventurous trip! We experienced everything from high energy to exhaustion, and dried river beds to wading through waist deep water! The Escalante river originates in the town of Escalante, UT, flows nearly a 100 miles through …

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