The High Uintas: Rain, fog and Amethyst Lake

In All, Camping and Backpacking, Hiking, Utah, Wilderness by Dylan1 Comment

Looking north, across Amethyst Lake.

I drove from Ogden to the Christmas Meadows trailhead Saturday, arriving at roughly midnight and set my tent up under stars. I awoke two hours later to continuous rain drops. The morning was warm, wet, but the rain had stopped. I could tell that the rain was going to pick back up, so I quickly rolled up the tent, used the fly as a makeshift backpack rain cover an hit the trail. I have never been in the Uintas before, so I wasn’t sure to expect. And to be honest, I couldn’t see above treeline because of the fog, but I was determined to hike the six miles to Amethyst Lake. After all, the guide book said it was one of the prettiest lakes in the high mountains.

Part of the long cascading waterfall.

The first part of the trail, til you get to the wilderness boundary, is moderately flat. The topography is flat, but the trail’s surface certainly is not. If you are thinking of hiking this trail wear boots because it’s either rocky as hell or pure swamp. I would say it’s a little over two miles to the turn off to go up to Amethyst. At this point the trail goes straight up, and I mean straight up. It’s rocky, but very beautiful, as it parallels a cascading waterfall for roughly 800 vertical feet. From there the trail holds a constant incline until you reach Amethyst Lake, which sits just shy of 11,000 feet. According to the Falcon guidebook, it’s 2,000 vertical feet of climbing in 6 miles. I would say the majority of that climb is in the last 4 miles.

As I was saying earlier, I got hit with rain. About 30 minutes into the hike, it started coming down and didn’t stop. I passed four groups coming out and they all looked MISERABLE!! I’m pretty sure they thought I was crazy, which probably isn’t too far off course.

As I ascended the trail, the clouds descended upon me. Not long before reaching Amethyst, I was completely blind to my surroundings. All I could see was white.

Here’s the outflow from Amethyst on the way into the clouds.

Lower Amethyst Lake as the clouds move in.

Lower Amethyst’s outflow.

I stopped a few times to snap some photos of the fog. Once along the waterfalls, then again at the outflow and then at Lower Amethyst Lake. I made it to Amethyst in just over 3 hours. Luckily, when I arrived I got a dry window of opportunity and set up camp. But before I was able to explore the rain came back and I did everything I could do to get all my gear under my vestibules. I read a book, poked my head out and began wondering what I was doing there.

At one point, the rain stopped and just in time because I really had to pee! When I came of the tent I was in a cloud. And I mean a CLOUD!!!! Vertigo was almost setting in. Cool, strange, odd feeling.

BTW, I still wasn’t sure what was around me. All I knew was there was as lake and some scree fields. I could here the faint sound of falling rocks, which I later learned was from a lone Mountain Goat way up on Ostler Peak.

This was right outside my tent, looking up the shore.

My tent and a tree.

I love the color of the lake!

After exploring in the fog for about 20 minutes, the rain began again. It was a slight drizzle, but enough to send me running back the tent. I took a couple sips of scotch and decided to sleep it out.

I woke up to no rain, and to my surprise the clouds had lifted, revealing a cirque of cliffs and a placid lake! It was simply amazing!! Not what I was expecting!!

Looking north, across Amethyst Lake.

Not sure the name of this notch, but it rests below Ostler Peak.

I grabbed the camera, and deciding it was through with rain for the evening, went exploring. From my camp, I went around the lake clockwise. What an amazing place!! It was so calm that every body of water was perfectly still, creating mirror-like reflections.

Ostler Peak reflected.

Ostler Peak and a pond.

Water droplets on a fern.

Water droplets.

A high elevation fern.

A high elevation fern.

The sun decided to peak out from behind the clouds.

After I had almost completed the trip around the lake, the sun decided to come through the clouds, casting great light on the cliffs and basin above. And then came the fog from the valley below. I saw it moving, and it was moving fast, so I scrambled as quickly as I could onto a high spot to get a better vantage point.

Fog rolling over the basin.

Fog, stream and cliffs.

After being stuck in a tent for five hours, this might have been the best gift I have ever received. It was just amazing to watch the clouds sweep through the basin, up and over the cliffs.

Nothing like fog.

The final light before the sun went down.

The sun finally cast it’s last beams of light and I made dinner. I also somehow found some dry wood and made a fire. The stars moved above and my eyelids eventually won the fight. The next morning I woke up to an overcast sky, but no sign of rain. I decided to forget the camera and tried my luck at fishing. I caught nothing at Amethyst, but at the lower lake I caught two Cutthroat and in the outflow I landed too many to count. None were keepers, but it was still fun!

Oslter Peak reflected in the outflow of Amethyst Lake.

Walking past the cascading waterfall on the way back to the trailhead, I couldn’t help but snap a couple more photos. What can I say, it was beautiful!!!

One of the many drops.

And another… I could have stayed all day!