Rock Creek Drainage


The Rock Creek Drainage is considered the largest of its kind on the south slope of the Uinta Mountain Range. It is composed of four sub-drainages that contain some 120+ lakes and ponds between 9,000 and 11,500 feet in elevation. This area is one of the most diverse in terms of altitude change and shear ruggedness. Rolling hills in the lower portion of the basin give way to deeply carved canyons and high ridges that will challenge even the most fit hiker. Trails in the upper reaches of Rock Creek do not receive adequate maintenance due to their distance from trailhead entrance points, so be sure to include this in your calculations when planning a trip. The route we took began at the Highline Trailhead from SR-150 at Hayden Pass and crossed the Duchesne River drainage. Several trails along this route provide access to other basins with numerous lakes and camping opportunities, these include but are not limited to: the Naturalist Basin/Jordan Lake area, the Pinto and Grandaddy Lakes region, Carolyn & Olga lakes and of course the Four Lakes Basin area. Our route followed the Highline Trail up over Rocky Sea Pass.....





The Rock Creek Drainage

As you first reach the crest of Rocky Sea Pass (abt. 11,300ft) the range of mountains which border the northern & eastern edges of the Rock Creek Drainage come into view. As can be seen in this photo, it is quite a distance from one side of the valley to the other. All the snowmelt in this vast region congregates into the Upper Stillwater Reservior located some 15 miles south-southeast of this location. It is good to finally have reached the top.....until you look what is waiting on the other side as you start your descent!





Looking southeast from the top of Rocky Sea Pass

From the top, several ponds come into view.





Squaw Peak Reflection

This is the view that greeted us as we decended down the eastern slope of Rocky Sea Pass. From up above, several small ponds are visible and this one is the largest. As we rested from our laborious climb and steep descent, we waited for the arrival of the remainder of our group, and as the breeze subsided and the reflection of Squaw Peak (elevation 12,855) became clear, I unpacked my camera gear and took several images in the prime afternoon light.





Meadow Morning

Once down from the summit, we followed the trail east, but it soon became very indistinguishable and hard to follow. Large rock cairns are in place in the meadows to the east, but the trail is hard to find. Take your time to properly locate the main trail so you can reach the destination you have picked out! We bush whacked northward and found this meadow where we stayed the night. It was not far from the trail and when we packed up in the morning, we were soon on our way.





First Fish at Brinkley Lake

After we left our camp at the big meadow, we hiked to Brinkley Lake and that is where Lance Darley was the first to cast and the first to pull out a nice Brook Trout with his flyrod. Way to go Lance!




Black Lake Dawn

During the course of our hike into the upper reaches of Rock Creek, we found a really nice meadow on the north end of Black Lake and made that our home for the next two nights. The morning hours were very pleasant with clear blue skies and a few scattered fair weather clouds, but by late morning/early afternoon the sky became covered in grey, but not so much that we received a lot of precipitation. We were fortunate to have only experienced a few sprinkles.......at least until later in the week! This image is of the south side of Ostler Peak (looking northwest) across Black Lake.





Black Lake Sunrise

Before we set out on this trek I knew we would be putting a few miles behind us. Taking this factor into consideration, the next thought is the amount of weight I would be willing to carry and what necessities/luxury items would I like to have or leave behind. That is the dilema that a backpacker faces when traveling deep into any wilderness area.

With this information in mind, next comes the decision of 'what camera gear will be necessary or burdensome?' Well, as the old saying goes, 'better to have it and not need it then to need it and not have it!' This logic can be justified when your packin' a '45 ACP and you run into a bear, but this doesn't always work to ones advantage when an SLR lens can weigh one or two pounds each! Do I leave my nice raingear at home and hope it doesn't downpour, or take the wide-angle lens so I can get that 'just right' image?

Well, I sacrificed by packing in the Nikon DSLR and left the wide angle at home. Boy, I sure could have used that wide lens! Actually, my regular lens worked out nicely. This image was taken the first morning after our arrival at Black Lake.......gotta love those clouds!





Reflective Morning

Sometimes words just get in the way.




Our Camp Friend

Have you ever tried sleeping in the wilderness with something walking around your tent in the middle of the night? Here was the culprit during this trip. We thought that she hung around the area we were in because of a new fawn that she may have been protecting, but we never saw one. During all times of the day you could see her making tracks around the perimeter of our campsite. Maybe she just preferred the grass in the meadow where we were camped? Who knows.......but if you ever go to Black Lake, you may be fortunate to hear her sniffing your tent at 2am!





Ostler Peak Reflection

Getting up before sunrise can have its advantages in the High Uintas Wilderness. It is too difficult to sleep when I know that opportunities such as this won't wait forever. Better gettem' while you can!




Our Camp near Black Lake

A very aesthetic meadow that was centrally located to good fishing and a prime water source was the choice of our campsite.




Lightning Lake

On day three we decided to keep the blood pumping and gain some additional altitude. From our camp at Black Lake it is a steep 1 1/2 mile climb up to Lightning Lake (10,819 ft). From there we headed nearly due north to a low saddle (approx. 11,600+ ft) which lies east of Ostler Peak. From there we were able to acquire a much better view of the whole Rock Creek drainage and also into a portion of the headwaters of the Bear River and the Ostler Fork drainage.




Battling Gravity

Several of our group shown here on the southeastern slope of Ostler Peak. (Lightning Lake below)




Upper Rock Creek

From the height we were gaining, many of the higher elevation lakes came into view. Looking to the upper benches on the west side of this extensive basin sit Marjorie, Gladys, Rosalie and Uintah Lakes. (Thanks for posing Carl!)




Headwaters of the Bear River--Ostler Fork Drainage & Amethyst Lake

Those that first arrived on top got captured in the 6 image panorama that I later stitched together. This is an incredible view of a small portion of the headwaters of the Bear River. It is the largest drainage in the High Uinta Mountains, consisting of 6 tributary systems that make up the mighty Bear. This area shown below comprises 5 lakes that make up the Ostler Fork drainage which is a sub-draingage of the Stillwater Fork. Our victory of ascent was short lived as clouds bearing monsoonal moisture were quickly building, so safety of a lower elevation is preferred when the arrival of lightning is ever a possibility. The short visit after an intensive hike was well worth the view we enjoyed, and we will never ever forget. (shown are Lance, Michael, Kelby & Tyler)




Taking in the view

After we summited, a nice break was in order to 'take it all in'.




Trail Signs

It is interesting to note that in this area of the upper reaches of Rock Creek that the Forest Service has done a very good job of keeping hikers and backpackers aware a particular trail that you are on. The rugged condition of the trails still remain, but at least you know where you are going. Lance and I hiked a short distance on the trail to Jack and Jill Lakes, but soon turned back due to the onset of dusk. It appeared that the trail has not been kept up to date and this may be because of its infrequent use by backcountry travelers.




Trail Signs

We quickly retreated from our high perch and descended again on Lightning and Helen Lakes. Helen lake (10,869 ft) seemed to be a location for 'bathing' and flyfishing at the same time. No photos available, but can you imaging what a college course teaching both of these activities at once would be called? Maybe.....NudeFlyfishing 101!?




Boys 'n' Fire

When you are ready to prepare some dinner and you need hot coals, what do you do? Turn to the pyros friend and give a young man a match......mission accomplished!





Day four proved to be 'exit strategy' day. With a very cool breeze and lowering clouds, it was decided that we make 12.5 miles and get back to the trailhead. When we reached the top of Rocky Sea Pass, it was a relief to get that portion of our hike out of the way, but storm clouds could be seen to the south and southwest. After a couple of photos it began to rain and almost felt as if it may change over to snow, so we headed down at as quick a pace as possible. We were fortunate to be able to return back to the Highline Trailhead with only a few more sprinkles and a semi-muddy trail. It was only afterward that it decided to downpour. Great timing.......and a great backpacking trip. Let's go again!





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