6 hours one way
2WD, Low Clearance
Hoping to squeeze one more backpacking trip out of the summer months, my wife and I threw our packs into the trunk of our car and headed for the mountains. School and work tend to hamper our ability to get out as much as we'd like. In addition to such onerous considerations, heavy snow limits backpacking in the Uintas to a small summer window. Some of the high passes are snowed in until late June, and serious snowfall can resume as early as September. All things considered, we decided it was time to get moving.
Past Kamas, Utah, Highway 150 climbs through some of the most scenic territory in the state. About ten miles before hitting the Wyoming border a winding, washboarded dirt road diverges from the east side of the highway. Our aging Toyota Camry handled it easily enough. Eventually the road dumped us at the Christmas Meadows trailhead.
We started from our car with clear skies, but fate didnít intend for us to stay dry. Within a couple of hours dark clouds gathered overhead, looking thicker and more angst-filled by the minute. As lightning began to strike, thunder rolled around the basins, rippling the air between the peaks. The mountains played ping-pong with the thunder, prolonging what would have been a mediocre crackle into a minutes-long roar. Lightning flashes were stabbing the forest every few seconds when we stumbled onto the edge of a huge, rain-soaked meadow. Becca, being the brains of our operation, suggested that we wait for the lighting to ease up before tromping through the clearing. I looked down at the four-foot long aluminum tube housing my fly rod and decided she was probably right. I've been known to do stupid things in the name of adventure, but parading across a meadow holding lightning magnet isnít high on my list of priorities.
In a vain attempt to get dry, we pitched our tent where the trail forks below Kermsuh Lake. Luckily we had packed books and a deck of cards just in case the weather tried to ruin our last trip of the year. We spent about five hours in the tent playing cards, reading our books, and sleeping. The storm finally broke in time for dinner. We had heard that camping sites are hard to find up by Kermsuh Lake, so we decided to stay put for the night.
The next day we left our tent and bags to air out and hiked the rest of the way up to the lake. Following the previous dayís storm, the whole area was saturated like a sponge. I noticed that Beccaís hiking shoes were re-soaked within a few minutes of leaving camp. This sort of weather is typical for the north slope of the Uintas. The constant sogginess can be frustrating if youíre trying to start a fire or keep your clothes dry, but it furnishes the area with a lush carpet of wildflowers and green growth.
Kermsuh Lake hides in a small basin up the west fork of the Stillwater Drainage. Ryder and McPheters Lakes are the other big lakes in this part of the Stillwater Drainage. These other lakes draw much more attention than Kermsuh, so if you go on a weekday you can expect to be alone after leaving the main trail. The Kermsuh Lake trail switchbacks a thousand feet up in the first mile or two, before eventually leveling out and reaching the lake. The views turned out to be spectacular, with wildflowers blooming everywhere. After the storm the previous day, the air felt crisp. The colors around us looked washed clean. We spent a few hours exploring the area around Kermsuh Lake. Eventually we made our way back to the Christmas Meadows trailhead, gathering our still-wet gear on the way back.
If you plan on hiking any trail on the western end of the Uinta Mountains, bring a few dollars in cash. All trailheads along Highway 150 require a permit, which can be obtained at a self-service station. The first station is located a few miles up the road from Kamas.
Follow Highway 150 to Christmas Meadows Road, 48 miles northeast of Kamas Turn right and follow Christmas Meadows Road about 4.3 miles to the trailhead. Christmas Meadows Road is not paved, but it is usually quite accessible for two-wheel drive vehicles.