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  • CJ Wolf

Mt. Watson Summit in the Uintas

Fast Facts:

Base Elevation: 10,000

Summit Elevation: 11,527

Distance: ~5.6 miles

Moving Time: 3:13

Crew: Fletcher, Sean, Butter & CJ

Date: November 16, 2019

South Ridge

I asked my youngest son, Fletcher, if he wanted to join Sean, his cousin, and I on a summit hike and he said yes, if write a post about it. One of my motivations for creating this blog site was to motivate my kids so if I never write another blog post, it would all be worthwhile since it motivated one of my sons to join me on at least one summit which is the greatest gift. And he didn’t pick an easy summit hike as Mt. Watson is no walk in the park especially in mid-November with about 6” of snow on the ground.

The previous week I summited Castle Peak and that peak didn’t have much snow on the south facing aspect so it confirmed that the higher peaks of the Uintas were still summitable. What is great about visiting the Uintas this time of year is that the parking lots are empty and you have the trials to yourself. On our hike today, we saw a total of 4 people whereas in the summer you would be lucky to get a parking spot in this popular area.

We decided to begin our hike on the Crystal Lake trail

Sean & Fletcher at the Crystal Lake Trailhead

although you can take the Clyde Lake trail as well as they will meet up. What is so amazing about this region is the plethora of lakes. There are so many lakes that there is almost more water coverage than land. Within the first few hundred yards, we passed Crystal Lake and we then came to a sign pointing to Cliff Lake which you want to take and that trail will soon merge with the Clyde Lake trail.

Cliff Lake Sign

Cliff Lake was next and much like the other lakes, it was frozen. We knew the ice would be thin given how warm it has been the last few weeks but we couldn’t resist the temptation to test it out. Butter was our Guinea pig as he walked on the ice first and then Fletcher gingerly walked out a few steps and skated around.

Petite Lake was just beyond Cliff Lake and now it was time to leave the “well-groomed” trail and begin the bushwhacking adventure to the summit. As we left the trail, we immediately started postholing but the snow depth was only about 6” so it wasn’t that bad as long as you stayed near trees or stepped on rocks. The bushwhacking took longer than expected but once we started gaining elevation in earnest - the terrain shifted to pure lava rocks. The total distance to the summit is only about 2.5 miles so I thought we would be able to reach the summit in about an hour but I underestimated how much longer it takes when you are off trail and have to scramble over rocks. From the time we left the trail to the summit it only took about 50 minutes but Fletcher continued to remind me that my estimates were off.

Mt. Watson was one of the rockier mountains that I have summited but it isn't very technical and there aren't any exposed areas. However, Fletcher did say, “I might be afraid of heights” as we got close to the top. I assured him that it was only natural and that he would be fine if he just concentrated on taking one step at a time. Fortunately, the boulders were large and stable so you just needed to be cautious and methodical. Like a horse heading back to the stable, Sean could smell the summit and pulled ahead. There were a few false summits that irritated Fletcher but he soldiered on. At the summit, the wind was blowing which made it quite chilly as we had worked up a sweat. The summit provided spectacular views of Bald & Reids Peak as well as the Notch Mountain. We had contemplated bagging the Notch as well but everyone’s feet were wet from the snow so we concluded it would be best to be satisfied with our Mt. Watson accomplishments.

We decided to descend the north side of Mt. Watson as the amount of snow on the north face wasn’t prohibitive and it would allow us to link up with the Clyde Lake Trail quicker. On our descent, I surmised that skiing the north ridge would be a safe line once the spring rolls around. To my surprise, Butter whimpered a few times on the way down as there were a few steep drops but he found an alternative route. Once we got to the base on the east side of Mt. Watson, we got a good perspective of this mountain’s mass.

East Face of Watson

Mt. Watson is an awesome summit but the best part of the day was our lunch and beer (hot coco for Fletcher) at the Notch restaurant. Any time your adventure takes you along the Mirror Lake Highway; it should be capped off by a visit to the Notch!

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