Wildlife and Solitude in the High Uintas

The women stop to survey the trail ahead on the East Fork of Black’s Fork. (Photo by Lila Leatherman)

By Dory Trimble
ASC Uintas Adventurer

Our day starts in the water. The rocks are slick, brown, unreliable against our feet. We’ll cross this river—the East Fork of Black’s Fork—another half-dozen times before we return to dry socks and our tents at dusk.

My shoes are already sodden from morning dew, so I step into the water and let it course ice cold around my ankles, sometimes past my knees. When we emerge into the bluebells on the other side, I take a moment to grasp my legs and feel the fierce, blinding burn of cold on my bare skin. It passes into a soothing kind of numbness, and we hike uphill to drier footholds, talking and laughing and listening to birdsong in the trees.


The team resets bait, batteries and memory cards in the High Uintas. (Photo by Dory Trimble)

A goshawk reels through the treetops, screaming an alarm that silences the woods beyond us. Later, we find a moose browsing flowers in a wet meadow, a dark brown shadow against the gray of beetle-killed pines, her calf visible only as a flicker of movement at her heels. And then, 1,500 feet up the hillside: one pine marten, then another. Spooked from the underbrush, they flow past in a sleek, liquid streak, one pausing to consider us with bright black eyes before slipping up and over a downed log. Next, a porcupine, a sun-struck vole, and then a small gray ground bird, scurrying in panic towards some distant hiding place. 

We trudge through marshes and sing snippets of pop songs, trying not to squish the seas of tadpoles that wriggle through the water under our boots. We are the only humans for miles.


Between the trees on the hike to a high altitude camera site, an unnamed peak reveals itself. (Photo by Dory Trimble)


Adventurer Lila Leatherman wires a beef bone onto a dead tree to draw animals to a camera trap. (Photo by Dory Trimble)

Hours later, we come to the camera site in a thicket of mosquitoes, the air tense with the prospect of rain. A flock of plump gray Juncos, quick-winged and chattering, jets past. 

We unload, change batteries, claw marrow from the hollow of a beef bone, and listen to the dull echo of impact as we hammer a fresh tuna can into the trunk of our dead tree. We come to these mountains for our cameras, and for the stories their lenses might tell us, but the adventure sweeps around us for miles—deep in the marshy meadows, the talus-streaked hillsides, the wooded shadows of these wild, solitary trails. 

Learn more about the Uinta Carnivore Survey and other ASC projects on our website, the Field Notes blog, and our FacebookTwitterInstagram and Google+ pages.