Ryder Lake, Kermsuh Lake
(High Uintas Wilderness Area)

excerpts from the book
Utah's Incredible Backcountry Trails
by David Day

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Distance: 21.8 miles (round trip)

Walking time:
     day 1: 6 1/2 hours
     day 2: 4 1/2 hours
     day 3: 4 hours

Elevations: 1,770 ft. gain/loss
     Christmas Meadows Trailhead (start): 8,790 ft.
     Ryder Lake: 10,560 ft.
     Kermsuh Lake: 10,300 ft.

Trail: Good trail, but very rocky in places. Can also be muddy in spots, especially in the early summer before all of the snow has melted. A compass is useful for finding McPheters Lake.

Season: Midsummer through mid-fall. The higher parts of the trail are usually covered with snow until July. For current conditions call the Evanston Ranger District, Wasatch-Cache National Forest, at (801) 642-6662.

Vicinity: The High Uintas Wilderness Area, near Kamas and Evanston, Wyoming

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     Ryder and Kermsuh Lakes are the other two major lakes, besides Amethyst Lake, that lie within the Stillwater Drainage of the High Uintas Wilderness Area. When ancient glaciers were carving the glove-shaped valley during the past ice age, three large fingers were gouged out of its southern flanks. Today we call these depressions Amethyst Basin, West Basin, and Middle Basin. These high mountain basins became natural places for the formation of lakes when the glaciers melted; hence the presence of Ryder, Kermsuh, and Amethyst lakes. Amethyst Lake, of course, is located in Amethyst Basin. Kermsuh Lake is in West Basin and Ryder is in Middle Basin. All are surrounded almost entirely by the billion-year-old Precambrian quartzite cliffs that define the Uinta Crest.

Day 1
     For the first 2.6 miles the trail to Kermsuh and Ryder Lakes is the same as the trail to Amethyst Lake. The path winds lazily along the eastern side of Christmas Meadows. Moose are common in this area, and if you gaze out into the meadow from time to time there is a good chance of seeing at least a moose cow or young bull. Don’t count on seeing an older bull, however, as they are much more reclusive than the younger males. There are also a lot of beaver in the meadow, as evidenced by the fallen aspen along the way. Beaver seem to prefer aspen to the other trees-probably because the wood is softer and less resinous.
     After about two miles Christmas Meadows and most of the quaking aspen are left behind, the canyon floor narrows, and the creek begins to run a little faster. At this point the forest is predominantly lodgepole pine, with some scattered Engelmann spruce. Soon you will encounter a forest service sign informing you that you have crossed the northern boundary of the High Uintas Wilderness Area, and a few minutes later you will see the trail to Amethyst Lake leaving on the left. Keep to the right here, continuing to follow along the left bank of the Stillwater Creek.
     The trail continues on for another 2.0 miles, climbing very gradually along the canyon floor until it comes to the next trail junction. As you walk you will begin to see glimpses of A-1 Peak through the trees on your right and Mount Agassiz straight ahead. These rocky peaks, reaching 3,000 feet above the Stillwater Creek, are a preview of what lies ahead. Finally, at a point which is directly magnetic east of A-1 Peak the trail forks again, and a small sign on a tree indicates the way to Kermsuh Lake on the right. You should make a mental note of this trail junction because you will be taking the Kermsuh Lake trail on the return from Ryder, and it is easy to miss the sign when walking in the opposite direction. For now, however, continue straight ahead along the Stillwater.
     The trail continues for another 1.8 miles beyond the Kermsuh Lake trail junction before leaving Stillwater Creek. At an elevation of 9,870 feet, the path crosses the creek and begins climbing for the last 1.7 miles into the Middle Basin. But when you reach this point you will probably want to pause for a while before continuing, because the scenery is delightful. A clearing in the forest presents you with an marvelous view of Mount Agassiz across a grassy meadow. If it is late summer the meadow will be filled with wildflowers.
     From Stillwater Creek the trail climbs rather steeply for 0.5 mile, then levels out for another beautiful, gentle walk through the high alpine meadows towards the back of the basin. It is a stunning approach to the lake. For almost 360 degrees around you you can see the rocky cliffs that surround Middle Basin, and as you progress westward you will see Hayden Peak rising up on your right. Finally, after passing several small ponds, you will cross a small rise in the land to see the large lake in front of you. Ryder Lake is some 600 feet wide and 1/3 of a mile long. It is surrounded by Engelmann spruce, and there are some very nice camping sites on the eastern side. Frequently there are no other people camping at the lake, and if you are there on one of those days it will feel as if you own the entire Middle Basin.

Day 2
     If you have time after breaking camp, you should take a short side hike to McPheters Lake, only 0.4 mile northwest of Ryder. If you have a compass, select a heading due northwest of Ryder. If you don’t have a compass just head for the lowest point in the ridge east of Hayden Peak. You should see the lake after a fifteen-minute walk and an elevation gain of about 240 feet. McPheters, about the same size as Ryder, is reputed to be deeper and there are said to be some large fish in the bottom of the Lake. There are not many trees around the lake, however, and the camping is far nicer at Ryder.
     From the Middle Basin you must backtrack to Stillwater Creek and down to the Kermsuh Lake Trail, which you passed on the way to Ryder. Again, the trail to Kermsuh Lake rises rather steeply for about 0.5 mile after leaving Stillwater, but soon settles down to a very pleasant walk through a series of meadows to the back of West Basin. Finally, 2.8 miles from Stillwater Creek and 920 feet higher in elevation, you will come to Kermsuh Lake. Kermsuh is somewhat smaller than either Ryder or McPheters Lakes-about 400 feet wide and 1700 feet long. There are no camp sites here quite as nice as those at Ryder; you may prefer to camp in one of the meadows you passed just below Kermsuh. There is, however, a marvelous view of Hayden Peak from Kermsuh. Also, although you can’t see it, McPheters Lake is only a mile away on the other side of the ridge between West Basin and Middle Basin.

Day 3
     From Kermsuh Lake it is an easy downhill walk back to Stillwater Creek and from there to Christmas Meadows. The total distance is 7.4 miles, and the elevation loss is 1,510 feet.


The book includes more text, more photographs, and trail maps.

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If you are interested in a supplemental map of the Ryder/Kermsuh Lakes area, we recommend:
High Uintas Wilderness (Trails Illustrated, map #711)

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