Editor's note: Portions of this column were previously published on the author's website.
There’s a legend about Sir Edmund Hillary, one of the first two men to conquer Mount Everest in 1953, that he also climbed Kings Peak in Utah.
This is actually a true story, but it happened in the summer of 1978 when Sears and Kellwood (an outdoor equipment manufacturer), was testing camping gear in the Yellowstone drainage of the High Uintas.
Hillary, then age 59, was said to have had little trouble hiking Kings Peak and the Uintas.
No stranger to Utah, Hillary had also floated the Green River in 1969, as part of the centennial commemoration of John Wesley Powell's 1869 original exploration of the area.
And Hillary had first visited the High Uintas in July of 1962, when he and his family enjoyed a four-day camping trip in the Granddaddy Basin area.
"New Zealand mountain climber and family thrilled with pack trip into High Uintas areas" was a July 19, 1962, headline in the Uinta Basin Standard newspaper.
Duchesne District ranger Larry Colton served as a guide for the Hillarys, as the family hiked and fished.
According to the newspaper, Hillary's wife, Lady Louise, and their three children — Peter, 7, Sarah, 5, and Belinda, 3 — ventured into the primitive area of the High Uintas.
Hillary was under contract with the U.S. Forest Service to make a report on campgrounds in the Western U.S. that year.
The family began at Mirror Lake, backpacked into the Granddaddy Basin area and then returned to Mirror Lake. They did a lot of hiking, but not any serious peaks. Hillary said this trip was for finding "smiling" and not "fierce" peaks, according to the newspaper account.
The only negative to the trip were all the mosquitoes that they encountered, but they said they got used to them.
Another Utah newspaper, the Vernal Express, reported that on that 1962 trip, Hillary declared it "absolutely wonderful."
• Kings Peak in the High Uintas hasn’t always been recognized as the highest point in Utah.
According to the Salt Lake Tribune of Aug. 18, 1881, Gilbert's Peak was believed to be Utah's tallest at 13,687 feet above sea level. Kings Peak was not even mentioned back then.
• In 1903, it wasn't much more accurate. A Salt Lake Tribune article from Dec. 8, 1903, reported that Uintah County surveyors were claiming that Emmons Peak was tallest in the state at 14,449 feet above sea level.
A decade later, the Vernal Express newspaper on Jan. 23, 1913, stated that South Kings Peak was the state’s tallest summit at 13,498 feet. North Kings was second at 13,496 feet.
It stated that a "South Baldy" and a "North Baldy" were previously thought to be Utah's tallest summits at 12,210 and 12,680 feet above sea level.
• The Richfield Reaper newspaper of April 5, 1906, reported that a Mount Hodges had supposedly been named by U.S. surveyor Clarence King in the 1800s, but that now no one seems to know where that peak actually is. The newspaper called it "the largest unlocated peak in Utah." Could that have been today's South Kings Peak? Perhaps.
• The Salt Lake Tribune of April 10, 1914 finally got it somewhat right: it had Kings Peak as tallest at 13,498, followed by Mount Emmons, 13,428, and Gilbert Peak, 13,422.
• The Roosevelt Standard newspaper reported on Aug. 20, 1924, that members of Salt Lake’s Wasatch Mountain Club had hiked Kings Peak (today's South Kings Peak). On top, they “salted the peak” by placing a bottle of briny water from the Great Salt Lake on its lofty summit.
The water bottle also had the signatures of Utah Gov. Charles R. Mabey and others on it.
• A Jan. 30, 1947, article in the Vernal Express newspaper stated that in the mid-1940s, two men climbed North Kings Peak and constructed a 2-foot-high monument on the highest part of the summit.
Then, one of the men proclaimed, "There, that makes them even."
• Other newspapers of the era referred to the "twin Kings Peaks."
• For 53 years, that was the accepted belief, that South Kings was the tallest in the Beehive State. So, anyone hiking Utah’s tallest in that time period went to the southern peak, usually missing or passing by the actual tallest peak — North Kings Peak at 13,528 feet.
• It wasn’t until 1966 that new measurements by satellite proclaimed North Kings Peak as the highest and remeasured South Kings Peak to be second highest at 13,512 feet.Comment on this story
(Ironically the U.S. Forest Service had placed the first official plaque on Kings Peak one year earlier in 1965. Back then, it estimated that only 30 people a year on average hiked to the summit.)
Kings Peak, Duchesne County, though it is the “king” of Utah peaks, is actually named for Clarence King of the U.S. Geological Survey, who explored the Uinta Mountains from 1868-1871. He was later the director of the U.S. Geological Survey.
By the 1970s, the Forest Service had a metal plaque on the correct tallest Kings Peak. However, that plaque vanished in the late 1990s, presumably taken by vandals, who either took it or cast it off nearby cliffs.