Harney County Highpoint: Steens Mountain

Waking up early in the desert, Sprocket and I headed for Fields, Oregon. Word on the internet had it that The Fields Station had some of the most killer milkshakes around. I love milkshakes and so it went on The List for this trip.

Fields Station was packed when I arrived; there was an experimental aircraft fly-in and a motorcycle group coming through. I went to go order a milkshake and they warned me it would be at least a half hour. I was resigned to waiting when one of the servers asked what kind I was going to order. My answer, as always, was vanilla. Turns out, they’d made an extra vanilla shake so I got mine really quickly!

The milkshake really was good! I didn’t hang around too long after I’d finished it although seeing the planes coming in was pretty cool. My goal was to drive up Steens Mountain and move on through Burns before evening.

The road was in really really good shape and just when I started to think that this was going to be an easy highpoint on a lovely backcountry byway, I came around a corner just on top of the huge summit plateau and found a gate.

According to my previously mapped route, I was still over eight miles from the summit but it really didn’t seem like it was possible for it to be that far away. I have no idea why I decided to doubt every other resource I had at my disposal and trust just my eyes guessing how far away it was but I did. Sprocket and I headed down the road in the heat of the day at about 2pm. As we went up, we found patches of snow where Sprocket cooled himself down with a good roll.

The road had to wrap way around Big Indian Canyon which totally explains the length of the hike. And on top of it being a long way, we still had to gain almost 3000′ to the summit of Steens! It definitely didn’t appear that way when we left the car.

Finally, we reached the junction where the road to the summit of Steens Mountain went to the south and the northern end of the Mountain Loop Road joined with the southern portion we’d been walking and the summit was still almost 2.4 miles away.

By the time we reached the summit, Sprocket and I were both tired and we still had about nine and a half miles back to the car. The expansive views of so much of the southeastern part of Oregon were really fantastic though!

After the quick summit photos, it was time to start carrying ourselves down to #RuthXJ as fast as our tired legs would carry us.

Whenever we found snow, I noticed Sprocket would get off of the road and walk in it. It started to occur to me that his paws might be starting to hurt a bit but we were still quite far away from the car and I needed him to tough it out as long as he could.

We made it over the last little rise on the way back to the car and I started to jog a bit. We were both done and it didn’t seem to matter how we did it, only that we got back to the car pretty quickly. Sprocket gamely jogged behind me and when we arrived at the Jeep gave me the, “Human, be an elevator please” face that I couldn’t resist.

When we got to the campground at the bottom of the hill, it was abundantly clear I’d asked the old boy to overdo it. His paws were raw and walking on the crushed gravel in the site appeared to be really painful. I fed him and tried to walk him in some pine duff before tucking the tired boy into the tent. Dogs in pain, especially when they’re getting old, is so sad. I felt awful but also a little delighted that he had made the 19 mile jaunt without complaint. (I’m so sorry  Sprockey-boy.)

 

Humboldt County (NV) Highpoint: Granite Peak

Leaving Kingston in the morning, I headed north, cutting through the mountains and had breakfast in Austin and then kept pushing north. Thanks to the long days of summer, even after a leg stretching stop in Winnemucca, Sprocket and I made it to our intended campsite by 2pm. Some quick mountain calculations lead me to decide to tackle Granite Peak right away instead of waiting until morning.

The road up to Hinkey Summit was in really good shape and passable by pretty much anything. Above Hinkey Summit, there were some pretty good water channels in the roadway that probably could have been negotiated in #RuthXJ but with any bad tire placement there would have been trouble so we decided to just park near the communication towers.

While it had been really hot down in the valley the weather on the ridges was great for hiking! Sprocket seemed very happy to be out hiking as we worked our way up the road.

Looking across the valley at Hinkey Summit
Granite Peak in the distance
Almost to the end of the road approach!

The walk up the road felt long but it was pretty easy. There was another set of foot prints going up and coming back down from the peak but we definitely had it all to ourselves! Once we reached the end of the road, we made our way up the sage and grass filled slopes traversing below the eastern knob of the ridge.

From the saddle between that eastern false summit and the much higher actual summit of Granite, we started picking our way up the rocky slopes. I didn’t want to climb too fast because the ridge proper looked like a bit much for Sprocket.

As we climbed, I think I got to perma-grin status. Granite definitely has a low alpine feel which was awesome considering its proximity to lots of desert!

As it turned out, Sprocket wasn’t able to make the last bit of the (super fun) summit scramble so he sat below me and made his displeasure known to the winds. With another hiking buddy I could have totally made this work for him (just like Fish Lake Hightop earlier in the week!) but solo, listening to him be mad was the best thing I could do for him. I snapped a few photos at the top and then downclimbed to him to take a summit selfie.

Since I’m prepared with a headlamp in my pack, I wasn’t too worried about being caught in darkness descending the road but as it turned out I was treated to a glorious golden hour drive down the mountain. Since it was still light, we headed a bit further to the west to find a camping spot in the broad valley.

Sprocket, by this point in the roadtrip was very into his tent cuddles and being tired from a nice hike only made him even more cuddly. Considering that the mosquitos were out in force, I happily crawled into the tent with him to delve further into Owyhee Trails, an older book about the Idaho-Oregon-Nevada territory—perfect regional reading.

Iron County and Kane County Highpoints (UT)

After we left Fish Lake, we headed for Brian Head. Thanks to the long summer days, Sprocket and I had a lot of daylight to play with. We crossed west to US-89 to Panguitch and then onto the very gorgeous UT-143 then up the Forest Service Road to the summit of Brian Head.

Utah had clearly gotten just a little more snow than Colorado but the last lingering snow banks on the way to the summit of Brian Head had already been pushed through leaving Sprocket and I with just a short walk from the parking lot to the true summit of Brian Head, the highpoint of Iron County.

Retracing our path down Brian Head, we headed through Cedar Breaks National Monument. I stopped at the visitor center for a brief visit before continuing down to the highpoint of Kane County.

I wasn’t sure what sort of shape I’d find the road in but it was only a little steep and Ruth XJ made it handily within a quarter mile of the highpoint. Sprocket happily popped out for the short walk to the summit marker.

Quality hiking footwear was used for this forested, not particularly scenic peak:

From the Kane County Highpoint we cruised out to Cedar City and westward!

Sevier County Highpoint: Fish Lake Hightop

This hike kicked my butt. I don’t think it should have been that hard but it was.

Sprocket and I started hiking at Pelican Overlook (where we could totally have stealth camped for free, but, alas).

I tried to stick to my heart rate goals for training and it was taking us a realllllyyyy long time. The canyon wasn’t particularly interesting and just headed up through trees. Somehow, I had missed this key point from the Summit Post page: “Keep heading up the canyon, until you reach a signed junction approximately two miles into the hike. Take a right. Left still goes up to Fish Lake plateau, but goes further west than you want to go.”

That’s the Hightop wayyyy over there:

I definitely went left which lead to a long hike over the top of the plateau. The plateau itself was still pretty evenly covered in 3″ of snow with more in places. Sprocket and I pushed on to the summit area which was covered in boulders in addition to the snow making it slow going for both of us.

We finally made it but that last boulder was a bit much for Sprocket so I left him below me where he made his displeasure very clear. (My mute dog hit some pretty high pitches with that bark-whine.) I signed the trail register, took a selfie and we headed down the hill looking for that elusive right fork…

A look back up at the summit area:

We found it and went on auto pilot for the descent back to the Jeep. Thanks fo the long summer days, we headed on to other goals! Sprocket was tired but he was a champ on our 11+ mile jaunt since it was nice and cool, just like he likes it.

Greenhorn Mountain: Pueblo County Highpoint

As my EMT class, drew to a close, I went on a mission to have this weekend free of clinicals or of NREMT studying. Although last weekend was mostly obligation free, I did have the Love Your Valley event on the calendar for Saturday. Last weekend, there was nothing I had to do.  I plotted a trip to the east to hike the high points of Pueblo and Las Animas Counties.

Because this spring has been so dry (so dry that some Arizona National Forests and state lands are going to closures already), I didn’t even bother to check the weather. As I drove over Monarch Pass on Friday night, the skies over the Wet Mountains looked black. I was already fairly committed and the weather around Salida didn’t appear to look much better for the next day so I continued on towards Greenhorn Mountain. I headed up Ophir Creek Road about three miles when the driving rain that had started near Westcliffe turned to slushy snow. I decided the wise course of action was to sleep low in case this turned into an epic spring snow since there were 25 miles of gravel between me and the trailhead.

I woke in the morning to partially clearing skies and decided to make a go of it. The gravel road was in really great shape. Any car could make this drive. There were no ruts or large rocks, just a touch of washboard on some steeper sections. In about forty-five minutes, Sprocket and I reached the end of the road and started our hike towards Greenhorn Mountain.

Greenhorn Mountain’s name came from a Comanche warrior named Tabivo Naritgant, “dangerous man,” who was known by Spanish as Cuerno Verde. Tabivo Naritgant’s Spanish name came from the distinctive green horned headdress that he wore in battle. The warrior was killed by forces lead by Juan Bautista de Anza who had been offered the governorship of New Mexico to deal with the raiding Comanches.

With my recent reading about the history of the west percolating, I ascended the Greenhorn Trail cutting north of Greenhorn Mountain towards North Peak. Initially, I’d planned to just hike Greenhorn slowly cutting across the side of the peak but the trail felt like a much easier way to climb, even if it made the total hike a bit longer.

I know I say this frequently, but Sprocket’s joy on the trail is so sustaining for me. He is such a happy pup with new sniffs and places to explore. Every time I start to think the (old) boy is losing the spring in his step, he surprises me.

We made a quick run from the saddle up to the top of North Peak since it was only 200′ of gain from the saddle. after that, turned to navigating our way south along the ridge to Greenhorn proper. It was a pretty straightforward hike with perfect elevation practice up and downs along the way.

While we were up there, the low clouds broke to show off the southern end of the Sangre de Cristos and the Wet Mountain Valley. The clouds started to form the beginnings of baby thunderheads but nothing seemed to threatening until I was well back down the road toward pavement. Greenhorn Mountain has an elevation of 12,347′ but it’s prominence clocks in at 3,767′ thanks to its status as the high point of the Wet Mountains. (I guess their name actually comes from the amount of snow they receive in the winter not from the fact that I almost got rained out.)

Sprocket lead the final charge up to Greenhorn Mountain like a champ. This dog, man, this dog.

After a quick cuddle on the summit, we headed down to stay in front of the building clouds. We had talus filled hike down the southern face of the mountain to reach the Bartlett trail, an old road, that made for an easy walk back to the car.

Cochise County Highpoint: Chiricahua Peak

After hanging out in Tombstone, I was ready to do some hiking. It was time after a long fall full of working!

The hike to the summit of Chiricahua was exactly what I needed. I made a foray up Peak 9308 with some off trail travel but aside from that summiting Chiricahua and Flys was seriously just a beautiful ridge walk in the park. Considering my low level of fitness and activity, this was highly appropriate.

Beth Lakin and Sprocket. Summit Selfie

In the 12 mile hike, I didn’t quite hit 3,000′ of gain but I did check off another Arizona County Highpoint taking me to 80% on the list!

Storey County Highpoint: Mt. Davidson

When I started planning my trip to California, I really didn’t have any idea what snow conditions might be like along the way so I didn’t really know what county highpoints, if any, I’d be able to attempt. As it turned out, there was still a significant amount of snow to go along with some fatigue on my part from working so much. I just wasn’t feeling a lot of motivation to climb and more to sit at the van and read a book.

While perusing highpoints in Nevada and California, Mt. Davidson above Virginia City stood out as a good possibility.

I plotted a route near Spanish Gulch up Ophir Hill then wrapping around the ridge to Mt. Davidson. The Jeep road up Ophir Hill was steeper than I expected but I made quick progress knowing that my ridge walk would be a lot more relaxing. I wasn’t wrong:

I did really enjoy the views west towards the mountains of the Tahoe area as I meandered along the ridge. It was mostly snow free and the walking was easy. I made a short little scramble to the top of the mountain and there I was a the top of Storey County.

After a short stay on the summit I headed directly down the face of Davidson. I was hungry and In-N-Out + Great Basin Brewing were calling me from Reno…

Navajo County Highpoint: Black Mesa

I looked at March on my calendar back in February, I realized that it was going to be a long tough stretch leading up to Spring Break. To combat that, I scheduled a day to head down to the Navajo Reservation to hike to the top of Black Mesa, the Navajo County highpoint.

I had to do a little bit of prep work to get ready to hike this one. Since I wanted to respect Navajo Nation sovereignty, I needed to follow their processes to obtain a hiking permit for the reservation. I was a little frustrated that I couldn’t pick up a permit in Kayenta but when I discovered I could pick up one at the Four Corners Monument that worked out alright (I would have liked to start an hour earlier but alas, I had to wait near the Monument until they opened at 8am.) It was a little difficult to communicate to them where I wanted to hike but since I’d set everything up ahead of time I had no problems at permit pickup.

I started from the gate just below the water towers as suggested by prior trip reports. The gate was open both on the way up and the way down but I didn’t want to risk being locked in. This only added about a mile each way on flat road so it wasn’t a big deal (Sprocket might have disagreed when it was warm on the way down).

The trail sticks to the top of one of the ridges before it makes one large switch back up the side of the mesa. I found that the lower part of the trail, especially the start of the swing to the left that starts the switch back wasn’t really obvious and it was nice to have the GPS track from a prior hiker. After that junction, the trail became much clearer as it moved up the side of the mesa. (In fact, this trail would be a great one for the Reservation to develop into a more formal trail!)

As one might expect in mid-March, the north facing slope still had some snow covering the trail in places. I sort of embraced this since it’s not spring around here without some postholing and scrub oak scrapes. Even though it’s sort of painful, it is a definite signal to me that spring is here (although I have learned that long socks and shorts are the jam for springtime hiking).

Once I reached the rim, the views were incredible! I could see so much of the Four Corners region from there!

The highpoint of the mesa is actually located a little ways east of where the Yazzie Trail reaches the rim of the mesa. Some of it is in the open but it eventually goes into a pinon-juniper stand where the highpoint is located.

We wandered around for awhile looking for the highpoint, again, using GPS to make sure we were in the right area and eventually found the summit cairn. It was fun to see all the familiar names on the register!

Since the summit wasn’t particularly photogenic, we paused along the rim on the way back to the Yazzie Trail for photos.

It was a glorious day for adventuring outside! Sprocket found it a little bit warm on the way down but old dog is a trooper. He even got a McDonald’s kiddie ice cream cone once we were back in Kayenta.

San Juan County Highpoint: Mt. Peale

Mt. Peale has been on my list of mountains to climb since I first went to Moab in 2009. The La Sal Mountains tower above the red rocks, often graced with snow during “desert season” in the spring and fall. Being based in Norwood this year brought fresh incentive to climb Mt. Peale since the La Sals grace the western skyline on most of my after school runs.

The highest peak in Utah outside the Unitahs, Mt. Peale comes in at 12,721′ above sea level. Moab, to the northwest, sits at only 4,000′ while Paradox Valley to the southeast is at about 5,300′ of elevation. Peale is on a whole slew of peakbagging lists, including clocking in at #57 on the USA prominence list (it’s the 3rd most prominent peak I’ve climbed to date).

Early this winter, my rooomate Katherine mentioned that she wanted to climb Mt. Peale in the winter and wanted to know if I would join her. I was somewhat hesitant considering that I wasn’t sure when I could commit to climbing the peak since I was working 7 days a week and as a result of all that work, I wasn’t running very consistently. She basically ignored me and just kept talking about the hike like it was something that was Going To Happen.

Excellent move.

As it happened, I suggested March 12 for our ascent. I had paid no attention to daylight savings time beginning at exactly the time we planned to depart from the house (2am MST/3am MDT). Somehow I figured I had plenty of time to finish my shift at Mouses at 9pm, drive 50 miles to the house, sleep a bit and still climb a giant mountain? I was, however, committed, so I was in. Three hours of sleep and all.

Also throwing a wrench in our plans was that the weekend prior, Katherine had twisted her ankle in an ice climbing fall. I was willing to let her off the hook on the hike (in some ways, I saw an escape that would prevent me from facing my fears about my own fitness) but she continued to insist that she would be fine despite not wearing real shoes at school all week. (#realchampion)

My alarm didn’t go off because I very wisely set it for 2:45am, a time that actually didn’t exist that day. Katherine gently woke me up at 3am and then attempted to lay out to me that she was 75% sure her ankle could handle the hike. It was 3am, I was out of bed, and we were leaving. That was that. We jammed to T-Swift in the car on the way to the trailhead (which meant that I had “Bad Blood” and “All You Had To Do Was Stay” in my head for 16 miles…) and I kept my eyes peeled for deer lurking on the roadside.

Honestly, when we strapped our snowshoes on at the start of the snow-covered road, with Peale looming in the full moonlight, I gave us a 50/50 shot of making the summit. We had a long slog of road before we could even think of moving up the slopes. The magic of hiking in the dark took over though and we made great progress. I didn’t even turn on my headlamp because the moon was totally sufficient for light.

The day dawned just as we reached the start of our ridge ascent. Once we left the road, the snow got steep fast. My 2nd hand snowshoes purchased when I lived in Montana (in 2010!) don’t have ascenders. They’re small, definitely not designed for mountaineering on 30% slopes, and some of the quick tighten bindings don’t stay very tight anymore. It wasn’t long before my calves were screaming and I was tugging on my bindings every few minutes to keep them tight. I was tired and just wasn’t feeling it. The sky was greyer than I’d expected and I felt terrible.

I’d seen the exposed rock on the ridge from the road and all I wanted was to make it there. As soon as I could, I removed my snowshoes and strapped them to my pack, opting instead to go up the scree with microspikes and ice axe. On the rock, I started to find my groove and the sun started to come out. I moved efficiently upward grabbing short breaks while waiting for Katherine to catch up; during one of these little breaks I actually fell asleep in the wind at 10,000′. It was sort of nuts.

At the top of the exposed rock on the ridge, we crossed some steep snow on our way to the summit. We were both tired but the summit was only 150′ above us. Most of the way, we managed to stay below the ridge and were somewhat protected from the worst of the strong winds out of the northwest. On the final walk to the summit, however, the winds were definitely something to contend with. I braved the wind to take a couple of selfies and then it was time to head down.

Our short summit stay was sort of disappointing since the views were incredible. We could look north to the bulk of the La Sals, including Grand County highpoint, Mt. Wass:

Looking south over South mountain the Abajos and the Henrys were visible along with most of canyon country:

Looking back to the west, there was the Uncompaghre, Pardox Valley, and my beloved San Juans:

Photo Katherine Zalan

We debated a little how to descend and eventually settled on a glissade down the gully. It was steep in some places but it worked out okay. The day was getting warm and the snow turning to mashed potatoes so our pants were soaked. By the end, when the grade had lessened, we were both laughing and mentally preparing for the long slog back out to the Jeep.

12 hours after we’d gotten out of Ruth, we arrived back in the parking lot and headed out hoping to make it to Naturita in time for burgers and milkshakes at Blondie’s. I don’t think I’ve ever seen two milkshakes consumed that fast.

At home in Norwood, we attempted to have celebratory beers but I was sleepy by the time I’d had two sips. We’d covered somewhere in the ballpark of 15-16 miles and climbed 5000′ in elevation. That’s definitely not too shabby for an afternoon on the snow.

Thank you so much to Katherine for an awesome day in the mountains. I learned a lot and I reached the summit of a mountain that had been taunting me for years.

Bluebell Knoll: Wayne County High Point

Once #RuthXJ, Sprocket and I made the descent from Mount Ellen, I realized that there was still a lot of daylight left but I had no idea what to do with it. I contemplated reading but the weather still seemed a bit unsettled and not great for basking in the sun. I thought about heading to Hanksville, finding some internet and working on this little blog and then I decided if I were going to spend money I’d better do it the good old fashioned way: at the gas pump.

I’ve checked into most of the Utah county highpoints over the last few years, aimlessly clicking around Peakbagger, SummitPost, and the like learning which ones are drive ups and which ones require large amounts of hiking. Wayne County’s Bluebell Knoll (also known as Boulder Mountain or Boulder Top) popped up as being not too far from Hanksville (ahem, if 60-ish miles counts as not too far). Fortunately, Utah’s Highway 24 passes through Capitol Reef so the drive was pretty much gorgeous.

When I arrived in Bicknell, there were some clouds sitting ominously over the Aquarius Plateau (again, also known as Boulder Mountain) but there didn’t appear to be rain falling from them. I figured I’d come this far and the only way to know if the forest roads were too muddy was to actually go check them out.

I’m so glad I went! The roads were only barely wet in places and mud wasn’t really an issue at all. I found that the route was in really good shape. It was, true to name, a bit boulder-y on top but nothing that really needed high clearance, just patience to pick a less bouncy line.

Everything about this drive and short walk (it was less than a quarter mile from the road to the “top”) reminded me a lot of Grand Mesa. I guess that makes sense because both Grand Mesa and the Aquarius Plateau are uplifts on the uplifted Colorado Plateau.


The only bummer of the hike was that I noticed Sprocket had split a nail sometime during our Mt. Ellen adventure. I couldn’t find a nail clipper in the Jeep (gotta fix that!) but Sprocket let me use a pocketknife to clean it up a bit so it wouldn’t split further. This was a huge bummer because it meant that the big black dog was mostly out of commission for the rest of the weekend.

After we were done, we headed back to Hanksville. The weather for sleeping the previous night had been AWESOME so I basically wanted to back and do it again.