Rice Peak: Pinal County Highpoint

Despite 1:15pm being a much later hour than I’d hoped to start the hike out to Pinal County’s highpoint on the slopes of Rice Peak, I decided to tackle the approximately 10 mile hike as a bit of a trail run racing darkness. Sprocket had seemed a little slow on our walk up to the Mount Lemmon summit and I didn’t have a lot of wiggle room so I left him behind in the Jeep and started hustling down the trail.

Oracle Ridge is sneaky. My Garmin measured about 3,300′ of elevation gain but, man, it felt like was constantly losing and regaining elevation! I ran down hill and motored up hill as quickly as I could and decided that I had time to scramble up to Oracle Ridge’s Middle Peak. This ended up being a little bit of a time suck as I had trouble refinding the trail when I descended and hurried on to Rice Peak.

I paused only momentarily on Rice Peak before wandering down its north ridge to the Pinal County highpoint at the Pima-Pinal County line. Just as I got to the highpoint I spotted some cougar tracks and started to get a little nervous about my fleeing prey status as the shadows lengthened. Instead of reclimbing Rice Peak, I pushed my way though the brush back to the trail. My capris left my legs totally open to the ravages of the cats claw and by the time I was on the trail, my lower legs looked like they had been attacked by a real herd of angry cats.

The colors of sunset were gorgeous and there was still plenty of light for hiking when I got back to the car after 11 miles of hiking with my fourth Arizona county highpoint completed!

Mount Lemmon: Pima County Highpoint

After climbing Browns Peak, I treated myself to dinner in Globe before driving up Pinal Peak to spend the night. The road had a little bit of snow in places but was easily driveable all the way to the summit. (Thanks to Scott Surgent for the inspiration to go!). We slept excellently listening to the wind and enjoying the stillness. In the morning, we took in the views and then headed down the mountain. I decided not to hike the spur road to nearby Signal Peak but the summit of Pinal was the high point of the Pinal Mountains! Descending from Pinal we had a chance to take in all the views that we’d missed going up in the dark. It was really gorgeous.

After we returned to the highway in Globe, it was time to cruise south towards Mount Lemmon. I had studied maps and it appeared that we could drive up to the peak on Old Mount Lemmon Road approaching from the east near San Manuel instead of from the south near Tucson. Sprocket and I definitely have a penchant for taking the dirt route whenever possible.

The road was in remarkably good shape as we climbed out of the desert (except for that one time I took a random side road and ended up on a steep quad trail; thanks for saving my butt Ruth the XJ). The views kept getting better and better as we continued upwards and I admit to stopping to ogle the Galiuro Mountains to the east (Bassett Peak climb anyone?).

The road to the summit was gated at the ski area to my immense (Coloradan) annoyance. There was only a tiny amount of snow and since I hoped to make it out to Rice Peak that day as well the extra time for the hike to the summit was really frustrating but there was no helping it so off we went up the road. Sprocket was clearly ready for the walk:

We got a little tired of the road and decided to take our chances scrambling more directly to the summit. I had a pretty good laugh that this was our third day in Arizona and we’d played in the snow on all of them but there was no denying that Sprocket was a fan.

We tromped around the summit for a bit before heading back down to the car. I had another Arizona county highpoint, my fourth, under my belt and all was well. Sprocket, although he seemed happy to be out of the car, was moving a little slower than he had the previous day so I decided to leave him behind for the Rice Peak adventure since moving quickly was going to be key to making it out to the peak (and it’s county highpoint northern slopes) and back before dark but more on that soon!

Browns Peak: Maricopa County Highpoint

After rejoining Highway 87, we headed down to Payson, got some gas, and I bought a new pair of cheap sunglasses. The next goal was Browns Peak, the Maricopa County Highpoint. The drive from Flagstaff down over the Mogollon and continuing south always makes me happy: the transition from high plateau pines to Sonoran Desert saguaros is the best. The down vest and Omniheat baselayers were quickly too much.

Just north of Roosevelt I turned west up into the Mazaztal Mountains. Oso Road is steep but in pretty good shape all the way to the trail head. I pulled in to the parking lot just before 2pm which seemed a little late to start the 5 mile round trip hike. Just as I started to contemplate what to do with my remaining daylight, I said hello to some guys who were relaxing next to their truck with some beers. They asked if I was going up to the summit and I told them about my conundrum and they assured me that it could be done if I hustled. I’m pretty down to bet my hiking speed counts as hustle so I set a turnaround time and we headed out.

Sprocket and I made it to the saddle below the peak in 45 minutes and started moving up the peak.

Sprocket made it about two thirds of the way up the scree chute but I couldn’t get him up solo. We made a pretty valiant effort with Sprocket hanging out on a five inch ledge in the middle of a 8′ ledge as I tried to figure out how to get him up; I crawled up and around Sprocket at least twice while he just sat and looked sad. Making the final 3′ jump to the top of the ledge just wasn’t worth the risk. I helped him down and settled him with some water and my pack and I headed up the mountain as fast as I could.

I quickly reached the summit, feeling in a hurry to get back to Sprocket. I knew he was sad about being left but I’d made it to the top of Four Peaks!

I look a couple of photos and headed back to Sprocket. He was sitting next to my pack and plaintively crying. This is the second time I’ve done this with SP and he seems mostly okay with it. He gets to do 90+% of the hike with me and just has to sit out the final scramble to the summit. This means that he gets to come with me as often as possible which seems like the solution Sprocket most supports.

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See, he forgives me.

I knew we’d make it to the car before dark but we kept up our quick pace since I hadn’t driven the western shore of Roosevelt Lake so I wanted to see that in the last minutes of daylight.

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Browns Peak was awesome: a good scramble always makes me happy and this one was pretty fantastic.

Myrtle Point: Gila County Highpoint

After sleeping just south of Flagstaff, Sprocket and I cruised out Lake Mary Road towards the Mogollon Rim. I was watching side roads as we headed south and they were looking pretty muddy so I started to get nervous about actually being able to drive out to Myrtle Point. When I reached the turnoff from Highway 87, I was relieved to see that it was a fairly major route and looked like it was in really good shape. Sprocket and I headed south, occasionally passing through snowy areas and, fortunately, the muddy areas were frozen. I briefly considered the possibility that if they thawed, we might be forced to spend the night and drive out when they were frozen again in the morning, but we continued pressing south.

We reached the spur road to Myrtle Point off the Rim Road (FS 300) without an major issues but I declined to drive through the large mud puddle on the spur and instead enjoy the weather walking the mile or so out to the rim.

The views were pretty fantastic:

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It was really windy though, so Sprocket and I didn’t linger too long:

I debated for quite some time, but I chose to take the Rim Road west to the highway instead of retracing my steps to the north. I was a little bit nervous since I was almost certain to be able to get out to the north but FS 300 is pretty major so I decided to risk it.  It was really fun to be able to look back to Myrtle Point and further enjoy the massive views south to the rest of Gila County.

It was pretty uneventful until just before I reached the highway. There was a pretty snowpacked corner where a small car had managed to put himself into the ditch. Someone else was already helping them but I still can’t imagine where they thought they were going!

Arizona County Highpoint #2 under my belt, I headed south to Browns Peak!

Thunder Butte: Douglas County Highpoint

After our hike of Buffalo Peak, Sprocket and I headed down Stoney Pass and for Thunder Butte. I wasn’t totally sure I was going to tackle it that day but it was certainly our next objective for the weekend. When we arrived at where we would begin our hike, it was just after 3pm and although the skies to the west were looking a little unsettled, it appeared that the weather would hold for a couple of hours so off we went through the patchy burn.

This hike was one where we walked along on almost entirely flat ground for a good chunk of the distance and then did all of our climbing at once heading fairly directly up the southwestern slopes.

As we climbed, Pikes Peak came into view to the south and I could better see the storm clouds building to my west. I hustled Sprocket upwards but we were only making marginal time. Sprocket was clearly tired from our adventure on Buffalo Peak earlier in the day and he was taking his sweet time.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect since some internet sources suggested that this climb would be made a lot less fun as a result of increased brush on the slopes after the fire. Maybe it was a result of some fall die back but this wasn’t too big of an issue. Of more concern was not brushing up against charred trees.

Finally, we found ourselves on the summit. A few photos and a look around and it was time to head down. I was starting to hear thunder rumble in the distance and my fellow #omniten and #teamawesome member Justin had burgers waiting down in Woodland Park.

The light on the way out was amazing. I was so happy to spend another fall day out enjoying nature with Sprocket.

And the light on Sheep Nose with Thunder Butte lurking in the background? That’s pretty awesome too.

James Peak: Gilpin County Highpoint

I had hoped to head up Mount of the Holy Cross on Saturday, but after I had kind of a tough day on Elbert, I changed my plans and headed for James Peak. I’d hoped to climb this back in July but when the power steering pump on my FSJ died, I skipped it in favor of playing mechanic at Aleya‘s place. Plus, it didn’t hurt that I’d learned about the existence of the Kingston Peak Jeep Trail in the meantime which cut way down on the elevation gain and hike distance.

I got a little nervous heading down a loose hill from the “stone house” since I’d have to reascend it to get out but I figured if it was really a problem, I could go out to the north. Just a few minutes later, we were at the start of our hiking route to James Peak. The “trail” is a former jeep road and the hiking went really fast as we approached the peak.

This angle of James Peak is really pretty but we wrapped around the peak to the south (left in the above photo) and ascended up the much gentler south side.

As we reached the south side, views of Loch Lomond, Ice Lake, and several other smaller lakes.

From here, the ascent went quickly as we gained the ridge and then the summit.

There were a few people on the summit but I still really enjoyed taking in the views from the peak.

We made quick time back to the Jeep and started our slow drive down the mountain. James Peak is my 26th Colorado County Highpoint; I’m steadily approaching my goal of being at 32 by the end of 2015!

Vermilion Peak: San Juan County Highpoint

Back in July, I started off my county high pointing adventure inauspiciously by being driven off of Vermilion Peak (13,894′) at 9:30 in the morning by thunder and lightning. I shouldn’t have taken it for granted that I only had 1,000′ vertical feet to go and should have started earlier but I was disappointed all the same.

It’s been bugging me ever since so when I had to go down to Ouray last weekend for some teacher training, I decided to give Vermilion another try, this time from the Hope Lake trailhead.

I’d spent the night at a friend’s place in Telluride. I set my alarm for 5am and made it to the trailhead right at 6. Sprocket was anxious to start hiking and he let me know! He happily hit the trail and we moved right along the Hope Lake Trail. I was really pleased to find that this trail had a really great grade; it’s definitely someplace I’ll keep in mind when I have friends come to visit!

As we reached treeline, the world was getting light around us. I particularly enjoyed seeing the Wilson group—I’ve climbed its three 14ers and really am looking forward to come back and climb centennial Gladstone Peak.

When we reached treeline, Vermilion Peak also came into view. I always love when you get to see your final destination along the way.

As always, Sprocket just wanted to charge up the mountain. He’s not appreciative of breaks. While I took a breather on the first talus slope, he whined and did his best to motivate me to keep moving up the hill. He’s such a pal, that Sprocket.

As we climbed upwards, Hope Lake came into view. I was on the western side of the mountain so it took awhile for the sun to come to meet me.

I really enjoyed this hike. The two talus benches gave me the opportunity to gain elevation and then to get a little bit of a breather as I walked along the top of the benches. It was so nice to reach the sunshine at the top of the Fuller-Beattie saddle.

There is a fairly decent boot track up to the Fuller-Vermilion saddle but I got off track fairly early on and made it really difficult on myself. It was a little bit scary at times because Sprocket isn’t very aware of rockfall either that he causes or that I cause so we have to carefully figure out how to stick together. I was really worried about descending this slope and was very relieved to discover that the boot track had just taken a much more gradual pace than my very vertical then horizontal path.

There are only 400′ to climb from the Fuller-Vermilion saddle to the summit and it went really quickly. There is an excellent climbers trail and Sprocket and I breezed right up.

I was pretty excited to finally make it to the summit:

The Wilson group from the summit:

I love the San Juans so much. This view looking north towards the Sneffels range in the distance:

Sprocket spent most of our summit time hanging out right next to the summit cairn. His summit excitement was a lot more stoic than mine. 😉

We looked down into Ice Lakes basin during our traverse over to Fuller Peak (13,761′):

On the top of Fuller we continued to take in the views before heading down the mountain.

Vermilion from Fuller:

I thought about heading up Beattie Peak but I was a little worried about Sprocket’s paws on the talus. We needed to make it out over a lot of talus terrain and I didn’t want to risk having to limp/carry/coax him with sore paws. In retrospect, he could have totally handled the 300′ of gain but although I’m good at reading Sprocket, ultimately, I’m dealing with an animal that can’t speak and certainly can’t predict how he’ll feel an hour and 1,500′ later.

Vermilion-Fuller-Beattie Basin with Wilson Group in the distance

Since Sprocket and I both had gas left in the tank so we ran up to Hope Lake for the puppers to take a swim before we made the drive over Ophir Pass and back to Ridgway. My 24th Colorado County Highpoint was probably one of my most favorite. The weather was great, the views around the San Juans were gorgeous, and the hike was a really fun one.

Rio Blanco County Highpoint

Saturday morning, Sprocket and I headed up the Mandall Lakes trail bound for Mandall Pass and the Rio Blanco County Highpoint. Initially, I had grand plans for a loop including Orno Peak and Point 12008 but I was just feeling tired and sluggish so I forced myself on to at least the county highpoint where I could reevaluate what else I wanted to do.

The Mandall Lakes trail climbs up in to a series of meadows with a whole lot of small ponds: Slide Mandall Lake, Black Mandall Lake, Mud Mandall Lake, and Twin Mandall Lakes. It was a lot of fun to alternate between these fairly large meadows and the shade of the trees. We had some great views back south towards Flat Top Mountain that we’d climbed the day before.

For awhile, it seemed like the pass wasn’t getting any closer and then suddenly we were at the base of the final climb! I had lost the actual trail (located to the right, or east, of the small ridge-thing and shown on the map) so instead, Sprocket and I scrambled up to the left of that ridge-protrusion thing and found ourselves at the pass.

I was still feeling kinda “meh” so I headed straight for Rio Blanco CoHP (12,027′). Although it looked like fun and not difficult at all to head out to Orno Peak, I just really wasn’t feeling it. Sprocket and I took a break at the summit, soaking in the views.

Looking north-northeast:

South-southwest:

South-southeast towards Orno Peak:

Looking back at Rio Blanco County Highpoint:

Even those days when you’re out in the wilderness and you’re not feeling in top form, it’s pretty hard to complain:

Flat Top Mountain: Garfield County Highpoint

Another weekend, another camping trip for Sprocket and I! This time, we headed to the Flat Tops for a couple of county highpoints. I was excited to explore yet another new area of the state and Sprocket was just happy it was time to go. We stopped so I could get dinner in Glenwood Springs where I treated myself to another fantastic #selfdate at The Pullman.

It was almost 11:30 by the time we pulled into the Stillwater Trailhead. I had entertained fantasies of getting up early and hiking to the summit for sunrise but when my alarm went off at 4:45 I just could not fathom getting up so I slept until about seven when I woke up to this:

I looked up at Flat Top looming above us and then started up the trail.

Almost immediately, we came to Stillwater Reservoir and were treated with a pretty fantastic view of the upper Bear River valley. The famous Devil’s Causeway is further to the east above the valley.

I was also able to get a look at the saddle between Flat Top Mountain and its unnamed neighbor from the causeway of the reservoir:

Just past the reservoir, we passed into the Flat Tops Wilderness. I always try to get a photo of Sprocket and the wilderness sign and he always is way more interesting in continuing his hike than being photographed…

We moved along at a pretty good clip since the trail was well graded and the elevation gain was pretty steady. It was a really pretty hike alternating between small meadows and the forest.

Once I hit the saddle, I was able to look north towards the Rio Blanco County Highpoint (Saturday’s hiking goal). I am actually a little bit surprised that these photos don’t more distinctly show the haze in the air from distant wildfires (as in really distant: the biggest fires around are in Idaho, Washington, and Oregon right now).

The elevation gain continued steadily from the saddle. The trail appeared and disappeared but the walking along the ridgetop was pretty easy. We saw some cattle in the distance but they seemed to move on shortly after seeing us.

Looking down to Stillwater Reservoir

Finally, we reached the summit! It was a little deceiving as we approached: I could have sworn the highpoint was the more southerly “Edge” benchmark and I naturally wanted to drift that way instead of to the very north end of the almost truly flattopped mountain where the summit was.

It was a really pretty hike that I think both Sprocket and I really enjoyed. We covered nearly 9 miles with 2100′ of elevation gain in 3:40 having reached the summit in about 1:50. We had the whole mountain to ourselves and ran into a few groups as we were almost done with the trail.

Back at the car, I decided it was too late in the day to start the 12 mile round trip hike to Rio Blanco’s county high point so we headed the 13 miles back into Yampa to explore the town. Exploring town took us a whopping 10 minutes (it’s not very big) but they had a nice city park where we relaxed for awhile. When the adorable looking Antlers Bar & Cafe opened at 3, I headed down and had dinner. It is totally my favorite thing to visit a local bar and talk with interesting people and the Antlers didn’t disappoint! After dinner, Sprocket and I headed back down the Bear River valley to camp and get ready to tackle our next hike.

Colorado 14ers: Democrat, Lincoln, Bross

A few weeks ago, I was planning on going to the Flat Tops to get a couple of county highpoints. My friend Heather was thinking about joining me but nothing was set in stone so when Heidi mentioned she was getting some friends together to tackle “Decalibron” I started pushing Heather to commit to joining us! Once I convinced her that yes she could do four 14ers in a day, she agreed.

As it turned out, she was dog sitting for a friend so Meadow joined us for the trip as well. We were quite the crew setting out for the trailhead! The pups were pretty darn adorable:

We were the first ones to reach the trailhead so we snagged a pretty good sized spot, took a little mini-hike to stretch our legs after the drive, and made some dinner. Heidi and company pulled in just after dark and we were totally to discover that Heidi’s friend Kami and Heather’s friend Kami were the same person! Sometimes this is a small small world.

Once everyone arrived, we had a little pow-wow to decide who was leaving camp at what time. When it was all settled, we’d decided to leave camp at 4am which meant people were setting alarms for 3:30am. Lovely. Being in love with sleep, my sleeping bag, and cuddling with my puppy, I asked Heather to make sure I was awake at 3:50.

As is normal with a group, we didn’t get moving until almost 4:20(ha) and then started making our way up the Democrat-Cameron saddle. Just as the sky began to lighten, we arrived at the saddle and started up Democrat. A couple hikers who had already summited Mt. Democrat earlier in the summer declined going to the peak but the summit crew arrived the peak (14,148′) in time to see the sun crest over Cameron and Lincoln, peaks we’d climb later in the morning.

We all scarfed down some food, we took some photos, and then we headed down the mountain.

Photo H. Platte
Photo B. Langton

The ascent up unranked Mount Cameron (14,238′) seemed to go quickly. Heidi and Kami had planned snacks for all the summits (except for Democrat) so we enjoyed “cab” on Cameron (yes, at about 8am).

Photo H. Platte
Photo H. Platte[/caption]

From Cameron over to Mount Lincoln (14,286′) was a really quick jaunt. This was the peak I was most excited about summiting for the day because Lincoln is the highpoint of Park County. Reunited as a whole group, we enjoyed “lagers on Lincoln” before moving on to Mount Bross.

Photo H. Platte
Photo H. Platte[/caption]

Photo H. Platte
Photo H. Platte[/caption]

At our next stop we had “brownies on Bross” (14,172′) before somehow I kinda convinced everyone to hike out to unranked South Bross (14,000′) with me. Heather had already promised to come with me but I was totally pumped that we had a whole crew!

The descent was really lose in places and not all that much fun. I can totally see why everyone does the loop the way we did! Logan (plus her pup Indy), Barret, Sprocket, and I alternated jogging and hiking down the slope. Sometimes for me that’s the most comfortable way to get down and I was happy to follow Logan’s lead!

Finally, we got back to the tents, packed up, waited for the rest of the group and headed out. It had been a fantastic day in the mountains with great people, perfect weather, and tons of fun. I had a blast hiking with everyone.

Photo B. Langton

Heather and I stopped for lunch at Backcountry Brewing in Frisco before driving back to De Beque (there may have also been a stop at Sonic in Rifle for HUGE ice cream treats for us both). We had a couple of pretty tired pups in our car and we were both excited to get back to showers. 🙂