Goat Mountain and Mt. St. Helens … kinda

Although I’d really been looking forward to climbing Mt. St. Helens, with the renovation at my mom’s house ever growing in scope, I didn’t prepare for this trip anywhere near as well as I should have. I ended up working with the plumbers the day that I’d planned to leave and things just got a little nuts. About the time I reached Centralia, I realized that I’d left my ice axe and crampons in Tacoma. Washington got a lot more snow than Colorado and my heart sank because that had basically already sealed not getting to the highest point of the ridge.

Traffic south of Tacoma sucks and I was slightly ahead of it so I definitely didn’t want to backtrack and sit in it so I decided to continue and take my chances. Besides, I had kind of a bee in my bonnet about using the evening to climb Cowlitz County’s highpoint: Goat Mountain.

Forest Service Road 470 was pretty washed out (there were ruts that were almost a foot deep) so I just parked at the junction with FS 8117 and walked up to the start of the southwest ridge. The trail was occasionally indistinct but overall, it was pretty easy to follow. Just below the summit I started to run into patches of snow and I had to brush away some sads about knowing I was going to see a St. Helens covered with too much snow for me to summit. The view though didn’t make me sad: it was totally gorgeous.

Rainer peaked out to the north, Adams was visible from the ridge and St. Helens was right there. I took some photos and then hustled down the trail to make it back to Ruth before it got dark.

My non-preparation continued when I got to the road to Climbers Bivouac. The road was closed because it was still covered with snow and I was directed to Worm Flows. I scrambed a bit because I hadn’t bothered to read up on on Worm Flows (or really any route, to be honest). I was just feeling a little beat up by this hike and I hadn’t even started hiking yet.

In the morning, still feeling demoralized, I decided to sleep in a bit since I wasn’t going to summit anyway. I made really good time to the junction with the standard climbing route…that was covered in snow. I decided to climb up a ridge to the east of the standard route because I was going to be much more successful climbing the ash and scree covered route than the steep snow with my (unprepared) light and fast gear situation. I knew my only summit hope was being able to maybe traverse along the rim versus going straight up snow.

Oh, my god it was steep. It was fun? But also, it was one of those things were as I expended energy, I could see the rim better and better and was realizing that I wasn’t going to be able to safely make the traverse. With 1500′ to go to the rim, I almost quit.

In the end, I’m glad I didn’t. The view into the crater was really impressive. I just desperately wished that I could make my way west but it wasn’t the right choice. Instead, I turned around and took my tired butt down the mountain.

Back in Tacoma (after getting first dinner at Burgerville with a BIG fresh strawberry shake) I met my mom (and my Sprockey!) at my grandma’s for dinner. I was exhausted—it’s been a long time since I’ve done 5000’+ gain in a day and I was ready for bed. I have unfinished goals down there though, guess I’m going to have to scope another permit for this mountain!

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.

Colorado 14er: Mount Of The Holy Cross

Mount of the Holy Cross is barely a 14er, with its summit reaching 14,005′, but it is not Mt. Holy Cross it is “Mount of…” which I find sort of pompous but I digress. I’d heard that Holy Cross was a beautiful mountain and I was kinda skeptical since it’s listed on 14ers.com as part of the Sawatch Range which never quite does it for me. (I have become a mountain snob, I won’t lie to you.) I was wrong. Holy Cross was a great mountain to climb. It is, however, the highpoint of Eagle County, and it was my 49th county highpoint in Colorado, bringing me to just over 78% completion!

Famed western photographer William Henry Jackson, photographed the mountain in 1873 from the flanks of neighboring Notch Mountain (Notch actually obscures Holy Cross from US 24 so it cannot be seen) while traveling with the Hayden Party. Some questions exist as to whether Jackson doctored the photo so that the cross was more distinct.

Photograph. Mountain of the Holy Cross. 2004.0286.16.
The National Museum of American History

In 1874, another famous artist of the American West, painter Thomas Moran climbed to the flanks of Notch Mountain to make some sketches of Mount of The Holy Cross for a painting. Moran’s inspiration by Jackson in turn inspired Henry Wordsworth Longfellow to write a poem “The Cross Of Snow.”

Anyway, in addition to being Mount of the Holy Cross, there’s a lake named Bowl of Tears and another snowfield called the “Supplicating Virgin.” This also finally explains to me the name of “Shrine Pass” leading from Red Cliff to I-70 near Copper Mountain (no joke this always made me think of the Shriners…). In the 1920s there was a large push to develop the area around the mountain, as well as the mountain itself, as a place for “devotion” and worship. The Colorado Mountain Club pushed back, advertising a 1923 outing as an opportunity to “see it BEFORE it is desecrated in the name of religion. It is a glorious mountain, in a splendid and so-far inaccessible setting of ragged ridges and sparkling lakes.” After their trip, they were clear to note in their report that the cross was barely visible as a result of it being late summer.

As a result of all the interest surrounding Holy Cross, President Hoover declared the area a National Monument in 1929 leading to the construction of Tigiwan Road in 1932 and 1933. The Tigiwan Community House, spotted on the drive to the Half Moon Trailhead, was built to house pilgrims and the CCC built the stone house visible on Notch Mountain from the summit of Holy Cross was built to shelter them as they viewed the cross.

Then, as quickly as it had grown, the pilgrimage movement ended in the late 1930s. In addition to economic hardships followed by World War II (and the heavy usage of the Leadville area by the 10th Mountain Division for training), for various possible reasons the cross always seemed to be less impressive than promised. (One suggestion is that rockfall happened in the right arm to make it less apparent.) In 1950, the National Monument was decomissioned by Congress.

Okay, giant historical aside is over but I owe a huge thanks to Kevin Blake’s article “Imagining heaven and earth at Mount of the Holy Cross, Colorado” for allowing me to really geek out on this.

As a hike, Holy Cross is a bit of a bear because the standard route from Half Moon Trailhead climbs about 1000′ to Half Moon Pass before descending 1000′ to East Cross Creek and only then can you make the 3200′ ascent to the summit. This, of course, means that one must also climb 1000′ on the “descent” of the mountain to get out of East Cross Creek’s canyon.

I’d given a half-hearted effort to climbing Holy Cross back in fall 2015 so I knew it’d be nice to get the climb to the Pass out of the way before going for a summit and decided to camp at East Cross Creek. I arrived at the trailhead about 2pm and really hoped that I wouldn’t wind up just getting drenched on my way to camp since the clouds were looking somewhat ominous.

Although a few drops fell on me as I started to pitch my tent, it never actually rained overnight. I had hoped to crawl into the tent and do some reading but I lasted about 30 minutes before I promptly fell asleep… at 5pm.

My headlamp appears to have jumped from my daypack, which I discovered when I woke up about 11pm, so I set my alarm to go off at 5:30 since hiking before that without a light source would be rather silly. I hit the snooze button once and started climbing up the ridge of Holy Cross about 5:45.

Notch Mountain in the background

It never ceases to feel magical to be in the mountains as the sun makes its way over neighboring ridges. This one was no exception. Suddenly, as the sun crested Notch Mountain, Holy Cross started to shine.

There’s a great stairstep-y path leading a good chunk of the way up the talus slopes before you cross a somewhat flat section of the ridge and then tackle the final steep, 500′ easy scramble to the summit.

I’d been worried the last 800′ to the summit that the weather was going to take a turn significantly before the 10am predicted by the National Weather Service but it actually seemed to get better while I was lounging at the top. By this point, I was basically dreading the ascent back to Half Moon Pass with my pack. It wasn’t particularly heavy but it was enough to just not want to do.

It was only after grinding the first 500′ of the climb out of the way that I had a chance to really appreciate that I’d gotten my 49th Colorado County Highpoint (of 64) and my 14th 14er (using the CMC list).

Sources:

Blake, Kevin (2008) ‘Imagining heaven and earth at Mount of the
Holy Cross, Colorado’, Journal of Cultural Geography, 25:1, 1 – 30. DOI:10.1080/08873630701822588.

Longfellow, Henry Wordsworth. “The Cross of Snow.” The Poetry Foundation, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44629/the-cross-of-snow.

“Mountain of the Holy Cross.” National Museum of American History, National Museum of American History, americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_1276028.

Jackson County Highpoint: Clark Peak

With all my focus on getting the house built, my Colorado county highpoint quest was temporarily delayed. (Over a year has past since I grabbed Pikes and Devils Playground!)

When I managed to find myself with a three day weekend, I started scanning my list deciding where I should go. I finally settled on Clark as a primary objective and getting something else (perhaps a third try at Pettengel) if my old pup was up for two consecutive days of hiking. Clark Peak is not quite a 13er, measuring in at 12,951′ but it does have the dubious distinction of being the “tallest Colorado peak this far north” aka there are no peaks in Colorado north of Clark that are taller. A much less random assertion is that Clark is also the highpoint of the Medicine Bow Range.

I’d heard rumors that the 4×4 road approaching the trailhead to Jewel Lake was in pretty rough shape so when I entered State Forest State Park in the waning daylight hours I didn’t really know what length of hike we were in for the next day. As it turned out, I was able to make it 2/3 of the way up the 4×4 road and on some more examination on the way down from the peak in the morning, I’m pretty sure the obstacle where I stopped was totally do-able by Ruth (although perhaps a spotter would have made me more apt to take it on) and was also the last piece of any consequence on the drive.

The hike up to Jewel Lake went quickly and I refrained from letting Sprocket swim as I wanted him to save his energy for the stiff climb from the lake to the summit (about 1600′ in less than a mile!).

The weather was glorious so we didn’t hustle ourselves too hard up the grassy slopes, pausing frequently to enjoy the view.

Clark Peak marks my 48th highpoint in Colorado. Of the ones I have left Blanca Peak (and its associated slope point) is the highpoint of three counties and Crestone and East Crestone can be combined leaving me with 13 more outings. I’m going to try and get a couple more in 2017 but summer 2018? It’s on.

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.