Arizona, overall, has a pretty high caliber of county highpoints. Thirteen of the fifteen highpoints are summits higher than 7000′ and of those two below 7000′ one is Signal Peak, one of my absolute favorite hikes ever. Few of the highpoints are not either a striking peak or a prominent rim point with a great view (Black Mesa, Myrtle Point). Unfortunately, Greenlee County Highpoint, is not one of those.
After climbing up twisty US 191 from Alpine and passing through Hannigan Meadows, I pulled off into a small, unmaintained Forest Service road. We just got away from the road, and hiked up the track climbing over a not-insignificant amount of deadfall. Then we left the track and bushwacked our way to the small knob of a highpoint.
In this photo, Sprocket is looking at the highpoint cairn like, “Really? This is it?”
After our little highpoint adventure, we continued south on 191; if you’ve ever looked at the road on the map it is twisty. We stopped to check out a view point known as “Blue Vista” before heading down the tight curves of the rest of the road. The highway mostly stayed close to the ridgecrest as we traveled south and stayed above 7000′ most of the time before dropping down sharply at Morenci, home to a heartbreaking open pit mine (I’m not going to make you see photos because our lives already have enough sadness these days).
Lone Cone is, as its name might imply, a loner. It stands at 12,613′ off to the west of the San Juans. The mountain groups containing 13er Dolores Peak and the Wilson Group definitely appear to be part of the mass of mountains to the east while “The Cone” stands gracefully to the west. It’s easily ignored from the higher peaks around Telluride but as you start to travel around canyon country to the west, you realize how much it stands out. On my rambles around Utah recently I was really struck by how much it stands out over a huge area. That visibility plus the fact that I stare at it walking around Norwood and from the bedroom window of my rental meant that I really wanted to tag its summit before the snow flies (which this time of year could be any day…).
Taking advantage of fall’s low propensity for thunderstorms and the gorgeous day forcast, I didn’t leave Norwood until about 9am to start the drive to the trailhead. The route was kinda bumpy and the going was slow. For as close as that peak looks from town, it’s actually quite far south! Hitting the trail around 10am, I climbed up towards the northeastern ridge promised by Summitpost to be “3-4 class” (I found it to be no more than 3rd class but it was really rotten in areas.)
Emerging from treeline, the views were simply amazing. While the peak itself was blocking the view to the south and southwest, pretty much everywhere else I ever play anymore came into view. Off to the west were the Abajos and La Sal Mountains standing over the canyons, to the north were the Book/Roan Cliffs, Grand Mesa, the Uncompahgre, and the southern Elk mountains. To the east were all of the mountains of the San Juans.
Starting up the ridge proper, I found the Summitpost route suggestion to stay just to the north of the ridge crest for the first section to avoid rotten rock helpful. While it was still a huge pile of scree, there was a faint climbers trail to follow and it wasn’t too difficult.
The section above the rotten but relatively flat section had looked really intimidating from below. As it turned out, however, it was a ton of fun. Just fractured enough to have lots of awesome hand and footholds but solid enough to feel safe, it was a pretty easy skip up to the summit from there.
Rather than downclimbing the NE ridge scramble, I descended the north ridge, crossed “The Devils Chair” and then retraced my route back to the car. Lone Cone was an unexpectedly fun climb (scrambles, yay!) with a view of pretty much the best adventuring anywhere.
Saturday morning, after lesurely enjoying some coffee, I headed up Brown Mountain jeep road once again. (I kinda love that road: it’s not too difficult to drive and gets you up to the high country pretty quickly!) This time, I had my sights set on the highpoint of the long Brown Mountain Ridge. Located at the southern end of the ridge (Mt. Abrams is at the north end), it tops out at 13,339′. Since I was going up the western side of the ridge, I spent most of my drive and then the climb up to the ridge in shadow watching the sun make its way ever so slowly down the eastern slopes across the valley from me.
The steep climb up the gully from the end of the jeep road always kicks my butt. It’s only a half mile but it is steep. I also knew that once I hit the ridge the sun would help warm my chilly bones (I was greeted with ice coating puddles and ponds along the way up… fall is in full swing in the mountains!)
Once I got to the ridge, I started ambling along not worrying much about making good time. Looking north, I could see the route I took back in July to the summit of Mt. Abrams:
Looking south, I realized that the ridge was a lot longer than I was picturing it being. The highpoint is visible on the far right of this photo. I decided to traverse below some of the subpeaks in between to minimize elevation gain and loss–that turned out to be a mistake, going over the summits on the return was a lot easier than traversing the steep and slippery scree on the eastern slopes!
I further realized that ascending this peak from the Alaska Basin spur road off of Hurricane Pass would be way shorter. I didn’t particularly mind the extra length but the Brown Mountain road is not the shortest or least elevation gain route by far!
At the highpoint I found the summit log next to the Duco benchmark and just soaked in the sights for a bit. Somehow, I’d forgotten how absolutely magical fall is in the mountains. #Summtsummer is a beautiful thing but honestly, fall summits are even better. They’re lonelier, the weather is better (until that moment the snow falls and it’s terrible), the colors are beautiful, and the air has a crisp fresh smell that is totally indescribable.
I am so glad that I had a chance to ramble in the high mountain air alone and drink it all in.
I had Tuesday off and I had grand plans of climbing a 13er and enjoying the day with Sprocket. I slept though two alarms.
Rather than be frustrated at getting too late of a start to do what I’d planned, I quickly made a new plan, one that perhaps better acknowledged my deep weariness but also nodded to my need for some mountains. We drove to the top of Last Dollar Road and then made our way to the top of Last Dollar Mountain, 11,120′.
The hike was short, just about a half mile to the top, and although steep by non-San Juan standards, we fairly easily attained the ridge. My pup and I spent about twenty minutes marveling at the Wilson group, smiling at the sound of an airplane leaving Telluride beneath us, and just having a little cuddle.
Our summit wasn’t anything overly grand and RuthXJ did most of the work but it was exactly what I needed to remind me of just why I live in Ridgway.
After saying goodbye to Bart, Leigh, and Boone, Sprocket and I headed north from Burlington making our way to Yuma, Colorado. There was snow on the roads but it wasn’t icy (or as it would be later slushy).
Normally, one would be able to pretty much drive right to the Phillips County highpoint but the north-south road was drifted with about 4-8″ of snow so Sprocket and I jaunted north from the intersection just to the south.
After Phillips County, it was just a short drive to Sedgewick County with its short hike out to the highpoint. There was some pretty deep drifted snow on the way out past the abandoned barn but after that the going was fairly easy and the snow was already starting to melt rapidly!
We made our way north into Nebraska, grabbing lunch in Sidney, before making our way to Colorado’s Logan County highpoint. By the time we arrived, the snow was almost gone!
We tried to visit Panorama Point but unfortunately the snow was really drifted on the last mile to Nebraska’s highpoint. I wanted to drive all the way home that night so I was aware of time constraints, plus the landowner’s sign warned that because of bison in the area hiking wasn’t allowed.
Instead, we headed south through Pawnee National Grassland to Shannon Benchmark, the highpoint of Morgan County. On our way out to the highpoint, Sprocket was reminded of his hatred for prickly pear. (He used to almost refuse to walk across the field of the Log Hill property.)
I briefly debated spending another night in the area and trying to arrange a visit to the Terry Bison farm for the next day but after the blizzard adventure, I decided to put it off for another time but in the space of three days (including one mostly weathered out!) I’d added 9 Colorado County Highpoints to my total bringing me to 45 of 64 (70.3%)!
P.S. Ruth was the best ever: we had a tank of gas going over the mountains where we got 30mpg! (XJs love 45 mph and elevation; there’s a reason we make a good team.) I can’t imagine a better vehicle for someone with a county highpoint hobby.
After I summited Two Buttes, I pushed north towards the Phillips County Highpoint. The wind that I’d experienced on the hike didn’t seem to abate. When I approached Lamar, I saw a sign notifying me that US 40 was closed from Kit Carson to Limon. I began to realize that the dark clouds and wind might be a little bit more than just a small storm.
In Kit Carson, I tried to take Colorado 59 north but it, too, was closed. Not really willing to hunker down in the Jeep before noon to endure what at that point were just windy conditions with all of the trucks waiting to go westbound so I turned east towards Cheyenne Wells. There, I found US 385 open to the north so I just kept on towards the goal; wind and some non-sticking sideways falling snow aside. In Burlington, I navigated through town, only to find that my northbound route was closed… and I-70 westbound was closed.
I drove around town looking for a restaurant or a bar that I could hole up in, hoping against hope for somewhere that might look like it might have wifi. I spotted Essential Foods and headed inside. The space was simple but the lunch menu they handed me looked delicious. I’d already eaten on the road but they happily let me just sit and drink coffee for hours, understanding that I was just seeking refuge from the DOT and its road closures. Outside, the snow started, but it wasn’t sticking and I was frustrated. Time ticked by and it became clear that Denver was a mess and I probably shouldn’t expect any roads to be opening any time soon.
As I worked on my computer and the snow finally started to stick to the roads a little instead of just blowing sideways, a man walked up to me and asked if I’d found a place to stay. He had offered his vacant, for sale house to a couple also holed up in the restaurant and wanted to extend the offer to me as well. James, the homeowner, drove us over to the house to show us around the house that turned out to be a gorgeous 1919 Craftsman. James fretted about the lack of furniture, turned the heat up for us, insisted on opening the blinds so it didn’t feel like a cave, and offered to go to the grocery store for some toilet paper. Simply feeling grateful to have a warm place to stay, all I could do was reassure my host that it didn’t matter that there was no furniture, that I had toilet paper in the jeep, and that I couldn’t ask for anything more for the night.
Back at the restaurant, I got to know my housemates for the night better: Bart and Leigh (along with their dog Boone) run Be Hippy, a grassroots lifestyle brand. We chatted about social media, traveling, and marveled a little bit about the goodness of people opening their homes to us. The staff at Essential Foods continued to take good care of us stranded travelers and eventually we drifted off to our warm home for the night.
I’d started off the blizzard delay so frustrated and annoyed with DOT for being overly cautious but in the end, I was filled with the warm fuzzies of making friends, being reminded of the kindness of strangers, and the absolute importance of being open to adventure. Thank you James, Bart, and Leigh for making my day and being part of a weather event that added so much adventure to my plains highpointing.
Last December, I headed to the central plains to collect a few more highpoints before the end of 2015. As I start to think about attempting to finish the Colorado County High Point list before the end of 2016, I really wanted to finish out the plains highpoints. Sprocket and I started out our loop with the southern most points of the plains.
Appreciating the plains points takes a little bit of extra attention. I studied the cholla and the yucca plants. I poked around small towns and stopped at view points and informational markers:
The highways were lonely and many of the dirt roads were even lonelier.
Ruth even summited a couple of the highpoints along with Sprocket and I:
My ascent of Two Buttes (Prowers County HP, 4711′) came on Day 2 in some crazy winds: sustained 24mph with 51mph gusts at the time of my hike kicking up white caps on Two Buttes Reservoir. We were there, though, and it was only about 400′ of ascent to the summit so Sprocket and I decided to tough it out and get ourselves to the top.
When I’m home on a Friday, my day usually starts out with puppy cuddles and gently transitions to coffee at my computer for #hikerchat. A couple of weeks ago, as the chat was just gearing up, Mike mentioned that his climbing partners were hurt and wanted to know if I was down for a summit. I am always down for a summit.
We started trying to decide where to go and I immediately gravitated to my county highpoint list. Many of the peaks were out because of distance or potential avalanche danger. I narrowed in on Bushnell Peak in the northern Sangre de Cristo range. I could find precisely one report of it having been climbed in late-winter conditions around the end of March. It had been quite awhile since Colorado had received any snow and none was predicted for the coming week so we decided to go for it.
We met up in Poncha Springs and headed south in the growing dusk to the trailhead. We really lucked out, I did not realize that all the roads in the Raspberry Creek area are closed starting March 15th for Sage Grouse protection! The road up towards the trailhead was rough but not very difficult. Be careful though; there are some sharp rocks here and you can get yourself in trouble really quickly with a slice to the sidewall of your tire.
We were able to drive up to about 8,800′ and I probably? could have pushed up to about 9,000′ in the jeep. We discovered when hiking the next day that once the road entered the trees, the snow was both slushy and about a 1′ deep. Parking down at 8,800′ added less than a mile so it wasn’t too big of a deal.
Early early alpine starts are not my forte so I was glad that Mike pushed me to hit the trail at 3am. I rolled out of bed at 2:45, walked Sprocket around a bit, and was ready to hit the trail. As I mentioned above, we shortly ran into snow and the postholing started. I started out breaking trail and immediately began to think, “There is no way we’re going to reach the summit with these conditions.”
The old mining road peters out as it reaches the wilderness boundary and attempting to follow it in the dark was more difficult than I had expected. We crossed Raspberry Creek and I wasn’t seeing the road continuing up the creek drainage that we expected to follow. Mike and I briefly consulted and we decided to just head directly up the southwestern ridge of Bushnell.
This wound up being a really great plan. Just out of the flats we started to run into bare ground on the top and south sides of the ridge. From about 9300′ up to nearly 10,200′ we enjoyed just patches of snow and mostly easy forest walking. As we reached an aspen grove, the slope abated a little bit and the sun started to rise.
What started out to be a glorious sunrise lighting nearby Twin Sisters and the Collegiate Peaks to the northwest faded a bit as dark clouds began to gather just on the eastern side of the summits. We briefly discussed the weather and both agreed that the clouds seemed to be moving more north than west towards us so we pressed on.
The snow got harder and more difficult to traverse but the final pitch to the summit looked to have plenty of exposed rock that looked easy enough to walk up. Here, my spirits started to rise. I was feeling strong and I realized “We could actually do this.”
The wind at this point was cold so we just kept moving. At the summit, I snapped just a couple of photos, including this selfie, before hi-fiving Mike, and getting moving again. I’m pretty sure I excitedly fist pumped as I walked the last few feet to the summit for my 36th Colorado County Highpoint.
Downhill travel is always faster and that pace really helped to warm me up, plus I was motivated to down out of the wind! As we approached the valley floor, we found ourselves descending into a beautiful spring day.
Thanks for an awesome, confidence building day Bushnell. I had a blast and I was so so excited to know that my recentefforts to prepare for the mountains are working. Thank you to Mike for the suggestion to get out and do something big and for being willing to work with my goals!
In a move totally unlike me, I decided to use this long weekend to Get Stuff Done. Taking breaks to enjoy being outside was totally necessary thought! The weather on Saturday was really fantastic so I broke out the shorts and we headed on another exploratory drive, this time south of town. Parts of the road were muddy but we made it out to the end of the road on Samson Mesa.
With less than a quarter mile to the top, I decided to skip the snowshoes and see how well the crusted snow would hold me. The answer was really not at all, it was super warm for February and things were turning a little slushy. Sprocket and I didn’t really mind and away we went.
The view of the Housetop Mountain-Castle Peak-Horsethief Mountain basin was amazing! It definitely had me pondering routes up all three peaks, of course.
The hike even had a little reminder that this is pinon high desert hiking: I stabbed myself with this little cactus!
After the summit, we headed back to the jeep and it was time to get productive! (More on that later!)