Harquahala Mountain: La Paz County Highpoint

My original plan, after visiting Mt. Lemmon and Rice Peak was go head down and climb Mt. Wrightson, the Santa Cruz county highpoint, but for reasons I can’t really explain, I just wasn’t feeling like it. I drove up through the mountains to the east and then circled back around to the west. And then, I just kept driving west.

During the winters I spent in Arizona, especially around the Quartzsite area, I’d really been wanting to hike or drive up Harquahala Mountain, the La Paz county highpoint. I’d heard that although 4 wheel drive is recommended that it doesn’t require high clearance. Sounds just perfect for an XJ! As I reached Gila Bend, I was pretty sure Harquahala was my destination. Darkness fell about the time I reached Buckeye but that didn’t stop us from tackling the approximately ten miles to the summit in the dark. Ruth handled everything masterfully (honestly the road was not that difficult and we did 90+% in two wheel drive and reached just one switchback where 4wd became necessary). Atop the summit, I had my sixth Arizona county highpoint!

At the summit, I realized the battery on my DSLR was dead. I’m super disappointed because the moon was SO BRIGHT that I kind of wanted to play around with some long exposures. Since that didn’t happen, I bundled up (although the breeze was warm) and Sprocket and I enjoyed the twinkling lights of the small towns to our west and of the I-10 corridor.

It was cozy cuddled with Sprocket in the back of the Jeep but as the sun started to rise, I crawled out of bed to take it all in. Absolutely incredible.

After wandering around a bit, we headed down hill, the sun still putting on a spectacular show (and illuminating the beautiful scenery we’d missed driving up in the dark).

This was an amazing drive! It wasn’t technical but the desert mountain views were incredible! It was such an amazing day to wake up and start the day.

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.

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. 🙂

Black Mountain: Moffat County Highpoint

After we finished with our Mount Zirkel hike, we made a quick stop at the semi-famous Clark store for a cold drink and a snack before driving to Craig. I grabbed some more food in Craig (I guess a sixteen mile hike will do that to you…) and we pressed on to the Black Mountain trailhead.

I had initially planned to spend the evening lounging in the back of the Jeep finishing the book I’d brought but as I drove up, it occurred to me that we probably had enough daylight left to hike the 5 1/2 mile round trip and we definitely had enough daylight to make it to the summit and come out by headlamp if necessary. After a summer of nomadic jeep life, showering and sleeping in my bed after a long day of hiking was sounding pretty good.

I decided my tired legs were up to the challenge. I was a little bit worried about Sprocket pushing on over the twenty mile mark for the day but I also figured that if he started flagging, we’d turn around and I’d just climb the peak quickly in the morning.

I really didn’t need to worry: Sprocket seemed a little bit tired at points but we made the 2.8 miles to the summit in a very respectable 1 hour.

It wasn’t the most exciting summit but it was my twentieth county highpoint in Colorado!

We quickly headed down the mountain with it spitting rain but also with some pretty golden sunshine:

We made it back to the car just before dark and then headed home for a shower. 🙂

Colorado 14ers: Castle Peak and Conundrum Peak

Last Saturday night, Sprocket and I headed up Castle Creek and then up into Montezuma Basin. I got tired at about 12,000′ and I decided the best thing to do was to stop and go to sleep. Navigating steep 4WD roads by your vehicles headlights isn’t the most fun thing in the world. I woke up at about 5:45, fifteen minutes before my alarm, to a couple of hiker mocking the cars “dropping like flies.” I won’t lie, I was happy to fire up the Jeep and cruise past them to the very end of the road at 12,800′.

 

From the end of the road, we headed up the mountain. sprocket was so excited. He started by swimming in the creek and rolling in the snow. Who wouldn’t want to start the day like that?!

We made our way up the slope, happy for the toeholds already kicked in the snow next to the glisade track.

The slope on the ridge was fairly gentle and we made pretty decent time on the way up. I was eyeing the saddle between Castle and Conundrum trying to decide if I was willing to chance the descent into the basin (ultimately, because I hadn’t brought an ice axe I declined that option…).

Sprocket made friends with a guy who, along with his friend, was taking his sister up her 2nd 14er. They made for great trail company and totally tolerated my fuzzy adopting them for the hike to the summit.

We took a quick selfie on the summit of Castle Peak (14,265′) before continuing on to Conundrum. The weather wasn’t looking exactly sketchy yet (it was only 8:15) but there was clearly moisture in the air so we got to getting on over to the next peak…

It was a surprisingly quick traverse to Conundrum (14,040′) where I got a good look back at Castle Peak that I was going to reascend because I’d decided not to glisade from the saddle.

Sprocket was, once again, the best hiking partner I could ever ask for. He attacked the trail with gusto, politely made friends, and proved himself once again to be an awesome mountain dog.

We briefly enjoyed the views and then headed back downhill.

At the Jeep, we paused for some water and snacks before driving back down Montezuma Basin road. I headed up Pearl Pass about a mile or so and chickened out where a stream ran down through some cut up rock that also happened to be the road. I’m pretty sure I could have made it up that way but there was a log placed to divert water that was slippery and the ass-end of the Jeep wanted to slide towards the edge of the road and I just decided to throw in the towel.

My pup snuggled in on the pillows and looked pretty darn contented on the way down the hill. His face might look slightly worried here but that’s mostly because he doesn’t like his photo being taken…

Conejos Peak: Conejos County Highpoint

After our successful summit of Summit Peak earlier in the morning, I was in no hurry to get to the trailhead of Conejos Peak. From what I understood, it was a rough but not particularly difficult road to the trailhead so there was no reason to make it up there much before dark. I dallied in Platoro and had a hamburger for lunch at Skyline Lodge (sadly they make all their hamburgers well done…besides that the lodge atmosphere was great!).

Sprocket and I easily made our way up FS 105 followed by 3A to the trailhead. I went up the road in 2WD, 2nd gear. There was one spot on 3A where high clearance might be nice but totally not necessary. I was happy to have low range headed down hill but again, nice but not necessary.

When we reached the trailhead, I took a look at the sky and realized that although it was about 3pm, it looked relatively free of thunderstorms. The hike to Conejos doesn’t gain that much elevation so I figured that worst case scenario we’d get a preview of the next day’s hike and we set off down the trail

The whole way up, I kept scanning the sky to the southwest to see if the storms were looking threatening. As you can see, there were puffy clouds to the northeast but nothing that said, “don’t summit!”

Admittedly, after my experience on El Diente and my recent descent from Ice Lakes, I was cautious but felt confident about our quick bailout options down the basin so we continued upwards. I occasionally felt a little nervous but the clouds seemed to be getting dark over the ridgeline and then disappearing.

This was one of those hikes where my summit picture really was the start of my photo taking rather than the end since I was feeling so much better about not leading my unsuspecting pup into danger. It was all to no avail since Sprocket is anti-summit selfie:

We made great time back down the gentle summit ridge:

This hike really had one of the best grades to a 13er that I’ve experienced so far. The start was really gentile to get warmed up then it was fairly constant but awesome the whole rest of the way up:

There was a small part of me that worried about taking Sprocket on his second 6+ mile hike of the day but I had no reason to worry: with the cool temperatures, this pup was ready to hike allllllll dayyyy:

Back at the car, we slowly began descending to the Conejos River. There was a part of me that was sure that the rain was going to hit us any minute but it continued to hold off (for a few hours anyway… more on that tomorrow).

Clearly, it was a good day:

Olympic Mountains: Mt. Washington

The weather in Washington has been absolutely beautiful and I really wanted to get outside and take advantage of it so while I was at the Rainiers’ game with my family I sent a message to my cousin, Daniel. After our adventure on Gold Mountain at Christmastime, he’d said he was always up for more adventure so I was hoping that was still the case.

Happily for me, he agreed and I quickly started searching for some hike options. I really love the Olympic Peninsula so it really wasn’t a surprise that of the four choices I sent him, three were on the peninsula. I was totally pumped when he agreed to tackle my first choice, Mt. Washington. At 6,255′ it is the most prominent peak in Mason County with 2,615′ of clean prominence.

The Mt. Washington trail is not an official Forest Service trail and starts out really steeply from the parking lot. And when I say steeply, I mean that we gained 1,600′ in the first mile. Fortunately, it was a really beautiful hike. There were lots of wildflowers and the views to the east just kept getting better as Mt. Rainier appeared and then all of Hood Canal and then some of Puget Sound.

In places (like the slope Daniel is standing on in the photo below) the trail was covered in scree and made for tough climbing in spots. It was always a relief when we switched to climbing up roots and rocks.

As we climbed up higher and higher I got more and more giddy. I absolutely love climbing in the high alpine during the summer and I haven’t gotten to do that in Colorado yet this year!

I really love this photo I took of Dan:

Seriously, I’m not joking, I was giddy:

We reached a great stopping point just shy of the half way point (in elevation gain) and had some snacks and enjoyed the view.

After refueling, we started the final push for the summit. First, we passed through a small meadow filled with bear grass flowers:

Then we started to work our way up the headwall toward the the ridgeline:

The trail to the summit was really pretty and I enjoyed the final easy scramble to the summit. Plus, the views to the west and the interior of the Olympics were absolutely amazing!

One of the things that I really love about climbing more than one mountain in an area is seeing mountains from more than one angle. The mountain below is Mt. Ellinor that I climbed in 2005:

Coming from Colorado I also appreciated the green in the lower reaches of the trail on the way down. I’ve always felt that there is nowhere else you can go and see more shades of green in one place!

Back at the car, we changed into flip flops, stared up at the mountain and headed back down to Hoodsport.

Hoodsport Coffee Co. serves Olympic Mountain Ice Cream which is seriously fantastically delicious ice cream. I devoured one scoop of vanilla habanero followed by one scoop of lemon lavender. Daniel had vanilla and cappuccino chip.

Mt. Washington was a great hike that had a lot of elements that I loved: a summit, great high elevation scrambling, amazing views, and it inspired more summits; plus it has one of my favorite ice cream brands at the base. It was all made better by getting to hang out with my cousin who I rarely get to see. As always, I’m excited to get back to the Olympics next visit home!

P.S. Congratulations to Daniel for wrapping up a successful college career and graduated from Central Washington University the Saturday before the hike!