Mt. Wrightson: Santa Cruz County Highpoint

Sprocket and I woke up at Bog Springs Campground in Madera Canyon and then headed up to the Mt. Wrightson trailhead. (Madera Canyon did not have a wealth of stealth camping options). I’d decided to go up the gently graded and more east and south facing Super Trail and then to come back down the Old Baldy Trail. Sprocket and I started up in the half-light of morning and quickly sped our way up to the Josephine Saddle. (We did not hike as fast as we had on Mt. Baldy a couple days earlier though.)

Thirty seconds before he flushed some quail and then looked at me like “I did a good job, didn’t I?!”I made him come pose for his obligatory “Sprocket entered a wilderness photo” I guess somewhere in that lazy dog there is a wasted bird dog.

Although the Super Trail had an easy grade, it was LONG. We just kept winding around the mountain and it almost felt like we weren’t making any progress at all. (The offtrail peakbagger in me looked up at the summit multiple times and thought, “Wait, I’m not just hiking up that gully?”)

Finally, we reached Old Baldy Saddle then climbed to the summit. The wind was a little bit brisk but the views were pretty expansive and great.

Mt. Wrightson used to have a lookout on top and its foundation made for a great place to hole up out of the wind and enjoy the views, some water, and a little snack before heading down Old Baldy Trail.

The Old Baldy Trail is significantly shorter (but steeper!) than the Super Trail and we made pretty good time hustling down the mountain. I ran into several groups moving up the mountain, and was complemented on doing a “good job.” I always feel a little weird when people tell me (or Sprocket) that we’re doing a “good job” on mountains. I live at 7000′ and try to spend a significant amount of time on trails so it doesn’t feel particular impressive, or like something I should be complemented for.

Mt. Wrightson was a pretty fun hike. It was long but doing the figure-8 of trails the way I did was pretty easy. It’s a great way to get some elevation in Arizona while using a trail and not needing to do any scrambling or climb particularly steeply (unless you want to do the Old Baldy Trail up).

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:


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!

Colorado State Highpoint: Mount Elbert

Yesterday was my 30th birthday and since I was going to be in school I knew I needed to “celebrate” the weekend before. I have been loving my weekend county highpointing adventures with Sprocket but since this was a “special occasion” I decided to go big: Colorado’s highest peak, Mt. Elbert.

Way back last winter, Kelly and I had discussed lots of mountain plans but summer got crazy and we hadn’t adventured together since January. Since we’d had so much fun on that desert trip, it had been way too long since we had hiked something!

Kelly found a great camping spot along Halfmoon Road. I met her there after dark on Thursday so I didn’t get a look at it until morning. Wow!

We hit the trail on Friday about 7am and started to plug our way up the peak. For the first time in recent memory, I felt terrible heading up the mountain. From the time we hit treeline, I felt pretty terrible. I had a headache and just couldn’t seem to get it together. The weather was fantastic and I couldn’t possibly let this day go to waste so I just kept plugging along and it was all worth it.

Once we reached the top, we took a little bit of time to enjoy the view, get a photo, and then make a game plan for the rest of our day.

We resolved to go down into Leadville for food but first, we decided to continue an extra mile south to South Elbert, an unranked 14,000′ peak. From the summit of South Elbert, we got a great view back to Elbert. …and of the slope we were going to need to reclimb to get back to our North Ridge trail.

The reclimbing of Elbert proper was really tough since my headache only sort of had resolved itself and I was hungry and Kind bars weren’t really taking the edge off. Once we started down, I started to bounce back a bit and really enjoy the gorgeous fall weather.

In Leadville, Kelly stopped in to ask about mountain bike trails at Cycles of Life and we also asked for a food recommendation. The Tennessee Pass Cafe was adorable and the food really hit the spot after the long hike.

Afterwards, we headed back to camp where we enjoyed some Colorado craft brews, some gourmet s’mores, and raspberry-rhubarb pie before calling it a night right after dark.

Thank you so much Kelly for joining Sprocket and I for a special birthday hike!

Denver Area “Peakbagging”

One of my 2015 goals is to complete 50% of the Colorado County Highpoint list. To help me reach that goal, I decided to use some of this time on the Front Range to knock out the metro-area county highpoints. There wasn’t too much exciting about any of the four that I grabbed (the same goes for the three county prominence peaks as well) but they’re checked off the list!

Denver County’s high point is found in the middle of a busy road surrounded by strip malls. It’s not one of the prettiest places I’ve been so Sprocket and I took our photo op crouched next to the road focusing on the fluffy clouds in the sky instead:

Next up was Araphaoe County. Located in a subdivision, this one at least had better views:

Not my most adventurous hike:

I made one more stop before calling it a peakbagging day, and hit the Adams County highpoint. Located on the edge of a corn field with jets flying over head into DIA, I kind of liked it in a weird sort of way:

The next day, I decided to head out again and get the last metro county highpoint and three county prominence points. First up was Inspiration Point, Denver County’s prominence peak:

Then it was off to very windy Broomfield County Highpoint (I blame my squintyness on the wind):

Next it was off to Broomfield County’s prominence peak, West Morgan Hill:

And then I rounded my adventure off with a drive through a neighborhood to get as close as I could to to Adams County’s prominence point, Hyland Hill. I was too chicken about being sketchy in the neighborhood to take a photo…

While not my most exciting peakbagging adventures ever, it brought me to 11/64 county highpoints and 6/64 county prominence peaks in Colorado!

Sierra Estrella Highpoint, Part 1: Desert Mountain Happiness

After my hike through Sycamore Canyon, I was ready to do a bit of highpointing. I spent some time browsing and settled on tagging the summit of the Sierra Estrella mountains. Visible from throughout Phoenix, the Sierra Estrellas are a northwest-southeast trending range between Avondale and Maricopa.

To reach the beginning of the hike I had to drive all the way round to the southern flanks of the mountains. The roads weren’t in really good shape but the going wasn’t too bad (follow the directions on not your GPS…) Although it sounded like I could drive right up to the base of the mountains, I reached a wash with deep sand about 4 ½ miles from where I expected to start my hike. The van was definitely not capable of this and I knew it was as far as I could drive. I pondered the situation for a minute and decided that it was a lot of extra hiking but it was flat and along a road so I shouldered my pack and headed out.

For a long time, it seemed like the mountains just wouldn’t get any closer. Finally, I reached the powerlines that I’d hoped to begin my hike from. I headed up into the basin hopping along big boulders in the wash. As directed by my beta, I headed up the rightmost drainage to attain the ridge. It was a pretty stiff climb but it was a lot of fun with picking a route and scrambling up boulders.

On the ridge, I got a good look at the summit (with the radio towers). What really attracted my attention was the summit on the left: Peak 4232. I decided that I had plenty of daylight, water, food, and energy to add it to the plan for the day and set off for the Sierra Estrella summit (4,512′) with new energy. The whole ridge hike, I kept my eye on the drainage coming down from the saddle between the two peaks to determine if it was passable as it would be a much quicker descent route.

From Sierra Estrella HP, I had great views north towards Phoenix and south towards Rainbow Valley and the Maricopa Mountains. It was hard to believe that four million people were just to my north. I’d worked hard to get to that perch and was feeling pretty relaxed and pleased with myself and dreaming about future hikes. More than nine miles in, my legs felt good and I was starting to mark this down as one of my Best Hikes Ever.

Down at the saddle between my two objectives, I tried to figure out my route up Peak 4232. It was a fun assent with some 4th (perhaps low 5th) class moves. I was confident and moved quickly up the north side of the peak. Peaks like this with just a couple of easy but heady moves are my favorite (Thielson was another).

There was one move that I didn’t really want to down climb so I checked out a descent from the south side of the mountain. I scrambled around and reached a point where I thought I could make the move. I thought about it. And then I thought about it some more. This mountain was definitely not worth dying on so I headed back up to the summit a little unnerved that I would have even considered doing something that dangerous.

More on the hike tomorrow!

Big Island: Mauna Kea

We landed on a new tropical island and within an hour we were standing at the top of a really really big mountain: Mauna Kea—13,796′ above sea level!

Mauna Kea from Saddle Road

Going to the summit was one of my goals for our trip to Hawaii so we’d done a fair amount of research about the road to the summit. Most of the guides said that it was a very rough 4-wheel drive road however we found both Saddle Road and the Mauna Kea Access Road to be in very good condition.  The Access Road is about 15 miles long and all but about 5 miles are paved. This road is easily driven by any vehicle, not just 4-wheel drives. There were little rental cars all over it.

4-wheel drive is *not* necessary.

Winding road to the summit of Mauna Kea.
Mauna Kea observatories

At the top of the mountain, there is a short path to the summit high point. There isn’t much of a view because the mountain is so broad and vog often blocks views to the south towards Mauna Loa and Hilo.

It’s a pretty crazy feeling to leave the lush vegetation around Hilo and drive up into the empty cinder landscape. Getting in to the car the air was sticky and warm but up on the summit was windy and 50 degrees!

13,796 feet above sea level
Benchmark Love
Summit views