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.

Flat Top Mountain from Mandall Lakes Trail

Mandall Lakes Trail

Looking towards Mandall Pass

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.

Approaching Mandall 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:

Summit views


Summit views

South-southeast towards Orno Peak:

Orno Peak

Summit selfie

Looking back at Rio Blanco County Highpoint:

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:

Mandall Lakes Trail

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:

Sprocket wakeup call

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

Flat Top Mountain

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.

Stillwater Reservoir

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…

Flat Top Wilderness

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.

Approaching the saddle

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).

Views north to Orno Peak and Rio Blanco County Highpoint

Leaving Saddle

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.

Flat Top Mountain with Flat Top West in the foreground

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.

Summit of Flat Top Mountain

Summit Selfie

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:

Sprocket and Meadow

Road trip

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.

Summit of Mount Democrat

Summit of Mount Democrat at sunrise

Sunrise on Mount Democrat

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

Group photo, Mt. Democrat
Photo H. Platte
Descent off Mount Democrat
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).

Mount Cameron

Photo H. Platte
Photo H. Platte

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.

Summit of Mount Lincoln

Photo H. Platte
Photo H. Platte
Photo H. Platte
Photo H. Platte

Traverse to Mount Bross

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!

Heidi and Beth

South Bross

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!

Descent from Bross


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. ūüôā

Sprocket and Meadow


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.

Black Mountain Trail

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.

Black Mountain

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.

View from Black Mountain

Black Mountain

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

Black Mountain

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

Black Mountain

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


Mount Zirkel: Routt County High Point

After a busy week of moving, Sprocket and I were ready for some adventure. I had new teacher orientation last Thursday and when I got home, I did a quick workout and then we hit the road. Friday, I needed to take a final exam for a class so we spent the day exploring Steamboat Springs (and doing a little bit of studying). I treated myself to a fantastic dinner at Mahogany Ridge Brewery ($1 tapas! And a filet mignon!) before heading north to the trailhead for Mt. Zirkel.

Mt. Zirkel Wilderness

First thing in the morning, the weather was looking a little bit dreary but I decided it didn’t look particularly threatening and I had several miles to hike before we’d start to climb out of the trees anyway. We headed up the Gilpin Creek trail which climbed very gently up into the basin.

Gilpin Creek Trail views

Gilpin Creek Trail

Gilpin Creek Trail

Gilpin Creek Trail.

Gilpin Creek Trail

Waterfall on Gilpin Creek Trail

When we reached the creek crossing where I was supposed to leave the trail, I waded through the very wet brush and eventually ran back into a trail. Turned out, it was the Gilpin trail. I didn’t really figure that out until I got to the sign that proclaimed “No camping within 1/4 mile of Gilpin Lake.” We’d not gone exactly the right way but it just meant traversing across and up to Pt 12006′ instead of straight up to it.

Sprocket ascending Pt 12006

The clouds were still blowing in and out but I hadn’t heard any thunder or felt any rain so we continued climbing.

Ascending Pt. 12006

Ascending Pt. 12006

Eventually, we reached the saddle right below Point 12006:

Ascending Pt 12006

A quick scramble took me to the summit of 12006 where I got my first view of Mount Zirkel. The ridge from Point 12006 was a quick and easy scramble and soon we were walking along easy tundra towards Zirkel.

Mt. Zirkel

Looking back at Point 12006:

Pt 12006

I don’t know what it is about the alpine tundra but it seems to make Sprocket¬†so happy:


Mt. Zirkel

It didn’t take long to climb the last bit to Zirkel’s summit. The clouds parted just enough to give us some pretty good views:

Southeast view from Mt. Zirkel

Looking northwest to Big Agnes:

Big Agnes

Zirkel’s southern tundra covered ridge:

View south from Mt. Zirkel

Mt. Zirkel Selfie Beth

Sprocket really does hate summit selfies. He even appears to be scowling here:

Beth & Sprocket on Mt. Zirkel

Views from Mt. Zirkel

Since I wasn’t entirely sure if the weather was going to hold out, we didn’t linger too long on the summit (besides it was pretty windy). We rambled south to Red Dirt Pass Trail. The route out via Red Dirt Pass Trail and Gold Creek Lake Trail was longer by a little bit but made our hike a nice loop.

Red Dirt Trail

The descent on the Gold Creek side was also really gradual and through some nice open forest.

Gold Creek Basin

Gold Creek Trail

Gold Creek Trail

Gold Creek Trail

By the time we were approaching Gold Creek Lake at about mile 13 (according to my vivofit…which has proved fairly accurate), I was definitely feeling it. My legs had been a little sore to start the day but had held up pretty well. Sprocket took a¬†quick swim break at this very pretty little lake while I shoved an Epic bar in my mouth and we headed back down the last couple of miles to the car.

Sprocket at Gold Creek Lake

I really really enjoyed this hike. It was just challenging enough to be rewarding and was absolutely gorgeous. I’m so glad I got to explore this new area but like all the best hikes, it added to my list of mountains to climb: I can’t wait to come back for Big Agnes Mountain.

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′.

FSJ at the top of Montezuma Rd

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?!

Hiking Castle and Conundrum

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

Sprocket on Castle and Conundrum

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…).

Castle-Conundrum Traverse

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.

Sprocket on ridge to Castle

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…

Selfie on Castle 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.

Castle Peak from Conundrum Peak

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.

Conundrum Peak

We briefly enjoyed the views and then headed back downhill.

View from Conundrum Peak

Elks from Conundrum Peak

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.

Jeep at the top of Montezuma Road

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…


Bennett Peak: Rio Grande County Highpoint

After a day with successful summits of both Summit and Conejos Peaks, I headed eastwards through the mountains to the small community of Jasper. In Jasper, I turned north onto Blowout Pass road. Blowout Pass wasn’t a particularly difficult drive, it was just steep and narrow however, I was very much hoping I didn’t run into someone coming downhill (and if I did, I was totally going to invoke the rules of the road and make the downhill car back up the hill). At the top of the pass, we found a lot of cows grazing on both sides of a cattle guard. I’ve never had issues with cows, they mostly just ignore vehicles passing through, and I pulled over to sleep for the night.

The cows didn’t go away.

Cows on Blowout Pass

They hung out for almost an hour licking the Jeep and generally trying to decide what was going on. Eventually, they got bored (I assume) and wandered away. After the cows left the rain started. And just kept going alllllll night.

Fortunately, in the morning, the clouds seemed to be parting so we headed up for the short hike to the summit of Bennett Peak. I honestly didn’t feel all that great after eating a can of tilapia for dinner and then skipping breakfast (thanks cows for making it kinda weird to get out and cook…) but the hike was short and straightforward up a quad track. It made for some sort of miserable hiking because where there was no rock it was kind of muddy and then on the uphills there were big chunky rocks that weren’t all that fun to walk on.

We took a quick photo at the summit to celebrate my 16th Colorado County Highpoint and then headed back down the trail.


Sprocket near summit of Mt. Bennett

I was happy to see that the cows hadn’t tried to climb over the jeep or something crazy in our absence. Driving down the south side of Blowout Pass made me a little bit nervous (I didn’t really want to back up for miles to find a place for someone to pass me) plus I decided gas was closer if I headed out to the north. The road was pretty muddy just getting off the top of the pass and again further down. At one point I found myself going a little too fast (and had already gone back to 2WD) and ended up sideways in the road. I slowed down, went back into 4WD until I got to pavement, and safely made it down to Del Norte.

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

Conejos Peak trail

Sprocket on Tobacco Lake 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!”

Tobacco Lake

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.

Conejos Peak

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:

Conejos PeakWe made great time back down the gentile summit ridge:


Conejos Peak 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:

Conejos Peak RidgeThere 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:

Sprocket below Conejos Peak

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).

FS 105

Clearly, it was a good day:

Sprocket in Jeep


Summit Peak: Archuleta County Highpoint

After leaving Silverton on our failed Vermilion try, we headed for Pagosa Springs where we gased up and continuted on to South Fork for a prime rib dinner. After dinner, we cruised to the trailhead for Summit Peak. Along the way, the sunset was pretty sweet.

Sunset near South Fork

Park views near South Fork

In the morning, we started up the trail bound for Summit Peak, the high point of Archleta County. Treasure Creek Trail is fairly undefined. I really struggled to follow it but with some GPS points managed to find myself in the upper basin where I finally located the trail again.

Treasure Creek Trail

Treasure Creek

Treasure Creek Basin

Summit Peak area

Below the summit of Summit Peak, I was faced with a decision: make my way up the eastern slopes or traverse around to the southeast. I decided to scramble up the eastern slopes seeing nothing that prevented me from getting up with Sprocket. As it turned out, the easiest way up¬†is¬†up the southeastern or south facing slopes: they’re nice and grassy although SP and I are used to (and love) the scrambles for making up elevation in a hurry.

Summit Peak

On the summit, we took some quick pictures and headed down the mountain. We decided against going for Montezuma Peak, another 13er just north of Summit, but I do not feel one bit bad about this because the area was so pretty.

Sprocket on Summit Peak

Summit of Summit Peak

Summit of Summit Peak

Southwestern slopes of Summit Peak

Summit Selfie, Summit Peak

Rather than taking the same descent route, we meandered below the face of Summit Peak, around a high alpine tairn, and then more directly down the face of the mountain to the car. In the end, it was a quick, fairly painless summit and another Colorado county highpoint!

Tairn below Summit Peak

Summit Peak

San Juan Islands, Part 2: Orcas Island and Mt. Constitution

As we were making plans for our weekend in the San Juans, my only request was that we hiked Mt. Constitution. I didn’t care where we stayed, what we ate and drank, but I really wanted to grab that county highpoint. Fortunately for me, Liz and Lauren were totally on board with the plan and we were all excited to check out Orcas Island. I think Liz was regretting her agreement to the plan when a 5am wake-up was planned to make the two ferry hop to Orcas. However, by the end of the day, I don’t think any of us were upset about getting up early because everything was glorious.

Washington State Ferries

The man taking this photo was very concerned with how small we were (and he was also probably a bit surprised at the young lady bouncing all over the boat handing her phone to him requesting a picture).

Ferry rides

Ferry Rides

When we arrived in Eastsound, we were all starving an indulged in second breakfast at Brown Bear Baking. We spent a little bit of time debating which three treats to get and someone brilliantly suggested we actually get four. A gentleman waiting in line with us leaned over and stage whispered, “The answer is always more” so we listened and ordered ourselves a slew of treats. Everything about this was a major yes and we made short work of everything. Brown Bear Baking, you deserve all the thumbs up.

Brown Bear Baking

After breakfast it was time to get started on our hike. The maps clearly showed a meandering hike along Mountain Lake before the trail began climbing much steeper to the summit. We rambled alongside the super clear lake exclaiming all the while about how beautiful it was and how it was still so early. (I mean, it was standard hiking time but it just felt like we’d accomplished so much already for a vacation day…)

Mountain Lake

Mountain Lake

The forest was classic northwest gorgeousness with the sun filtering down through the very green trees as we walked along the cushion-y path. (Seriously, no where else in the country has trails as pleasant for the feet as Washington and Oregon.)

Mount Constitution Trail

Mount Constitution Trail

Mount Constitution Trail

It was a little jarring to emerge from the woods onto a road for the final jaunt to the summit. After seeing just a couple of parties, the sheer number of people that had driven up was kind of overwhelming but the CCC-built observation tower was pretty cool.

Mount Constitution

Tower on Mt. Constitution

The view was absolutely astounding. Sadly there were some distant clouds on the Cascades and the Olympics but it was really cool to get a perspective on Puget Sound from 2,000′ up and from much more northerly perspective than I’d ever been.

Mount Constitution Panorama

Summit Selfie

Mt. Constitution Views

After the hike, we headed to Island Hoppin’ Brewery to have a sampler. Their brewery dog has a life that Sprocket definitely envies: living surrounded by water at a brewery…

Island Hoppin' Brewery

Brewery dog

After our beers, we hustled down to the ferry landing to make sure that we made our ferry. We were plenty early so we relaxed in Orcas Village while waiting for our boat.

Orcas Island

Orcas Village Ferry dock


Ferry dock

It was hard to object to the gorgeous weather on the ferry ride back to Anacortes.

Ferry Ride

Ferry ride

Once we were back on Guemes Island, while Lauren and Liz prepped dinner, I headed out for a run/hike to the highest point on the island. (The peakbagger in me gets the best of me sometimes.) I had such a great time traveling with these girls. I felt super fortunate to have a chance to check out the “other San Juans” (the Island type as opposed to my Colorado mountains), go for a hike, and mostly spend some time with people I feel totally myself around.