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!
I have been very adamant about one goal for 2015: I was going to reach 50% on Colorado’s County High Point list. I spent most of #SummitSummer working to make this a reality. I’d secretly hoped to make it to the 50% mark with “real” highpoints (aka mountains and not flat plains points) but that was just a secret hope. When I’d summited Douglas County’s Thunder Butte that had put me within four high points of my goal. I’d toyed with plans that would have let me get a few of the “real” highpoints before the snow fell but thanks to life, they didn’t quite work out.
But, the goal was still in reach, I had the Eastern Plains in my back pocket and I really hoped to make one of what I figure will be three trips before the end of the calendar year. I got distracted by Christmas things (getting my tree and crafting) and before I knew it, I was down to just two windows of time. Pushing it off until the last second seemed a little bit dumb knowing that a winter storm could roll in and make driving hundreds of miles on dirt roads the opposite of fun so we seized on last weekend.
Shay was kind enough to let Sprocket and I spend Friday night at her place. We got up early on Saturday morning to begin our adventure. Just outside of Byers, we saw a herd of bison then a herd of antelope. I decided this whole flat land thing wasn’t that bad.
We pulled up to the Washington County High Point, wandered around the side of the road matching up the GPS point with what appeared to be the highest non-road spot and snapped a photo with our new selfie stick; Sprocket was a little bit unsure and is demonstrating pro side-eye.
We headed back to US 36, passing through Last Chance, and headed on to the Yuma County High Point, another road side “attraction.”
We wandered around on the side of the road being sure we touched the high ground and enjoyed the sunshine a bit.
Getting to the Kit Carson County High Point and Overland Benchmark East (the Cheyenne County High Point) was a little interesting. Some of the roads I attempted to travel southward from Flagler were just two-tracks between two fields. The dirt was mostly dry but there was some snow drifted in as deep as 9″ in some places but they were just small and never encompassed both my front and rear tires at once. Since, there were ample turn around possibilities and the snow wasn’t that deep so I just kept pressing forward. Ruth didn’t miss a beat and plowed right through the narrow slushy “drifts” and we eventually made it to a windmill near Kit Carson County High Point. Afterwards, we hiked south to Overland Benchmark East where I reached my 50% Colorado County High Point goal for the year!
It was only about 12:15 when I got back to the Jeep from Overland BM so we headed south to the Kiowa County High Point. Along the way, we reached a fork in the road.
And then we found an interesting monument:
Somehow, the flat wasn’t boring, just kind of relaxing, actually.
We saw some more pronghorn:
We hiked out from the end of County Road 44 to the Kiowa County High Point and enjoy some pretty views of mountains off to the west.
I knew I was starting to run low on daylight so I sadly had to forgo Crowley County’s High Point in order to reach Lincoln and Elbert’s high points while it was still light (they were fairly directly on my way home).
It felt a little bit like we were racing against dark to get to the Elbert County High Point:
But we made it, just as darkness was falling, for our 7th county highpoint of the day.
I wasn’t entirely sure what Sprocket and I were going to get up to on our way back from the Phoenix area while bound for Colorado. I figured I’d take a couple of days to make the drive and that we could adventure somewhere along the way. I’d debated between hiking Black Mesa, the Navajo County highpoint, and adventuring in the Bradshaw Mountains to Mount Union, the Yavapai County Highpoint. I didn’t really make up my mind until I reached the Bumble Bee exit on I-17.
I often rave about the wonders of taking the blue highways but I really outdid myself this time. It is only 45 miles on the interstate between Black Canyon City and Camp Verde and I managed to map out a route that more than doubled the mileage and took the original 45 minute drive and turned it into an adventure…
After climbing up from the Verde Valley, I passed through the small community of Crown King and then started following the Senator Highway north. The dirt road was in pretty good shape and we made good time (for gravel) and only hit snow in a few patches.
After so much quiet and lonely driving through the mountains, it was almost anti-climatic to get to the base of the Mt. Union spur road. There are private homes along the road (and the gun fire in the distance was sort of disconcerting) so we hustled our way up to the peak. I lazily didn’t change out of my flip flops so the little stretch of the road that was shaded by the peak itself was sort of interesting. (Oops.)
We scrambled up as far up the stairs of the lookout as we could, Sprocket braving the steep narrow extruded aluminum bravely, and looked around. The Bradshaw Mountains are not among Arizona’s most majestic but they really are in the middle of everything; the views were a little obscured by clouds but I got an idea of just how much I could see from that vantage point!
I decided to take FS 261 down to the highway and I was actually kind of surprised by it! I had to pick my line with some care in places to compensate for the stock XJ’s relatively low clearance. I could have made it up the road just fine but it would have been tough in a couple of spots. Although it felt like it had been a really full day already, I decided to push it all the way back to De Beque over a snowy Lizard Head Pass into Ridgway and then north to our own bed after a really busy week of friends and mountain tops!
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.
Despite 1:15pm being a much later hour than I’d hoped to start the hike out to Pinal County’s highpoint on the slopes of Rice Peak, I decided to tackle the approximately 10 mile hike as a bit of a trail run racing darkness. Sprocket had seemed a little slow on our walk up to the Mount Lemmon summit and I didn’t have a lot of wiggle room so I left him behind in the Jeep and started hustling down the trail.
Oracle Ridge is sneaky. My Garmin measured about 3,300′ of elevation gain but, man, it felt like was constantly losing and regaining elevation! I ran down hill and motored up hill as quickly as I could and decided that I had time to scramble up to Oracle Ridge’s Middle Peak. This ended up being a little bit of a time suck as I had trouble refinding the trail when I descended and hurried on to Rice Peak.
I paused only momentarily on Rice Peak before wandering down its north ridge to the Pinal County highpoint at the Pima-Pinal County line. Just as I got to the highpoint I spotted some cougar tracks and started to get a little nervous about my fleeing prey status as the shadows lengthened. Instead of reclimbing Rice Peak, I pushed my way though the brush back to the trail. My capris left my legs totally open to the ravages of the cats claw and by the time I was on the trail, my lower legs looked like they had been attacked by a real herd of angry cats.
The colors of sunset were gorgeous and there was still plenty of light for hiking when I got back to the car after 11 miles of hiking with my fourth Arizona county highpoint completed!
After climbing Browns Peak, I treated myself to dinner in Globe before driving up Pinal Peak to spend the night. The road had a little bit of snow in places but was easily driveable all the way to the summit. (Thanks to Scott Surgentfor the inspiration to go!). We slept excellently listening to the wind and enjoying the stillness. In the morning, we took in the views and then headed down the mountain. I decided not to hike the spur road to nearby Signal Peak but the summit of Pinal was the high point of the Pinal Mountains! Descending from Pinal we had a chance to take in all the views that we’d missed going up in the dark. It was really gorgeous.
After we returned to the highway in Globe, it was time to cruise south towards Mount Lemmon. I had studied maps and it appeared that we could drive up to the peak on Old Mount Lemmon Road approaching from the east near San Manuel instead of from the south near Tucson. Sprocket and I definitely have a penchant for taking the dirt route whenever possible.
The road was in remarkably good shape as we climbed out of the desert (except for that one time I took a random side road and ended up on a steep quad trail; thanks for saving my butt Ruth the XJ). The views kept getting better and better as we continued upwards and I admit to stopping to ogle the Galiuro Mountains to the east (Bassett Peak climb anyone?).
The road to the summit was gated at the ski area to my immense (Coloradan) annoyance. There was only a tiny amount of snow and since I hoped to make it out to Rice Peak that day as well the extra time for the hike to the summit was really frustrating but there was no helping it so off we went up the road. Sprocket was clearly ready for the walk:
We got a little tired of the road and decided to take our chances scrambling more directly to the summit. I had a pretty good laugh that this was our third day in Arizona and we’d played in the snow on all of them but there was no denying that Sprocket was a fan.
We tromped around the summit for a bit before heading back down to the car. I had another Arizona county highpoint, my fourth, under my belt and all was well. Sprocket, although he seemed happy to be out of the car, was moving a little slower than he had the previous day so I decided to leave him behind for the Rice Peak adventure since moving quickly was going to be key to making it out to the peak (and it’s county highpoint northern slopes) and back before dark but more on that soon!
After rejoining Highway 87, we headed down to Payson, got some gas, and I bought a new pair of cheap sunglasses. The next goal was Browns Peak, the Maricopa County Highpoint. The drive from Flagstaff down over the Mogollon and continuing south always makes me happy: the transition from high plateau pines to Sonoran Desert saguaros is the best. The down vest and Omniheat baselayers were quickly too much.
Just north of Roosevelt I turned west up into the Mazaztal Mountains. Oso Road is steep but in pretty good shape all the way to the trail head. I pulled in to the parking lot just before 2pm which seemed a little late to start the 5 mile round trip hike. Just as I started to contemplate what to do with my remaining daylight, I said hello to some guys who were relaxing next to their truck with some beers. They asked if I was going up to the summit and I told them about my conundrum and they assured me that it could be done if I hustled. I’m pretty down to bet my hiking speed counts as hustle so I set a turnaround time and we headed out.
Sprocket and I made it to the saddle below the peak in 45 minutes and started moving up the peak.
Sprocket made it about two thirds of the way up the scree chute but I couldn’t get him up solo. We made a pretty valiant effort with Sprocket hanging out on a five inch ledge in the middle of a 8′ ledge as I tried to figure out how to get him up; I crawled up and around Sprocket at least twice while he just sat and looked sad. Making the final 3′ jump to the top of the ledge just wasn’t worth the risk. I helped him down and settled him with some water and my pack and I headed up the mountain as fast as I could.
I quickly reached the summit, feeling in a hurry to get back to Sprocket. I knew he was sad about being left but I’d made it to the top of Four Peaks!
I look a couple of photos and headed back to Sprocket. He was sitting next to my pack and plaintively crying. This is the second time I’ve done this with SP and he seems mostly okay with it. He gets to do 90+% of the hike with me and just has to sit out the final scramble to the summit. This means that he gets to come with me as often as possible which seems like the solution Sprocket most supports.
See, he forgives me.
I knew we’d make it to the car before dark but we kept up our quick pace since I hadn’t driven the western shore of Roosevelt Lake so I wanted to see that in the last minutes of daylight.
Browns Peak was awesome: a good scramble always makes me happy and this one was pretty fantastic.
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!
After our hike of Buffalo Peak, Sprocket and I headed down Stoney Pass and for Thunder Butte. I wasn’t totally sure I was going to tackle it that day but it was certainly our next objective for the weekend. When we arrived at where we would begin our hike, it was just after 3pm and although the skies to the west were looking a little unsettled, it appeared that the weather would hold for a couple of hours so off we went through the patchy burn.
This hike was one where we walked along on almost entirely flat ground for a good chunk of the distance and then did all of our climbing at once heading fairly directly up the southwestern slopes.
As we climbed, Pikes Peak came into view to the south and I could better see the storm clouds building to my west. I hustled Sprocket upwards but we were only making marginal time. Sprocket was clearly tired from our adventure on Buffalo Peak earlier in the day and he was taking his sweet time.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect since some internet sources suggested that this climb would be made a lot less fun as a result of increased brush on the slopes after the fire. Maybe it was a result of some fall die back but this wasn’t too big of an issue. Of more concern was not brushing up against charred trees.
Finally, we found ourselves on the summit. A few photos and a look around and it was time to head down. I was starting to hear thunder rumble in the distance and my fellow #omniten and #teamawesome member Justin had burgers waiting down in Woodland Park.
The light on the way out was amazing. I was so happy to spend another fall day out enjoying nature with Sprocket.
And the light on Sheep Nose with Thunder Butte lurking in the background? That’s pretty awesome too.