San Juan County Highpoint: Mt. Peale

Mt. Peale has been on my list of mountains to climb since I first went to Moab in 2009. The La Sal Mountains tower above the red rocks, often graced with snow during “desert season” in the spring and fall. Being based in Norwood this year brought fresh incentive to climb Mt. Peale since the La Sals grace the western skyline on most of my after school runs.

The highest peak in Utah outside the Unitahs, Mt. Peale comes in at 12,721′ above sea level. Moab, to the northwest, sits at only 4,000′ while Paradox Valley to the southeast is at about 5,300′ of elevation. Peale is on a whole slew of peakbagging lists, including clocking in at #57 on the USA prominence list (it’s the 3rd most prominent peak I’ve climbed to date).

Early this winter, my rooomate Katherine mentioned that she wanted to climb Mt. Peale in the winter and wanted to know if I would join her. I was somewhat hesitant considering that I wasn’t sure when I could commit to climbing the peak since I was working 7 days a week and as a result of all that work, I wasn’t running very consistently. She basically ignored me and just kept talking about the hike like it was something that was Going To Happen.

Excellent move.

As it happened, I suggested March 12 for our ascent. I had paid no attention to daylight savings time beginning at exactly the time we planned to depart from the house (2am MST/3am MDT). Somehow I figured I had plenty of time to finish my shift at Mouses at 9pm, drive 50 miles to the house, sleep a bit and still climb a giant mountain? I was, however, committed, so I was in. Three hours of sleep and all.

Also throwing a wrench in our plans was that the weekend prior, Katherine had twisted her ankle in an ice climbing fall. I was willing to let her off the hook on the hike (in some ways, I saw an escape that would prevent me from facing my fears about my own fitness) but she continued to insist that she would be fine despite not wearing real shoes at school all week. (#realchampion)

My alarm didn’t go off because I very wisely set it for 2:45am, a time that actually didn’t exist that day. Katherine gently woke me up at 3am and then attempted to lay out to me that she was 75% sure her ankle could handle the hike. It was 3am, I was out of bed, and we were leaving. That was that. We jammed to T-Swift in the car on the way to the trailhead (which meant that I had “Bad Blood” and “All You Had To Do Was Stay” in my head for 16 miles…) and I kept my eyes peeled for deer lurking on the roadside.

Honestly, when we strapped our snowshoes on at the start of the snow-covered road, with Peale looming in the full moonlight, I gave us a 50/50 shot of making the summit. We had a long slog of road before we could even think of moving up the slopes. The magic of hiking in the dark took over though and we made great progress. I didn’t even turn on my headlamp because the moon was totally sufficient for light.

The day dawned just as we reached the start of our ridge ascent. Once we left the road, the snow got steep fast. My 2nd hand snowshoes purchased when I lived in Montana (in 2010!) don’t have ascenders. They’re small, definitely not designed for mountaineering on 30% slopes, and some of the quick tighten bindings don’t stay very tight anymore. It wasn’t long before my calves were screaming and I was tugging on my bindings every few minutes to keep them tight. I was tired and just wasn’t feeling it. The sky was greyer than I’d expected and I felt terrible.

I’d seen the exposed rock on the ridge from the road and all I wanted was to make it there. As soon as I could, I removed my snowshoes and strapped them to my pack, opting instead to go up the scree with microspikes and ice axe. On the rock, I started to find my groove and the sun started to come out. I moved efficiently upward grabbing short breaks while waiting for Katherine to catch up; during one of these little breaks I actually fell asleep in the wind at 10,000′. It was sort of nuts.

At the top of the exposed rock on the ridge, we crossed some steep snow on our way to the summit. We were both tired but the summit was only 150′ above us. Most of the way, we managed to stay below the ridge and were somewhat protected from the worst of the strong winds out of the northwest. On the final walk to the summit, however, the winds were definitely something to contend with. I braved the wind to take a couple of selfies and then it was time to head down.

Our short summit stay was sort of disappointing since the views were incredible. We could look north to the bulk of the La Sals, including Grand County highpoint, Mt. Wass:

Looking south over South mountain the Abajos and the Henrys were visible along with most of canyon country:

Looking back to the west, there was the Uncompaghre, Pardox Valley, and my beloved San Juans:

We debated a little how to descend and eventually settled on a glissade down the gully. It was steep in some places but it worked out okay. The day was getting warm and the snow turning to mashed potatoes so our pants were soaked. By the end, when the grade had lessened, we were both laughing and mentally preparing for the long slog back out to the Jeep.

12 hours after we’d gotten out of Ruth, we arrived back in the parking lot and headed out hoping to make it to Naturita in time for burgers and milkshakes at Blondie’s. I don’t think I’ve ever seen two milkshakes consumed that fast.

At home in Norwood, we attempted to have celebratory beers but I was sleepy by the time I’d had two sips. We’d covered somewhere in the ballpark of 15-16 miles and climbed 5000′ in elevation. That’s definitely not too shabby for an afternoon on the snow.

Thank you so much to Katherine for an awesome day in the mountains. I learned a lot and I reached the summit of a mountain that had been taunting me for years.

 

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.

Mt. Washington Trail

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.

Wildflowers

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.

Daniel on trail

Beth on Mt. Washington Trail

 

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!

Towards Mt. Ellinor

Daniel on Mt. Washington Trail

 

I really love this photo I took of Dan:

Daniel

 

Beth and Lake Cushman

 

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

Stream channel selfie; Beth

 

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

Panorama from high meadow

Ridge panorama from high meadow

Climbing it because it's there

 

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

Wildflowers

Ascending from meadow

 

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

Headwall

Beth on Mt. Washington Trail

Daniel on Mt. Washington trail

Mt. Washington trail

Hood Canal and Lake Cushman

 

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!

Mt. Washington trail

Hood Canal

Panorama from summit of mt. Washingotn

Beth and Daniel Summit Selfie

 

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:

Mt Ellinor

 

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!

image

Beth on Mt. Washington Trail

 

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

Mt. Washington from trailhead

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Olympic Mountain Ice Cream

 

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!

Peakbagging: Pinõn Mesa Highpoint

On my grand tour of Colorado with Amanda, I decided to take her up to Pinõn Mesa for a night. I was trying to ensure we were getting a pretty good cross-section of Colorado and the high pinõns and views of the San Juans and the La Sals seemed pretty appropriate.

Summit of Pinon Mesa

I’ll admit to being reallllllly lazy with my camera on this trip because I was traveling with a photographer but seriously, it was going to be hard to beat my photos from last winter up there.

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:

Denver County Highpoint

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

Smoky Hill Ridge

 

Not my most adventurous hike:

Arapahoe County Highpoint

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:

Adams County HighpointThe 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:

Inspiration Point Park

Inspiration Point

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

Broomfield County Highpoint

 

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

Hyland 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!