Colorado County Highpoints: Northern Plains

After saying goodbye to Bart, Leigh, and Boone, Sprocket and I headed north from Burlington making our way to Yuma, Colorado. There was snow on the roads but it wasn’t icy (or as it would be later slushy).

Blizzard aftermath

Normally, one would be able to pretty much drive right to the Phillips County highpoint but the north-south road was drifted with about 4-8″ of snow so Sprocket and I jaunted north from the intersection just to the south.

Phillips County highpoint

After Phillips County, it was just a short drive to Sedgewick County with its short hike out to the highpoint. There was some pretty deep drifted snow on the way out past the abandoned barn but after that the going was fairly easy and the snow was already starting to melt rapidly!

Sedgewick County Highpoint

Sedgwick County Highpoint

We made our way north into Nebraska, grabbing lunch in Sidney, before making our way to Colorado’s Logan County highpoint. By the time we arrived, the snow was almost gone!

Logan County Highpoint

Logan County Highpoint

We tried to visit Panorama Point but unfortunately the snow was really drifted on the last mile to Nebraska’s highpoint. I wanted to drive all the way home that night so I was aware of time constraints, plus the landowner’s sign warned that because of bison in the area hiking wasn’t allowed.

Baby cows

Instead, we headed south through Pawnee National Grassland to Shannon Benchmark, the highpoint of Morgan County. On our way out to the highpoint, Sprocket was reminded of his hatred for prickly pear. (He used to almost refuse to walk across the field of the Log Hill property.)

Tagging Shannon Benchmark Shannon Benchmark Beth at Shannon Benchmark

I briefly debated spending another night in the area and trying to arrange a visit to the Terry Bison farm for the next day but after the blizzard adventure, I decided to put it off for another time but in the space of three days (including one mostly weathered out!) I’d added 9 Colorado County Highpoints to my total bringing me to 45 of 64 (70.3%)!

 

P.S. Ruth was the best ever: we had a tank of gas going over the mountains where we got 30mpg! (XJs love 45 mph and elevation; there’s a reason we make a good team.) I can’t imagine a better vehicle for someone with a county highpoint hobby.

Logan County Highpoint

Adventure Is Embracing The Unexpected: People

After I summited Two Buttes, I pushed north towards the Phillips County Highpoint. The wind that I’d experienced on the hike didn’t seem to abate. When I approached Lamar, I saw a sign notifying me that US 40 was closed from Kit Carson to Limon. I began to realize that the dark clouds and wind might be a little bit more than just a small storm.

In Kit Carson, I tried to take Colorado 59 north but it, too, was closed. Not really willing to hunker down in the Jeep before noon to endure what at that point were just windy conditions with all of the trucks waiting to go westbound so I turned east towards Cheyenne Wells. There, I found US 385 open to the north so I just kept on towards the goal; wind and some non-sticking sideways falling snow aside. In Burlington, I navigated through town, only to find that my northbound route was closed… and I-70 westbound was closed.

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I drove around town looking for a restaurant or a bar that I could hole up in, hoping against hope for somewhere that might look like it might have wifi. I spotted Essential Foods and headed inside. The space was simple but the lunch menu they handed me looked delicious. I’d already eaten on the road but they happily let me just sit and drink coffee for hours, understanding that I was just seeking refuge from the DOT and its road closures. Outside, the snow started, but it wasn’t sticking and I was frustrated. Time ticked by and it became clear that Denver was a mess and I probably shouldn’t expect any roads to be opening any time soon.

As I worked on my computer and the snow finally started to stick to the roads a little instead of just blowing sideways, a man walked up to me and asked if I’d found a place to stay. He had offered his vacant, for sale house to a couple also holed up in the restaurant and wanted to extend the offer to me as well. James, the homeowner, drove us over to the house to show us around the house that turned out to be a gorgeous 1919 Craftsman. James fretted about the lack of furniture, turned the heat up for us, insisted on opening the blinds so it didn’t feel like a cave, and offered to go to the grocery store for some toilet paper. Simply feeling grateful to have a warm place to stay, all I could do was reassure my host that it didn’t matter that there was no furniture, that I had toilet paper in the jeep, and that I couldn’t ask for anything more for the night.

Back at the restaurant, I got to know my housemates for the night better: Bart and Leigh (along with their dog Boone) run Be Hippy, a grassroots lifestyle brand. We chatted about social media, traveling, and marveled a little bit about the goodness of people opening their homes to us. The staff at Essential Foods continued to take good care of us stranded travelers and eventually we drifted off to our warm home for the night.

Be Hippy

I’d started off the blizzard delay so frustrated and annoyed with DOT for being overly cautious but in the end, I was filled with the warm fuzzies of making friends, being reminded of the kindness of strangers, and the absolute importance of being open to adventure. Thank you James, Bart, and Leigh for making my day and being part of a weather event that added so much adventure to my plains highpointing.

Colorado County Highpoints: South End of the Plains

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.

Dry Bluff Southweste

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:

Exploring

The highways were lonely and many of the dirt roads were even lonelier.

Plains

Ruth even summited a couple of the highpoints along with Sprocket and I:

Carrizo Mountain East Slope

Dirt roads

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.

White caps

Two Buttes

Two Buttes selfie Beth

Sprocket on Two Buttes

Bushnell Peak: Fremont County Highpoint

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.

Dirty windshield Sangre De Cristo
‘Scuse the dirty windshield

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.

Jeep cuddles

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.

Northwest from Bushnell's SW Ridge

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.

Bushnell Ridge

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.”

Bushnell Ridge

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.

Summit selfie

Looking south from Bushnell Peak

View southeast from Bushnell

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.

SW Ridge of Bushnell on Descent

Thanks for an awesome, confidence building day Bushnell. I had a blast and I was so so excited to know that my recent efforts 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!

Miscellaneous Mesa Adventures

I haven’t been on any crazy big hikes lately but I have been exploring (and finding myself at the “peak” of) various mesas and knobs around De Beque.

Exploring

This means driving up some muddy roads and seeing where I can get. (And it means washing my Jeep about twice a weekend.)

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It means studying county assessor GIS maps to figure out where there’s public land.

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It’s the time of year where the things you climb don’t bring glory and aren’t impressive to anyone but you and your canine companion.

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It’s the time of year where you find yourself swearing at scrub oak but spotting cow elk sunning themselves on south facing slopes.

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It’s the time of year where you wear shorts or capris and know you shouldn’t. (See above points about scrub oak.) It’s the time of year for postholing because taking snowshoes on and off gets old.

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It’s the time of year where you try crazy maneuvers to avoid trespassing because all you want is a high mountain peak but they’re not very accessible with your knowledge or smart to approach solo.

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It’s a really frustrating time of year.

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The hints of spring are in the air though, and it’s hopeful:

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De Beque, Colorado: Samson Mesa

In a move totally unlike me, I decided to use this long weekend to Get Stuff Done. Taking breaks to enjoy being outside was totally necessary thought! The weather on Saturday was really fantastic so I broke out the shorts and we headed on another exploratory drive, this time south of town. Parts of the road were muddy but we made it out to the end of the road on Samson Mesa.

Samson Mesa Pano

With less than a quarter mile to the top, I decided to skip the snowshoes and see how well the crusted snow would hold me. The answer was really not at all, it was super warm for February and things were turning a little slushy. Sprocket and I didn’t really mind and away we went.

Postholing

The view of the Housetop Mountain-Castle Peak-Horsethief Mountain basin was amazing! It definitely had me pondering routes up all three peaks, of course.

Samson Mesa pano Samson Mesa views Sprocket on Samson Mesa Selfie with Horsethief Mountain in background

The hike even had a little reminder that this is pinon high desert hiking: I stabbed myself with this little cactus!

Cactus

After the summit, we headed back to the jeep and it was time to get productive! (More on that later!)

Views

De Beque, Colorado: Twin Peaks

On an absolutely gorgeous Saturday morning, Sprocket and I set off to climb Twin Peaks (7400’+) above De Beque. On one of our De Beque Canyon Project drives we’d found a fairly major drill pad up towards Twin Peaks and I had a sneaking suspicion that it might be one that was going to be accessed during the winter and I was right! We drove right up and headed out.

Twin Peaks

I had a vague idea of how to go about getting to the summit but I have to admit that I could probably have done with more map and satellite imagery study before we left. I definitely broke trail up a gully … and at the top ran into the same road that we’d been on. (We took the road down and although it was a lot longer, breaking trail there would have been a lot easier).

Views

Sprocket was not impressed with the foot deep snowshoe trench I was making for him. Although he was following the trench, he kept finding himself punching through to the sage below.

Sprocket with snow trench

I chose to pretty immediately head for the ridge, aiming for the end of a cliff band on the south eastern end of the Twin Peaks ridge. I made pretty good progress through the trees but Sprocket wasn’t having a very good time. A few hundred feet shy of the ridge and about a mile from the true summit, he started whining and in short order made it clear he was not having a good time. There was no need to push the pup more than he was willing to do so we paused for a photo and headed back down the mountain.

Beth and Sprocket

The next morning, sans puppy companion, I headed right back up. I reasoned that I’d already trenched in a good chunk of the trail, had a hunch about a slightly higher parking spot, and not only learned about the road but had walked it down so now was as good of a time as any. Besides, it looks like it’s going to be pretty warm this week and the road was definitely better driven snow-covered than muddy.

Along the way, I rather impulsively decided to attain the ridge closer to the higher of the Twin Peaks rather than the spot I’d been aiming for with Sprocket reasoning that I wouldn’t have to walk over the lower summit, down to the saddle and then up.

Twin Peaks, Part Deux

I’m not sure that was the best plan. Going uphill in the trees was a lot easier than walking across a flat meadow and ascending a slope of sage, Mormon’s tea, and some unidentified leafless things. Unlike the trees that seemed to encourage compacted snow, these “fluffier” plans stood above pockets that compressed unexpectedly under my snowshoes.

Selfie

Not really wanting to need to come back yet again, I pushed on. The summit looked so close and the ridge didn’t look THAT steep.

Slow progress

ha. Ha. Ha. Ha ha ha. Between the aforementioned plants plus the challenge of moving upwards in really fluffy not so kickable snow, it took me almost two hours to go the mile from where I left the road to the summit. (It had taken me 40 minutes to that point and only 1:10 from the summit all the way back to the car…)

Finally, I attained the ridge and realized it was all worth it. I could see all the way to the La Sal Mountains in Utah, way out onto Grand Mesa (even spotted Leon Peak!), an amazing view of the Battlements, and sweet views of the Roan Cliffs around me.

Ridgeline

It didn’t take me long to walk up the ridge to the true summit. I’d worked hard to get to this summit but the whole time I felt capable, strong, and confident and on top of that, to be rewarded with this view? Amazing.

Twin Peaks Panorama Views Excitement selfie

On the way out, I was tired but made good time. My pants were drenched and I was ready to get a shower ASAP!

Descent Look back to Twin Peaks

De Beque, Colorado: Castle Rock

Looking for a quick Friday afternoon hike, Sprocket and I set off towards Castle Rock (5,200+’). We drove as close as snow covered roads would allow (which was actually pretty close, I guess it’s the one benefit of oil drilling activity around here? It certainly beats in roads!).

Friday adventure.

After traveling cross country for awhile, we ran into a snow-covered road and followed it south to the base of Castle Rock, passing some sweet rock walls that looked much brighter than usual against the white snow.

Castle Rock

Rock formations

Castle Rock

Desert in winter

The closer I got to the rock, the more I started to doubt whether I’d be able to summit it. As much as I tried to pretend that my goal for the day was to be out in the sun and snow (and it was, kind of!), I couldn’t deny that I wanted to get a February summit in the books sooner rather than later.

Castle Rock

As I reached the base of the tower at its southeastern corner, my hopes fell even further. I walked around the rock counter clockwise, looking up at the northwestern side and thought, no way is this happening:

Nope. Not going up here

This rock on the western side looked really promising but with snow, wet boots (and boots at all!), and pretty much nothing to hold on to I wasn’t going to be making any progress here either.

Maybe here?

I got to the southern corner/face and pondered this for awhile because this looks totally reasonable to scramble alone on crumbly wet shit in snowboots, right?

Castle Rock

ADORABLE Castle summit register

Well, I did it (sorry, Mom). I was delighted by this AWESOME castle summit register and the views were incredible. I didn’t stay on top long because Sprocket was having a panic attack about what he perceived was a VERY BAD PLAN and the longer I stayed up there the more I was agreeing with him and worrying a little bit about getting down safely. (The up is always easier than the down…)

But mostly, I’d say I was psyched about the whole thing:

Summit Selfie

So basically, Castle Rock is falling apart. As I descended, I realized that very little is holding the top of the rock on so definitely approach this one at your own risk!

Summit

We were running a little late on getting back to De Beque for a meeting but we hustled back to Ruth and on the way, I think Sprocket forgave me for “abandoning” him for my perhaps ill-advised climb.

De Beque, Colorado: Mt. Low

Climbing Mt. Garfield had me scheming of what other summits I could grab this winter even with snow on the ground. With a large snowstorm predicted, I decided to head up Mt. Low (5,801′). Mt. Low stands immediately above De Beque which meant I’d spend very little time traveling and more time out hiking the impending snow.

Mt. Low

I couldn’t find any information about Mt. Low (which I have seen as Mt. Law somewhere but of course I can’t find that now) so this was all just a giant experiment. My thought was to head up one of the ridges coming off the summit and then shoot for a break in the cliffs—pretty typical desert country sort of thing.

Mt. Low

Sprocket was having a much better time sniffing deer and rabbit tracks than this photo makes it appear that he was:

Sprocket

Mt. Low selfie (Beth)

Forever Buddy Sprocket

“Hey, Mom? I think I need a boost.”

Boost please. Sprocket

Summit

We sat at the stop for a bit taking in the views and procrastinating on getting laundry, house cleaning, grading, and other mundane life tasks.

Summit Selfie

Summit Sprocket

De Beque Canyon

As we descended, a little snow began to fall and I realized that each of my boot prints had a perfect Sprocket stamp. <3

<3 Paw in boot print

Mt. Garfield: First Summit of 2016

Going into the last weekend of January, I started to panic a little bit. Last year, I’d hoped to summit at least one peak per month, I figure that way I can’t ever get too removed from doing something that really revitalizes me. I didn’t quite make it and scratched in both January and April of last year. Not wanting the same thing to happen this year, needing some good elevation gain, wanting to capitalize on a brilliantly sunny day, and celebrating Sprocket’s return to activity, we headed for Mt. Garfield.

Grand Mesa Sprocket and I had attempted Mt. Garfield last April with Josh but we started too late in the afternoon and the southern facing slopes that make for such amazing winter hiking were way too hot for late April. (We did have a sweet beer sampler at Palisade Brewing so all was not lost.)

Grand ValleyMount Garfield has a reputation for being steep and that reputation is definitely deserved (it gains about 2000′ in a litte under 2 miles). Sprocket and I slowly made our way up the slope enjoying the views to the south that just kept getting better and better.

Beth and Sprocket

Sprocket

Plateau

I found that about 1300′ of the elevation happened in about 0.7 miles, after that the grade flattened out a lot and we made even better time. Sprocket loved the flat snowy sections of the trail.

Hiking Sprocket. Snow

Slopes of Mt. Garfield

Blue sky selfie

Finally, we were almost at the summit. The last bit of elevation gain was on a more northerly aspect so there was a lot more snow. I hadn’t tossed any traction devices in my bag which would have been really nice for the ascent (and especially the descent on this section!) but we made our way up pretty easily.

Summit bowl

Snowy trail

The summit was amazing. I couldn’t see as far into the Book Cliffs (or Roan Cliffs…the nomenclature changes right about on top of Mt. Garfield so I think either is okay) as I thought I might but it was still amazing what I could see: the Book Cliffs stretching off to the west, Battlement and Grand Mesas to the southeast, the Sneffles range to the south, and the Uncompahgre Plateau to the southwest.

Book Cliffs. Roan Cliffs.

Sprocket on summit

Sprocket with Roan Cliffs

After taking in the views, we ran down the trail and made it back to the Jeep pretty quickly. I’m sure this is a hike I’ll do again, the option for snow-free elevation gain in the winter is a huge, huge plus.

Grand Valley