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.

 

2016 In Review: By The Numbers

As I alluded to in my 2016 review post, this was not necessarily my best year for tallying big numbers since there were other priorities on the docket but I want to document things for posteritiy anyway. (My 2015 post is here if you’re curious!)

Hiking:

This year is a bit complicated in the hiking section since I definitely trail ran things that I would have counted as “hiking” in the past but I didn’t split my runs in my tracking between “trail running” and “road running” but I’m not going to stress too  much about my data.

I hiked 176 miles in 44 different outings down from 50 trips and 277 miles in 2015 (including some snowshoe adventures).

Peakbagging

I hiked 43 summits in 130 miles with 30,115 feet of elevation gain. This was a pretty small decrease in the number of peaks but a pretty substantial plummet to my mileage and vertical from 2015.

I hiked 17 county highpoints in Colorado, Arizona, Utah, and Oklahoma. My goal of finishing Colorado’s County High Points by the end of 2016, took a beating thanks to the fact that I deferred to my goal of building a house. Taking a Spring Break trip to collect most of the plains highpoints taking me to 73.4% (47/64). I grabbed my first two Utah county highpoints over Labor Day weekend. I also added three of Arizona’s County High Points, reaching 66.7% (10/15) on my annual Thanksgiving road trip adventure. I made it to the summit of Oklahoma’s state highpoint, my only state highpoint of the year.

Running

I did much better at running in 2016 (and started supplementing running with some cross country skiing). Sprocket and I started practicing #joyrunning and found ourselves exploring trails much more. I got my behind out more than 200 times covering 345 mi! This is still nothing amazing but I’m getting better; we’ll see if I can do more than that in 2017!

Lone Cone

Lone Cone is, as its name might imply, a loner. It stands at 12,613′ off to the west of the San Juans. The mountain groups containing 13er Dolores Peak and the Wilson Group definitely appear to be part of the mass of mountains to the east while “The Cone” stands gracefully to the west. It’s easily ignored from the higher peaks around Telluride but as you start to travel around canyon country to the west, you realize how much it stands out. On my rambles around Utah recently I was really struck by how much it stands out over a huge area. That visibility plus the fact that I stare at it walking around Norwood and from the bedroom window of my rental meant that I really wanted to tag its summit before the snow flies (which this time of year could be any day…).

Golden fern

Taking advantage of fall’s low propensity for thunderstorms and the gorgeous day forcast, I didn’t leave Norwood until about 9am to start the drive to the trailhead. The route was kinda bumpy and the going was slow. For as close as that peak looks from town, it’s actually quite far south! Hitting the trail around 10am, I climbed up towards the northeastern ridge promised by Summitpost to be “3-4 class” (I found it to be no more than 3rd class but it was really rotten in areas.)

Lone Cone from low on NE Ridge

Emerging from treeline, the views were simply amazing. While the peak itself was blocking the view to the south and southwest, pretty much everywhere else I ever play anymore came into view. Off to the west were the Abajos and La Sal Mountains standing over the canyons, to the north were the Book/Roan Cliffs, Grand Mesa, the Uncompahgre, and the southern Elk mountains. To the east were all of the mountains of the San Juans.

Views from the cone

Starting up the ridge proper, I found the Summitpost route suggestion to stay just to the north of the ridge crest for the first section to avoid rotten rock helpful. While it was still a huge pile of scree, there was a faint climbers trail to follow and it wasn’t too difficult.

Rotten Ridge chunk

The section above the rotten but relatively flat section had looked really intimidating from below. As it turned out, however, it was a ton of fun. Just fractured enough to have lots of awesome hand and footholds but solid enough to feel safe, it was a pretty easy skip up to the summit from there.

Final Ridge Approach

Lone Cone

Summit view

Rather than downclimbing the NE ridge scramble, I descended the north ridge, crossed “The Devils Chair” and then retraced my route back to the car. Lone Cone was an unexpectedly fun climb (scrambles, yay!) with a view of pretty much the best adventuring anywhere.

Colorado 13er: Brown Mountain

Saturday morning, after lesurely enjoying some coffee, I headed up Brown Mountain jeep road once again. (I kinda love that road: it’s not too difficult to drive and gets you up to the high country pretty quickly!) This time, I had my sights set on the highpoint of the long Brown Mountain Ridge. Located at the southern end of the ridge (Mt. Abrams is at the north end), it tops out at 13,339′. Since I was going up the western side of the ridge, I spent most of my drive and then the climb up to the ridge in shadow watching the sun make its way ever so slowly down the eastern slopes across the valley from me.

Looking west from Brown Mountain

The steep climb up the gully from the end of the jeep road always kicks my butt. It’s only a half mile but it is steep. I also knew that once I hit the ridge the sun would help warm my chilly bones (I was greeted with ice coating puddles and ponds along the way up… fall is in full swing in the mountains!)

Selfie on Brown Mountain

Once I got to the ridge, I started ambling along not worrying much about making good time. Looking north, I could see the route I took back in July to the summit of Mt. Abrams:

North towards Mt. Abrams

Looking south, I realized that the ridge was a lot longer than I was picturing it being. The highpoint is visible on the far right of this photo. I decided to traverse below some of the subpeaks in between to minimize elevation gain and loss–that turned out to be a mistake, going over the summits on the return was a lot easier than traversing the steep and slippery scree on the eastern slopes!

 

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I further realized that ascending this peak from the Alaska Basin spur road off of Hurricane Pass would be way shorter. I didn’t particularly mind the extra length but the Brown Mountain road is not the shortest or least elevation gain route by far!

Alaska Basin

At the highpoint I found the summit log next to the Duco benchmark and just soaked in the sights for a bit. Somehow, I’d forgotten how absolutely magical fall is in the mountains. #Summtsummer is a beautiful thing but honestly, fall summits are even better. They’re lonelier, the weather is better (until that moment the snow falls and it’s terrible), the colors are beautiful, and the air has a crisp fresh smell that is totally indescribable.

Benchmark and register

Panorama

I am so glad that I had a chance to ramble in the high mountain air alone and drink it all in.

Summit Selfie

Brown Mountain views

Pyramid Rock: Final Summit of 2015

New Year’s Eve morning, I woke up to a glorious sunny day. I was just 0.4 miles shy of 200 miles hiked on summit hikes in 2015 and I decided to head up to a local summit to round out the year and enjoy the sunshine. Sprocket, as always, was very excited with this plan so we headed out into the hills.

V 2/10 Road

We made our way to a ridge that looked like it would go fairly easily and started making our way up towards the summit. The views got better and better and being out in the crisp winter air was the perfect way to wind down 2015. The sparkles were everywhere and there wasn’t a hint of darkness to be found.

Ridgeline

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I had debated at the car whether or not to wear snowshoes and I’m glad I didn’t. The snow was only ever more than 5″ deep once (and then I managed to bury myself up to my waist) and I was glad I didn’t wear them.

Hiking with the best dog

We walked across a small flat area and then made couple of small scrambly moves among the snowy rocks and found myself at the summit.

Summit Selfie

Summit views

Final summit of 2015

Summit views

Panorama

When we got back to Ruth, I was in such a wonderful mood. I had planned to spend a low key New Year’s at home with Sprocket and decided that was not the right choice. I scrambled together a shower and headed home to spend the evening with my friends in Ridgway. <3

2015 In Review: By The Numbers

It’s time for the 2015 Stat Crazy post! (Here’s the 2014 Edition)

Hiking:

I hiked 50 different times totaling 277 miles. This is down from 61 hikes in 2014 but my mileage was also up.

Peakbagging

2014 had definitely been my best year to date and I topped it in 2015! I hiked 56 summits in 200 miles with 71,000 feet of elevation gain. This represented only a 12% modest  increase in peaks climbed but a fairly substantial 78% increase in peakbagging miles and 104% increase in elevation gained.

2015 Peakbagging

I hiked 31 county highpoints in Washington, Colorado, and Arizona. I reached my goal of at least 50% of Colorado’s County High Points by the end of 2015, clocking in with 54.7% of the list completed (35/64). I made some serious progress on Arizona’s County High Point list, reaching 46.7% (7/15) thanks to an amazing Thanksgiving trip. I claimed another state high point, Mt. Elbert during my county high pointing quest. Elbert was also one of 7 (ranked) 14ers I summited in 2015 (the others were Grays, Torreys, Castle, Democrat, Lincoln, and Bross) putting me at 22% on the CMC 14ers list.

Running

Peakbagging was my emphasis in 2015 but I upped my mileage in December and look forward to upping it again during January. Looking forward to a much more consistent and well rounded workout schedule in 2016 to facilitate more peaks!

Mount Union: Yavapai County Highpoint

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.

Bradshaw Mountains

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…

Backroads

Bradshaw towns

Bradshaw Mountains

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.

Senator Highway

Senator Highway

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.)

Mt. Union views

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!

Mount Union

Mount Union

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!

Mount Union

Browns Peak: Maricopa County Highpoint

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.

Browns Peak hike

Browns 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.

West from Browns Peak

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!

 

Summit of Browns Peak

North from Browns Peak

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.

Final couloir with Sprocket waiting

See, he forgives me.

Browns Peak Beth and Sprocket

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.

Sprocket on Browns Peak trail

Cool rocks

Selfie

Browns Peak was awesome: a good scramble always makes me happy and this one was pretty fantastic.

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:

Myrtle Point view

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It was really windy though, so Sprocket and I didn’t linger too long:

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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.

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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!

#SummitSummer 2015

#SummitSummer 2015 is over. I’d half hoped to head to Holy Cross last weekend but I just wasn’t totally feeling it. I had to work Friday and decided I should go to Grand Junction, do some shopping, get dinner, and then chill out at home. I’m glad I only went that far since the Jeep did not have a good night. (A tow truck ride later, we made it home and thanks to #ruralliving + community Facebook groups, I have the part I really hope fixes the problem already.)

Anyhow, Wednesday is officially the start of fall (although the last few weekends have definitely felt like fall). I didn’t complete all the summits I wanted to (Hesperus, Handies Peak, the Maroon Bells, and the Chicago Basin 14ers come to mind) but I really did make some serious progress towards my hiking goals this year.

Flattops

One of my major goals for 2015 was to hit the 50% level on the Colorado County Highpoint list. I started 2014 with 3.1% completed and I started 2015 at 17.2% completed*: today, after a lovely summit summer, I’m at 40.6%. I really let the county highpoint list drive my adventuring this summer but I don’t regret it in the least. I got to drive all over the mountains of my (relatively) new home state getting to know its mountain ranges and little towns.

I’m sad to see the summer come to an end. Sometimes I was frustrated with the weather, sometimes it was a little lonely, sometimes it was a little weird. There were lots of puppy cuddles, an FSJ convention, and a lot of miles on the road.

Beth & Sprocket on Mt. Zirkel

Even though there have been a lot of successes on the peaks**, the #summitsummer effect was real: I’d chased a goal, I’d been independent, I’d been happy. Life happened, I didn’t get everything done, but I did really make progress towards my goals. I thought back to this winter and how I declared #thenightisdarkandfullofsparkles to a guiding principle for 2015. The winter was really dark at times and the peaks of summer barely sparkled in the distance.

#summitsummer 2015 set me up to look forward to this winter and on to 2016. I’m excited about what is happening in my life. It’s not perfect, but I’m moving to where I want to be.
Year Accumulation 9/15

 

*11 counties: Ouray (Mt. Sneffels), Dolores (Mt. Wilson), Montrose (Castle Rock), Delta (Mt. Lamborn), Mesa (Leon Peak), San Miguel (Wilson Peak), Hinsdale (Uncompahgre Peak), Denver, Arapahoe, Adams, Broomfield.

 

**I have never hiked more vertical to peaks in a year. I’ve hiked a few hundred miles. I’ve never hiked more peaks by the end of September in a year. I’ve climbed 8 ranked 14,000′ peaks (plus 4 unranked peaks), 6 13,000′ peaks (plus 1 unranked peak), and 3 peaks over 12,000′.