CA-Mount Whitney

Summit Date

8/16/2011 – around 8:20 am

Party

Tom Triplett and Ryan Cragun

Trip Report

Due to a rather last minute work issue, Mark was unable to hike Mount Whitney with Tom and I.  With his blessing, Tom and I decided to still hike Mount Whitney.

We had decided on Mount Whitney as we had climbed most of the readily accessible mountains in the Intermountain West and the only ones we had left aside from Whitney were all rather technical.  As we don’t yet have much training on technical climbing (either over snow or using ropes), we decided we’d give Whitney a try.  We had tried to get a permit for the last three years to hike Whitney (they use a lottery system to allot permits – 60 day and 60 overnight permits per day), but had not won a permit.  However, we decided we’d try anyway hoping there would be at least 3 cancellations on the days we wanted to hike (Mark was still planning on going when we reasoned this out).  We had been tracking the permits using the Inyo National Forest’s website where they report how many permits were available on given days after the fact and, over the course of the summer, it seemed like there were at least a few every day.  So, it seemed like we had good odds.  Also, I ended up having a conference I was attending in Las Vegas the week after we had planned to hike, so the timing seemed right.  If we didn’t get a permit, we’d just choose a different hike in the area and try again a different time.

I called the permit office on the 13th just to make sure we knew where to go when we got there on the 14th to try to get a permit, but the woman I spoke with informed me that we could reserve a permit over the phone.  I asked her if there were any available for our target days (8/14-8/17) and she said there were 5 overnight permits available.  I jumped at the opportunity (thank you Ann!) and arranged a permit for Tom and me for 2 nights – 8/15-8/17.

Tom flew into Vegas a day early with his wife to have a little mini-vacation.  He rented the car we were going to use and picked me up on the 14th at the airport around 11:00.  We had to address some rental car issues before we could head to Lone Pine, CA (closest city to the trail head), and that set us back a little more than we had hoped, but we finally got on the road around 12:30.  About an hour into the drive Tom also got pulled over and was given a ticket. 🙁

The trip wasn’t starting all that well, but then our luck began to change.  Shortly after the ticket, we drove into Death Valley, which was pretty cool.  We stopped and got pictures by the Sea Level sign and saw another sign we decided we would stop by on our way back (see pic below).

We also saw one of the coolest things either of us had ever seen.  We were driving past Father Crowley Point in Death Valley when a fighter jet flew right over our car (maybe 400 or 500 feet is all), dropped into the valley that Father Crowley Point overlooks, and flew through the valley, banking two times, before flying out into the desert valley below.  It was like something straight out of a movie.  It was amazing!  It happened so fast we didn’t have time to do anything but watch, but we both saw it and were stunned at what we had just seen.

I arranged an after hours permit pickup with the permit station, which they probably do regularly as the process was quite painless.  We arrived at the office around 5:15, picked up the permit and headed into Lone Pine to stock up on food for our hike.  We then grabbed a bite to eat at a Mexican restaurant in town (pretty good food), then headed up to the Mount Whitney campground, hoping to find a campsite for the night.  As luck would have it, there was one spot left, which we gladly took.  We set up camp by around 7:00.

Around 7:45, with night falling and a day of hiking planned for the next day (plus the fact that I had only gotten 4 hours of sleep the night before), we decided to get ready for bed.  I walked up to the water pump to brush my teeth and then use the restroom.  Just as I came out of the outhouse, Tom ran up and said quietly but urgently, “Bear!”  Sure enough, a mid-sized black bear was walking right down the main road in the campground.  We watched it walk past us (about 30 feet away), down toward our camp, then back up to the camp above ours where a couple was eating dinner by lamplight and had, unfortunately, left the passenger-side door of their truck open.  The bear walked right up to the truck and climbed in like it had done it a million times before.  I then asked Tom if he had closed our bear box, which he then realized he had not.  He ran down to our camp, which was only about 100 feet from the outhouse and closed the bear box, just in time as the bear, foiled by a cooler that had been tied down in the truck, had climbed out and was lumbering straight for our camp.  I followed Tom down and watched as the bear walked around our camp and then headed down the main road toward another camp.  Tom tried to snap a photo, but it was too dark for his camera and all he got was a photo of darkness.  We went to bed shortly after that.

To recap day one, before we even started climbing: we had rental car issues, a ticket, a drive through Death Valley (lowest place in the US), saw a fighter jet fly through a canyon, and an encounter with a black bear in our camp.  Not a bad start!

We got up around 6:30, broke camp, readied our packs, then headed up to the trailhead.  Since we had not picked up our permit from an actual person at the ranger station, we had also not received any “wag bags,” which are bags that are used to carry human waste.  Inside the Whitney zone you are required to store your food in a bear proof canister and you are required to hike your waste back off the mountain.  We stopped at the Portal Store to make sure our permit was in order and they gave us a couple of wag bags, then we headed out.  We left at around 8:00 am, headed toward Trail Camp, which is 6 miles in and at about 12,000 feet in elevation.  The trailhead starts at about 8,000 feet.  We made pretty good time, stopping just a couple of times for photos and to adjust backpacks.

Ryan by a waterfall on the way up to Trail Camp

We arrived at Trail Camp at around 11:30.  Here is a photo at Trail Camp:

Tom at Trail Camp by our tent just after we arrived and set up camp

It took us about 3 1/2 hours to cover the 6 miles and gain 4,000 feet in elevation.  Trail Camp is at about 12,000 feet. We traveled faster than we thought we would and ended up having all afternoon and evening to kill.  Tom and I are busybodies who can’t really stand to not be doing something.  So, having that much free time was, well, awkward.  Luckily I did think to bring up two books I was reading, which kept me occupied for a while, but Tom wasn’t that interested in the books.  We also spent a good deal of time just watching as people arrived and left.  Trail Camp is the main staging area for attempts at the summit and was pretty busy.  There were probably 20 tents in the area around us (you can see a few in the photo above).  We also tried to eat to get our energy reserves up for our big hike the next day; I rarely have an appetite above 10,000 feet, so eating is a chore.  Otherwise, we just kind of sat around.  Oh, and while the weather was perfect (not a cloud in the sky), it was kind of chilly, but really warm in our tent, which made it hard to get comfortable.

We went to bed at 8:00 when the sun went down.  I woke up at 4:00 am (after 8 hours of restless sleep) and laid in my bag until about 5:15 when I heard our neighbors stir.  We didn’t want to get stuck behind anyone climbing to the summit, so I woke Tom up and we got ready then headed out.  We were on the trail around 5:50.  Here are some photos of what we saw as we got out of the tent to start hiking:

the moon above the ridge as we got out of our tent; this was looking West
the sun rising in the east as we got ready to summit Mount Whitney

We made good time heading up to the summit as well.  We stopped a couple of times on the switchbacks (supposedly 99 of them, but it’s impossible to keep track), where I snapped this shot of Tom:

Tom in the early morning light on the switchbacks with the moon in the background

This was also where we caught our first glimpse of Mount Whitney as it isn’t really visible from Trail Camp.  You can barely see the stone hut on Mount Whitney in this low resolution version of the photo, but it’s there:

the stone hut is right near the center of the photo; that is Mount Whitney from the switchbacks

The switchbacks are the hard part as you gain about 2,000 feet in elevation over 2 miles.  We managed to finish the switchbacks and make the ridge in 1 hour and 20 minutes.  It’s then 2 miles on the back of the peaks over fairly level but rocky terrain to the summit.  There was one spot where you have to traverse snow, but as a testament to the traffic on Whitney, there is a well-blazed trail:

the path through the snow just below the summit

We did that in about 1 hour and 10 minutes, reaching the summit at 8:20.  We passed four people heading down from the summit when we arrived and had the summit to ourselves for almost all 40 minutes we were there (unusual for highpoints).  Here are some photos:

Tom and me on the summit
Tom doing a handstand on the summit
brushing our teeth – a tribute to our missing comrade, Mark, who started the tradition
Tom by the stone hut near the summit

We ate some food, rested, took photos, and then headed out.  We left the summit around 9:00 am and headed back to Trail Camp.  Along the way, we probably passed 80 people or so.  Our early start and quick pace meant we didn’t get stuck behind people, which was nice.  We reached Trail Camp at 11:20, spent 40 minutes packing up and breaking camp, then headed down toward the trailhead.  We arrived at the trailhead at 2:20.

I turned my GPS tracking app on at the summit and let it run during our entire descent.  The battery on my phone ran out about a mile from the trailhead, but the resulting GPS map shows the trail from summit to almost the trailhead pretty accurately.  It also shows some of our speed statistics.  Our average moving speed on the way down was 2.9 mph, which is pretty good.  Our total moving time, from summit to trailhead, was 4 hours 40 minutes (just over 5 hours if you include our stop at Trail Camp to pack up).  Our ascent time total would be about 5 hours 50 minutes.  Some people do hike Mount Whitney in a single day, and if you’re in good shape, it does seem like you could do it in somewhere around 8 to 9 hours, round trip.  Here’s the GPS map:

From the trailhead, we headed down to Lone Pine and ate a very hearty late lunch at Carl’s Jr. (probably over 1,000 calories), then headed back toward Vegas.  We stopped in a couple of spots in Death Valley, including at this sign indicating the elevation at Furnace Creek of -190 feet below sea level.

-190 feet below sea level at Furnace Creek

That was around 5:30 or 6:00 pm.  So, we went from the highest point in elevation in the lower 48 states to near the lowest (the lowest is a bit lower than this) in about 9 hours.  From there we drove into Vegas.  Trip complete.

Panorama

Directions from Las Vegas to the Trailhead

DE-Ebright Azimuth

Summit Date

March 5th, 2011; around 1:00pm

Party

Ryan Cragun (+ some random guy who was sitting on a bench and all the people who were driving past at the time)

Trip Report

I drove down to Ebright Azimuth from High Point, NJ, which I had visited earlier that day.  This highpoint is, quite literally, one you drive over.  The highpoint sign is at one edge of a park, with no other indicator of a highpoint.  When I parked nearby and walked toward the sign, there was a guy sitting on a bench right next to the marker with his dog.  I struck up a conversation and asked him if a lot of people stopped by here.  He laughed and said, “Yeah.  A lot of people drive up, snap a picture, then leave.  I have no idea why.”  I explained that they were likely highpointers.  He laughed and made a joke about how there wasn’t much to see here.  He walked his dog to the highpoint almost everyday. I then snapped a picture and left. 😉

here’s a view of the highpoint from across the street; and the guy with his dog
me by the highpoint sign

Panorama

Directions from Philadelphia, PA

NJ-High Point

Summit Date

March 5th, 2011; around 8:00 am

Party

Ryan Cragun

Trip Report

I drove from Hartford, CT to the highpoint.  For some reason I thought highpoints in New England would be accessible and not particularly cold in early March.  I was wrong.  High Point was covered in snow and the entire hill was blanketed in fog when I arrived.  It was also bitterly cold – with the wind whipping past it was probably below zero.  It was the coldest I was during my entire trip.  And, of course, the tower on the summit is closed during the winter, so I could only walk around it.  I did so, quickly, snapped a photo and took a panorama, then left.  Here’s a photo of me in front of the fog covered highpoint tower:

me in front of the high point tower

Panorama

This is a panorama from in front of the entrance to the tower.  It was freezing, the wind was blowing hard, and the fog made it impossible to see anything.  Ergo, not the best panorama ever:

Directions

The directions are from Port Jervis, NY, which is just across the state line:

RI-Jerimoth Hill

Summit Date

March 4th, 2011; around 4:45 pm

 

Party

Ryan Cragun

 

Trip Report

I was doing some work in Hartford, CT, and decided I wanted to see a little bit of the surrounding area.  As I hadn’t done any of the highpoint in the area, I figured I’d give it a whirl and see what I could see.  Despite it being March, there was still a lot of snow (I picked one of the snowiest years), but I was determined to give it a try anyway.  Straight from the airport, I picked up my rental car and drove to the highpoint.  My guidebook said that it was on private property and that it was only open to highpointers a couple of times a year.  It turns out that is no longer true.  I pulled up by the highpoint sign, and while I was shooting a photo by it, I noticed another sign.  Here I am by the highpoint sign:

me by the road sign indicating where the highpoint is

Luckily, I drove in from the west.  There is a similar sign a hundred feet or so down the road coming from the east.  If I had stopped by the sign on the east, I would have missed this second sign that is about 15 feet off the road and marks the trailhead to the highpoint:

map to highpoint; trailhead marker

If you look close, it says that the highpoint is open to the public everyday from 8am to 4pm.  It was 4:45, but I’d flown a thousand miles and driven 60 miles to get here, so I went in anyway.  From the trailhead, it’s maybe a 1/4 mile to the highpoint.  The trail isn’t all that clearly marked, but others had been there before, so I simply followed their tracks.  You walk through some woods, then walk into an open space and there is a sign that indicates that you’re at Jerimoth Hill. Here I am by the sign:

me by the highpoint marker

About 3/4ths of the way to the highpoint, just to the right of the trail, there is a rock with the USGS marker embedded in it.  It took me a few minutes to find it, but it’s there.

There isn’t much of a view at the highpoint as it is a wooded area.  The panorama below shows the view.

Panorama

This is a panorama of the open area by the highpoint indicator:

And here is a panorama from the USGS marker:

 

Directions
These are directions from Killingly, CT, which is about 4 miles west of the highpoint:

View Larger Map

TX-Guadalupe Peak

Summit Date

August 15th, 2010

Party

Tom Triplett, Mark Woolley, and Ryan Cragun

Trip Report

We didn’t hike a state highpoint in 2009 as traveling to one from where we were all living was a bit too far.  But due a recent move for Mark (to Arizona), driving to Texas to hike Guadalupe Peak made sense.  Tom and I flew in on the 13th, spent the night at Mark’s place, then we drove to the campground at the trailhead on the 14th.  Here’s a photo of Guadalupe Peak Mark took on the drive in.  This is about 20 to 30 minutes west of the trailhead:

Tom in front of Guadalupe Peak, which is the peak furthest to the right; El Capitan juts out to the right of the peak (email Tom to ask him what he was doing out there)

We spent the night at Pine Spring Campground, which is right by the trailhead.  We had cell reception there, and I was even able to get internet access on my phone (which allowed me to download a Risk-like game for us to occupy our time in the evening – no fires allowed). The night was somewhat uneventful, but had a little commotion.  We only had a 2-person tent, and Mark volunteered to sleep out under the stars.  Temperature and weather wise, that probably would have been fine (and the lack of light pollution meant the stars were awesome).  But bugs-wise, it was a bad move.  Mark was getting eaten alive and it was too hot to slide all the way into his sleeping bag, so he ended up moving to the car in the middle of the night and spent the night in the car.

Mark woke Tom and I up fairly early, just as the first indications of light were peaking over the horizon (probably around 4:30 local time).  We grabbed everything and threw it into the car, geared up, and hit the trail.  Here we are at the trailhead:

Tom, Mark, and Ryan at the trailhead; it was still pretty dark when we started our hike

The hike starts out fairly level, then runs into some switchbacks as you gain elevation.  We were headed up the switchbacks when the sun broke over the horizon, necessitating us taking a few pictures:

panorama of the sun rising from the eastern slope of Guadalupe (click to enlarge)
Mark in front of the rising sun on the switchbacks

We made decent time and the hike was not particularly challenging.  Apparently the trail is horse-friendly, but there are parts that I would not want to take a horse on, as the trail is literally cut into a cliff face with rather steep drops, like this one:

Ryan and Tom on a cliff face in the morning sun

We stopped a couple times to catch our breath, but the hike was actually moderate enough that we were able to hold a pretty good conversation up the mountain.  We contemplated hiking out to El Capitan from the summit, but the trails diverge near the campground, so we opted not to. However, we had good views of El Capitan from Guadalupe Peak:

El Capitan from just below the summit of Guadalupe Peak

We actually summited in just over 2 hours.  I tried to use my phone’s GPS to track our route, and it worked on the way up, but died just after we left the summit on the way done.  According to my GPS map, our total moving time was about 2 hours and 10 minutes (which probably includes about 10 minutes of the descent).  We spent over an hour on the summit.  Here are some summit photos:

Ryan pointing out the mini-watermelon Tom carried to the top; unfortunately it wasn't very good

While we were on the summit, some clouds rolled in from the southeast. They didn’t look very menacing, and it was cool to be above the clouds, but they did prompt us to leave a little sooner than we would have otherwise so as not to get caught in a storm.  Here’s a photo showing us above the clouds:

The three of us at the summit, above the clouds
the summit marker, with one of our shirts airing out on it
panorama from the summit looking west (click to enlarge)
panorama from the summit looking east (click to enlarge)

We took a few more photos on the way down, but I really liked this one of Mark as he was on a promontory and it looked very cool:

Mark looking out over the valley to the east of the peak

We were off the mountain by about 10 am.  We saw just three other people on the trail on the way up, and they had hiked up to a primitive campground the evening before (we saw them heading out when we arrived at the campground).  On the way down we probably passed 20 or 30 people who were on their way up.  It was getting fairly hot at around 10 am, so I think we made the right decision to hike it very early, as we had great weather and the trail to ourselves.

Here’s the GPS map of the trail from my phone application:


View Guadalupe Peak in a larger map

I typically include a map to the trailhead, but the above GPS map shows where the trailhead is exactly, so you can use that.

NM-Wheeler Peak

Summit Date

August 2nd, 2008; around 12:00 pm

Party

Ryan Cragun, Mark Woolley, Tom Triplett

Trip Report

We chose New Mexico this year as we were unable to get a permit to hike Mt. Whitney in California. We left Salt Lake on August 1st, headed for Taos Ski Valley. We planned on camping in one of the campgrounds on the way up to the Ski resort, but neither Tom or I felt very well, so we opted for a hotel in Taos instead. We stopped in Moab for lunch at Slick Rock Cafe, then had a light dinner in Taos. It was a good thing we stayed in a hotel as Tom repeated his performance from last year and spent about an hour vomiting in the middle of the night. But, unlike last year, he actually felt better after vomiting (food poisoning from Olive Garden?). We left for the trailhead from Taos around 6:30.

We started hiking around 7:30 and summitted around 12:00 pm. We followed the longer but less steep route from the lower parking lot. The hike itself isn’t particularly grueling in its steepness, but it is very, very long. The first half is in the tree line and is actually the steepest part of the trail. Once you clear the tree line you’re about half the way to the top. Above the treeline you follow a number of switchbacks to a ridge then have to pass a couple of false summits, one actual summit (a nearby peak), and then finally get to the actual summit. The actual summit has a nice view of the surrounding area and the Taos Ski resort below. However, it was like a plague on the top with all the flies, which made being on the summit less enjoyable than many of the mountains we’ve climbed. I’m not sure why there are so many there, but you can see the flies in this photo of Mark on the summit:

We spent about 45 minutes on the summit, snacking and resting (and brushing our teeth). There were probably another 15 to 20 people who summitted while we were there. Another 20 or so beat us up the mountain and were headed back down before we summitted (many were trail runners who made us feel really, really old). Here’s Tom on the summit with some crazy counselor from the Philmont Scout Ranch:

And here are Mark and Tom on the summit by the marker:

On the way back down we took a shortcut across a meadow just below the ridge that probably saved us 1/2 an hour on the way down. Just above the treeline I started feeling really, really sick. Tom and Mark took my pack at that point and I was finally able to continue on, but still didn’t feel very good. It may have been exhaustion and lack of food, but whatever it was, it hit at a terrible time as I still had more than half the mountain to descend. We got back to the trailhead around 4:00 pm.

Rather than look for a campsite, we drove down toward Taos, filled up the car, got a drink, used the restroom, and headed back toward Salt Lake City. Getting off the mountain at that time gave us the idea that we might want to catch a movie that night (even though we were exhausted), then find a cheap motel/hotel for the night. We stopped in Pagosa Springs where the new Batman movie, Dark Knight, was playing. We got our tickets then went to Farrago Market Cafe for dinner. We caught the movie (which was pretty good), then started looking for a hotel. To our surprise, we couldn’t find anything for less than around $250, which was way more than we were willing to pay. We thought we’d have more luck in a larger city, like Durango, so we headed there, but had about the same results. Turns out, this time of year is the busy time in this area – we couldn’t find anything. By that time we realized that if we just drove straight through to Salt Lake City, we’d get back around 6:30 am. So, we decided to try to pretend like we’re young and started driving. Mark and Tom drove for about an hour while I slept. They then pulled off and I took over for about 3 hours, driving us from outside Monticello to Price. Mark took over from there and we made it back home around 6:30.

Panorama

Directions

Here’s a map from Taos to the trail head:

AZ-Humphrey’s Peak

Summit Date

August 12, 2007, around 11:00 am

Party

Ryan Cragun and Mark Woolley

Trip Report

Mark and I woke up around 5:45 to get ready for the hike. Tom, well, Tom had been up all night anyway with the runs and vomiting and was semi-awake when we got up. For those who don’t know the intimate details of our trio, Tom may not do the most hiking of the bunch (Mark and I probably hike more than he does), but he is generally in the best shape and is able to run up mountains. So, when Tom weakly sat up and asked, “Do you think I should try to do the hike?” both Mark and I knew he was in bad shape. I’m not a physician, so I deferred to Mark (who is a physician) but didn’t think he should. Mark pointed out the major issue – dehydration. Tom hadn’t been able to keep down water, let alone any food. If he attempted the hike there was a good chance he just wouldn’t make it… And it may even result in something worse, like him collapsing half way up and needing help getting out. So, we encouraged him to just stay in the hotel room. We offered to do something else rather than hike so we could spend time together, but Tom insisted we do the hike. So, Mark and I headed out around 6:30 for the trail head.

The hike starts at the Arizona Snow Bowl, which is a ski resort. When we arrived around 7:00 there were probably 20 cars in the parking lot, which made us think we’d see a lot of people on the trail. We started out around 7:15. The trail crosses a few ski runs then heads into the trees. It then works its way up a number of switchbacks until it reaches both the treeline and a saddle at the same time – the saddle is right on the tree line. In my estimate, the saddle is about 2/3 of the way to the top. We reached the saddle around 9:45 or 10:00. From the saddle you follow a mostly defined trail north, passing below the ridges of several smaller peaks. This part of the trail can be somewhat deceptive as it gives the impression several times that you are at the top or heading to the summit but then you reach that point and see another summit beyond it. Expect another 45 minutes to an hour of hiking from the saddle to reach the summit.

The nice thing about this hike is that from the saddle to the summit you don’t rapidly increase much in elevation (there is a sharper incline just below the saddle than anywhere above the saddle). This is the first summit I’ve reached in years where I walked up to the top and wasn’t completely out of breath and feeling like I wanted to die. We reached the summit around 11:00. There were three young hikers up there (though about 10 left just before we got there). We chatted with them for a while then they left, leaving the summit for Mark and me. We stayed for about 45 minutes, snacking, taking photos, and engaging in our yearly tradition of brushing our teeth on the summit. Mark also made a few phone calls, though the reception was a little spotty.

We dropped off the summit around 11:45 and followed a relaxed pace back down, reaching the trailhead around 2:00 or 2:30. Once down we called Tom, who was waiting downtown to meet up with us. We found out later that Tom came up to the trailhead after checking out of the hotel. His plan was to hike up the trail a bit then hike out with us. But someone gave him bad directions and he ended up hiking for about an hour on the wrong trail. It was probably the right decision for him not to hike with us as he reported he made very slow progress while he was hiking, stopping frequently to rest.

Anyway, we met up with Tom then stopped at a subway for a late lunch and to exchange photos, then headed home.

Panorama

Directions

I added a few trail markers on this map:

Directions to the Trailhead from Flagstaff

ID-Borah Peak

Summit Date

August 27, 2006, around 1:00 pm

Party

Ryan Cragun, Tom Triplett, Mark Woolley

Trip Report

The trip began on Saturday, the 26th. My wife, Debi, dropped me off at Mark’s in-laws’ where I was meeting up with Tom and Mark to go on our annual hike. We hung out waiting for Tom for a little bit then loaded up the car and headed out. We stopped for a quick lunch at a Rumbi location, which is the restaurant chain owned by Tom’s boss (Tom is his personal assistant). Employees pay half price, so it was a cheap, good lunch. We then headed north, into the dark recesses of Idaho! We stopped in Pocatello for food and supplies and I got hit on by some girl in the store (I think she was hitting on Mark, but he insisted that it was me because I don’t wear a wedding ring; either way it was funny). The area near Borah Peak, which is the highest point in Idaho, is actually kind of interesting. There is a national laboratory there (The INL or Idaho National Laboratory) that does energy research. It is also the location where the first nuclear power plant was built and developed. We stopped for dinner in Arco at Pickle’s Place, a tiny little fly-infested diner. Arco’s claim to fame is that it was the first city powered by nuclear energy. The symbol of the county there, Butte County, is the atomic symbol – a nucleus orbited by electrons. They’re pretty proud of their nuclear heritage up there. Oh, and Pickle’s Place has a signature burger. Guess what it is called? The Atomic Burger. They also had a veggie burger that was pretty good (that’s what I ordered); Mark and Tom both got the Atomic Burger.

We left Arco at around 7:00 or 7:30 and drove through Mackay before we realized we were basically out of gas. So, we turned around quickly and got some gas before making our way to the Borah Peak trailhead. When we pulled in we saw a bunch of cars, more than we expected. Most of the campsites were already taken. We stopped by the trailhead, where several people were hanging out and waiting and found out that a twelve-year-old girl and her father were still on the mountain. It was almost 9:00 pm at this point and getting dark fast. The girl’s mother had called the county sheriff when she didn’t hear from her husband, so he was up there checking on things. They came down safely a little bit after we arrived, as did another guy we met there. That other guy spent 15 hours climbing the mountain the day before – he started at 6:30 am and got back to his truck at 9:30 pm. We talked to another person who had done the hike on Saturday and she said it wasn’t that bad, but having read some descriptions and hearing about the people still on the mountain, I began to worry.

We quickly set up Tom’s monstrous 10 man tent (it literally has three separate rooms) and climbed into our sleeping bags. I was pretty tired, so I drifted off to sleep right away while Tom and Mark played a couple games of chess. Thanks to a sudden surge in allergies (something I’ve only recently required), I didn’t sleep all that well (Mark’s snoring didn’t help either), but I managed to stay asleep until about 6:00 am when my bladder woke me up for good. I dozed for a while after that, but we were up and getting ready for the hike by around 7:00 am.

We started up the mountain at 8:00 am. We thought we were the first ones on the mountain, but we found out later that there were at least four people who started before we did. We made pretty good progress during the first stage of the climb, which takes you from the trailhead up to the first steep incline. It was at the end of the first stage that we took our first break and were passed by some other hikers – a group of three (two guys and a woman) from Boise. They cruised past us. We started up after them and caught up to them just as the trail turns really steep as it goes through the top of the trail line. They had stopped for a break at that point and that is where we found out they were from Boise. We didn’t see them again until the summit.

A second group of four men passed us (with their dog) in the steep section that eventually emerges from the tree line onto the barren rock that lies above it. Just as you emerge from the tree line onto a ridge there is a small windbreak that has been constructed to the left of the trail with a firepit in it. It was inside that windbreak that we saw another guy taking a break. He was hiking alone and must have started before we did. He was munching on some energy bars and said he was getting his blood sugar up for chicken-out ridge. We paused for a minute to chat with him then continued up on the ridge. You follow the ridge line for a while, walking along the western edge of a steep drop-off over gravel and volcanic rock. The views from here are pretty good and also offer the first real glance at the summit. You follow this mildly sloping ridge for about ½ a mile before you get to the chicken-out ridge, the notorious turn-around spot for some people.

chicken-out ridge

We didn’t really know when we had arrived at chicken-out ridge as there is nothing to clearly delineate it from the rest of the hike (i.e., no signs). But I’m fairly certain I know where it is now – once you hit chicken-out ridge you have to do some actual rock climbing. It isn’t anything too serious, but it requires the use of foot and handholds to scramble over and up rock. These aren’t loose rocks but large cliff faces that are sloped to about a 60 or 70-degree incline. The biggest problem with this area is that it isn’t very easy to see where the trail is – in fact, I’m not sure there is a clear trail here. Your best bet for locating the trail is to look for smooth areas on the rock that have been worn down. And, yes, you do need to be careful. On your left is a very high drop, ranging from 100 to 500 feet in height. To your right, there is an immediate drop of about 30 or 40 feet, but it falls onto a steep slope that drops about 1000 feet to a valley far below. A slip or mistake here could actually cost you dearly, but if you are sure-handed and footed and go slowly, you shouldn’t have much of a problem. That said, this isn’t a hike for the faint-hearted or young – these are dangerous, slightly technical areas that require caution.

rock climb

The three of us didn’t have a problem climbing this area as it really isn’t straight-up and the foot and hand holds are plentiful. Chicken-out-ridge continues for a couple hundred yards and ends in a 20 or 30-foot drop that does require a bit of rock-climbing. It is completely vertical. And while it has good foot and hand holds and even a rope now to help you, it is a challenging piece of climbing if you have never done any rock climbing. You can drop down a bit to the left of the ridge and skirt your way around this climb, but it requires hiking through very loose scree. If you aren’t a fan of technical climbing, that may be a good option for you, but it adds time and distance to the hike.

After chicken-out ridge, there is a relatively level section of trail which is easy to see until you reach the last section before the summit. The trail leads across the back of a smaller summit and eventually to an exposed area that usually has snow on it. Given how late in the year we were hiking, this area was not covered with snow. When it is, it makes sense that ice axes and crampons are recommended – a slide off that notch would be a very serious fall. We could see some snow in shaded areas around the surrounding peaks, but there wasn’t any on the trail.

Having dodged that concern, we were still faced with the last section of the trail, the climb up the summit. As we approached the last section one more group of climbers passed us. There were about six of them and they were moving as effortlessly as though they were ghosts. Turns out they were technical rock climbers and in incredible condition. They didn’t seem to think the trail up the summit was challenging enough, so they climbed out on the large rocks and followed the ridge to the top. They climbed the last section in about 20 minutes. It took us nearly an hour.

We don’t really train for these hikes, but we try to keep in decent shape. That said, I was feeling pretty good until the last push up the summit. If it wasn’t for that last section I don’t think this would have been nearly as challenging. But the last section up the summit is nasty. It’s about a 70-degree incline through loose gravel and very slow going (the people who took the ridge may have had it easier). On the way up the last section, we did pass two more hikers (a little boost of confidence for me). They had started earlier than we had but were traveling at about the same pace we were. We talked with them for a while on the summit – they were both from Idaho as well. Just as I was about to reach the summit the older guy I had spoken to the night before started down. He was the first to summit on the day we climbed Borah. He was about 60 and, while he left before we did, he was moving quick. He was in very good shape and hiking alone.

Tom summited about 5 minutes before I did, and Mark followed me by about 10 minutes – it was about 1:00 pm, five hours of hiking. The view from the summit was impressive, but I was so exhausted from the climb that all I wanted to do was sit down for a few minutes. There were about 15 people on the summit when we got up there, all the people who passed us on the way up. I sat down and had a bite to eat then laid down for about 15 minutes. It was so cold up there that I quickly donned my fleece jacket, gloves, and hat. Even with all of that on, I was still cold. I ate an apple and a protein bar then snapped some pictures. Tom took a brief power nap while Mark sat down and had a snack of his own. It was somewhat comforting to hear the woman from Boise say that she felt like she wanted to vomit when she finally made the summit – we weren’t the only ones feeling the effects of the climb and the altitude.

Because of the cold and knowing we had a long hike down, we stayed on the summit for a little less than an hour (we started down around 2:00). Because I recently had knee surgery (okay, 1 ½ years ago), I was worried about my repaired ACL, so I donned a knee brace on the summit for the way down. It was probably a good idea as my knees didn’t like the steep inclines. I started down a bit before Mark and Tom but waited for them just below the summit. We then slowly worked our way toward chicken-out ridge and followed that to the ridge below. Going down was pretty easy going for the most part at this point. We also looked for the guy we passed on the way up who was hiking alone. We never saw him again. We’re guessing he was the day’s only victim of chicken-out ridge. He was a little older, probably 55 or 60 and not in great shape. So, we’re assuming he turned back.

steep section down

Anyway, going down wasn’t too bad until we hit the really steep section that starts with the tree line. It took us about 1 ½ hours to get to there. It was at this point that my knees really started to feel the incline. They are weak and I could tell. About half way down this section they started to buckle on me and I had to really slow down. Add to that the fact that Tom’s Atomic Burger from the night before was now starting to come out as little, scented Atomic blasts and I was really not happy! Luckily, Tom and Mark pulled ahead a bit and waited for me at one point, alleviating the smell but not the weakness in my knees. I didn’t want to fall as that could damage my knees even more, so I just took it really slow. Both Tom and Mark were feeling the angle of the slope in their knees as well (Tom felt it in his ankles, too, as he has ankle problems while Mark and I have knee problems). From the top of the tree line to the trailhead took us about another hour. My guidebook mentioned this, but I’ll reiterate it here for emphasis – don’t underestimate this area and its effects on knees and ankles – it is really steep. I didn’t have a problem going up, but coming down was a killer. I hobbled off the trail at around 5:00 pm and slowly made my way to Tom’s car.

We left the tent up when we started, so we had to pack that up, which we did quickly, then we climbed into the car, stinky, smelly, bruised, and tired, and headed out. We were not feeling all that well. I ended up with some minor sunburns where my sunscreen had worn off (my wrists, the back of my neck, and my nose) and a couple of blisters. My legs were already sore and very weak (thanks to a constant regimen of exercise – an exercise bike in front of the TV, I was back to normal in a few days). We stopped in Mackay for shakes and tater tots then cruised to Blackfoot where we filled up again. The rest of the way home was spent debating politics – me taking the libertarian/social democrat position (a weird combo, I know) while Mark disavowed interest in all of the corrupt politicians and Tom defended Glen Beck and Fox News. It was fun. Tom finally dropped me off at Debi’s parent’s house around 11:00. I inched downstairs and into the shower before collapsing in bed.

Panorama

Directions:

FL-Britton Hill

Summit Date

December 21st, 2003; around 9:30 am

Party

Ryan & Debi Cragun

Trip Report

We had driven over 700 miles the day before, visited Alabama’s highpoint, and spent the night in Elba, AL at Olde South Inn bed & breakfast. The owner was great and the accommodations were very nice. We were on our way to Orlando for a week vacation and decided to take a slightly different route to include my final two highpoints in the South.

Elba is only about 50 miles north of Lakewood/Britton Hill, so we arrived fairly early. We nearly drove right past the park and highpoint as the signage from the north isn’t particularly great and the park is pretty small.

When we pulled in, we were pretty disappointed. It’s not a very nice park. It doesn’t look like a lot of effort has been put into making the park nice or keeping it up. The restrooms looked pretty nasty; thankfully, we didn’t need to use them.

It was also surprisingly chilly, probably in the mid-40s with the wind chill. We hopped out of the car and while Debi set up the tripod, I snapped a bunch of pictures. We took a few pictures of us by the monument before Debi dashed back to the car to get warm. I then snapped a few pictures of the marker signs before we left.

This isn’t a very pretty highpoint and there definitely isn’t much to see here. I believe I saw a trailhead near the monument, but we didn’t take the time to explore it. We probably spent a total of 5 minutes here, and, sadly, it was probably about 4 minutes too long. The only nice things to see at this site are the monument itself and the view to the east. I would recommend a quick stop here before heading on to somewhere more interesting.

Panorama

Directions

AL-Cheaha Mountain

Summit Date

December 20th, 2003; around 12:00 pm

Party

Ryan & Debi Cragun

Trip Report

We left Cincinnati at 4:00 am and were on our way to Orlando for a week vacation. We re-directed our route in order to stop by the last two state highpoints I had not visited in the South – Alabama and Florida.

After leaving the main freeways, the drive up to the highpoint is fairly scenic, though it is likely more scenic during the other three seasons as many of the trees were leafless and brown. The roads are well-kept but narrow.

We pulled into the state park to find some very nice-looking bungalows and a restaurant. There is a $1.00 per person fee to enter the park. The guidebook we were using said there were cabins in the park, but these looked more like condos. If I had known they were so nice, I may have arranged our trip so we stayed there that night (though the bed and breakfast where we ended up staying that night was also very nice).

From where you enter the park it is about 2 miles to the summit tower. There are a bunch of cellular and radio towers next to the summit tower along with some other stuff, but what the other stuff was or will be was not apparent as much of it was under construction when we visited (see the pictures below).

We parked opposite the summit tower and found the highpoint marker along the path leading up to the tower. The door to the tower was closed and I wasn’t sure if we could just walk in, but I tried it anyway and it opened right up. I quickly realized why the door was closed – the summit tower is heated! That’s right, a heated summit tower. Never seen that before.

The climb is quick and at the top, there is a ‘pay-to-view’ telescope in a beautiful, wood-paneled lookout. The lookout room at the summit offers a nice, panoramic view of the surrounding countryside. The view isn’t America’s best, but it is pretty nice. The only problem we had with the summit tower was that, with how cold it was, the windows were accumulating condensation, so you couldn’t really capture an entire vista without cleaning the windows (it wasn’t too cold, but it was surprisingly chilly, say mid-40s or lower with the wind chill).

We had another couple visiting the highpoint snap some pictures of us and we did the same for them. They were from Alabama and were very nice. We spent a few minutes up there snapping pictures and enjoying the view (the fact the tower was heated helped us want to stay).

Overall, it’s a nice highpoint to visit, especially considering it is a drive-up (the only hiking involved is climbing the summit tower). The final thing I should note is that, instead of re-tracing our route back to I-20, we continued on SR-281 hoping to save ourselves some time as we were headed south. The result? First, we missed a turn and ended up driving about 5 miles before the road we were on ended. It was actually quite disappointing because that road was wide, very nice, and recently paved. When we realized we couldn’t continue on that road, we backtracked and found SR-281, which quickly degraded into a road that had been paved 20 years ago (though it was adequately patched). The road was also very narrow, barely affording room for two small-sized cars. There was, however, one cool thing about it – it had banked turns (and a lot of them). When possible, I approached the road as a race track, not slowing much for the turns and enjoyed the feeling of my momentum being re-directed. When you can’t see beyond the turn, you obviously shouldn’t speed through them as I did pass about 6 or 7 cars coming the other way, but when you can, the high-speed banking makes the narrow road kind of fun to drive.

We drove the to southern border of Alabama that night and stayed in Olde South Inn bed and breakfast, which was very nice, before continuing on to Florida’s highpoint and Orlando the next day.

Panorama

Directions