CO-Mount Elbert

Summit Date

July 22, 2003, around 9:30 am

Party

Ryan Cragun, Tom Triplett, Mark Woolley

Trip Report

This is the fourth hike that Tom, Mark, and I did together; but only the third state highpoint. We decided on hiking Mt. Elbert because I was driving in from Ohio and this would prevent me from having to drive further than necessary. Also, the hikes that we chose to do together have to be rather strenuous hikes, as I had done a number of much less strenuous highpoints either alone or with people other than Tom and Mark. Combining these factors, Colorado seemed like a good choice.

Anyway, I spent the night in Leadville on the 21st then waited for Mark and Tom to arrive as they were driving directly to Leadville from Utah. I spent most of the day in the public library, which is very nice, has internet access, and a hardwood reading room. Also, it should be noted that though there are a number of Mexican-type food restaurants in Leadville, they aren’t particularly great. While in Leadville we tried two of them (La Cantina and The Grille) and were not particularly impressed. Tom and Mark arrived in Leadville at around 5:30 pm and, after eating a quick dinner and picking up a few more essential supplies, we made our way to a campground next to the Mt. Elbert trailhead (Mt. Elbert trail).

We spent the night at the trailhead and got up at 4:45 in order to be on the trail early so we could be headed down before noon. We completely broke camp and were on the trail by 5:30. At the trailhead we met a young couple from Canada who took a quick picture for us before we headed out. We started out about five minutes ahead of them but they quickly overtook us (more about them later).

The trail starts out going up for a ways, probably close to a mile of incline. Then you have a relatively short section that actually drops in altitude. After the altitude drop, which isn’t very long, the trail then heads up again and doesn’t really ever lose altitude after that. There are a few spots that are close to level, but for the most part it is almost a continuous 15-25% grade up the mountain.

It took us close to an hour and a half to get to the tree line. We had started out with light jackets and long sleeve shirts but quickly shed those due to the sweating caused by the uphill hiking. Once we cleared the tree line and were exposed to the chilling wind, we put back on our long sleeve shirts.

From the tree line, you can see the first false summit. It probably took us just over an hour to get to the first false summit, following the series of switchbacks up the ridge to finally wend our way around the summit to the north. It was just below the first false summit that we saw what looked like grouse. We actually probably wouldn’t even have seen them if they hadn’t moved because their feathers help them blend into the rocks and high-altitude vegetation so well, but they were the largest animal life we saw on the mountain. From the first false summit, you can see a second summit, which is also a false summit. It took us close to 45 minutes from the first false summit to the second. But once we reached the second summit we felt pretty good because the trail levels out quite a bit and you have just a 10-minute walk or so from the second false summit to the actual summit.

We arrived at the second false summit at about 9:15. Just below the second false summit we ran into the Canadian couple again, on their way down. They had already summitted, spent some time on the summit, and were headed back down. It was fascinating to watch how they climbed. They didn’t move very fast; instead, they maintained a slow, steady pace. And, they never stopped. As we climbed we would get to rather steep sections and would only be able to go 20 to 30 feet before stopping. They just kept plugging along at their mile-eating pace. They made great time.

We arrived at the summit at 9:30 to find it relatively crowded. There must have been close to 20 other people sitting up there. We found a place to sit and munched on some of our snacks and food we brought with us. There were enough people that it was relatively easy to find people to take pictures for you. There was also quite a variety of people (foreign, local, old, young, etc.), though there were many more males than females. We spent close to 50 minutes on the summit: Mark wrote in his journal; Tom and Mark brushed their teeth; we took a number of pictures. Mark wanted to take a nap as we had done on Boundary Peak, but when we had already been there for close to an hour, I suggested that we get going in case any storms were to blow in early.

The descent was much more rapid than the ascent. We did stop several times to give our quads a breather and Mark’s knees weren’t very happy with him after about an hour of going down the trail. Nevertheless, we probably only stopped 4 or 5 times on the way down. Tom did get a few blisters on the way up and Ryan began to get some pretty serious blisters on his heels about half way down. Of course, being as high up on the mountain as we were, there wasn’t much we could do other than continue, which is what we did, much to the chagrin of our feet.

Anyway, we made it back to the tree line in about an hour and 15 minutes. Most of the time while we were above the tree line the wind was blowing strongly. We kept our long sleeve shirts on until the tree line where the wind dissipated and the temperature increased. From the tree line it was about another 45 minutes back to the trailhead. By the time we reached the trailhead, we were pretty tired and our feet hurt, but we were actually very surprised that we had climbed the mountain in close to 6 hours (actual climbing time, not including the 50 minutes on top). We aren’t in particularly good shape, well, Mark and I weren’t; Tom was. Nevertheless, we made pretty good time; at least, we thought we did.

Knowing that we were going to get off the mountain relatively early, we decided to drive back to Utah that day. We took a slightly different route to get back to I-70 (through Aspen instead of Leadville) and stopped in Aspen for lunch. From there it was close to 7 more hours to get to the Ogden, Utah area where Mark and Tom live and where I was staying.

Advice: I would suggest that you start close to as early as we did, around 6:00 am at the latest. Also, though it may be a little chilly when you are starting out, you will quickly work up a sweat, so save your warm clothes for later; don’t start out wearing jackets or anything like that as you will quickly realize that you will need to take them off. Know that you’ll be going uphill at a pretty stead incline – 15 to 25% grade – most of the hike, with the exception of the short section that actually goes downhill. You’ll also notice that if you stop for a breather in the tree line there are lots of mosquitoes but above the tree line they are gone. Once you get above the tree line you’ll likely be buffeted by chill winds. It is at this point that you’ll want to put on a long sleeve shirt and perhaps save a thicker jacket for the summit, depending on if you are planning on spending much time up there. On the summit, there are a number of small wind breaks that have been built. These work fairly well for keeping you out of the wind as you take a few minutes to enjoy the summit and the impressive views.

Panorama

Directions

OK-Black Mesa

Summit Date
July 19th 2003, around 3:15 pm

Party
Ryan Cragun

Trip Report
I drove in from Oklahoma City, arriving at the trailhead at around 1:00 pm mountain time. I hadn’t originally known whether or not I was going to do this hike on the 19th or the 20th, knowing that it was supposed to take between 3 and 5 hours. Because I was doing the hike alone I didn’t want to get caught out on the trail alone after dark. Because I made pretty good time from Oklahoma City, I thought I would be fine.

I spent about 30 minutes getting ready, filling up my Camelback, and throwing in a couple of extra bottles of water. I snapped some pictures of the trailhead then was about to head out on the trail when I noticed a bird’s nest built right on the information sign. I just had to get a picture of it. I also quickly looked around for a stick to carry with me in case I ran into any snakes on the trail. My guidebook warned that the trail was home to rattlesnakes and, hiking alone, I wasn’t particularly keen on meeting one unprepared. I did find a stick to carry with me and carried it with me all the way to the top and back, thinking it would offer at least a little more protection against a rattlesnake.

Once I had snapped some pictures of the bird’s nest and found my stick I headed out. The trail is very flat, with only gradual hills until you reach the base of the plateau just before climbing the switchbacks that take you to the top of the plateau. Also, though I am hesitant to admit it because people will likely begin cutting trails off of the already developed trails, the trail zigs and zags off of a straight course. If you were to cut a straight line to the base of the switchbacks you would probably cut off close to a mile of the trail. Anyway, I did follow the trail, both up and down, wondering who designed it. Also, there is something like a ranch or home of sorts almost near the base of the plateau. I’m sure that it is private property and they wouldn’t be very keen to people driving onto the property to cut off 2 miles of the hike, so you’ll just have to start from the trailhead.

The hike, until the base of the plateau is marked with green arrows and is very easy going. It took me about 40 minutes to get to the last of the green signs. The hike up the switchbacks is a little strenuous, but nothing major and is over in about 10 minutes. Once you get up on top, understanding why the Spanish word for table ‘mesa’ is used to describe these natural landscape features makes perfect sense, it is as flat as natural terrain gets. But keep in mind that once you are on top of the mesa you still have about 1 mile to go before you reach the highpoint. On top of the mesa there are also trail markers, but they seem newer and are yellow.

I was hyper alert on this hike because of the snake warning. Keeping my eyes open, I noticed some movement just as I reached the top of the mesa. Jumping back in fright, I wiped the sweat from my eyes so I could see clearly what I had to deal with. I first noticed a monstrous grasshopper. It must have been at least 2 inches long and an inch wide. It was the biggest grasshopper I’d ever seen. But only about 2 feet away was a horned lizard. It was about 4 inches long and 2 to 3 inches wide. I laughed at my fear, then snapped some pictures.

I continued on to the highpoint. Right next to the memorial on the highpoint is a cairn of rocks. I took off my pack as I neared the summit and was about to put it down next to the cairn to stretch my back a little but again found myself jumping back in fear as I watched a thin, tan colored snake hiding in the shade of the cairn disappear deeper into the cairn to where I was no longer able to see it. When my heart rate dropped back to normal, I gave the cairn wide berth and made my way to the memorial where I gingerly set my pack down.

I snapped a bunch of pictures and admired the unique memorial. The memorial has some interesting information on it, including mileages to distant cities and the surrounding states. I filmed my panorama and checked the impromptu registry. I didn’t sign it; I very seldom do. I spent about 15 minutes total on the summit, before loading back up and heading back down.

About 10 minutes from the highpoint I met a couple on their way up. I’m not positive of the names, but I think it was Dave Snyder and Deborah (not sure if they were married or dating or what, they didn’t say and I won’t assume it). They were really nice. I warned them about the snake in the cairn and we talked for about 15 minutes. Dave had summitted McKinley exactly two weeks previously and this was his highpoint number 34. I had to shake his hand. We had a good conversation then parted company.

I made my way back down and reached the trailhead about 3 hours and 15 minutes after I started. My feet were a little tired and I found that I had a few sore muscles the next day, but for the most part the hike doesn’t really push you. I did decide to stop in Kenton for something cold to drink. I had used up over two liters of water on the hike and all of my remaining water was hot. The only place open was ‘The Merc’, which apparently doubles as an impromptu hamburger stand. I got a couple of very great tasting drinks and headed north into Colorado.

Couple of suggestions: There are snakes, probably more visible if you hike to the trail early in the morning or when it is cooler out. It was very hot when I was hiking the trail, probably the hottest part of the day, so I didn’t see many. Also, take a lot of water, especially if you are going to hike the trail when it is as hot as it was when I hiked it. Using a continuous, medium pace you should be able to hike the trail in around 3 hours. The trail is very dusty. Also, it is very remote, which was nice for a change.

Panorama

Directions
Here’s a map from Boise City, OK:

View Larger Map

LA-Driskill Mountain

Summit Date

July 18th, 2003 around 6:30 am

Party

Ryan Cragun

Trip Report

I had visited Mississippi’s highpoint on July 17th, 2003 and had planned on camping in Vicksburg, Mississippi that night. Though my small tent is waterproof, the campground where I had originally planned on staying was fairly waterlogged and from what I could see, the rain was still coming. I would have been sleeping on a water bed and it just didn’t seem worth paying $10 to be miserable in my tent. Instead, I decided to sleep in my car at a rest area I believed was just a few more miles down the road in Louisiana. Big mistake!

The rest area was just over the Mississippi. I pulled in and tried to get comfortable. The problem wasn’t so much that I couldn’t find a comfortable position in my very small car. It was the humidity; it was horrible. I thought that maybe I could let the air circulate by cracking the windows. When I opened the windows I let in a swarm of mosquitoes; that wasn’t going to work. I had to keep the windows up. The result was a combination of the humidity from my breath with the humidity levels outside and a build up of my body heat. It was like sleeping in a very uncomfortable sauna. I did get a couple of hours of sleep, but when the lightning that had been striking in the distance finally struck the actual rest area, knocking out all of the lights, I had had enough. Checking my route for the next day, I decided to drive the 130 miles or so to the highpoint and see if I couldn’t get away from some of the storm and humidity.

I made the drive and arrived at the parking area of the trailhead at around 3:30 am. I was tired again, so I tried to bed down and sleep a couple more hours until dawn. I did get a bit more sleep but was up at the time the eastern horizon was growing light. I wasn’t much more comfortable, but there wasn’t as much light (from the rest area lights and the lightning) and it wasn’t quite as humid.

I got up at around 5:30 and spent about 30 minutes getting everything ready. I knew that I had about a mile hike to the highpoint. I did put on my headlamp but really didn’t need it. It had grown light enough that I didn’t have any problems. The trail to the highpoint seems fairly unused with quite a bit of overgrowth. Also, I was covered by spider webs by the time I actually made it to the summit. The hike time was about 20 minutes. I didn’t find a USGS marker on the summit, but there was a cairn of rocks, a registry, and a little tribute to Jakk Longacre, one of the founders of the highpointers club. I spent a few minutes snapping pictures, which didn’t turn out all that well in the dim light, but I did my best.

Packing up my camera I headed back down the trail. Twenty minutes later I was back at my car. I did see a pretty sunrise as I neared the trailhead and snapped some pictures of that. Otherwise, it was getting light, I had a long way to drive, and I was feeling pretty crappy from my horrible night’s sleep. I took off my hiking boots, switched them for sandals, and headed out, looking to make it to Mount Magazine in the early afternoon so I could make it to Oklahoma City that night.

Panorama

Directions

AR-Mount Magazine

Summit Date

July 18th, 2003 around 3:00 pm

Party

Ryan Cragun

Trip Report

I visited Louisiana’s highpoint early this morning and drove straight from there to Mount Magazine. The area surrounding the highpoint is actually very beautiful. Also, it appears that quite a bit of time and money has been invested in the Mount Magazine park. There were a number of new signs, the roads are very nice, and the trail to the highpoint along with the actual highpoint were all very well kept.

The only problem with the highpoint was that despite the trailheads (yes, there are two places where you can begin the hike) being well marked, there wasn’t a specific place for parking. I ended up parking in what I think might have been a campground, but there weren’t any people in there. The hike to the summit took about fifteen minutes, though I stopped for about five minutes to snap pictures of a bunch of butterflies that were in a large group on some flowers right next to the trail.

The highpoint itself is actually very nice. There is a nice wooden sign and monument on the summit. The registry is perhaps the nicest I’ve ever seen, also made out of wood and nicely finished. The GSGA marker is set in a rock monument that is also very nice. I snapped a bunch of pictures and headed back down to my car. This is actually a park where it would be nice to spend some time camping and hiking. There are lodges, campsites, and hiking trails all over. There is also a decent sized town, Paris, AR, not far away, for supplies. I also wanted to stop at the abbey/school in Subiaco, which was very beautiful, but didn’t; maybe at some point in the future.

Though there isn’t much of a view from the summit, the whole experience (other than the parking) was very enjoyable and impressive.

Panorama

Directions

MS-Woodall Mountain

Summit Date

July 17, 2003 around 2:30 pm

Party

Ryan Cragun

Trip Report

I left Cincinnati just after 7:00 am this morning. My only real stop was in Brentwood, TN where I stopped at REI to pick up some supplies. Other than that stop I drove directly to the highpoint.

I did actually have a strange little experience once I hit Iuka, MS. Just as I pulled off of US-72, I noticed a yellow Mustang, fairly new model, pull onto SR-25 right behind me. At first I didn’t think much of it, but when it then followed me for the next three turns, my crazy imagination took over.

Now, I have to admit that I was being something of a bigot here. Knowing that I was in fairly rural Mississippi, I thought that the occupants of the Mustang were probably some young teenagers that were driving around looking for trouble. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t want people to think that I think all young people that live in rural areas are just out looking for trouble. I grew up in a very small, fairly rural town and I never went around looking for a fight or to assault people (maybe other kinds of trouble, but never fights – I’m a pacifist). But I had been listening to a book on CD about terrorism and had just recently heard about a couple of highpointers that had been assaulted after climbing a highpoint. These two elements combined in my mind to result in me actually considering the possibility that the occupants of the Mustang had spotted me for some reason and were following me so they could eventually assault and rob me. The Mustang was following me fairly closely and, since I was driving fairly slowly, I was getting more and more worried. However, as I turned onto one of the last roads before arriving at the road to the highpoint, the Mustang seemed to slow at the turn then continue. I dismissed the whole thought at that point with a very small sigh of relief and continued onto the highpoint.

I arrived at the cell tower covered highpoint just a few minutes later. The dirt road leading up to it is passable in a passenger car, but not very easily. The road at present (this could easily change with future grading) was full of ruts likely created by water run off. They were not so deep that the road was impassable, but they did result in some rather fancy maneuvering of my low clearance Honda Civic. I parked in the turnaround and got out to stretch. Just as I was getting ready to snap some pictures I heard a car coming up the road to the highpoint. It was the yellow Mustang! I quickly scanned my surroundings and put my hand in my pocket to grab my car keys in case I needed to make a quick getaway. Then I saw the occupants of the car. Driving was a middle-aged man with a very kind face. In the passenger seat was his wife, also middle-aged, who looked just as friendly. Sitting behind them was what looked like a 12 year old boy. My fanciful imaginings had all just been silly.

When the occupants got out we struck up a conversation. As it turns out they were in the Iuka area for some baseball tournaments. Their son’s team had lost a few days earlier but there was another team from Columbus, MS that was still in the tournament and they were still watching their games. They were very nice and offered some suggestions on places to visit while in Mississippi. We talked for a few minutes. Instead of mugging me they gave me a great impression of Mississippians.

The Winger’s guidebook described this highpoint as the dirtiest and most unkempt they had seen. Maybe I missed the messy parts of the highpoint, but I don’t think so. Apparently, someone has decided to take a little bit of time and clean the place up. Right around the highpoint marker and from what I could see from the marker, the area was fairly clean. I did see what looked like a small fire pit, but even it was fairly well kept. Of course, being nearly completely covered with cell phone towers the highpoint isn’t pristine and doesn’t really have a great view, but it isn’t nearly as bad as was described in the Winger’s book (Kentucky, on the other hand, was disgusting). I didn’t see the remnants of the old highpoint marker sign; all that you can see is the highpoint marker set in concrete. Maybe someone took their advice and actually cleaned it up.

I snapped a bunch of pictures, filmed the panorama, talked with the occupants of the Mustang a bit longer, and headed out, hoping to get to Vicksburg that night.

Panorama

Directions

KY-Black Mountain

Summit Date

May 25, 2003, around 1:00 pm

Party

Ryan Cragun, Debi Cragun

Trip Report

Debi and I needed a break from school and all of the things that tend to take over your life when you’re at home. When Memorial Day came around and we had a three-day weekend we decided it would be the perfect opportunity for that break. I had pretty much visited every other state high point that was within a day’s round trip driving distance from Cincinnati other than Kentucky’s, so we decided to visit Black Mountain.

I actually began the planning a bit earlier than most on this one because I knew that you have to fill out a waiver in order to visit the highpoint. The highpoint is owned by a coal company and they request that you fill out a waiver to visit it. You can find the waiver here. Either way, it just takes a couple of minutes to download the waiver, fill it out, and send it in. I actually printed two copies to take one with me in case someone actually stopped me on the mountain but didn’t need it.

We left Cincinnati at around 8:00 am. The drive was pleasant and not many people were on the road. I listened to a book on CD while Debi worked on our laptop. The time passed pretty quickly and we were driving through very rural Kentucky before we knew it. We had pretty good directions and drove directly to the highpoint (see my directions below). There are a lot of roads around that area, so make sure you have good directions.

We did actually see some other people on the summit. There were some people parked at the FAA radar tower who I don’t think were there to visit the highpoint but were working at the tower. There was also an SUV parked just below the summit at the entrance gate. The people in that SUV were also there working, but they were working on one of the towers right on the summit. A second SUV pulled in while we were getting our shoes on (can’t drive five hours with shoes on!) with some people in it who were actually headed there for the highpoint.

Once we got our shoes on and our camera ready, we walked the very short distance from the FAA tower (it seemed like the best place to park our Honda Civic) to the summit. The summit is pretty nearly covered with antennae towers. I didn’t actually count them because there were so many, but there are a lot – between 10 and 15. They were buzzing with activity. Some of them had support buildings and one even had a danger sign on it citing high levels of radio frequency; that was a little unnerving.

But I wasn’t really too worried about being harmed by the radio waves because we had no intention of being on the highpoint for long. When we got to the actual highpoint (underneath the tower), there were two men working on one of the nearby towers and a couple with their dog that was visiting the highpoint. One of the workers introduced himself. He was from Tennessee and was very congenial. We didn’t talk for long; I think he had work to do. We also talked with the other couple. They had each done a number of other highpoints. The man (I didn’t catch their names but found out they were from near D.C.) had done most of the more difficult highpoints (Rainer, Mt. Hood, etc.) and now they were doing some of the easier ones. They took our picture for us, preventing us from having to set up the tripod, and then they left.

I can’t really blame them because there really isn’t much to see on the summit other than towers and antennas; it really is pretty ugly. There isn’t even much of a view because the summit is pretty flat with rather tall trees surrounding it. We spent a few minutes walking around and snapping pictures just to get a good feel for it. Without all of the towers, it might be a nice place for a picnic seeing as how the highpoint is in a nice little meadow with wildflowers, but it just isn’t the place you’ll want to sit and take in nature’s beauty. The USGS marker is near the southeast corner of the tower cemented into a slab of cement. Directly beneath the tower is a mess; there are slabs of concrete and most of the space is taken up by what appears to be a rather haphazard fire pit. It didn’t make for a very picturesque vista. We didn’t bother climbing the tower, which is supposed to be off limits anyway, said goodbye to the workers, and headed back down the trail.

We did see some pretty butterflies and some of the surrounding area is probably pretty nice, but we didn’t make much of an effort to see it. We headed back the way we came, stopped at Taco Bell on the way home, and made it back by around 6:30. Overall, not a particularly beautiful highpoint, but another one down (or should it be up for highpoints?).

Couple other things to mention. Coming from the Kentucky side, after leaving Lynch, the road headed toward the summit (160) winds a lot with some very sharp curves. It also seems to take forever to get from Lynch to the summit entrance road but you get some sense of how close you are by looking at the surrounding terrain and seeing how high you are relative to it. It’s about 11 miles from when you first get on 160 to the summit. There also aren’t many places to eat or many services very close to the summit, so be sure to have sufficient gas and something to snack on (perhaps there are some non-vegetarian places, but we tend to completely overlook them).

Panorama

Directions

HI-Mauna Kea

Summit Date

March 22, 2003; around 5:00 pm

Party

Ryan Cragun, Debi Cragun, Scott Morgan, Steve Morgan, Brent Robbins, & Rosemary Morgan
Honorable Mention : Suzy Robbins & Gary Morgan

Trip Report

As is probably the case for most highpointers, I had no idea when I was actually going to be able to visit Hawaii to do Mauna Kea. I figured I would do the lower 48 well before I had the opportunity to do Hawaii or Alaska. But, as it turns out, my wife’s parents, Gary and Rosemary Morgan, decided to take everyone on a family trip to Hawaii and we just happened to be going to the Big Island, which is where Mauna Kea is located. So, much to my joy and surprise I was able to visit Mauna Kea much earlier (and much less expensively – thank you, thank you, thank you Gary and Rosemary) than I ever thought possible.

Since I was not in charge of planning the trip to Hawaii, it took a bit of coordination between Rosemary and myself to work out all of the details. And, sadly, here I must admit that I was a bit ignorant about Mauna Kea – likely because I saw it as not being a possible hike for many, many years. Anyway, as we were finding out information about Mauna Kea, I learned, though I had probably heard this at some time in the past, that Mauna Kea is also the home to 11 of the best observatories in the world. And, most people visit Mauna Kea just to visit the observatories and never make the climb over to the highpoint – which is understandable if you don’t like the cold.

As it turns out, and me being a poor graduate student I was ecstatic about this, there is a free tour of the observatories (I say free, but I’ll explain the expenses shortly) on Saturdays and Sundays. So, being as frugal as possible, we decided we would visit the summit of Mauna Kea on Saturday. Okay, this is where I explain how it isn’t exactly free. First, you obviously have to pay your airfare and room and board (wow, big bucks $$$$). Then, you have to rent a four-wheel drive vehicle. Now, I should stipulate here that you don’t actually have to rent a four-wheel drive vehicle unless you are going to take the guided tour. Listen close, this gets kind of complicated. The road to the visitors center and eventually to the summit is made up of about 4 segments. The first is Highway 200 or Saddle Mountain Road. This road is paved, but not very well. What it looks like they did is paved a one-lane road fairly well then added about three or four feet on each side of it to turn it into a two-lane road. Well, they didn’t really do much to add the three or four feet on each side of it other than throw the asphalt onto the ground and then stamp it with their feet – it is rough, real rough, but drivable. So, you could take just about any car you want on this road. From Highway 200 you break off (near mile marker 28) onto the road that will take you to Mauna Kea. The first section of this road, about 5 or 6 miles, is really pretty nice and takes you up to the visitor’s center. Just past the visitor’s center, the road becomes pretty steep at places and is unpaved for about 8 miles (they told us at the visitor’s center that they have left it unpaved to prevent unwanted visitor’s). It is this stretch of road that gets pretty bad and is also why they demand that you have a four-wheel drive vehicle if you take the guided tour. About 5 miles from the summit and observatories, the unpaved road turns into one of the nicest stretches of two-lane road in the world. It is very nicely paved with rock barriers on both sides, which get lots of use. However, it is still pretty steep all the way to the top.

So, as for renting a four-wheel drive vehicle, we saw several cars driving around the summit. When I say cars, I mean, Toyota Corollas and such. They made it up there, but they probably didn’t enjoy themselves very much and though I’m not positively sure about this, I don’t think any rental companies other than Harper’s actually allow their vehicles to go to the summit. (To be completely honest, when we went to Harper’s to pick up our Isuzu Troopers – we rented two of them – the guy that did the rental vehicle evaluation with us told us that we could have taken our van to the summit and that we really didn’t need to get four-wheel drive vehicles.) So, you can avoid paying for a four-wheel drive vehicle if you just don’t tell the rental company where you are taking it, but, and this is pretty important, if you decide to go on the guided tour, you have to have a four-wheel drive vehicle. They actually will come check your vehicle to make sure that it is four-wheel drive.

So, to recap expenses, you can drive to the summit without doing the tour and not pay for a four-wheel drive vehicle. But, if you decide to do the tour (which I would recommend – it is free), you’ll have to get the four-wheel drive vehicle. Now, as for the tour. As you’ll notice on the site I linked to above, the tour starts at around 1:00 pm and it starts at the visitor’s center which is at about 9,300 feet. At that altitude, you’re above the clouds. The tour starts with a narrated video (the narrator was Johnny Carson, an amateur astronomer) that lasts about an hour. They want you to stay at the visitor’s center for about an hour to acclimate to the high altitude. They also have several other restrictions for the tour: you have to be over 16, you cannot have gone scuba diving within the previous 24 hours (we actually went about 26-28 hours before we climbed the summit and we were fine), you can’t be pregnant, and you shouldn’t have a bad heart or any of the other types of health ailments that typically prevent people from doing strenuous stuff. Anyway, the video is a history of the observatories on Mauna Kea and the visitor’s center is surprisingly small (see pictures below). Inside, they are themed toward the astronomy side though they do have one thing related to the highpoint – a nifty replica of the USGS marker. I had never seen these before, but they are pretty sweet. Apparently, the person making them is online and you can order one for most every state: https://www.mountainclimb.com/. So, you watch the video then hop in your cars and line up caravan style. It is at this point that the tour guide comes to each car in the caravan and checks to see if you meet the above-mentioned requirements. After that, you follow the guide up to the observatories.

Once up there, our guide took us to see the Keck observatory first. They do allow you to go inside and actually see the lenses that make up the Keck. Pretty cool. Then he took us to an older observatory, the University of Hawaii’s 88-inch telescope. They also let us inside that one and we got to go into the telescope room and the control room (they were using Dell computers if anyone cares, and, they had the soundtrack to Strange Brew in there to entertain them – pretty weird people these astronomers). The tour guide we had, Jonn Altonn, was well-informed and did a good job. The tour lasted until about 4:30. At that point, you can stay up by the observatories and watch the sunset or do the actual summit hike. We decided to do both.

Now, as for the actual hike… I don’t think I got a very good picture showing the whole distance from the road by the observatories to the summit, but it can’t be more than a 1/4 of a mile. However, the distance is not what makes this hike a bit strenuous. It is the combination of being at close to 14,000 feet (13,796 to be exact) along with close to 30-degree temperatures and a 30-40 mph wind that drops the temperature even lower. Of the 20-25 people who were in our tour, we were the only one’s who actually climbed to the summit (see the members of our summit party above). We knew beforehand that it was going to be cold, so we had brought jackets and warm clothes, but it was still very, very cold. I think my wife, Debi, was the most well-prepared – she had on a short-sleeved shirt, two long sleeved shirts, a cloth jacket, a thick rain jacket, and two pairs of pants. She forgot gloves, however, so I’m sure her hands were a bit cold, but she said she was fairly warm during the hike. My advice, dress very, very warm. You probably don’t need to bring arctic weather gear all the way to Hawaii just for this hike, but you should layer up a bunch of the clothes that you did bring so you stay warm. Also, our guide did mention that Mauna Kea experiences a remarkable winter. He said this year was pretty mild with the largest storm dumping only 4 feet. There were only traces of snow when we went up there, but some years it can dump up to 15 feet in a single storm. You may want to check the weather before you come to Hawaii. I don’t really know, but I’m guessing that the seasons follow those of North America and that winter in Hawaii is from November through March. If I’m wrong, someone please let me know. So, you may want to time your vacation to miss the snow on top, or you likely won’t be able to visit the summit.

As for our actual hike, it was bitter cold and the wind was quite strong. We all made it okay, though I think Debi did stumble once. And, just to let you know what is possible with this summit, Debi’s mother, who was 62 at the time, made the hike. On the summit, which is regarded as a sacred place by native Hawaiians, there was something like an altar (I’m sure there is an official name for it, but I don’t remember what it is). You aren’t supposed to touch the offerings, which we didn’t, but we did use the altar for shelter from the wind. Though I am not religious myself, I try to respect other religions and religious beliefs, so I hope I didn’t do something wrong by using the altar as a windbreak. Also, from the summit, you can see a lot of lava cones (there is probably a technical name for these also, which I don’t know or remember), but that is what they look like. They are cones with big craters in them. You can see a bunch of them and the highest point is actually part of one, it is a lip on the north side of a crater. I should also point out that the landscape of Mauna Kea is kind of how I envision Mars looking. It is desolate. From the end of the dirt road portion on there is no noticeable vegetation and I believe just some sort of fly that lives on the summit; there are probably some micro-organisms as well, but it is pretty desolate.

After the hike, we got back in our cars and positioned ourselves to watch the sunset. It was very pretty, but the clouds didn’t cooperate to make it remarkably beautiful. After the sunset, we went back down to the visitor’s center and looked through the telescopes they had set up for stargazing. They have free stargazing from 6-10 pm on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays (I think, check their website). They also had hot chocolate and coffee and we picked up some souvenirs. Having experienced plenty for one day, we didn’t stay too long. The drive back to Kailua-Kona took about 1 1/2 hours (where we stopped for Taco Bell food before heading back to our condo – yum).

Most of us had headaches either on the summit or on the way down, which is pretty common and one member of our party, Suzy, was actually feeling pretty sick. But, the headaches and nausea are easily remedied with a good nights’ rest at sea level. Overall, the view and the observatories (along with just being in Hawaii) make this summit well worth it.

Panorama

Directions

WV-Spruce Knob

Summit Date
September 7, 2002, around 11:00 am

Party
Ryan Cragun, Debi Cragun

Trip Report
Spruce Knob was the first of three highpoints that we planned to visit this day. Debi and I left Cincinnati at 3:45 am and arrived at the parking area around 11:00 or so. There were a few other cars in the area, but not many. Having grown up in Utah, we did find it a little funny that West Virginia is called ‘The Mountain State’. The drive to the parking area was very scenic, but be aware that the last 7 to 8 miles are on pretty rough dirt roads.

There was a woman getting out of her car when we got to the parking area. She had her dog with her. We walked to the tower with her and found out that she is also a highpointer. Spruce Knob was her second highpoint. She is from Cleveland, a fellow Ohioan. She plans to visit one highpoint per year. She started last year with Pennsylvania’s Mount Davis. She also said she is afraid of heights. She was very nice. I can’t help but think that being afraid of heights may make her goal a bit difficult, but perhaps that is why she is doing it. Well, I wish her the best.

The tower on the summit offers a scenic view of the surrounding area and the view is very nice. We snapped a few pictures and took one for the lady that we met. We spent a few minutes enjoying the view, but that was about it. We still had two highpoints
to visit and had to drive back to Cincinnati that night, so off we went to Maryland’s Backbone Mountain.

Panorama

Directions
Here’s a map from Elkins, WV:

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PA-Mount Davis

Summit Date
September 7, 2002, around 3:30 pm

Party
Ryan Cragun, Debi Cragun

Trip Report
This was our third and last highpoint of the day. We left Cincinnati at 3:45 am and had visited two other highpoints already, Spruce Knob, WV and Backbone Mountain, MD. We ended up getting back to Cincinnati at around 11:00 pm.

This highpoint is one that you can drive right up to. Our directions from my computer where a little different than those in the guidebook, so we combined them to save time and got there just fine. It appears that there are several roads that will get you into the parking area. From the parking area, it is about 100 yards to the tower and the natural highpoint is about 50 feet from the base of the tower. The USGS marker is in the tallest rock in a group of rocks (see pictures below). There was one other car in the parking area when we arrived and one more came while we were there, but we never saw any of the people, only heard them a couple of times.

The view from the tower is pretty impressive. There is a small display on the top of the tower that explains why some of the surrounding hills look taller than the highpoint or the point where you are standing. The area is pretty nice. We spent about 30 minutes wandering through the highpoint area and snapping pictures.

We still had about 7 hours of driving to get back to Cincinnati. We listened to two books on CD while we were driving and Debi got a bunch of work done on my laptop. It was an enjoyable highpointing trip.

Panorama
(Note: Not my panorama. Debi and I were preoccupied when we visited this highpoint and I ended up forgetting to shoot a panorama. So, here’s one I found on Youtube.)

Directions
Here’s a map from Accident, MD:

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MD-Backbone Mountain

Summit Date

September 7, 2002, around 1:30 pm

Party

Ryan Cragun, Debi Cragun

Trip Report

This was our second highpoint of the day. We left Cincinnati at 3:45 am and visited Spruce Knob, WV just earlier. We planned on visiting Pennsylvania’s Mount Davis after this one. The trailhead (which is the beginning of an old logging road) is marked, but it helps to have pretty good directions. What actually helped me see it was an ‘Adopt-A-Highway’ sign on the side of the road that said something like Friends of the Maryland Highpoint – Backbone Mountain. I’m assuming there is a sign to the north on 219 that says the same thing, but the trailhead is right where the sign on the south end of the cleanup stretch stands. On the back of the sign (north side) someone has spray painted ‘MD’ and ‘HP’. I snapped some pictures of that. There is also a sign in the trees, but it is pretty small and difficult to make out. So, be sure to have good directions to follow and if you know where to look, you should be able to find it.

Our directions told us to park our car on the berm of the road. We decided to pull about 40 yards up the logging road so our car would be somewhat hidden from view and not right on the side of the road. It was out of the way of any potential traffic on the logging road, but safe from the traffic on 219. Our directions also told us to plan on about 1 to 1 1/2 hours to climb the mountain. The directions were very helpful (see ‘Highpoint Adventures’ by the Wingers). The trail is marked from the bottom with the letters ‘HP’ spray painted on trees every few hundred yards. The spray paint is a little old and difficult to make out at times because it is fading, but you just have to keep your eyes open. The hike is pretty much a constant incline going up at a decent angle. It levels out near the top, but from where it levels out it is only about 200 yards to the summit. It took us about 20 minutes to get to the level portion and another couple to make it to the highpoint marker. There is a view to the northeast of the summit looking toward Maryland. The rest of the summit is surrounded by trees.

We did pass one person on our way up. He was coming down. He was the only other person we saw on the mountain. There are some picnic tables at the top and a mailbox with a notebook/logbook in it. We signed the log and snapped a bunch of pictures. Though the hike isn’t long, it is pretty much a continuous incline, so we stopped for about 10 minutes on the top and enjoyed the view and the sense of accomplishment – another one down and another state conquered and enjoyed.

The descent took about 15 minutes. As I have in other trip reports where the terrain is rocky, I would recommend here that you wear good, sturdy boots. The trail isn’t that bad, but it is pretty rocky at points. Also, be prepared for a good 20 to 30 minutes of hard hiking. The going isn’t difficult, but it is a constant incline from the trailhead to the top. The view at the top isn’t amazing, but it is nice. You can see for quite far but you can also see two smoke belching towers in the distance. Not that smoke belching towers are a bad thing, but it isn’t like West Virginia where the only signs of humanity you can see are the roads you came in on. Anyway, from there we headed on to Pennsylvania’s Mount Davis. Total trip time was about 50 minutes.

(Side note: A little north of Backbone Mountain’s trailhead on 219 there is what is claimed to be the smallest church in the 48 states. We snapped some pictures of it. Kind of interesting to see if you have the time. It’s a Catholic church and there is a post office next to it as well, also supposed to be the smallest mailing office in the U.S.)

Panorama

Directions