Most of the time my two favorite hobbies, craft beer and highpointing, are at odds with one another, however, in September 2010 the stars were aligned and they came together in one beautiful trip. I was hanging out on a beer geek website I frequent and one of the bloggers mentioned beer related film contests. My cousin (a professional film editor and fellow highpointer) and I entered New Belgium Brewing Company’s Clips of Faith Film contest with this short film.
Well we won and New Belgium Brewing agreed to fly us out to the brewery for a weekend of beer, fun, and folly; I quickly negotiated extending our trip to get in some highpointing. We flew from NYC to Colorado on Thursday September 9th and immediately began drinking and having great time. Three days later after ridiculous amounts of beer related shenanigans our highpointing adventure finally began.
Panorama Point, NE - 5,429ft
The alarm went off at 7am on Sunday 9/12, apparently I slept in my clothes the previous night so that saved time packing up, I held back vomiting and we then stumbled out onto the deserted streets of downtown Denver. We grabbed coffee and rented a luxurious Chevy Malibu for our great highpointing adventure. (Note to highpointers “don’t skimp” and get at least a small SUV you’ll be on lots of roads where you’ll wish you had one) The 2.5hr drive north was pretty uneventful we stopped at Sonic in Wyoming to get something greasy to try and settle my stomach before our epic hike of Panorama Point. You’re on farmland for quite some time and the dirt/dust, small pebbles, and swarms of grasshoppers are already doing a number on our vehicle. There is a sign for the highpoint and we begin to drive up final road when we encounter a couple walking towards us. The husband had already done all 50 highpoints and was now doing them again with his wife; they were planning similar schedule as us for next few days, they were from Seattle I believe. We arrived at highpoint and it was actually really a pretty setting and we took way too many pictures for the kind of highpoint this was, but hell maybe we were just excited by our first HP of trip, or just relishing quite possibly my only visit to the great state of Nebraska, or perhaps it was just the fumes of drying buffalo patties that made us a bit loopy. We then got back in the car and rushed back to Denver because we had 1pm Colorado Rockies baseball game tickets (note I am also trying to go to every major league baseball stadium, which is slightly easier feat then every state highpoint I’d imagine).
Mount Elbert, CO - 14,440ft
After baseball game we drove off into the Rocky Mountains towards Leadville. We stayed at the Best Western on edge of town but closer to Elbert, which was adequate enough. We walked up and down the main strip looking for dinner when two middle aged haggard looking drunk women asked if we would make out with them, which we declined. We eventually decided on a restaurant that only has one item on the menu it’s a $9.99 filet mignon dinner and you get a baked potato, roll, and side salad. It wasn’t the best steak I’ve ever had but was fine enough and I continued drinking as much water as I could to stay hydrated since I am already at the highest elevation I’ve ever been to (the town of Leadville is at 10K ft).
Woke nice an early on September 13th and we were first people to the NorthEast Trailhead. We began stretching and such and I already started feeling pressure on my temples and I was quite worried about altitude sickness but that seemed to pass. Started in nice alpine forest and had nice slow pace because it was slightly difficult to breath and also the fear of altitude sickness. Near the top we somehow got off trail and ended up having to climb loose rock and it was very steep and kind of dicey due to rock fall but we made it and my adrenaline was really pumping and that pretty much carried me to the summit at a much faster pace than we even started the day at. We got to top and it was awesome quite a sense of accomplishment for someone who lives in New York City and has never climbed a mountain nearly this big. Views were amazing. We sat down for lunch and these little squirrels kept coming out of the rocks and tried to steal our food straight from the backpacks. More and more people kept summiting from different routes and there were lots of us up there including mostly women (75%), and a few couples with dogs and they were all talking about all the other 14ers they’ve done and I thought god damn people from Colorado are in great shape. The trail back was uneventful since we stayed on it this time but the switchback section seemed to never end, and my cousin’s knees on downhill really bothered him making us nervous for Wheeler Peak tomorrow. We finally made it back and our time while not making any records wasn’t all that bad. We went out to eat for pizza and ribs at place called Mountain Pies in town and they were both very good, have to get in those calories. We then headed due south for 4 hours to Taos, NM.
Wheeler Peak, NM - 13,161ft
Woke up nice and early and felt pretty good not really all that sore and Jeff’s knees seemed good so we headed to Taos ski valley. It is clearly off-season but it seems like this place probably rules in ski season as far as bars, restaurants, and shops. Realized we could have stayed right at ski resort for off-season prices that would have been nice. We got started on the Bull-of-the-Woods Trail it was slightly brisk this morning but I was much more confident about altitude after conquering Elbert yesterday. We started hiking through the forest and a mile or two in our path was blocked by a herd of cattle who didn’t seem to want to let us pass, but I negotiated a deal and we were granted safe passage. I’d like to state that the hike up is my favorite hike I’ve ever done there is so many different types of terrain and breathe taking views after every turn.
Twice on way up we ran into herds of bighorn sheep once they ran straight up a very steep rock face, which was awesome. It was windy at points, but the weather was absolutely gorgeous, at the top of Mount Walter we met up with a bunch of people who came up different trails. The top was also amazing and there were several marmots that posed for pictures for us. The 8-mile trip back was really long and grueling; both our knees were hurting on downhill steps, and the back of one of my ankles was ripped up and that hurt too. So it was slow going, so slow that at one point we almost ran into a herd of bighorn sheep, neither group heard each other coming and we were only steps away from them, and I again had to negotiate passage for us. Our hike time was truly awful on this mountain and despite the great accomplishment we were beat as we got dinner at some local place that seemed to be only thing open. We then headed towards Kenton, OK the plan is to get as close as possible but it was now dark and the first 60 miles is through national forest on ridiculous curvy roads and I really needed to crash and I believed my cousin may have died in the seat next to me, so we only got to Cimarron, NM which was the only sign of life for ages.
Black Mesa, OK - 4,975ft
Woke up at the St. James Hotel in Cimarron, NM; a real life hideout of the outlaw Jesse James and apparently 26 murders have taken place on the grounds during wild west days. We had a terrible cold breakfast buffet and hit the road; today would have lots of driving, lots. There is a whole lot of nothing between here and Black Mesa including quite a few towns where every building is boarded up so get gas whenever you can. After 3hrs and 15min we arrive at the trailhead later in day than planned and it is hot like 95 degrees. This is a really cool desert setting with lots of wild flowers and cacti. For those that discount highpointing its places like this that makes it so enjoyable. There is nothing technically challenging from hike but it’s a neat little corner of the country worth exploring. The hike is 2 miles of flat walking 1 mile inclined up the mesa then 1 mile flat on the top of mesa. The grass is overgrown onto the trail and we were mighty scared of rattlesnakes but they were all hiding escaping the mid day heat. We did see a bunch of horny toad lizards, which was cool. This was my 10th state highpoint which is exciting to be in double digits. On way back down we met back up with the couple we saw on Panorama Point, they would be the only other humans we saw in state of Oklahoma during this trip. We made it back to the car and my feet were quite happy to be done with the hiking part of trip, we tried to stop at the famous Kenton Mercantile but they were closed. On to Kansas.
Mount Sunflower, KS - 4,039ft
We had to rush through our 4.5hr drive through farmland and ghost towns to make it to Mount Sunflower by nightfall. We got there right at tail end of sunset which gave us pretty interesting pictures, it was long day but knowing we had accomplished this highpointing trip felt great. If you look closely you’ll see that I hiked this mountain in sandals, which I’m not sure has ever been accomplished before. I am also glad that they dressed Mount Sunflower up with a cool sign. Then prior to driving 3hrs back to Denver we had to navigate many miles on dirt road through farmland in complete darkness. It was very creepy and reminded us of the M. Night Shyamalan movie “The Village”, we kept thinking Adrien Brody was everywhere, mostly it turned out to be scarecrows, corn stalks, and tumbleweeds but we were terrified nonetheless. Eventually we got back to Denver.
On September 16th we relaxed and then attended the Great American Beer Festival, which is the largest beer festival in the country, after this trip we certainly earned a drink or in this case several hundred sips.