One could argue chasing peaks isn't really going after something, but running away. At least that was the case with me, sitting in a too light and bright office, having just transferred from journalism to copywriting for a marketing company. The sellout, the salary. I should just leave. Go get another highpoint.
A little after 12:30 p.m. my stomach magically and quite expectedly became upset, sending me home. To my gear stash. To my atlas. To the moment right before the car-pack when you stare at everything laid out on the floor illustrating destiny. And I was off as the 3 o'clock talk radio shift was happening.
Because of the geographical cluster, a lot of hikers/climbers/highpointers do West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania all in one swoop. In the summer, it’s all in one day. But I was chasing the late winter early spring and still wanted some kind of connection to the cold snow death.
(Let's talk about this for a second—there's so much notoriety and bragging rights associated with mountaineering. Originally, when I started highpointing, I only cared about the summit pic. Now I've started to realize the summit is nice, but there are asterisks attached for those that pay attention or are at least ego-driven (like me). If you climb Everest or K2, no one can say shit. But if you're talking to two people, and they both did K2, but one did it without oxygen, well, he's a little bit, I dunno the right word, cooler, better, stronger… more gangsta? I would argue yes. So when it comes to state highpoints, sure you can drive up to Mt. Washington in the summer and claim your highpoint, but other than the fact that you know how to drive, it really isn't saying much. That said, it seems to never end. OK, so you hiked Mt. Washington in the winter, but what class route did you take? Class 3? Try a 4. Class 4? Try a 5. My conclusion is climb within your skill level but walk that line; always be pushing yourself, because if you're at the top and you know you could have arrived via a more challenging route, then it's only your face in the mirror.)
From north central Ohio it's a 6-hour-glide south to the Spruce Knobb Rec area. But they got hit hard with snow the week before, so the un-serviced service and forest roads were pretty well coated. Truth be told, I was going extremely weak and expecting to get pretty close to the summit in my car and then just hike the rest of the way. Nope. God's forces would not let me half-ass this hill.
8 miles from the summit parking lot near the top, even in my hot ass wife's four-wheel drive Ford Escape, the road was impassible. Fuck. Decision time: one, hike the deep powder road to the summit, a 16-mile round trip bid. Two, backtrack to the other side of the mountain and see if I could get closer going that way on the road (very unlikely). Three, go back to the trailhead for Seneca Creek or Lumberjack and connect to Huckleberry and summit that way (even longer than the road).
So there I sat. Tried to sleep in on the reclined back seats. Wanted to make a new plan in the morning. Shortly after midnight I knew sleeping wasn't possible and I was going to have to just drive back the 8 miles to the main road and try again next year. With a plan that would involve feet not tires. Spruce Knobb was my first summit failure.
North through West Virginia, parking close to the state line of Maryland. No trailhead parking, just extra room on the side of the road. Again trying to sleep, alone, hearing cars and headlight beams drowning the interior of the car. I was sure a semi was going to smash me down the ravine. Up and out at 6 a.m.
No gaiters or snowshoes. Just a sloppy slog up the well-packed-out snow to the summit. Trees stood taller than me and I felt robbed.
A "selfie" with the Maryland marker in the background. Solo at the top. The smoke stacks eating the dawn horizon.
On the descent I went off trail, post-holed through a rock formation, and almost snapped my leg. No one knew where I was. The easiest trail possible and I almost completely fucked myself. Back to the Escape, two hours max round trip. Gas gauge empty and heading to Pennsylvania.
Mt. Davis looked to be even easier than Backbone Mountain in Maryland. There was a well-traveled trail from the parking lot, making its way back the mile to the fire lookout tower and highpoint. A half mile down the street from the first lot you could again park and hike an actual trail to the summit. So I strapped on the snowshoes and went that route, breaking trail the whole way. A family from Michigan met me there. Took my pic. Said they were on a highpointing tour. I said good look with West Virginia. They were confident they could drive to the top.
It was after 3 p.m. when I was back in the car heading home, very confused. Had I succeeded? Yes I was at the top, but there must be a million harder climbs in both states, not to mention the absolute failure in WV. I think I'm done highpointing. At least I got four. Back to backpacking and travel and building a solid financial future. That Mt. Marcy in New York does look a bit intriguing though…