Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 39.11912°N / 106.44788°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Aug 9, 2013
Activities Activities: Hiking


This was my most ambitious highpointing trip yet. I'm a compulsive trip planner, and I probably get more out of planning the trip and recapping the trip than I actually do while I'm on the trip. The plan for this one was to drive from Minneapolis down to Black Mesa OK in a couple of days, then continue South to Guadalupe Peak TX. Then drive North to Wheeler Peak NM and Mt. Elbert CO, and then head for home, picking up the high points of Kansas and Iowa along the way. The plan was to camp for all 8 nights of the trip, and (going against my better instincts) I did not make any camping reservations, just plans for where to spend each night near the trailheads.

Black Mesa, Oklahoma

Zach and I drove (OK; I drove. He won't be doing the driving on these trips for a few years yet, except in an emergency) down to a state park just outside of Wichita. We were hoping to dodge the predicted rainfall, but that's pretty much the opposite of what happened. We dropped camp in the pouring rain and cleared out of the state park campground at 6:30 in the morning like a couple of drowned rats escaping a sinking ship. It was still raining so hard an hour later that we cleaned the dishes from breakfast by setting them outside of the car and letting the rain do the trick.

By the time we got to Black Mesa State Park (about 10 miles from the synonymous high point) in the far reaches of the Oklahoma panhandle, it was about 90 degrees and dry as a popcorn fart. It took us about 15 minutes to set up our still-soaked tent, and by the time we finished, it was dry. We got there early enough that we decided to hike to the high point late in the afternoon. We found the trail head easily enough and took off on the 4+ mile hike, taking breaks about every 30 minutes.

It was a pretty warm and sweaty hike up and the gathering clouds dissipated without causing any trouble for us, but they sure did make for a picturesque hike!

Zach and I reached the flat top of the mesa after about an hour and a quarter of hiking and about 600 vertical feet. We saw one other hiker along the way as well as two horned lizards. Pretty cool. We found the obelisk on the summit and celebrated with a selfie.

I took pictures in all directions from the top and went over to the edge and looked over into New Mexico and Colorado, two states that I would be spending some quality time with soon enough. The hike down took an hour or so, and we headed back to camp for dinner before we took off for the desert in the morning.

Guadalupe Peak, Texas

Driving from North to South across the western edge of Texas is something that everyone should do once. But just once. Lots of cotton fields, feedlots, and high school football players after we left OK, we got our first glimpse of the Guadalupe Mountains. They are pretty intimidating rising up from the desert floor in the way that they do, and I thought that I caught onto just a bit of doubt from Zach about his abilities. We set up camp in the national park in what appeared to be a cactus garden and tried to get some sleep.

I am always a little too excited to sleep well on the night before a hike or climb, and this night was no exception. I woke up at about 2:30 in the morning to bright flashes of lightning with no thunder accompaniment. I didn't want the hike to be delayed or ruined the next morning, so I climbed out of the tent to check the conditions. There was a thunderstorm about 100 miles away over the Chihuahuan Desert with lightning clearly visible from the cloud tops to the ground. Directly overhead was the Milky Way galaxy, as clear as I have ever seen it. I had no way to take a picture of this spectacle, so I took one mentally and said "God is really cool" to myself.

The next morning, Zach and I got going up the trail at about 6:00. We were staying in the national park campground that night, so there wasn't any big hurry, but we wanted to avoid hiking in the desert heat if we could. It turned out to be a good decision, since the hike was as difficult as advertised.

There were great views, precipitous drops, and good resting spots galore, though, so we made use of them and before long we were rounding the mountain to the south side and approaching the climb to the summit. El Capitan stood sentinel over the valley below, but it seemed to take a long time to complete this portion of the hike.

Suddenly, we turned a corner and there was the summit! We topped out on top of Texas at about 9:30 and were rewarded with that weird pyramid thing on the summit. Zach and I posed for pictures by it, but I forgot to get a pic of the geological marker. Bummer, but I didn't realize until about 1/3 of the way back down, and I wasn't in the mood to do that again. About a half-mile from the trailhead, we came upon a very sweaty and wrung-out family who asked us how far it was to the summit. The real answer was "too far for you guys!", but I gave them a very cheery "a long way from here". I figured that we needed all the good karma we could get since the big climbs were yet to come.

Wheeler Peak, New Mexico

After a drive across New Mexico and a stop in Santa Fe for some amazing Tex-Mex food for lunch, we got to the campsite in Taos Ski Valley near the Bull of the Woods trailhead. We weren't planning on hiking the BotW trail, opting instead for the shorter Williams Lake trail, but it was a decent campsite even though there was no potable water. The weather was stormy and spitting rain through claps of thunder as we set up camp, but I was confident that we could get the hike in if we left early enough the next morning.

Zach and I made good time from the trailhead to Williams Lake and the trail that leads up the west face of Wheeler. I felt like we had to make good time to avoid the same sort of weather that we had seen yesterday and also because I wanted to drive to the base of Mt. Elbert in the afternoon. Because of this, I probably pushed the pace too hard, especially for a couple of flatlanders from Minnesota.

Our pace slowed considerably on the switchbacks above Williams Lake and at a little below 12,000 feet Zach could go no farther. I left him in an obvious spot on the trail (there were a lot of groups hiking this morning) with instructions to head down if the weather got threatening.

I continued towards the summit ridge, but the altitude started to take a toll on me as well. I got to the point where I would take 100 steps and then rest until my breathing and heart rate approached normal. After a few cycles of this, however, I popped out onto the ridge between Walter and Wheeler and it was just a matter of hiking to the summit. Too bad it was a false summit. It took me another few minutes to hike to the real top of New Mexico.

It was cold and windy on the top of NM and the clouds were looking like they were starting to mean business, so I had a nice fellow take some pictures of me, I took a few myself, and then I headed back down. I made good time back to the spot where I had left Zach, but he had already left for the cover of the trees.

Smart guy, too, because it started to rain before we got back to the car at around 11:30 and we drove through some spectacular thunderstorms on the way to Colorado.

Mount Elbert, Colorado

We should have been more concerned about resting our lungs and legs than we were about getting to Colorado in good time. When we got to the campground that was near the south Elbert trailhead, all the campsites were either occupied or reserved. Stupid weekends in August! I managed to find a site (the only one in the entire campground, I think) that was reserved, but not for the nights that we would be there. I set up camp and then got ready to hike in the morning. 

Zach felt bad from the altitude in the morning, and I left him at the trailhead so that he would not have to suffer the effects of the increasing altitude. I started up the trail, which was beautiful (especially through the aspens) but quite steep. Would it have killed them to throw a few switchbacks in?

I reached treeline just as the sun was rising over the mountains to the east, and looking back towards the Arkansas river valley was quite a sight.

The hike got more and more difficult with the increasing altitude, and my number of steps between rest breaks got lower and lower until it reached only 10 steps and then a rest break. I don't know if I got a second wind, or finally acclimated, or if it was the sounds of people on the summit above, but I suddenly felt better and hiked the last half mile or so nonstop. I reached the summit at about 8:30, right about the same time as the U of Colorado cross country running team. 

I was feeling pretty good about myself to have made it up there in the same amount of time as a bunch of endurance athletes half my age, and I had them take my picture on the summit of my first 14er.

I hung out at the top for a while, then headed back down the trail. I learned that while going up really gives your lungs and heart a workout, your legs and feet take a real beating on the return trip down. I made it back to the car at about 11:30 and enjoyed a greasy burger and fries in Leadville for dinner. We turn for home and some flatland highpoints tomorrow.

Mount Sunflower, Kansas

Have you ever driven 100 miles out of your way due to road construction just to reach a state highpoint, and when you got there you determined that it might not have been worth the drive? I have. We did make it to the Kansas high point just in time for lunch, though we consulted with each other and decided that it would be better to eat lunch as we drove away.

The sculpture on top was an interesting collection of junk, and there was a great view in all directions from the summit, but if the car full of people actually from Kansas wasn't going to stay, then neither were we. All of the high points count the same though, so I was happy to get #9.

Hawkeye Point, Iowa

It took us almost all day to drive from Prairie Dog State Park in Kansas to the highest spot in Iowa, but the prairie dogs were pretty cool and the drive was a pretty easy (if long) one. It felt a little bit strange to walk through a farm yard to get to the high point, but they have done some neat things with the area.

We didn't stay too long, as the clouds were spitting rain and we wanted to get home. We also weren't worried about the altitude, so we marked off double digits and made the rest of the drive home.

I learned lessons on this trip and also collected 6 state high points, so I would have to call it a rousing success. There are still a lot of states left to go, but I hope 2014 is just as successful.


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